Queer Girl City Guide: St. Petersburg, Russia

click here for other queer girl city guides

I arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia on September 5, where I eagerly met the new host family that I would be living with for the next three and a half months. With its elegant architecture, massive churches and broad streets, Petersburg makes you feel like you’are living in a dream. Though it’s got its share of pros and cons, the memories you make in this gorgeous city will stick with you forever.

 

Get Down With Your Bad Self

As a general rule for club going in Russia, the party doesn’t really start until well after 1 am! For those of you staying in different parts of the city, it helps to be aware that the metro closes at 12 pm and that bridges leading back to specific islands go up, and could leave you stranded. Try to book a hostel or hotel in the center of the city so that you can avoid these hassles because who really wants to go home before midnight anyway?

WelcometoSt.Petersburg-001

Tri El (5-aya Sovetskaya Ul. Dom. 45, Metro: Mosckovskiye Vorota) This was the first lesbian bar created in St. Petersburg and is still the most well-known lesbian bar here. If you want to go to a strictly “I am only into girls, so screw you” bar, then go here. They have a large dance floor and music that will definitely get you dropping it low. The drinks are reasonably priced, but you are always welcome to hit up a local prodykti before going to save some money. If you do plan on going to this club, try to arrive later in the evening, preferably after 12:30, because the club will be virtually empty until then and you will look significantly less cool. Open weekends from 10 pm-5:30 am, Tuesday 6 pm-11:30 pm, Thursday 7 pm-11:30 pm.

BridgesGoUp

Greshniki (nab. kanala Griboedova 28/1, Metro: Nevskiy Prospekt) While this is not a club specifically for the lesbian crowd, it is the most well-known gay club in all of St. Petersburg. It has four floors, plays mainly European dance music and has a typically gay atmosphere. When you walk into the club, they give you a card on which all of your charges will be written so that when you decide your night is over, they can take your card and ask you to pay. DON’T LOSE THE CARD OR YOU WILL BE CHARGED A LARGE SUM OF MONEY FOR IT AND I WILL BE FORCED TO LAUGH AT YOU BECAUSE I WARNED YOU IN ALL CAPS!!!! If you are not in the mood to dance, they have a floor dedicated to just sitting and relaxing with friends, which is another way to say “making out with the hottie you just met.” In my experience, more gay men frequent here than women, but if you’re looking for an accepting atmosphere and killer music, this would be the place to go. Open daily from 6 pm-6 am

Central Station (ul Lomonosova 1/28, Metro: Gostiniy Dvor) This is a gay club geared more toward men than women. It has multiple floors and plays mostly pop/house music. Due to its location near the metro station Gostiniy Dvor, it tends to attract a lot of straight people who are dumb enough to walk into a club with a rainbow sticker on its door. There is a ladies night on Thursdays, but I have heard that they tend to be sort of a wash out. They do offer drag shows here, which I personally think are fabulous and fun to watch. Sometimes they even offer karaoke, so if you are into drunkenly singing this place is for you. Open daily from 6 pm-6 am

Blue Oyster (1 Lomonosova street, Metro: Gostiniy Dvor) This club is actually down the street from Central Station, which makes it an easy bar hop destination. Like the others, this club also attracts mostly gay men but the crowd is a little more mixed than at Central Station. Security at the door does do face checks which, yes, means if they think you’re not pretty enough you’re not getting in. The atmosphere is legit with leather as its theme and gets a good Rihanna “S&M” vibe going. The dance floor is not huge, so if you are a big time dancer, pick a different club or become a stripper. I would recommend coming here only if you love making gay best friends as opposed to meeting a future girlfriend. Open daily from 7 pm-6 am.

 

School is for Overachievers

The main college in St. Petersburg is Saint Petersburg State University. College life is not the same in Petersburg as it is in the U.S. In Petersburg, they do have a campus located on Vasilevsky Island, but college students do not hang out on it as you would typically see in the U.S. In Russia, students go to school to legitimately learn and then go home to do whatever daily tasks they have left to complete. This is extremely different from the U.S. because usually when you walk on to a college campus in the states, you find a ton of students aimlessly wandering around high or drunk and playing games like can jam and frisbee. You will not find this in Russia, so don’t even try to look for it. I do recommend visiting the campus so that you can see the 12 colleges and get a feel for what it is like for Russian students to attend university. It just might inspire you to appreciate the luxuries that we have at our campuses in the U.S.

PartOfStPetersburgStateUSmolnyCampus

Let’s Go SKA and Zenit!

