St. Petersburg hotels: Overview
Like almost every aspect of life in St. Petersburg, the hotel industry shows the imprint of the three distinct stages in the city's history - the Tsarist era, when St. Petersburg was the capital of a great empire and one of Europe's largest and most cosmopolitan cities, the slow stagnation of the Soviet period, and the chaotic development of a market economy over the last two decades.
From the pre-Revolutionary era, only a handful of hotels have survived, but they include two of the city's most famous luxury properties - the Grand Hotel Europe and the Astoria Hotel, both of which can lay reasonable claim to being St. Petersburg's finest hotel. The Grand Hotel Europe is the older property, established in 1857, but both hotels, along with the Astoria's more modest sister property the Angleterre Hotel, owe their grand Art Nouveau interiors to the early years of the 20th century. Restored and renovated in recent years, these hotels trade on their historic connections, appealing to guests who, like the majority of visitors to St. Petersburg, are attracted by the city's rich history and cultural heritage. Other luxury hotels such as the Kempinski Hotel Moyka 22 and the new Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg aim to create a similar aura of historic opulence. These hotels can all easily justify their five-star status in terms of elegance and atmosphere, although the range of amenities may not always match the highest international standards.
The backbone of St. Petersburg's hotel industry is made up of the large Soviet hotels that began to appear in the 1960s. These concrete monoliths, which generally have several hundred rooms, are mostly located outside the historic centre but close to metro stations. Some now aspire to superior standards either, like the Park Inn Pribaltiyskaya and the Park Inn Pulkovskaya, as part of international chains or under local management, including the Azimut Hotel St. Petersburg and the Moscow Hotel. A few have successfully positioned themselves as simple and very reasonable low-cost hotels (the best example being the Ladoga Hotel), while others are still struggling to shake off their Soviet past, and their only possible appeal is availability and a certain grubby nostalgia. As a general rule, these hotels offer a good range of amenities for their price bracket, while service standards remain patchy. Also, as most large Soviet-era hotels have ongoing renovation programs, it's worth taking extra care about choosing your room category, bearing in mind that rooms can range from extremely old and basic to brand new and reasonably luxurious in the same property.
After the collapse of Communism, several factors (in particular the difficulty in attracting long-term investment and finding suitable buildings, as well as complex bureaucratic regulations) severely restricted the development of the hotel industry in St. Petersburg. Demand, meanwhile, soared, pushing room rates well above the European average and creating a crisis in availability by the first years of the new millennium. Relaxation in regulations prompted the sudden proliferation of a huge number of quite basic mini-hotels (more details of which can be found here) and the establishment of a few very high quality small private hotels such as Alexander House, the Pushka Inn, and the Helvetia Hotel. Highly rated by guests and beloved of travel writers, these unique small hotels have inspired a host of more or less successful imitators, making this the fastest growing and probably the most interesting segment of the hotel market (see our recommendations for superior small hotels), particularly as it has proved much easier to locate smaller properties in the very heart of the city, close to major visitor attractions.
Alongside the now enormous choice of small independent hotels, the presence of well-known international hotel chains has finally been massively enhanced over the last few years. Some brands, such as Radisson and Courtyard by Marriott, have chosen to adapt historic buildings into modern hotels, with results that have often proved controversial among conservationists, although again are likely to appeal to guest's preferences for a taste of tradition. Others, generally the brands which attract more business travelers overall, have opted for modern new-builds. These include the two Accor brands, Novotel and Ibis, as well as the Park Inn Nevsky Prospekt and the Holiday Inn Moskovskye Vorota. As the brand is little known outside its native Finland, where it is the largest chain of hotels in the country, it's also worth mentioning the three Sokos hotels in St. Petersburg, which have a distinct and stylish Nordic flavor. Finally, the W Hotel St. Petersburg is the first five-star hotel in the city to eschew tradition entirely in favor of sleek modernism and more youthful, hedonistic concept of luxury.
In short, there are now hotels in the city to suit every taste and nearly all budgets, and St. Petersburg is well ahead of any other Russian city (including Moscow) in its choice of quality hotel accommodation compared to demand. Nonetheless, it's true everywhere and even more so in Russia that it pays to research your options well in advance. For more assistance doing so, read our hotel Tips and Suggestions, check the recommendations of our editors for hotels by different category, or use our Accommodation by Area guide to find out more about what's available in different parts of St. Petersburg.