Nevsky Prospekt is the city's commercial lifeline, offering an almost repetitive abundance of souvenirs, clothing, and snacks. Gostiny Dvor shopping arcade concentrates all of Nevsky's riches in one two-story pre-revolutionary mall. The facades on Nevsky tell only part of the story, since many lead back into passages of luxury boutiques, discount clothing stores, or jewelry shops. Commerce thins out at Nevsky's extremities. Upper Nevsky holds the posher shops, while Lower Nevsky (east of Moskovsky Train Station) is calmer and less pretentious. Souvenir and art stands clog the thoroughfare and adjacent courtyards, and seem to multiply in summer.
The area from St. Isaac's to Palace Square is a shopper's wasteland but an architectural paradise. The Summer Gardens and adjacent areas are similarly commerce-barren, except for the Vernisazh -- the city's most convenient, reliable, and extensive gift bazaar.
With Nevsky so saturated, the area around Chernyshevskaya metro station is emerging as a calmer, less expensive shopping alternative. Several antiques shops have opened here, along with an increasing number of hotels and cafes centered around Ulitsa Pestelya, in this neighborhood north of Lower Nevsky.
Russians do most of their shopping at farmers' markets and open-air bazaars, most of which are outside the center of town. These lively and pungent markets offer a fun if intense way of experiencing the real Russia, and quickly make you forget those Gorbachev-era images of bread lines and shortages. In the food markets, pomegranates and kiwis spill from fruit stands, rows of lamb carcasses line the meat stalls, and familiar American coffees and candies rise high in the dry goods section. In the nonfood markets (which Russians call the "things" market, or veshchevoi rynok) you can find fur coats, Turkish leather jackets, 20¢ Russian-made underwear, Chinese-made plastic chess sets, and just about anything else, at prices below what shops charge. Two food markets near the center worth checking out are Vladimirsky Rynok (Kuznechny Pereulok, just outside Vladimirskaya metro station) and Maltevsky Rynok (Ulitsa Nekrasova, not far from Chernyshevskaya metro station). Both are cleaner and slightly more expensive than average. The main "things market" downtown is Apraksin Dvor (Sadovaya Ulitsa, south of Nevsky Prospekt and near Gostiny Dvor metro station), with throngs of shoppers morning to night, 7 days a week. Pickpocketing is common, so keep one eye on your wallet.
St. Petersburg's premier shopping center since the 1760s has been Gostiny Dvor (Guest Courtyard), a triangular arcade of shops on two floors on Nevsky Prospekt. In the Soviet era the long, doorless corridors were flanked by shop after shop carrying the same limited selection of gray suits, uncomfortable shoes, and two-ring binders. Today the shopping center holds just about everything, though most of it is priced beyond the means of the average Russian. Boutiques selling 25,000 ruble dresses abut shops with Italian briefcases and French fountain pens. At the back edge of the arcade, facing Ulitsa Lomonosova, are a few cheaper shops that are your best bet for clothing in the heart of town. Souvenir shops are sprinkled throughout the center, as are several little cafes that offer very cheap Russian-style open-faced sandwiches and savory pies for an energy boost and a chance to rest your feet.
St. Petersburg's other shopping centers fall into two categories. The passazh, an enclosed row of shops leading back from a main street, is a concept left over from the pre-revolutionary years when they were usually reserved for the aristocracy. Today some have been beautifully restored and house designer boutiques and posh beauty salons. The main row of shops to check out is Passage (48 Nevsky Prospekt); the view of inside and out from the second-floor cafe is exceptional. Nearby is the newer Grand Palace (44 Nevsky Prospekt), with rows of Italian and French couture boutiques and a staggeringly expensive chocolate shop. Only slightly less decadent is Vladimirsky Passage (19 Vladimirsky Prospekt). The less appealing but more affordable type of shopping center is the torgovy tsentr. These glass-and-chrome constructions have sprung up around Russia in recent years, feeding Russians' hunger for consumer goods. The most convenient, clean one for most tourists is DLT, though it's often quite crowded. There's little historic or unique about these centers, but they're your best bet for basic needs such as shampoo, camera batteries, or umbrellas, and they offer a way to see how average city residents spend their money.
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.