Street Crime, Saint Petersburg
I am sure that some of the posts are well meaning but most are also based on rumors or very outdated info. If I had read only the warnings without knowing better I would never have moved to St Petersburg 8 years ago.
Street Crime is very low and seldom involves violence. The remaining risk is pickpockets working in very specific areas on a particularly crowded section of Nevsky pr from the 20 block up to Sadova Ul., a 3 block area. Also on very crowded times in the metro at the Gostiny Dvor metro line going south, but only in that one station, not on the platform but in the car when people are crushed together. The thief strikes just as the car is about to leave, where he jumps out. The square around Church on Spilled Blood has report ports of occasional pickpockets. I have not heard of any in any other regions or streets.
Gypsies were a real problem in the 1990s and up to 2005 or so, but the police started with visa checks and deported hundreds in 2005-2006 and the bands of women and children have not been seen since. Crime on the street dropped drastically just by deporting two dominate bands of about 30 individual women and children.
Police impersonators is a common tourist rumor but there is little evidence that it is a problem. I am frequently out in the city and in all areas wondering around late into the night and just do not see any of the problems reported, particularly in recent years.
The police have set up a Tourist Police department with language trained officers to assist visitors who do not speak Russian.
It is a rare situation where anyone is asked for ID or visa, except around transportation where those appearing to have come from the southern Muslim dominated regions. Young Muslim men are often stopped if they look suspicious because there is a strong track record of terrorist acts against Russia. This is more common in Moscow which has been the brunt of most of the attacks.
I have been stopped on the side walk 0 times in the last 8 years, and I spend a lot more time out and about than any tourist and usually much later into the morning, walking home from dance clubs or events at 5-6am.
I suspect that when someone is apprehensive to start with, they interpret any action or situation they do not understand as being nefarious or hostile. If anything, strangers and tourists are ignored, people are left alone with few people, including the polices paying any attention to them. There is a cultural tendency to not tell other people what to do or how to behave here. If you are not supposed to do something, like walk on the grass, it is well posted, all else is OK. There are 1000 more social and legal rules in any western country. The main issue tourists complain about is not being permitted to walk on the grass. They might come from a country with a different climate and longer growing season so damage can be regenerated quickly. When a path becomes a muddy mess due to the grass being trampled where the climate is like here, someone has to replant and care for the area, and there just are not enough gardeners to fix the damage tourist would wish to cause. There are some areas where the custom has been to allow people to lay on the grass even though they shouldn't, the largest is Field of Mars. Outside the city center, the restrictions on grass trampling is not present.
Subway/Metro platform photography has always been restricted, the flash has causes a number of deaths in the past. 2 Years ago the rule was modified so tourists can shot photos but no with flash or in a way that interferes with commuters trying to get to and from their trains.
Drinking on the street or parks is technically disallowed now but no one is going to comment about the tradition of getting a bottle of beer and setting on a park bench to drink and relax, it is a tradition. There is a GREAT deal of personal freedom here, so people can do pretty much as they wish but it also means those same people should not complain of others doing as they wish either. It is not like the west where the rule books are thick and absolute.
The only police visitors will see are possibly tourist police along Nevsky prospect in small numbers and traffic police who do not have jurisdiction over anything but traffic.
Traffic police are many places in the city center sometimes directing traffic, investigating an accident or most often seen flagging down drivers for safety and registration checks. These are sometimes used as excuses to extract small fines for infractions from drivers. Other than those 3 events where you will see traffic police, they do very little to restrict drives or speed, unfortunately. Seeing Ferrari's or super bikes racing up a busy main street in front of traffic police without even a glance is common and disturbing.
Overall, after extensive travel I would rank St Petersburg and Moscow as two of the safest big cities for lack of serious street crime. Walking up a blind alley at 3am is much more ill-advised in any city in the US or UK than here.
One concept that is unfamiliar here is the idea that a neighborhood is a "bad neighborhood. I can't think of a single part of the city where tourists should be warned about, there is not place overrun by gangs or thugs, every region has a mixture of poor and wealthy or upper middle class, often in the same buildings, there are no sections of the city that has a slum environment, although there are individual buildings that are needing restoration, the privately owned apartments inside are often expensive deluxe homes for upper middle class or wealthy.
Russia is a safe place most of the time, but watch your pockets.
Sometimes a group of gypsies will come to St. Petersburg tourist centers and ask for money. In more aggressive cases they will swarm a person and grab at him. One will get their hands into your pockets and take anything of value.
If you are ever surrounded by a group of people poking at you or circling you, yel "No" or "Nyet" loudly and hold your purse or camera tightly and guard your pockets. If they start touching you, push them away aggressively. No one will criticize you if you elbow or knock them down.
They sometimes target elderly people they think will not fight back and try to run off with purse, camera or money.
The police will help you and generally they move the aggressive gypsie groups away if they see them.
There are many wonderful gypsy people in the world now called Rom, but watch out for these other bands of criminals. You will see them in groups in colorful clothes that are often rumpled or dirty looking. Walk on the other side of the street, hold your valuables tightly and be safe.
Before I went to Russia, I did read that sometimes you might encounter a kid (often referred to as a gypsy, but I think it may be any kid) who will follow you around asking for money. The advice given was that you should shrug them off and say a stern "NYET" equivalent to meaning "Leave Me Alone". If you do give money, either other kids will approach you or you will be distracted and fall prey to pickpocketing or snatching of your camera.
