The belly of the city: St Petersburg markets worth visiting for a tourist

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London’s Portobello market was described by Ruth Rendell as London’s “Belly of the city”. Referring to it as capturing the life, movements and bustle of the city itself. We can definitely find a “belly” in our beloved city as well. Or maybe even several of them. Markets of all kinds were always perfect places to smell, taste and soak in the everyday life of locals and feel the authentic city’s spirit. Some highly popular tourist destinations like Barcelona or Paris turned their markets into tourist attractions, giving new life to thes long-living witnesses of urban hustle and bustle. Here we put the main city markets that have substantial touristic and historical value.

  1. Kuznechny Market
Kuznechny Market historic facade on Kuznechny Lane

This centrally located historical market sells groceries, and resembles good old European markets. The building was erected at the dawn of the 20th century and bears Soviet symbols of prosperity. The prices are higher than in a supermarket, but if you are renting an apartment downtown and you want to cook something, this is a perfect place to go. Products sold here are of exceptional quality, starting with mellow farmer’s fruit and Russian traditional dairy products, to cosmopolitan spices and juicy meat.

Kusnechny Market in the 1980s

Our recommended best buys are homemade Smetana (it is sour cream, but trust us, it is nowhere close to western analog), flower honey, succulent pickles, fruit and nuts from Caucasus vendors (you will recognize them straight away, they are the loudest to promote their merchandise). You can also find a few souvenir stalls as well as a tempting chocolate counter. Within the market there is a small Soviet-style cafeteria offering cheap simple lunches and traditional Uzbek and Caucasus bakery products.

Currently the market is undergoing a reorganization process. Probably in less than half a year it will not be the same anymore: another reason for you to go and see it now!

How to get there: turn from Nevsky Avenue onto Vladimirsky Avenue and once you reach Dostoevsky monument, turn left. Your destination is a 2 minutes walk from there. Another option: get off on Vladimirskaya metro station and once you go out, turn left. You will see the market in 1 minute.

Tip from locals: Vendors always offer free samples of products, but there is an unwritten rule: try only if you are really planning to buy something, not necessarily from this merchant.

  1. Sennoy Market

Another central grocery market, but bigger and less expensive. It is one of the oldest markets in the city, it was first recorded in the early 18th century as “Sennoy rynok” (hay market), a place for vending hay, straw and logs. The name was later transferred to the square itself, and to the metro station. Unlike Kuznechny market, Sennoy is not frequented by tourists, only locals from downtown households shop for their groceries here.

The place has an immense variety of fruit, vegetables and spices at affordable prices.  Meat, fish, cheeses and dairy are also of greater quality than in a supermarket. Literally any part of any animal may be found here (a cow’s heads, pig’s tails and ears, beef cheeks). This is the luxury that even the biggest supermarkets cannot offer you.

Sennoy Market and the Church of Savior on Sennaya Square in the late XIX century, photo credit: static.biblioclub.ru

How to get there: get off at Sennaya Square metro station, turn left to Efimova Street and go till you reach Sennaya Shopping centre. Go inside and shop through it, leaving on the other side. The market is squeezed between Efimova Street and Moskovsky Avenue.

Tip from locals: Same rules apply – try only if you are planning a purchase. And bargain, especially if you are coming later in the afternoon. 

  1. Udelnaya Flea Market, St Petersburg

If you are a real flea market lover, then you might have heard about this one by now. It is poles apart though, from a traditional European flea market experience. Don’t expect having an opportunity to seat for a gourmet croissant with coffee, and listen to some street musician playing accordion. First of all, it is not in the city centre, it is not quiet and it is not cute. It embodies pretty much everything that foreigners are afraid about Russia: huge space, messy organization (or absence of organization) and bargaining like there’s no tomorrow. But this is at the same time the greatest value of “Udelka”! If you love flea markets for the thrill of bargain and treasure searching through piles of rubbish, you will LOVE this place! It has a very special spirit, thanks not only to the items on sale, but also to the merchants themselves.

Here you can find all kinds of Soviet-era authentic items like kids toys, porcelain statuettes, military firearms, medals and regales, vintage photos, postcards, coins, posters, candle holders and many more trinkets. We do believe that they serve as souvenirs much better than China made Matreshkas and Faberge Eggs, as they carry the spirit of an time. If you get excited about the place, check Prospect Mag’s full review with merchants’ interview and tips on best buys.

How to get there: take a Blue Metro line up north to the last station (Udelnaya), once outside turn left and follow through random bazaars. Keep following the railway until you reach the flea market itself. It should take you about 10 minutes, once you get off the subway.

Tip from locals: be careful with taking photos. Merchants don’t like to be photographed and they can be verbally abusive, so you better shoot like a spy.

  1. Apraksin Dvor (Aprashka)

This is the market that Dostoevsky wrote about:14 hectares market nestled between Sadovaya and the Fontanka in the center of downtown. This is where you get that authentic local shopping experience: it seems to be a completely wild mess, but actually it is well organized. If you know where to go, you may find a fake Valentino dress or Hermes handbag that you couldn’t tell from real. Locals come here for clothing and accessories, particularly for furs and leather goods (on this category you may get a real deal!). Surprisingly the price-quality ratio here is the best in the city; you just have to be very patient and determined.

The first market was here in mid 18th century.  It was all wood, and burnt to the ground in 1782. In 1863 a new department store was opened, and by 1913 Apraksin Dvor had more than 500 shops! Now the city government is planning to turn the market into modern recreation and cultural space, like New Holland, so hurry up before this gem disappears from St Petersburg map.

How to get there: get off at Sennaya/Sadovaya/Spasskaya metro station, turn right. The market starts from Apraksin Pereulok and occupies the whole block till Lomonosova Street. Just enter any of the archways and try not to get lost once you are inside.

Tip from locals: no tips, just come here with a local and keep you wallet close to your heart 

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