If you are in St. Petersburg and it is still hockey season, I highly recommend you go to a SKA hockey game. You can buy tickets online using your credit card and then you simply print your ticket and go to the game. These games are incredibly exciting and a great group activity. Russians are very passionate about hockey so the games usually include lots of cheering, lots of drinking, lots of clapping and lots of awkward drunken Russian moments. They play all the cheers on the screens surrounding the stadium so you can easily join in on the festivities. To get to the stadium you will take the metro, specifically the orange line, and get off at Prospekt Bolshevikov. When you exit the metro, you will take a left, walk straight for maybe a minute and then at that point you should see the stadium.

Ska-001

Zenit is St. Petersburg’s local soccer team and they are absolutely awesome. I personally have not gone to a game and unfortunately will not be able to go anytime soon because, due to one rotten fan, the games have been closed off to the public. In the event that it changes anytime soon, this is a must see attraction if you are in St. Petersburg. The atmosphere at these games is electrifying because just as Russians are passionate about hockey, they love their soccer. You are guaranteed a good time that includes drinking, shouting and being immersed into a huge part of St. Petersburg’s culture. It is also a nice break from the daunting everyday life of St. Petersburg, it’s kind of like eating happy pills.

 

Food, Drinks and Traditional Russian Eats, Oh My

Zoom café (Gorokhovaya street, 22) is hands down my favorite café in all of St. Petersburg. It has a hipsteryatmosphere combined with awesome food and drinks. The food is decently priced (I would say mid-ranged budget) and the drinks are within that same ballpark. The best part of the whole experience is that they give you markers to color on the menus and a selection of games that you can play at your table while you wait. The only downside to Zoom is that it is usually packed and it is extremely difficult to get a table for over 4 people. If you are planning on going here, I would recommend going on a Tuesday night because, as everyone knows, Tuesday nights are the crappiest nights of the week. Open Monday-Friday 9 am-12 am, Saturday 11 am-12 am, and order food before 10:30 pm.

Zoom

Zoom

The Idiot (Moyka emb. 82) is a great place to eat if you are looking for a quaint little place with a Dostoevsky vibe. They offer a full drink and food menu. The price range for this restaurant is on the higher end, although it will not completely demolish your wallet. I went to the Idiot for breakfast and had amazing Bliniy! They also gave our table complimentary vodka shots with our breakfast, which we happily drank with our coffee. Some of my friends have ventured to the Idiot for dinner and said it was just as amazing for dinner as it was for breakfast. If you have time and some extra cash to spend, go have a bite to eat here, you will not regret it. Open daily 11 am-1 am.

TheIdiot-001

The Vodka Museum (Konnogvardeysky Boulevard, 4: Gostiny Dvor Metro) Russia is extremely well-known for their vodka, so why let an experience to try 3 different popular Russian vodkas pass you by? The vodka museum has a restaurant connected to it that offers gourmet meals that are absolutely to die for. The food is extremely pricey and, should you choose to do the vodka tasting after your meal, it costs extra. Do not let the price prevent you from going! I ordered a chicken cutlet when I went and it was literally one of the best things I have ever tasted or put into my mouth up until that point. I believe that the vodka tasting is a must, simply because it really does give you a genuine feel of Russian vodka and a chance to have a blast with your friends. I mean, 3 shots in the matter of approximately 20 minutes can be cause for some seriously good times, you know?

China Koff – This is one of my favorite places to go for coffee or tea. It is a pretty cheap café and offers both a smoking and non-smoking section. Their teas are amazing and I recommend pina colada. When you order, you can choose between a pot of tea or just one cup. If you are going with a friend a large pot is always better because you can get more cups out of it for both of you for a more reasonable price. They always have an English menu on hand, but the workers usually only speak in Russian so expect a look of fear in their eyes when you try to order in English. They also offer really good pastries which are always a great snack after wandering around St. Petersburg aimlessly for several hours. Basically, if you are tired of walking, need a break, and want some great tea, come here.

Teremok – Personally I don’t love Teremok, but it is a very cheap alternative to getting typical Russian food at an extremely fast pace. It is basically like going to Boston Market in the states, but with cheaper food and all of it being specifically Russian cuisine. I have had borsh here and it was pretty subpar, but did the trick. My friends swear that their sweet bliniys that are filled with bananas, chocolate, and strawberries are just like eating a banana split. I have also gotten a “salad” here and it was covered in mayonnaise, as most Russian foods are. I would say only eat here if you are looking to spend very little money, are drunk, or if you are in a hurry.

Teremok

Teremok

 

I need Help; Do you speak English?

