If you can only visit one city in Russia, what would it be? People usually pick between Moscow and Saint Petersburg and in this post, I wanted to compare Moscow vs St. Petersburg and will tell you what to expect from either of them.
Okay, without further ado, let’s get started!
This post's overview:
Moscow – the capital of Russia and the place, where all the money goes
Let’s start with Moscow – the infamous capital of Russia and the place, where all the money gets invested. Moscow isn’t really like any other place in Russia, as the country has a pretty centralised economic system. That means, that all decisions are made in the capital and all the money gets distributed from there. And of course, most of it stays there as well. While some of the cities of Russia are still waiting for their main avenue to get repaired, so the road isn’t that bumpy and buses can freely drive there, the government of Moscow is building the third metro ring road. I’m telling you this, so you understand that Moscow is really different from the rest of the country and of course, the prices are also way different in Moscow compared to the rest of the country.
That also means, however, that the infrastructure in Moscow is excellent. The metro is working great and looks incredible (many stations are like palaces); Moscow city is rapidly expanding (the financial centre of Moscow with the first skyscrapers in the city); the city gets decorated for Christmas really well. Christmas time in Moscow is pretty great – Moscow is one of the best-decorated cities I’ve seen in my life.
Read my post about Christmas in Moscow – the decorations and what to expect >>>
Moscow also got the main landmark of Russia – the Red Square. The Red Square is impressive in real life as well and it’s a place you should definitely visit in Moscow. Apart from Red Square, the Christ the Savior Church and a couple of nice parks / Izmaylovo Kremlin and a couple of museums, there is really not much to do in Moscow.
As I already mentioned before, Moscow is not cheap. However, it’s definitely not as expensive as the main European capitals like London and Paris. Accommodation prices are pretty decent and transport is actually very cheap. Food, however, is not very cheap, especially trendy restaurants.
Read my post about prices in Russia: how expensive is Moscow and St. Petersburg here >>>
Moscow is also huge. It’s the biggest city in Europe (if you don’t count Istanbul which is split between Europe and Asia) with over 12 Mio people living there. According to the unofficial data, the population of Moscow exceeds 15 Mio people. Traffic in Moscow is absolutely terrible, so it’s often better to take the metro rather than catch a taxi.
Now.. What about Saint Petersburg?
Saint Petersburg is a very European city. Some people say it looks like Paris, while the others say it reminds them of Vienna. Saint Petersburg used to be the capital of Russia for over 200 years and was built to be the capital of a mighty Empire. The Tsars wanted the city to look better than any other European capital and thoroughly planned the new city from scratch. They also invited the best European architects of the 1710s-1850s and so, together with the help of Russian architects, the city of Saint Petersburg was born.
Saint Petersburg, just like Moscow, is not similar to any other Russian city. Saint Petersburg is quieter, less hectic and it’s definitely the most beautiful city in Russia. There are so many museums, palaces, canal cruises, excursions and other things you can do in Saint Petersburg, that you will find what to do within two weeks for sure. However, you will need at least 4-5 days to see all the basics.
Interested in reading more about St. Petersburg? Read my local’s guide to St. Petersburg here >>>
There’s an opportunity to visit St. Petersburg without a visa for 72 hours, if you come to Saint Petersburg by ferry from either Helsinki, Finland or Tallinn, Estonia. No matter which passport do you hold, all you need to have is a return ferry ticket, ferry transfer and the hotel confirmation. UPDATE: you can now visit St. Petersburg with a free electronic visa.
If you want to know a bit more about this visa-free visit to Saint Petersburg, read this post >>>
Moscow vs St. Petersburg – which one is better?
As you can see, Moscow and Saint Petersburg are really two very different cities. Even people from both cities are different (people in St. Petersburg are friendlier). Moscow is really all about Red Square and social inequality. You can see all the Russian celebrities, oligarchs and all sorts of rich people in the trendy places in the capital. St. Petersburg is way more peaceful. It’s a bit cheaper than Moscow (especially the restaurants) and it’s the best place to see a ballet in Russia.
Read my post about the best places to see opera and ballet in St. Petersburg >>>
If you’re choosing between Moscow or Saint Petersburg, you need to decide, what do you want to see. In case you really want to see the Red Square, see Lenin in the Mausoleum, experience Russia and see these Dome-shaped churches, head to Moscow. If you want a quiet and a longer break visiting lavish Imperial palaces, cruising the canals in a boat and enjoying the famous White Nights, head to Saint Petersburg.
I have friends, who liked and enjoyed Moscow vs St. Petersburg, but I also have other friends, who prefer Saint Petersburg way more. It’s really up to you and you will never know, which one you will like more unless you visited both. It’s always best if you can see both cities instead of one. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are actually just 4 hours away from each other (by speed train) or only 55 minutes apart by flight.
If you want to read, how to get from St. Petersburg to Moscow or vice versa, head to this post >>>
I have plenty of other posts about Russia! Head to my Russia category to see them all >>>
I hope you enjoyed my post about Moscow vs St. Petersburg – which city to choose. Should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.