So, I walked the streets of St. Petersburg and never encountered such a situation until one day...
I was walking by the Church of Spilt Blood and saw a wedding ceremony so I took pictures and I think some vagrants noticed I was so touristy and 2 kids started to touch my elbow, asking for change. Normally, I must confess I do submit to the persistence and give money (I am too compassionate with kids), but then I saw a woman sitting at the distance looking at us and she seemed to be signalling at the kids. I then followed the advice --- I shruggged them off and said a loud NYET. I saw the woman shake her head and then the kids left me...
Avoid side-streets and arch paths at any time of a day, i was by myself and it was still many people around passing by one of such arches 100 meters away from Nevsky, and there were about 7-10 criminals apparently waiting for a victim.
My friend from St. Pete strongly recommended not to go inside the yards.
Avoid central area of Vassilevsky island ,there is practically nothing to do and no people around to help you as well.
Everyone walks and you are generally pretty safe on the public streets. But take precautions. Busy buses or metro trains are a good place to meet the pickpocket.
Your back pant pockets do not belong to you.
Do not have a wallet there.
Keep them zipped in a jacket pocket, shirt pocket, or better yet, get a waist or neck strap wallet and keep valuables safe.
Do not keep money with your passport, it may disappear when it is checked. Be wary of policmen who make low salaries and may accost you for money if you give them a chance to do it. Don't walk around looking drunk or an easy target. If the pick pocket doesn't notice you the police may...
It is disappointing to see many english words, hip-hop nicknames and negative slogans popping up in many locations in St. Petersburg. It is always disappointing to see graffiti on historical buildings and art anywhere.
This is one part of American culture we wish had not appearred in Russia. The music and dancing is great but the graffiti ... There is a group trying to organize hip-hop culture in Russia in their own way, you can see on their website and write to them about what you think. So far I just see a copycat of the American hip-hop 25 years ago.
Hip-hop culture, music, break dancing and prolific graffiti, has fertile ground in Russia because it was not allowed in 1970 when hip-hop culture started in America.
The grafitti branding is found in arches, courtyards, buildings and fences and as happened in America, the local government is playing catchup to stop the vandalism part of the activity.
With the end of the Soviet police state, crime rate has been on the rise throughout Russia, however, in relation to other major cities in the world, it is still quite safe. Take the usual precautions which include not flaunting valuables, or walking alone at night through city streets or parks.
There seem to be no immediate connection between the two and I wonder, is it my imagination? On Nevsky prospect I was approached by a young lady with the question: Sir, would you buy me an ice cream?
Sounds pretty innocent but the price of ice cream is negligent, except as a real Petersburgian she would have had a fit if her ice cream dependence was not immediately addressed and still she had to buy a subway ticket. The second scenario includes her as a prostitute without a go-between and other ideas for contacting the opposite sex. It looked quite dangerous to me. Please submit your comments!
First of all, I'm not a racist. I just noticed that even at the day time a group of foreigners or some lonely foreigner get surround by Gipsies and here we are going - they become owners of your money, passport, camera etc. Especially often this stuff happens on Nevskiy Prospect or undeground. Please don't panic if this is your fate. Just keep cool and get concentrated on your stuff and not on what is going on around you.
It won't take you too long to note that drivers will cruise on the wrong side of the road, reverse down major streets, and even use the sidewalk when they have to when avoiding the countless potholes. Don't take anything for granted - local drivers treat one-way streets, traffic lights, and the sanctity of crosswalks as suggestions rather than laws. Make sure you look carefully before you cross and then run.
Foreigners can legally drive on almost all of Russia's roads and highways.
Be careful with your values: Only bring some money with you when you go out and keep the rest in a safelocker at your hotel. Take evn extra care if using the metro - within ten minuttes they tried rubbing me twice! Fortunately without succes, still have my things though less money as I just had to spend some on souvenirs;)
Look out for packs of gypsies on the metro. What looks to be a Mom or two with a pack of little kids is actually a skilled group of pickpockets. The locals avoid them and the metro cops round them up even before they have a chance to do anything. As an American, the gypsies' appearance looks almost Hispanic and the cops' practices seem more like racial profiling, but just keep an eye out and you won't lose any of your valuables.
Like any big city St Petersburg has problems with street crime. Just use common sense. Also watch out for young children with babies, as they will wrap themselves around your legs begging for money.
It is very sad, but please don't give them money. The only way to get rid of them is gently shake your leg and start walking slowly. We don't want to injure anyone now do we ?
There arae a lot of dangers in St. Petersburg for abroad tourists. Like they charge You in shops or ticket office with double price or more if they understand You are foreigner. It's good to have somebody with You speaking fluidly russian. Police (militia) may not help You every time. Some hotels took Your passport and give You a paper You must show to militia when they ask.
Crime and violent attacks may happen at nights. If we visited Grand Theatre there where many pickpocketers even in theatre and they tried to steal from closed bags with knife.
It is a war going on the streets of St. Pete. Not so much between the mafia and the law but between automobiles and pedestrians.
Never in my life have I seen so many people driving recklessly along with people darting across the road with out looking.
I made a comment to my friend, I stated that I lived my whole life in NYC and I never saw anyone ever get hit by a car.
No less then 2 hours later I saw some teenager get 'waked' by a car.
Note: the kid was alright, all he hurt was his pride.