About St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg is more than Russia's cultural centre. St. Petersburg is a world cultural treasure, an open-air museum on a gigantic scale that seems to consist entirely of palaces, churches and romantic canals. The Russian metropolis of five million inhabitants on the River Neva is breathtakingly elegant and beautiful. And after 70 years of provincial existence, the city is passionately re-establishing old traditions. Since Leningrad was granted its original name in 1991, the former Tsarist capital has regained much of its lustre. St. Petersburg does not only enchant visitors during famous white nights in June: it bewitches all year round. Once seen, St. Petersburg is never forgotten.
The city was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great and was as of 1713 the capital of the Russian Empire. In 1914 St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd and in 1924 became Leningrad. In 1991, following a popular referendum, the city recovered its initial name. Many locals, however, continue to call it Leningrad or, affectionately, Piter. Almost 5 million people live within the city boundaries. Built on 42 islands of the Neva delta and counting more than 500 bridges and countless canals the city is also called "the Venice of the North".
Average temperatures: -8 °C in January, +22 °C in July. In winter the temperature may fall below -25 °C. From May onwards temperatures above +20 °C are common. The following table shows average temperatures in °C:
St. Petersburg lies in the Moscow time zone (GMT + 3). Russian Summer time starts and finishes at the same time as in most European countries.
Roubles, Euros , USD and Credit cards
The course fee covers already many expenses (with the exception of cultural activities). It is not necessary therefore to bring large sums of money. On average our students require between € 100-300 pocket-money weekly for their individual expenses.
US dollars and Euros can be exchanged everywhere. This is not necessarily the case for other currencies for which rates may be lower. US Dollar bills should be as new as possible (1990 onwards) and in good condition, as notes that are worn, torn or have been written on or are otherwise marked are not accepted. There is no need to bring notes in small denomination. Students should be aware that they will not be able to change any money without a passport (or a passport copy stamped in the Department of Visas and Registrations)!
Students are advised to bring their credit cards rather than traveller's cheques. There are lots of cash machines scattered around the centre of the city, while traveller's cheques can be changed into cash in a very limited number of places. Hotels, restaurants, lots of supermarkets and some other shops accept plastic cards. The most accepted credit card is Visa, but also MasterCard/Eurocard and American Express are getting more and more popular. Please note that despite inflationary tendencies the only accepted form of payment in shops and restaurants is the Rouble.
- A warning to pedestrians: Russian drivers regard them as an annoying obstruction. One should never engage in a power struggle with them! Some of our former students have been involved in accidents. Car brakes do not always function properly. The situation gets worse during winter on icy streets. The fastest and most reliable mode of transport in St. Petersburg is the Metro (underground). Trains run frequently. During rush hour the metro is very crowded. All public transport runs from about 6 am until midnight. Bus/Tram: Usually overcrowded, never on time, and most of them in very bad shape.
- Monthly travel cards (bus, tram, trolleybus) can be bought at any metro station and cost around € 10 per month.
- Mini-busses (marshrutkas): This means of transport has lately become very popular. Mini-busses are privately run and therefore more expensive than the state public transport (about € 0,5 for each ride)
- Bus/Tram: Usually overcrowded, never on time, and most of them in very bad shape.
- Taxis: Relatively cheap but tricky: Only those students who address the driver in good Russian obtain reasonable prices, as meters are rarely used. Taxis waiting in front of restaurants and hotels are usually double the price.
- Private drivers: There are plenty of private cars willing to give a lift. Students are only advised to get in when they have agreed on a price and the driver looks sufficiently trustworthy. Women above all should not get into a private car alone at night, no matter what the taxi driver/private driver looks like.
- Trains: Relatively cheap. For a weekend trip to Moscow we recommend our students catch one of the many overnight trains, e.g. the "Red Arrow" ('Krasnaya Strela'). Trains are clean and safe. Local trains (elektrichka) are more like trams. Our travel desk is happy to help our students with their travel arrangements.
- Domestic plane travel: Pulkovo and Aeroflot Domestic have both a good safety record and are pretty reliable carriers. Tickets from Pulkovo can be booked at the school's travel desk.
In the summer, all the bridges over the Neva are raised during the night. From 1:30 at the latest until just before 5am, the city is divided in two. Students finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, have to wait and watch until the last cargo ships have passed through St.Petersburg.
