I have lived in Saint Petersburg for over 5 years and have stayed in the city as a student, as a tourist and as a professional. I spend my money differently in each phase, so here are my findings of whether the city is expensive or not.
So, is Saint Petersburg an expensive city? From a western perspective, Saint Petersburg is not an expensive city at all. Accommodation and restaurants especially are remarkably cheaper. But many goods in Russia are imported, so, for example, clothes are often more expensive in Russia than they are in the EU. Also, entertainment is in general not very cheap in Saint Petersburg.
So on average Saint Petersburg is cheaper than most western cities. But, obviously, not everything is cheaper here. The city is home to a number of dollar billionaires and the super rich need to have a place to spend their money. Below I will break down how much money you would need to spend on each category of expenses, so keep on reading.
The big mac index
Since 1986 The Economist magazine publishes a so-called big mac index. This index literally compares prices of big macs in different countries. In 2018, an average big mac in Russia costed $2,09. With that price Russia’s position was in between Malaysia, where an average big mac costed $2,10 and Ukraine, where an average big mac would set you back $1,91.
Accommodation for tourists
If you have been travelling around Europe and now arrived in Saint Petersburg, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the prices here. In the low season, a hostel can be booked for as little as 5 euros a night! Eat that Amsterdam! And even in the high season, a bed in a dorm room can be booked for around €6,50.
Also hotels are much cheaper in Saint Petersburg than in most western countries. Before the 2018 Football World Cup, which was organized by Russia, the city’s market was flooded. New hotels openend up left and right, striving to be on time to charge the inflated prices that were being asked for a room during the world cup. Now the offer of hotel rooms in the city is very large and, consequently, even a room in the city’s center with your own bathroom and flatscreen tv will set you back no more than 20 euros a night during the low season. With hotels the change the difference in price between low and high season is remarkable though. The same room that will cost you around 20 euros a night during the low season will cost you 3 to 4 times that amount during the high season.
Also apartments that are rented short term have the same kind of price dynamic between low and high season. Nowadays a lot apartment hotels are being built in the city. It is expected that this will further drive down price of accommodation in the city.
Accommodation for those who stay longer
Unless you are rich, and even if you are, I think it doesn’t make sense to stay in a hotel or a hostel if you stay in Saint Petersburg long time ( like a couple of months). In apartment hotels you might be able to strike a deal to rent the apartment long term for a lower per day price, but only in the low season.
But apartment hotels often are furnished in a typical hotel style and therefore might not really feel like home. So you might want to look for a room or an apartment in the city. The good thing about renting a room or apartment long term is that you don’t have to deal with different rates between low and high season. Some objects are only rented out long term during low season though.
A room in the city centre will cost between 14,000 rubles (around 200 euros) and 25,000 rubles (around 350 euros). I suppose you could find something even more expensive than that, but that place should be in a palace then :). In the city’s vast suburbs a room is usually a bit, but not much, cheaper. Around 12,000 rubles is a normal price in the northern part of the city around metro station Parnas it seems.
If you want to rent an entire apartment prices are considerably lower in the suburbs. Prices for reasonable apartment that is not located at a huge distance from a metro station (not more than 15 minutes by foot) will start at 19,000 (around 255 euros with the current exchange rate). Nice apartments in the centre are not cheap though. But if you look at value for money it is oftentimes worth it.
Eating out in Saint Petersburg does not have to be expensive at all. A cheap meal in one of the city’s many self-service restaurants ( called столовая in Russian) can be had for as little as 250 rubles ( € 3,35 ), this would cover the main course, soup, a couple of slices of bread and a drink. Of course, the self-service restaurants also have more expensive dishes. So you could also easily spend 10 euros on a meal with a drink there, but not much more than that.
The category above these self-service restaurants are the many burger places the city has. Usually, places that sell ‘street food’, all kinds of wraps, tacos, etcetera are in the same price category. In these places a main course and a drink ( so let’s say a burger, some fries and a beer will cost around 9 euro. A fair price I think.
Buying your own groceries is not cheap in Saint Petersburg. This I also discussed in my article about the city’s supermarkets.
As I already indicated, entertainment can be unexpectedly pricy in Saint Petersburg. Although here as well, there are different categories.
In the centre, a beer will usually cost at least 140 rubles (around € 1,85 ). Now that doesn’t seem like a lot, but remember you can get a dish at a self service restaurant for this price.
There are also many places were drinks are much more expensive than this. Especially if they are serving imported Belgian beers, which are immensely popular in the city.
In general clubs are more expensive than bars. But, fortunately, they rarely charge an entrance fee. Drinks in most clubs are about the same price as in the more expensive bars. So at least 350 rubles ( € 4,65) for a beer, possibly more.
Saint Petersburg is the only place I know that has VIP cinema lounges. In general the cinema is not very expensive. Especially screenings during the day on working days are quite affordable ( around 230 rubles for a ticket, or just €3.
A ticket for the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg most famous museum costs 600 rubles (€8,-) now I believe (it seems like their prices are higher in the high season) and a ticket for the also incredible Russian Museum costs 900 rubles (€12,-). These are the prices for foreigners by the way. Russian citizens pay half that amount.
So how much money do you need?
It really depends, but I think 30 euros is a bare minimum if you want to see some interesting things and don’t deprive yourself of food and drinks when you want them. Obviously, you’d have to be staying in hostel to get by with this kind of budget.
If you’re staying in a hotel or renting a cheap apartment, I would say you need at least 50 euro a day. Probably a bit more. If you are staying in a hostel you can usually cook some meals there and in that way save money, whereas in a hotel you usually don’t have this possibility.
If you are staying in a nice hotel in the high season and want to visit the all the famous sights with your own guide, you’re obviously going to have to spend more money. The good hotels can get very expensive in summer.