St. Petersburg hotels: Tips and suggestions
Provided you book your accommodation at least a few weeks in advance, you should find that you have an ample choice of available hotel rooms in St. Petersburg nearly all year round. This does not apply, however, to the high season around the time of the White Nights (from the end of May until the beginning of August), for which we thoroughly recommend that you book accommodation at least 2-3 months in advance. The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which is perversely scheduled in the middle June at the very height of the tourist season, adds an extra significant strain to the city's accommodation resources, and those planning to travel to St. Petersburg over the long weekend when it's held should certainly expect much higher prices and very limited availability unless they book well in advance (ideally by the end of March).
Initially inflated by the lack of adequate hotel accommodation in the 1990s, rates at St. Petersburg hotels have remained relatively high compared to the European average - not as bad as in London or Moscow, but certainly comparable with Paris, Rome or other major tourist destinations. American visitors in particular can be disappointed by the size of room and paucity of amenities compared to what they are used to back home at similar prices. As a rule, it's pointless to argue with market forces, but nonetheless prices at St. Petersburg hotels are not entirely consistent and a few hotels continue to ask frankly ridiculous rates from individual tourists for very low quality accommodation. For newcomers to the city, it's certainly worth seeking expert help to ensure you're getting the best value on hotel accommodation in St. Petersburg, and our travel experts are always happy to provide consultation either by email or telephone. Just let us know your accommodation budget and your planned dates of travel, and we'll be happy to provide our recommendations for the best value hotel accommodation available in the city.
While nearly all St. Petersburg's small independent hotels now offer free WiFi anywhere on the property, it is unfortunately still the case with many larger hotels, including some of the city's most famous luxury hotels, that Internet services are charged, with rates up to $30 per day. WiFi coverage is also patchy in many hotels, so if hi-speed Internet access is vital to you during your stay, you should definitely not assume that any hotel will meet your requirements. Check our detailed hotel descriptions before booking.
Hotels licensed to accept foreign guests (including all the hotels featured on our website) are obliged by law to register their arrival with the Federal Migration Service. This procedure is performed at reception and requires your passport, which will either be photocopied at check-in or retained for a short time. It also incurs a small charge, which the hotel pays to the Federal Migration Service for each entry into their database. Unfortunately, most hotels pass this charge (currently less than $10) onto the guest, which is probably reasonable for budget accommodation but may seem less so if you are already paying several hundred dollars per night for a room.
Non-existent service provided by dour, disinterested staff was an essential aspect of the Soviet tourist experience and carried over long into the post-Soviet era. Thankfully, those days are almost entirely past, and service at St. Petersburg's hotels is improving constantly, with most hoteliers now investing in some sort of training programs for their staff and complaints about poor service taken very seriously. However, when evaluating the service you receive at your hotel in St. Petersburg, it probably helps to bear in mind certain cultural differences, particularly if you are used to US service culture and values.
For Russians, in good service efficiency is much more important than the manner of delivery. In Russian culture, subservience and insincerity are both held in hight contempt, so it is unwise to expect constant smiles, greetings, and immediate acquiescence from reception or wait staff. Russian management style is generally very authoritarian, so don't expect junior staff always to be able to solve problems on their own initiative. On the other hand, especially in small independent hotels, it is not uncommon to find hotel staff in St. Petersburg going way beyond the call of duty to help out travelers in tricky situations.
On a final note, the security staff employed by some larger hotels to stand by the lobby entrance are not there to make you feel welcome or provide you with assistance. Their job is to make sure nobody undesirable gets in to your hotel, and it's not worth hoping for anything more than sullen hostility from them.
For many years, there was no effective system in place in Russia that rated hotels according to universal criteria. There is now a universal system of star ratings for hotels regulated by the Ministry of Tourism, which was significantly revised and updated in 2011. Running from one-star to five-star, it is roughly analogous with European, UK and US systems. However, we at Saint-Petersburg.Com feel there is an undue emphasis on somewhat arcane technical specifications (the speed of elevators, the educational levels of management staff, for example) at the expense of the judgment of inspectors. This can cause considerable discrepancies between the stars hotels advertise and the expectations of foreign guests.
Moreover, it is not compulsory for hotels in St. Petersburg to obtain star ratings and take-up of the system is not yet widespread. It is noticeable that even hotels with sterling reputations for quality such as the Grand Hotel Europe do not use star ratings in their publicity, while hotels that prominently display their stars may well be overcompensating - this is particularly the case with some large "four-star" hotels, which may fit the technical requirements for the category but certainly don't meet general international standards for a superior hotel. For all these reasons, we have chosen to use our own categories to rate hotels, which you can read about here.
The standards of foreign language teaching in Russian schools have only recently begun to improve, but the majority of St. Petersburgers do not speak English or any other language at a practically useful level. Obviously, hotels try to employ staff with good English, but unless you are staying in a luxury hotel you should not expect more than the staff at reception and hopefully some of the wait staff in hotel restaurants to speak decent English.
Drinking water and in-room refreshments
It is now a prerequisite for hotels with four or five stars awarded by the Russian Ministry of Tourism (see Star ratings above) that they install filters and other technology to ensure that their tap water is drinkable. Levels of compliance are not known, however, and most guests will probably feel safer drinking bottled water, although St. Petersburg tap water is now generally considered safe for boiling, brushing teeth, etc.
Bottled water is provided free-of-charge in many hotels, but most commonly only on the first day of your stay. As anywhere in the world, minibars in St. Petersburg hotels tend to be ridiculously expensive. However, this should never be a serious problem, as all but a very few isolated hotels are more than a couple of minutes' walk from a 24-hour convenience store.