Variation and innovation characterize St. Petersburg's hotel scene, in contrast to the overburdened and uneven offerings in Moscow. St. Petersburg's nicest and priciest hotels, and nearly all of the international chains, are clustered on upper Nevsky Prospekt. The huge Soviet-era hotel towers are farther from the center, and sometimes quite far from the metro. They offer better prices -- though everywhere prices are up in recent years for those paying in the weak U.S. dollar -- and their quality ranges from luxurious leather armchairs to saggy, stained mattresses. The best price-to-quality ratio is found in the numerous "mini-hotels" springing up around town. Don't be alarmed by some high prices below -- those listed are the official "rack rates," but nearly everyone gets discounts by ordering online or through an agency.
The tourist season in St. Petersburg is much more pronounced than in Moscow, centering around the White Nights festivals in late June. Accommodations are at a premium from May to July, and reservations are essential. The rest of the year, particularly during the sleepy winter months, you'll have options and can often find deep discounts.
When choosing accommodations in St. Petersburg, bear in mind that it's a city of bridges that are drawn up in the wee hours to allow shipping traffic through. This means that if your late-night plans involve something on the other side of the Neva River from your hotel, you may be in for a long wait or a detour to get back.
Rates listed here are rack rates, the highest official prices charged by hotels. Hotel websites often offer discounts or package deals, as do many traditional and online travel agencies. Prices below are listed in rubles and do not include breakfast or 18% VAT unless noted; most travel agencies (online and traditional) do include VAT in their quotes.
Few Russian hotels offer car rentals, but most can arrange a car with a driver for a few hours or for the duration of your stay at a reasonable, sometimes negotiable price. The hotel's "transport desk" offers something between a taxi and a limo service.
Suites in Russia (called luxe or demi-luxe) nearly always have two rooms, though size varies broadly. In older hotels a double will usually mean two single beds, while newer hotels offer the choice of one double bed for two people, or two single beds. Single rooms and single rates are nearly always available, so be sure to ask about them if you're traveling alone.
Landing the Best Room
Somebody has to get the best room in the house. It might as well be you.
- You can start by joining the hotel's frequent-guest program, which may make you eligible for upgrades.
- A hotel-branded credit card usually gives the owner "silver" or "gold" status in frequent-guest programs for free.
- Always ask about a corner room. They're often larger and quieter, with more windows and light, and they often cost the same as standard rooms.
- When you make your reservation, ask if the hotel is renovating; if it is, request a room away from the construction.
- Ask about nonsmoking rooms; rooms with views; rooms with twin, queen- or king-size beds.
- If you're a light sleeper, request a quiet room away from vending machines, elevators, restaurants, bars, and discos.
- Ask for a room that has been most recently renovated or redecorated.
If you aren't happy with your room when you arrive, ask for another one. Most lodgings will be willing to accommodate you.
A City of Mini Hotels -- The city's tri-centennial, back in 2003, saw the opening of more than 500 mini hotels: which ought to make this a bargain location for tourists. The White Nights, however, can see the best-know venues (and many apartments) double their off-season rates. Don't stand for it. A bit of research can uncover a bargain, even in high summer. Start with the St. Petersburg Small Hotels Association (www.innspb.com). Don't nurture any great expectations, however. The vast majority of the mini hotels are converted commanalki (Soviet apartments with several families sharing a kitchen and bathroom). Most will offer Western standard bathrooms, a responsible approximation of evroremont (Western refurbishment), scrupulous cleanliness, basic breakfasts and, these days, Wi-Fi. But you do need to be prepared for scruffy entrances (often with well-concealed intercoms) and no elevators. Be careful when booking direct: some mini hotels may charge (in some cases quite steeply) for registering your visa, or for issuing a visa support letter. Unless you're here for less than three days (in which case you are not required to register at all), there's little you can do about this, particularly once you've arrived. But if negotiation fails, try securing a booking (and free invitation letter) through a tour agency.
Floor Monitors -- In a disconcerting holdover from the Soviet era, many older, larger hotels have a dezhurnaya, a sort of floor monitor, stationed outside the elevators who's charged with keeping track of everyone who lives on her floor. She (it's invariably a woman) knows when you come in and out, and with whom. Sometimes she's even in charge of your key: You leave it at her desk upon departure, then present a card upon your return to get it back. Don't let her presence intimidate you; in the post-Soviet world, her job is largely cleaning and maintenance coordinator. She can even be a source of help, making you a late-night cup of tea or finding you discount theater tickets.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.