Moscow or St. Petersburg?
February 7, 2010 8:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm applying to study abroad in Russia. Problem is, I'm torn between studying in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

Money is definitely an issue here, (though I get to pay the same tuition and my college picks up the rest), and I hear Moscow is very expensive. But St. Petersburg seems rather close to the Arctic Circle, which makes me think it's probably considerably colder than Moscow. And then there's the issue of which city is "more Russian." I thought St. Petersburg would be more Russian, with Moscow being more like the Austin, Texas of Russia, but I've been told otherwise. Does it matter? Is it a big difference? Is there anything else that I should consider in making my decision?
posted by myelin sheath to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have zero personal experience, but my Russian coworker (came to the US in her early 20s, returns frequently now that she's middle-aged) has nothing but disdain for Moscow and praise for St. Petersburg's art/culture, and promoted it when my sister was considering a semester in Russia.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:52 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Tomorrowful, St. Petersburg has a fabulous arts culture. If you're a museum-hopper, theater-goer or concert-lover, I'd go there. Plus, I'd actually argue that Moscow is "more Russian", while Petersburg is more European.

I only spent a couple of weeks in each, but strongly preferred Petersburg.

Other potential issues you may want to look into: transportation options, what the different universities offer academically, potential for future jobs if you're thinking of staying, etc.
posted by JannaK at 8:58 PM on February 7, 2010

Moscow is not warmer than Petersburg.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:04 PM on February 7, 2010

I studied Russian in Moscow and loved it. Meant to stay for four months and ended up staying the year. I visited St. Petersburg several times, and really enjoyed it, but never had any desire to move up there - and I love the cold. The problem is that St. Petersburg seemed much more superficial and touristy - a bunch of museums you could check off a list but then after that, what? Plus, St. Petersburg is near finland, was purpose built to be european, and just doesn't have the old school russian feel of Moscow.

Moscow was not as pretty, but had plenty of culture - particularly if you are coming from the US and speak some russian, cultural things are dirt cheap. Tickets to the bolshoi if purchased directly are in the 5-10 dollar range, with a student card (russian student card that is), musuems are a buck. Albeit this was in 2002-2003 for me, so things may have changed.

But the real difference in my opinion is just the feel of the two places - St. Petersburg has more of a foreign tourist culture; Moscow, particularly outside the city center, feels very Russian.

With regard to cost, Moscow is no more expensive than St. Petersburg. I lived the entire year on $6000 with plane tickets. I lived with a Russian family, had a room in their one bedroom apartment that cost me about 180 month for room, board, and laundry. The rest was drinking and travel.

Regardless of what you choose, though, it is an amazing experience and you are making the right choice regarding country. There is something wonderfully intense about Russia - foreign enough to be exciting, but similar enough to really hit home.
posted by slide at 9:07 PM on February 7, 2010

I've been to Moscow and went to school in Michigan, and know a fair amount about living in Moscow. Moscow has approximately the same weather as Michigan or southern Canada. This matters only if you're going there during the winter... during the summer, Moscow and St. Petersburg are warm (just like the American midwest). Bring sturdy winter boots (preferably waterproof) and wool socks. You'll be dodging puddles a lot crossing every street. I only brought sneakers and was certain I'd end up with trenchfoot after my stay.

I haven't been to Austin, but I can't imagine Moscow being anything close to it. It's more like the NYC + Washington DC of Russia, a city that never sleeps with excesses of every kind constantly at play, plus the government. With expense, that totally depends on where you're staying. Moscow is more expensive than NYC, if you want a posh central apartment. If you're staying with a family or in an MGU dorm it'll be much less, and anecdotes about its affordability are irrelevant. There is cheap food everywhere, groceries and all that. The RUB-USD exchange rate is currently pretty good, so most things will be pretty reasonable (except for the more ritzy venues, which can be outrageous).

