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Why rent a car in St Petersburg?

St Petersburg is Russia’s second largest city and its erstwhile capital. It was built by Peter the Great as a display of Russia’s growing world status, and magnificent palaces and cathedrals were added by his successors. The capital moved back to Moscow after the revolution, but it remains as Russia’s cultural capital. Some of its architectural gems include the Winter Palace, former residence of Russian monarchs, the iconic Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood with its ornate onion domes and stunning interior mosaics and St Isaac’s Cathedral, with a dome plated in pure gold and opulent, multicoloured interiors.

Artistic excellence abounds in St Petersburg. See the monumental collection of art, jewels and antiques at the Hermitage Museum, catch a St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra concert, or world-class opera and ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre. The theatre is home to the Mariinsky Ballet, whose alumni include Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Anna Pavlova.

Once you’ve covered the main city sights, you will want to have a rental car in St Petersburg to explore islands, palaces and castles beyond.

How to get to and around St Petersburg?

Pulkovo Airport is the international airport serving St Petersburg, 14 miles south of the centre. To get downtown on public transport, take a bus to Moskovskaya metro station (about 35 minutes), then the blue metro line number two, to Nevskiy Prospekt station (15 minutes). Visitors arriving at night, however, must change to a night bus at Moskovskaya.

To avoid the hassle and travel in comfort, you can rent a car at Pulkovo Airport and get to the centre in half an hour.

Hiring a car in St Petersburg city centre

St Petersburg is connected to the rest of Russia and Europe by an extensive road infrastructure, making it easy to explore beyond the city limits with a rental car in St Petersburg.

Traffic jams are common, so avoid rush hour. Metered on-street parking is available, but for easy and safe parking use the underground car parks at large shopping malls, such as Stockmann and Galeria. Beware of leaving your car under a ‘No Parking’ sign, even if there are other cars parked, as your vehicle may be towed.

One of the highest-rated luxury hotels, frequented by celebrities, is the Hotel Astoria, in the shadow of St Isaac’s Cathedral. Hitler famously planned to hold a victory ball here after the Siege of Leningrad. Hosting the city’s top gourmet restaurant L’Europa and a renowned caviar bar is the Belmond Grand Hotel, also downtown. For budget accommodation within walking distance of the main sights, try Chao Mama, a self-catering hostel with a boutique hotel feel, offering stylish, modern rooms and apartments for up to four people.

What brands are available?

Major car rental companies operate at Pulkovo Airport, such as Avis, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt. You can use the Expedia car hire tool to help you find the best rental car in St Petersburg.

Must-sees within an easy drive of St Petersburg

In less than an hour, you can reach two of St Petersburg’s most beautiful summer residences of the Romanov tsars, the Versailles-inspired Peterhof Palace and Pushkin with the Rococo-style Catherine Palace. At Peterhof Palace and Garden walk among a feast of fountains, works of art and magnificent marble sculptures in a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere.

Samples of medieval architecture can be seen in Vyborg, situated under two hours northwest, on the border between Finland and Russia. It changed hands a number of times during its history, and Vyborg Castle was originally built under Swedish rule.

Kronstadt, on the Kotlin Island, 19 miles west of St Petersburg, was a fortress used by the Vikings as a rest stop but later became a Soviet naval base. Its striking Naval Cathedral was the Russian Navy’s main place and represents Russian neo-Byzantine architecture at its finest.

Tips and tricks for driving in Russia

You must be 18 or older to drive in Russia. An international driving permit is required for holders of a UK driving licence. Carry it at all times alongside your passport and visa and your insurance papers. You must drive on the right and overtake on the left. A right turn at red lights is forbidden. The speed limit on motorways is 62mph, but visitors with a driving licence of less than two years mustn’t exceed 43mph.

Use of seatbelts is compulsory as is daytime use of dipped headlights. There is zero tolerance for drink-driving, so resist that pre-drive shot of vodka.

Road conditions are often poor, especially outside major cities, and accidents frequent. Don’t expect Russian drivers to show road courtesy and always drive carefully, avoiding driving at night if possible.

Ready to plan your St Petersburg city break?

Feeling inspired to start planning your trip to St Petersburg and other parts of the Russia? Use this city guide and the Expedia search tool to find the best car hire, flight and hotel deals and research your preferred attractions and activities.

St. Petersburg by Car

Car hire gives you the chance to be completely independent during your time in St. Petersburg, and you’ll be able to see much more of the Imperial architecture than you would by walking or using public transport. Most four- and five-star hotels offer free onsite parking, while the majority of other hotels are located close to public car parks. Some of the high-end hotels will even help guests with organising car rental.

Driving in Russia

Hiring a car allows you to be flexible during your time in St. Petersburg and makes it easier to get to the Imperial estates on the outskirts of the city. With you international driving licence and passport you are free to roam the countryside. Even though the roads in the Russian countryside have a reputation for being a bit bumpy, some visitors take the five-hour drive through pine forests and past medieval castles to Tallinn for a night or two. The drive to Helsinki is about the same distance, through equally beautiful landscapes.