It’s no wonder St. Petersburg (Санкт Петербург – Sankt Peterburg) is the most visited city in Russia – it’s half as large and twice as manageable as Moscow. Many of the city’s palaces, museums, monuments, and landmarks are located on or near the main thoroughfare, Nevsky (Невский) Prospekt. From this area, it is easy to access the city’s storied avenues, hidden cobblestone lanes, quiet canals, green gardens, and sweeping shorelines along the Neva River.
Don’t be lured into complacency by Petersburg’s culture, cafes, and canals though – it is nearly as impossible to find open running space here as it is in Moscow. The city’s five million people need all the sidewalk space they can get, especially when they must share it with several thousand summer tourists. There are a scanty amount of runners in this crowd, so don’t be surprised if people look surprised when you come barreling down the street. And as for the city’s drivers and traffic, they are everything you might envision Russian drivers to be, and more.
Like Moscow, there is good running to be had in this city if you are strategic about choosing your places and times. Fortunately, in the summer there is a tremendous amount of daylight – almost twenty-four hours of it in mid-June – and plenty of time to go for a jog.
- Cars: Russian drivers are Russian drivers are Russian drivers, so forget any ideas you may have about speed limit and pedestrian right-of-way (both off and on sidewalks). Also be aware that this city has fewer pedestrian underpasses than Moscow; you may have to do some searching to find safe places to cross streets.
- PICKPOCKETS: You may be fast enough to avoid them on your run, but at other times of day keep two hands on your bag. Pickpockets are particularly likely to strike on the north end of Nevsky Prospekt between the Winter Palace and Kazan Cathedral. Unfortunately, because of widespread corruption, in the event of a theft the Russian police are unlikely to help. Your best bet is to ask your hotel desk for any assistance you may need in canceling your credit cards.
- Unenthusiastic People Shouting into Bullhorns to Advertise Boat Tours: You will run into one of them approximately every seven feet. If you even remotely look like a tourist, they will point their bullhorn directly at you. Ironically, they will continue speaking in Russian, even if it is obvious you don’t.
Did you know? Although not planned with the runner in mind, St. Petersburg is very much a planned city. It was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703, and erected on swampland won from the Swedes during the Great Northern War. Thousands of people were conscripted to build this “window on Europe.” It was Russia’s capital from 1712 until 1918, when Lenin shifted HQ to Moscow.