Anyone travelling on a tourist visa must have accomodation arranged before arriving in St. Petersburg. However, now that it is easier to obtain business visas (which do not require you to pre-book accomodation), independent travellers may be faced with the challenge of finding somewhere to stay on arrival -- most hotels still are not used to coping with people hust turning up. That's not no say they will not have a room for you, but the price will be far above the rate charged to pre-book package-tourists, and smaller hotels may not be keen on people without recommendations, especially backpackers. Anyone travelling on tight budget will find themselves limited to the dingiest hotels, in which case you'll probably fare much better by opting instead for private accomodation or a hostel.
St. Petersburg's hotels are currently in a state of flux. Haing long been controlled by the now effectively defunct Intourist , some are finding the switch to self-management -- and the need to attract customers -- hard to cope with, whereas others have already teamed up with Western partners in an attempt to improve facilities and business Several hotels are currently being modernized, while a number of new, mostly upmarket. establishments are under construction, usually as joint ventures with Western firms. The buildings themselves range from spartan, low-rise, concrete blocks to deluxe Art Nouveau edifices. Some are in prime
locations, others in grotty suburbs. Another option is the growing number of small hotels opened by Russian businessmen to house their business guests. These are often in discreet
locations and accept other guests if room is available. Given all this, it definitely pays to shop around. Although ifs still in use, the Intourist system of rating hotels with two to four stars should be taken with a pinch of salt, as standards are lower than in the West.
Two-star hotels mostly consist of 1950s low-rises with matchbox-sized rooms, while three-star hotels are typical 1960s and 1970s high-rise buildings, equipped with several restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Four-star hotels tend to be either newly refurbished or brand new.
and come the closest to matching the standards (and prices) of their Western counterparts. The older, lower-rated places are generally a bit shabby, with erratic water supplies and heating; in the top hotels you are assured of pristine service and overheated rooms.
All room rates generally include breakfast. When checking in, you will receive a guest card which enables you to get past the hotel doorman and claim your room key - don't lose it. The top holds have electronic card keys for improved security. Each floor is monitored by a "dezhurnaya" (Rus.) or concierge, who will keep your key while you are away and can arrange to have your laundry done. The presence of a concierge doesn't guarantee security: several hotels are notorious for burglaries.
If you fancy mixing with other foreigners, the city's youth hostel is an excellent low-budget option. Set up by a Californian and located in quiet backstreets in the center the two hostels offer salubrious shared accomodation and breakfast for around 16 US$ a night, with separate floors for men and women. Note that there is no age restriction, despite the official title.
Motels and campsites.
Both of St. Petersburg's motel/camp sites are out along the Vyborg road and chiefly aimed at Finnish motorists. The older Olgino site has a reputation for prostitution, although it has cleaned up its act somewhat of latel its sole virtue, however, is being accessible by bus from the city. Retur Motel-Camping, offering chalets and a heated pool, is a far safer bet.
Renting an apartment.
Perhaps the most unexpensive option for a long-term stay. A practicality that deserves a mention is the system of keys and door codes, and taking out the garbage. Many apartments have a sturdy outer door whose lock is operated by pushing in and then retracting a notched metal strip; the inner door is unlocked by conventional keys; while the door from the appartment building onto the street may be locked by a device that requires you to punch in a code. Door codes usually consist of 3 digits; you have to push all three buttons simultaneously to make it work.
Please direct your further inquiries on accommodation to Independent Traveller's Advisor. Read about inexpensive accommodation that we provide.
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