St. Petersburg at night is as interesting as it is by day. New restaurants and clubs open weekly. The choice is enormous, the quality variable - but this only adds to the atmosphere. Russians like to enjoy themselves, often right through until dawn. Restaurants often close around 2am, while clubs usually stay open until 6am.
A lot has been written about crime in St. Petersburg. However, students do not have to fear anything as long as they follow certain rules. They should trust their common sense and behave as they would in any other European city. Statistics on reported crime show that foreigners rarely fall victim to crime.
Students should keep in mind in particular the following:
- Pickpockets and bag-snatchers: One should be particularly careful in crowded places (especially on the Nevsky Prospect) and in the Metro. Students should never carry large sums of money. Our experience shows that many assaults involve street children in the above-mentioned places.
- Alcohol and drugs: Students should avoid walking the streets alone at night after having consumed a fair amount of vodka. However, if a student still wants to undertake a long trip home in the middle of the night being not exactly sober, he should call a taxi by phone. It is forbidden to use the Metro while intoxicated. Drug users face zero tolerance from the police. Foreigners too, face stiff jail or labour camp sentences for the use of soft or hard drugs.
- Metro: Safe to use during daytime. Late at night students should check twice with whom they are entering a carriage. It is better to stay with the crowd and avoid empty carriages. Still, it is extremely unlikely that a foreigner gets into trouble in the Metro. However, if there is an act of assault, a student should ask any Metro official (there are plenty of them) for help who will immediately alarm the Metro police posted at every station.
- Night time police patrols: The St. Petersburg police have a dubious reputation for separating helpless foreigners from their money during highly questionable police checks at night. Frequent night time patrols operate in the area around Nevsky Prospekt. Night owls are advised not to go for a walk alone - and certainly not in a drunken state - after midnight. If a student does encounter a patrol, he should stay calm, be polite and do not hand over any money.
- It is highly recommended not to give out at once phone number or address of a host family to new Russian acquaintances. Burglary is common and families that have "rich" foreigners staying are particularly at risk. Instead, it is better to request a telephone number of your new friends. In addition, students should never give the exact address (number of a flat) to a taxi-driver.
Several airlines offer regular flights to St. Petersburg international airport (Pulkovo 2). It is also possible to travel here by bus (from Helsinki, Finland or Baltic States) or train. Students should be aware of the fact that if they plan to travel to St. Petersburg from Europe by train via Belarus (former Soviet Republic and now an independent state) they will need a valid transit Byelorussian visa to pass through this country. If students fly via Moscow they arrive at the domestic airport (Pulkovo 1). Upon arrival in Moscow students must pass immigration and change airports (from Sheremetievo 2 to Sheremetievo 1), if they plan to pass through Moscow. One should leave plenty of time for this (minimum 4 hours).
Upon arrival visitors first pass the passport control, after that follows the customs control. Visitors arriving with an invalid visa face stiff fines or are asked to leave the country immediately. It is possible to change money in the arrival hall. There is also an ATM (cash machine) which accepts most credit cards (Master, Visa, EC International).
On arrival in St. Petersburg, foreign visitors need to fill out a customs declaration form indicating total amount in cash they have with them and goods, subject to declaration. Although there exists a green corridor for those who have nothing to declare, it is highly recommended to fill out a customs declaration form, pass through the red corridor and declare at least all cash to avoid any problems when leaving the country. Visitors cannot take out more cash from Russia than they declared when arriving.
The import of alcohol and tobacco is limited as follows:
- Alcohol (any kind) - 2 litres per person
- tobacco (cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes): 400 items per person
Detailed information about export restriction of art-work, paintings, musical instruments, cash, caviar etc. are available on request.
All our students are met at the airport, railway or bus stations by our greeting team (a staff member speaking English and a driver) and taken straight to their host family or other point of destination. Our team carrying a " Liden & Denz Language Centre" sign can be easily spotted. Upon arrival all our students receive a welcome package with more detailed information about their stay.
In the unlucky event that there is nobody at the airport or at a train station to meet a student, he should immediately call the school. There is always somebody on duty (from 8 am to 10 pm on working days), who will immediately send for a car and a member of staff to pick him or her up.