Visitors to St Petersburg often find that they get a strong taste of visceral Russia before they have even arrived at their hotel because of the excitement and adventure inherent in airport transfers from Pulkovo, the city’s airport.
The problem lies in the absence of an adequate shuttle service, either train or bus, that can whisk arrivals straight into the city, which is approximately 20 kilometres away. In fact there are no direct public transport links at all, visitors have to either hop from bus to metro or else entrust themselves with the city’s taxi drivers.
As with many of their brethren around the world, the taxi drivers that lurk at Pulkovo airport exist not to convey their passengers from one place to another, but rather to extract from unwitting tourists as much money as is possible for them to keep a straight face.
My recommendation, therefore, is that visitors to St Petersburg book a hotel room before they arrive and ensure that the hotel arranges the airport transfers for them. Even if the hotel charges for this service, although it shouldn’t, the price will almost certainly be lower than charged by an unscrupulous taxi driver.
I recognise, however, that this may not be an option for everyone and so there are alternatives. If you do not have large and heavy bags then public transport is an inexpensive and quick option, but quite difficult. From the arrivals area visitors must take one of the many buses that run to Moskovskaya metro station. From there it is a simple journey into the centre of the city. The entire trip should take about half an hour.
Visitors preparing to take this route should be aware that you will need to use a few simple phrases of Russian and be able to read the signs on the buses and the metro.
If this does not appeal then the taxis waiting in front of the airport will be difficult to resist and all hope should not be lost. There are two options. The first is to jump straight in and begin to haggle, expect to knock up to a half off the starting price depending on how many other passengers there are at the airport terminal and the time of day. Haggling will be easier if you speak Russian.
At busy times there are also taxi marshals who will arrange a taxi and set the price. They will give you a little ticket with the price on it so there can be no ‘confusion’ when you get to your destination.
Visitors should note that unlicensed taxi drivers hang around outside Pulkovo airport touting for business, but it is not recommended that visitors use them. Most of the scams involving over-charging and downright robbery are perpetrated by these unscrupulous drivers.
Top 5 St Petersburg Hotels offering airport transfer service :
- The Northern Lights
- Comfort Hotel
- Hotel The Borthers Karamazov
- Hotel Nouvelle Europe
- Hotel Herzen House
Photo of Pulkovo Airport, St Petersburg, Russia, by Leszek Golunbinski