The regular long-distance service is a fast train. It stops more often than the typical intercity train in the West and rarely gets up enough speed to merit the ‘fast’ label. Foreigners booking rail tickets through agencies are usually put on a skory train.
Generally, the best skory trains have cleaner cars, more polite attendants and much more convenient arrival/departure hours; they sometimes also have fewer stops, more 1st-class accommodation or functioning restaurants.
A passenger train is an intercity-stopping train, found mostly on routes of 1000km or less. These can take an awfully long time as they clank and lurch from one small town to the next.
When taking trains from St Petersburg, note the difference between long-distance and ‘suburban’ trains. Long-distance trains run to places at least three or four hours out of the city, with limited stops and a range of accommodation classes. Suburban trains, known as prigorodnye poezda or elektrichky, run to within just 100km or 200km of the city, stop almost everywhere, and have a single class of hard bench seats. You simply buy your ticket before the train leaves, and there’s no capacity limit – so you may have to stand part of the way.
Most stations have a separate ticket hall for suburban trains, usually called the Prigorodny Zal and often tucked away at the side or back of the station building. Suburban trains are usually listed on separate timetables, and may depart from a separate group of platforms.
The city’s main bus station is Avtovokzal, a recently remodelled building a little out of the city centre. Domestic and international services leave from here. Note that buses to Moscow are all en route to somewhere else, which means you will be dropped off in the northern Moscow suburb of Khimki. It is far more convenient to take the train. In any case, it is recommended to buy bus tickets in advance, especially for long-distance journeys.
St Petersburg has always been a city of ideas. Petersburgers incited the Russian Revolution, ushering in 70 years of communist rule. And it was St Petersburg that encouraged democracy when the tide began to change.
Nowadays, this city’s citizens are breaking down the barriers of generations past and exploring new ideas, investigating the possibilities of consumerism, creativity and career. It’s not only Rastrelli’s architecture and Tchaikovsky’s operas that entice visitors, but also beatnik bands, edgy art galleries, underground clubs and delectable dining. St Pete’s bohemian side gives a glimpse into the 21st century; and (to borrow a communist slogan) the future is bright!
St Petersburg is legendary for its White Nights: those long summer days when the sun barely dips below the horizon. Revels start in May, when the city finally succumbs to spring and the parks are filled with flowering trees. But even when the skies are grey and the ground is covered in snow, the rich culture of St Petersburg dazzles and delights.