MEDEM (улица Марата, 6, г. Санкт-Петербург 191025 – 8 (812) 336-31-34)
I have never gotten seriously ill in St. Petersburg (I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that one), but if I ever was to become ill I would immediately go to Medem. It is St. Petersburg’s international clinic and hospital which includes staff that speak English, making it easy for you to explain what is wrong. They also work with different types of insurances so if you are one of those people who worries about paying out of pocket, they should be able to work something out with you. You could also go to a Russian Hospital in the area, but most will not take Americans and will not accept insurance, so you must be willing to pay out of pocket. If it is an absolute emergency, please do not hesitate to go to a Russian hospital even if it costs a lot. The host sister I have lived with the whole semester is doing her residency right now at a hospital close to where we live and she told me that it is better to get help immediately then try and work out the bill later.

 

Freedom, To Walk Around That Is

There are no specifically gay areas of St. Petersburg, but there are areas of interest in which most tourists like to venture. The first area is Palace Square, which is home to many of St. Petersburg’s art museums and the infamous Winter Palace (The Hermitage). It’s a great area to hang out in because it has beautiful architecture, tons of museums you can go to and is surrounded by chic cafes. If you aren’t interested in museums, but want to check out some shopping then you can head over to Nevsky Prspekt where you can find anything you could ever want or need. They have stores that range from souvenirs to clothing to electronics which makes it a shopper’s paradise.

Hermitage

Then if you get completely sick of blowing all your money on stuff, you can go over to Vasilevsky Island which is known as St. Petersburg’s intellectual neighborhood. There you can visit the 12 colleges and Menshikov’s Palace.

The Church of Spilled Blood

Some places that are not part of a specific part of town that I recommend visiting are:

The Church of Spilled Blood

St. Isaac’s Cathedral (pay the 150 rubles and go to the top!)

The Bronze Horseman Statue

Yusopovs Palace (by far the best palace in St. Petersburg)

The Summer Gardens (although if you are coming in the winter, it’s not worth it)

The Sphyxes

Peter and Paul Fortress

The Summer Gardens

 

Tats, Mods, and Awesome Hair

Cuts By Katya – While in St. Petersburg, I went ahead and got my alternative life style haircut done by a fabulous haircutter named Katya. She speaks English and just happened to be the host sister of someone on our program. She cuts hair at a reasonable price (usually 500 rubles without coloring) and she does the absolute coolest things I have ever seen. She has a signature style in which she creates her own unique hair tattoos by shaving a design into part of your hair. This is really great for short haircuts but if you have longer hair, she does “secret” ones, that are only visible when you put your hair in a pony tail. She works out of her home because hair cutting is a side job for her, but everyone on my program who has gotten their hair done by her absolutely loves their cuts. Just e-mail her at iekatarina [at] mail [dot] ru and tell her that you heard about her through CIEE.

Cuts by Katya

Tattoos and Piercings – Honestly I would not recommend getting a tattoo in Petersburg. The AIDS epidemic is still going strong and they do not have high cleaning standards here like they do in the U.S. The same goes for getting piercings.

 

Books!

If you are looking for books in St. Petersburg, I would recommend two places. The first is called Bookvoyed which comes from a Russian phrase literally meaning to devour books. They offer a great section of books, but they are all in Russian. The only exception to this is the largest Bookvoyed that is located across from the Gostiniy Dvor metro which has English books (although they are pricey). The second place I suggest is Dom Knig which also has a great selection of Russian books. I know that the St. Petersburg public library has books in English if you are that desperate to read for free while in St. Pete. There are no LGBT or feminist bookstores that I know of and if there were, it would be very hard to find out where they were because it is taboo to talk about such things in Russia.

 

Artsy Fartsy

I hate to say it, but I am art challenged. I have a hard time recommending artsy places, but I do enjoy theater. If you are looking to go to a theater, opera or ballet performance, then St. Petersburg is your oyster. All you have to do is go to a Kacci (ticket booth) which are located all over St. Pete, pick the show you want to see and buy a ticket. It literally is as easy as that. However if you want to completely avoid human interactions, you can just buy tickets online. The best two theaters in the city are the Mirinsky Theater and the Mixailevsky Theater. I have been to both and enjoyed the shows I saw. The seating is great no matter what ticket you buy so if you’re worried about not being able to see, don’t be. As for art, I suggest the Russian Museum. It has art that dates from all the way back to archaic Russia to contemporary Russian art. It took me about 2 hours to get through the whole museum, so plan accordingly.

