Peter the Great intended his majestic capital to rival all the cities of Europe. The city he built on a swampy piece of land was scoffed at by the West, who believed it to be nothing more than a Russian backwater. What blossomed from the murky banks of the Neva River was Russia’s “Window to the West,” the breathtaking baroque city we see today. Interested in studying abroad in St. Petersburg? Tab through our expert guide and read reviews of study abroad programs in St. Petersburg below!
Photo credit: HBarrison.
Planning Your Trip
Contrasting with Moscow’s traditional onion domes and red bricks, the city is a enchanting arrangement of Italian architecture woven together with delicate bridges over canals. After 200 years of monarchy, 70 years of communist rule and most recently 20 years of democracy, the city is now an eclectic mix of classical architecture, cement block buildings and modern nightclubs, gracefully coexisting in a vibrant and gorgeous city.
Studying abroad in St Petersburg offers a unique opportunity for students to see the history of modern Russia played out on the buildings and stones themselves. From St Petersburg to Leningrad and back again, the former capital of Russia sums up the past 400 years of history of both the East and West. Not to mention the buzzing art, music and bar scene provide plenty of exciting distractions to keep any student smiling!
Culture and Immersion
- Museums are tucked everywhere around the city. The Kunstkammer (literally “Wonder Cabinet”) is one of Europe’s first museums. This assortment of treasures (founded by Peter T. G., himself) is miraculous in both its scope and its weirdness. With over a million objects ranging from stuffed animals and Japanese armor to astronomical instruments and preserved remains in formaldehyde, this bizarre gathering of objects is a collection not to be missed.
- If you prefer the classic museum experience, head to the Hermitage. Founded by Catherine the Great, the former palace contains one of the world’s most exceptional art collections. It’s collections span from the pre-historic to modern, and students can spend several days getting lost in this incredible space.
- Make sure to snap a photo or two of the famous Bronze Horseman. With his mount rearing above the snake of treason, Peter the Great’s enormous statue, was commissioned by Cathrine the Great (perhaps in an attempt to legitimize her shaky claim to the throne). The statue of immortalized in the poem by Pushkin where this symbol of the city comes alive and gallops around the town.
- The Mariinsky ballet is even more famous than the Bolshoi for connoisseurs. It's company, known as the Kirov, took the ballet world by storm during the Soviet era and its reputation has not diminished - nor should it. It's also recommended for theater, and they now have a subtitle screen (in English) next to the stage.
- Most of the restaurants with silly names (Yolki Palki, Moo-Moo) offer inexpensive buffets and entrees of mostly Russian food. Good value, decent food and entertaining atmospheres. These are pretty much everywhere; just keep your eyes open. You can also try traditional Russian blini served fast-food style at one of the city's Teremok or Chainaya Loshka locations. However, Russia has much more to offer than blini and borcht. Georgian food will please the most ardent vegetarians and die-hard carnivores. Uzbek is also well known as one of the former USSR's most delicious cuisines.
- Konyushennaya Ploshad, (near the Church on Spilt Blood) is where you’ll find some of the best clubs the city. Closest to the church is Mod club, an artsy place with a gritty feel and colorfully-dressed crowd. Right next is Achtung Baby, Mod Club's hyperactive cousin. There you’ll find a range of music, an anything-goes attitude and an interesting cathedral-with-disco-balls decor. Bubble Bar, further up the street, offers a more relaxed setting for those who are hunting a bit of sophistication.
- St Petersburg is legendary for its White Nights- summer days when the sun barely dips below the horizon. Revels start in May, when the city bursts into spring. After months of winter hibernation, the city barely sleeps as cafes, restaurants and bars overflow all night long.
Culture Shock and Support
- Bugs: Because Petersburg is a former swamp, mosquito repellent is highly recommended in warm months.
- Water: Don’t drink tap water. Stick to cheap bottled water for drinking and boil the water for at least ten minutes to brush your teeth. During the summer, all Russian cities turn off the hot water for "pipe maintenance." It can be off for 3-4 weeks, meaning that showering can be difficult, if not painful. As a good alternative, find a bathhouse and have a cleansing and cultural experience all at once.
- Crime: Saint Petersburg has an unfair reputation for being a dangerous city. Things have calmed down since the Wild West (or Wild East) days immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but common sense is still required.Take precautions at night, and as a general rule, the farther you are from the city center, the more dangerous it is--- the exception is pick pocketing and begging, which tends to occur in the tourist centers.
If you're looking for a culturally dynamic experience in a country unlike any other on the planet, head to Russia. So brush up on your Russian, grab your warmest winter hat, and head to St. Petersburg!
Scholarships: St. Petersburg
Scholarships are a great means for lessening the financial burden of a semester abroad. Here's just the beginning!
- The Critical Language Scholarship offers funds to students who study "in-need" languages like Russian.
- CIEE awards scholarships that range from $1000-$5000
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships
Saint Petersburg is heady mix of uber-rich and average joe. As a result, the city tends towards extravagance and expense, but there are plenty of deals if you stay on the lookout.
Lunch will set you back about 300-500 руб ($10-15) and Levi’s are a whopping $4,500 rubles (140). Cocktails downtown will run about 300 руб ($10) each but beer can be anywhere from 50-200($1.50-6) руб.