I've never been to St. Petersburg but I'd say that both cities are considerably more european than they are Russian. A more russian town might be Vladimir right outside Moscow. Also, there are trains that run between SP and Moscow in case you ever want to visit one or the other. The ride's about 8 hours and there are sleeper cars.
posted by mnemonic at 9:23 PM on February 7, 2010

As far as being "more Russian", I'd say St. Petersburg is the city Russia wants to be - culturally active, old world with a hint of the spoils of the empire - while Moscow is the city that Russia has become: dirty, expensive with huge income disparity.
posted by jedrek at 9:52 PM on February 7, 2010

Actually, St. Petersburg is on the Baltic and is considerably warmer than Moscow.
posted by atrazine at 3:05 AM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no objective answer here. People from each city have firmly implanted prejudices about the other. Moscow is "more Russian" in the sense that it's been around longer and historically had less exposure to the West; Piter was established by Peter expressly to provide such exposure. I'm guessing if you're drawn to classicism in art, architecture, and literature, you'll appreciate the beauties and traditions of SPb; if you like a more down-to-earth urban experience, you might prefer Moscow. But yeah, the weather shouldn't be a factor.
posted by languagehat at 5:56 AM on February 8, 2010

I'm from St. Petersburg and totally biased. Go there! It's a gorgeous, vibrant, culturally rich city. And it's enormous. There's plenty of gritty authentic Russian-ness there, believe me. If you're just bouncing from museum to museum in the heart of the old city then yeah, I guess it could seem touristy. There's more than that going on, though. As for what "Russian" means... that is a question that even MeFi is unlikely to resolve.
posted by prefpara at 6:45 AM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I studied in Saint Petersburg (check out Smolny!!!) and loved it for the most part. I only went to Moscow once, and I really didn't like it.

This is what I have been told by Russian friends:

-People who study in Moscow first and then go to Saint Petersburg seem to like both but for different reasons
-People who study in Saint Petersburg first and then go to Moscow really don't like Moscow

I think, though, that there's just so much more to *do* in Saint Petersburg than in Moscow. I mean, the Hermitage alone takes YEARS to walk through. I went there once a week and didn't get through all the rooms, and it was free as I was a university student.

And Moscow really isn't much warmer than Saint Petersburg, and in Saint Petersburg you get the White Nights in the Spring. Oh my, oh my! Walking through a graveyard along a river at one in the morning with a gentle twilight glow is one of the best memories of my life. It really can't be beat.

The other argument I would make for Saint Petersburg is the skyline. You can see for blocks and blocks in Saint Petersburg whereas Moscow has so many skyscrapers that the, "Oh, I wonder what that is over there!" type of exploration isn't as possible.

Be sure to eat a blini from the stand at evsky Prospect, Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa 1/7!!! That company is all over the place and the mushrooms with cheese is to die for delicious!
posted by zizzle at 9:24 AM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nevsky Prospect, that is.
posted by zizzle at 9:24 AM on February 8, 2010

I think Zizzle and I might be the same person!

I too studied for a semester in Peter. Loved, loved, loved and have spent a good part of my time since I left (1999) devising ways to get back....none of which have panned out sadly.

Anyhoo, it's such an amazing city--and so easy to get around. The city center is completely walkable and the metro is extremely easy to figure out. Unlike Moscow where everyone has to carry a map.

Granted it's been over a decade since I've been there. I didn't care too much for Moscow. It was in my mind how I pictured Russia--gray, drab and depressing. Peter, however, full of life! It is touristy, but when you live there for a few months, you get to see a lot of town that tourists never see.

I never got to meet any Muscovites, but I can tell you the people I met in Peter (once you get passed their steely exterior) were some of the most wonderful, interesting, generous people I ever met.

I'm jealous that you get to have this adventure!
posted by Zoyashka at 12:02 PM on February 8, 2010

Just want to chime in here to say I just met a guy from Moscow this last weekend and we had a long discussion about Russia. FWIW, he said that if I ever go to Russia, I should skip Moscow and go to St. Petersburg. I realise that it's like telling someone who has never been to the US to skip NYC, but as a Muscovite, his advice was - skip it.

Have a great time, I'm jealous!
posted by triggerfinger at 12:44 PM on February 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone! I'm very into art, architecture and museum-going, so St. Petersburg seems like a natural choice. Still, I'm definitely making the trip down to Moscow when I can. And I'll definitely show this to my Russian class--there's some really good advice here.
posted by myelin sheath at 9:26 PM on February 8, 2010

« Older Double-barreled given names in Japan: Just how...   |   Help me design the ideal mini-farm! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.