Mixailevsky Theater

 + + +

We’re talked about the good, now let’s take a minute to talk about the bad, the ugly, and the just plain no-judgements different.

Heard of Pussy Riot, Don’t Do It

If you are a hardcore feminist and activist, do not come to St. Petersburg to spread your word. I think it is great that you want to spread your ideas to a place that is in many ways so closed off from feminist ideals, but you will probably be arrested unless you are super tricky and can outrun a cop. Russia in general is not the place for women being that it is a long-standing tradition to always put males before females. In my opinion it’s is getting better, but it will not be fully eradicated until the younger generation (specifically children born in the 90s) get to be much older and start teaching their kids new ways of viewing life. A lot of the Russians I have spoken to that are around my age (20-24 years old) definitely have different views about society compared to Russians who were adults during the USSR.

We Ain’t Got No Pride

As a bisexual new to Petersburg, I was excited to meet Russian girls. The only problem is that St. Petersburg created a law not too long ago banning the propaganda of homosexual activities in public. This includes images, public displays of affection and protests related to homosexuality. This made me very nervous at first, but my ex and I managed to get around it while being together in Russia (stolen kisses are the best). Every once in a while you do see a cute couple defying Russian law by showing massive amounts of PDA on the public streets and to them, I tip my hat, it just proves that in a world with such hatred, there can be spurts of joy. The diversity of St. Petersburg itself is pretty broad. I feel like there are a lot more queers here than people let on. I have a pretty good “gaydar” and feel that if you are willing to seek people out, you will find them.

Am I Gonna get Mugged?

The city is not dangerous per se; just don’t put yourself in the position to get mugged. When you go out drinking, use the buddy system and pay attention to where you set your drink down. When you get on the metro, wear your bags in front of you and when you are walking on the streets, make sure you know where your money is. You will have to carry your passport on you at all times so make sure you don’t lose that or you are royally screwed. Just be safe and smart.

Do Russians Smile?

I’m not trying to sound cruel, but if you are coming to St. Petersburg because you think you are going to go out and instantly make lots of new friends, you won’t. The city itself is more liberal than Mosco, but it is still a traditional Russian practice to be closed off. Russians typically don’t smile on the streets, the metro or anywhere in public. They will not usually approach you and begin to talk to you unless they are really drunk or a bit of a creep. Just be careful who you become involved with and be aware of what you are doing in public, do not purposely draw attention to yourself, no good will come of it.

If you do happen to meet someone in the rare instance that it occurs, though, they probably will be very welcoming and helpful. The cool thing about being here is that if you become friends with a Russian, they treat you like family! The tough part is meeting them in the first place.

Profile photo of Alea

Alea has written 1 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Aww, it’s always so nice to hear about queer westerners who visited Eastern Europe and had a good time. Has anybody ever been arrested for ‘homosexual propaganda’ just for kissing / outside of the context of a protest, though? I dunno, I always felt pretty safe on the streets in Romania, especially because physical affection is so common among friends, it doesn’t register as queer to a lot / most people – but then again we have complete decriminalization now and I didn’t really catch the bad old times when it was illegal to cause ‘public scandal’ by seducing women.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      I am not sure if anyone has been arrested actually. I just know that if the police see it that you could be arrested and it is blatantly obvious in Petersburg when people do it. Fantastic experience though, I am also glad you enjoyed Romania!!!

  2. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    “The city itself is more liberal than Moscow,”… Really? Not according to anyone i know who’s from Moscow. And it was actually St. Petersburg (Putin’s city) which started the entire drive to legislate against “gay indoctrination.” Moscow is a far more ethnically diverse city than St. Petersburg with more residents from Central Asia, The Caucasus, and Tartars, Koreans, Africans. St. Petersburg is more commonly thought of as a city with a continuing skinhead problem. Much as I love the Russian language, culture and people, if I in any way looked like I could conceivably be from The Caucasus or Central Asia, I would have a lot of concern for my safety walking in many areas in either city.

    • Thumb up 2

      Please log in to vote

      Everyone from Moscow will tell you they are more luberal and everyone from Petersburg will tell you they are more liberal. Since Petersburg is known as being more art inclined and academic, they tend to be more liberal solely based on the fact that there is more youth around, who do not relate to the time period when Russia was still the USSR. I am not saying that for a fact they are more liberal, it is just the vibe I got when I visited both cities. You could have had a completely different experience than me, as everyone does and everyone has their own opinions.

  3. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Aw man this gave me major nostalgia (I just did the Yandex street view of my old apartment to make it worse). I also did CIEE in Piter about 3 years ago. I never went to any of the gay clubs, but I had so much fun with the nightlife. We went out on Dumskaya a lot, and Quarenghi around the corner on Lomonosova. I would have definitely appreciated this guide though (but I want to add so much to your arts section!!). Oh reading this made my heart hurt. So much miss. Excuse me while I street-view the entire city. I’m so happy you made this guide.

  4. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    Awesome timing! My fiancee and I are going to St Petersburg in 2 weeks time, as the start of a trans-siberian train trip across Russia to Mongolia and China.
    We’re super excited, but a have been a little nervous about all the bad stuff we’ve read about St Petersburg’s anti-queer laws. We weren’t planning on doing anything ‘gay’ there and were just going to tell people we are friends (or sisters, haha)

    Not sure we’ll be brave enough to check out a gay club, but will totally be following your tips for dining and sightseeing!! Thanks for the guide! :)

  5. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    I love how you included a whole section about whether Russians smile! :D I am Russian, but I’ve been living in California for over 12 years. I do go back to visit once or twice a year, and I can’t help but notice how random Russians in the streets or even cashiers at the local grocery stores do not appear friendly or smiley at all. And if someone accidentally bumps into you, they never say “excuse me”. Seems like little things, but it makes my visits to Moscow much less pleasant than they could be. :/

    Did you visit Petergof? :) I remember going there in the summer and it was beautiful! :)

    I’ll definitely have to stop by the nightlife spots you mentioned next time I’m in St. Petersburg. Thanks for being so detailed about it! :) Are there any you’d recommend for Moscow? (..If you happened to stop by there) I usually go to Moscow, and I never know where to go for queer nightlife fun, though it would be so interesting to experience that in Russia. Thanks! :)

    • Thumb up 2

      Please log in to vote

      I am very jealous you get to visit twice a year. Have you enjoyed living in Cali, it’s one place I would love to visit one day (I have never been to the West coast)?

      I did visit Petergof! It was Fall weather when I went, but it was stunning! I got soaked while being there though. Our tour guide set off the water when I touched the table with the fruit on it. I love how everything there is gold plated :-)

      I was only in Moscow for three days and most of the time we were on tours because the teip was built into our program. One of my good friends from school spent her whole semester there though, so when I get back to school I will ask her and get back to you!

      • Thumb up 0

        Please log in to vote

        I have, it’s pretty nice here! I like it. Certainly feels different from Moscow. The weather is nicer, the people I meet in general are more friendly, and the air feels much cleaner. I live by the coast, so I think the ocean breeze plays a big part in making the air move around and smell cleaner.

        ahaha Yeah, those trickster fountains! I imagine they are more fun in the summer as a way to cool off when it’s hot. :)

        Oh, that’d be great, thanks! :D

  6. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Is it safe to assume that all of St. Petersburg is no good for people with disabilities as far as accessibility is concerned?

    (I know most places are. Heck, in my city almost all restaurant washrooms are in the basement. It’s nature’s way of saying “Hey, chick with a walker, shouldn’t you be at home waiting for someone to bring you takeout?”)

    Just asking. I know that no place is all things to all people. It’s just that I’ve wanted to go to St. Petersburg since I was a kid because there’s SO MUCH HISTORY there, and who wouldn’t want to see that?

    • Thumb up 1

      Please log in to vote

      I think you will find that the major museums are all handicap accessible, but smaller restaurants, such as zoom that I mentioned, usually are not. Do not let it stop you from going though! The metro may be a challenge though, just because its so crowded and fast paced that people can get very nasty.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      I just read this article and live in Spb currently. I am sorry to say it really is not accessible, although I do see plenty of folks with canes and walkers seeming to manage. Russians are a hardy people :) The metro escalators are VERY long, with no alternative elevator. Idk if that is a problem for you or not There are many other Transportation methods though which connect the whole city. City preservationists work really hard to preserve Piter’s vision of the city, that being said, it is hard for modern renovations to be done to old building but some do happen. Major sites like the Hermitage are accessible.

  7. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Thanks for your post, really interesting and helpful! I’ll be in St. Petersburg end of August for three weeks (and I’m very excited!). Just a quick question – from your post, I tried to look up the Tri-El but found that their website is no longer functional. I also tried to find the address on Google Maps (it gave me two different places on two separate attempts) – do you know whether it has moved recently? Or whether it is a bit hard to find?
    Thanks!
    Steph

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      I don’t remember it eing hard to find, but I haven’t been in St Pete since December so it may have moved ir closed down. Those types of incidences are quite typical of Russia. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, but enjoy your trip, I guarantee you will have fun!

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.