What to buy in St Petersburg, Russia
Update 26. February 2022 +++ Do not travel
On 24 February, Russian troops invaded Ukraine and started an unprovoked war. I therefore advise you not to visit Russia while this war is going on. With further sanctions against Russia looming, you may be unable to fly to and from Russia, get cash out of ATMs, and other unforeseeable obstacles, plus visiting is likely to support a totalitarian regime that does not respect the independence of neighbouring countries.
Looking for souvenirs to buy in St Petersburg? Shopping in Russia can mean big spending or keeping your roubles together – depending what you are looking for! Here come some tips on what to buy in St Petersburg which reflect my actual shopping on a short on a visa-free trip to St Petersburg by ferry in autumn 2019.
What to buy in St Petersburg – essential spending
My biggest spend was hotel accommodation by far. It was arranged through St Peter Line and came with a mark-up. Note that many tourists can now visit St Petersburg visa-free for seven days if they arrive by air, so you have a ton more choice when it comes to accommodation. Read some of my recommendations.
And then… a little bit of shopping, but steering away from the diamonds and the furs, or the designer outfits, I managed to spend relatively little money on things that are either useful, consumable.
Alright, so here we go! Okay, these copy Faberge eggs qualify for neither and are one of the rare “crazy stuff you do not need but got to have”. You can see that Aria tried to claim some of my souvenirs as soon as I unpacked them.
Although never a big fan of the Soviet ideology, despite having been indoctrinated at an early age, I do like their propaganda designs and. The graphic design that comes with all this communist propaganda often bloody good.
I may not have gotten my hands on some original posters, but then, on my last day, I walked through the historical”Passage” shopping arcade and came across this beautiful boutique full of silk stuff. It was a shop run by the Russian Label Radical Chic who specialise in silk, wool and cashmere accessories. Their prints are vibrant, and some really inventive. A bit like a Hermes carre on a budget. Beautiful thick Italian silk very clean print, hand rolling of the edges not quite up to Hermes, though.
But it had the desired Soviet design. And since I have a weakness for colourful scarves (they go so well with my monochrome clothes), this on was bought. Not cheap at about 100 Euros, but quality.
If you are more into traditional patterns, try a Pavlovsky Posad wool shawl. You can probably buy them in department stores, but there is a store dedicated to them near Moscow Station, on 87/2 Nevsky Prospekt. Prices start at a reasonable 25 Euro for a large cotton one but a good woolly one will be 100 Euro upwards.
There are probably a lot of traditional Russian brands that warrant a try and buy. Nevskaya Kosmetika is one of my suggestions on inexpensive souvenirs to buy in St. Petersburg – made in St Petersburg! At first, I was drawn to their retro packaging, very reminiscent of what we had in Eastern Germany.
Nevskaya Kosmetika is easily found in drugstores all over town. Most of what you find in drug stores and pharmacies are international brands, but look carefully, and you will find most stock a large amount of this homegrown brand.
Birch Tar Soap
I love soap and have many soaps in my cupboard. This one goes under “industrial strength” and is not one to keep your cupboards fragrant unless you like a really strong medicinal smell. It’ll probably repel the moth pretty good! The birch tar is extracted from bark, and is antiseptic, antiparasitic and anti-inflammatory. So good for skin prone to acne, or as a general hand soap. I have rather dry skin so I don’t use it on my face. But anyone with an oily complexion and blackheads/whiteheads/acne might find this really useful.
Cloudberry Moisturizing Face Cream and Spermaceti Deeply Nourishing Face Cream
Winter, here we come! This is a very low-cost alternative to my Aesop Elemental Facial Barrier Cream. Yup, at less than a Euro its about fifty times cheaper than the lovely Aesop product. The Cloudberry Cream is an all-purpose rich daily moisturizer, especially in harsh weather conditions.
The Spermaceti face cream had me hooked because of its name. I know, there are snail slime and snake and all sorts of weir cosmetic products but spermatocytes? I am relieved to find that this cream does not contain sperm of any kind, nor wax esters from the sperm whale. It is simply a nourishing cream rich in olive and mineral (?) oils. I know this doesn’t sound amazing at first but it is somewhat a cult product in Russia. I have a few patches of dry skin where nothing but an expensive lotion works, so this will undergo the super dry skin test. Please not it is not to be confused with spermacidal, so don’t use it for contraception.
Is Nevskaya Kosmetika a natural skin care brand? Nope. The moisturizers contain parabens and Methylisothiazolinone as preservatives, which may be allergenic to some and have been linked to toxicity. They do not use artificial fragrance or colourants.
Is Nevskaya Kosmetika cruelty-free? To be honest, I have no idea. Their cosmetics use natural ingredients but Russia is not part of the EU animal-free testing legislation. They do not appear to sell in China. Instructions and ingredients are listend in Russian, Kazakh, Romanian and Georgian. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until I find out more.
Not going to Russia? You can buy some Nevskaya Kosmetika products online.
Apart from the small tchotchkes below, I did not buy any jewellery. Depending on what style of jewellery you like and whether you are looking for gems mined in Russia, jewellery may be a good buy in St Petersburg. I did look at some, in particular the display of the “Yakutian Diamonds” shop next to my hotel. I visited one of their stores to look at some rather nice diamond earrings and they seemed a knowledgeable and friendly shop, going to great length to explain the different qualities of diamonds.
Russia is one of the worlds largest producer of natural diamonds, with most diamonds being actually mined in the Far Eastern Federal Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). Russian diamonds are labelled “conflict free”. Most diamond mining companies are majority owned by the Russian Federation. Letting aside the small issue with breakaway regions supported by Russia and the occupation of the Crimea. So, as far as I am concerned, not completely conflict or civil war free. However, all this said, Russia has a great reputation for diamonds, their cutting is usually done locally and is of excellent quality.
Also, Russia has a reputation for gold – especially Vintage Soviet rose gold is good value. But honestly, I did not see any in the “585 Gold” chain stores or the international chains. So, no win on vintage Soviet gold. The “St Petersburg Jewellery Factory” actually produces some nice pieces, which you can buy near Lesnaya Metro Station in Kantemirovskaya Street in Northern St Petersburg.
Sewing is very popular in Russia. From what I observed, Russians are big time into home sewing. Magazines like Burdastyle were some of the first to be published under perestroika, and when I go browsing in my favourite Berlin fabric warehouse, I hear a lot of Russian. And when I went to the theatre, many locals came dressed up really well, in what looked very much like home-sewn creations and accessories.
On my walks, I came across at least one fabric shop, and walked in, It was a rather crazy mix of some very colourful fabrics, none of which grabbed my attention.
I visited one linen shop near Moscow Station (“Russian Linen Shop /Lino Russo”) to only find rather high priced garments and home linens but no fabric. I found a much better choice of linen in Tallinn – read more about it here.
Well well well – we would not talk about food and drink if we hadn’t mentioned vodka! You can buy it everywhere, from tiny shop to huge supermarket. Two brands that make really tasty vodka at low prices are Zarskaya from St Petersburg and Stolichnaya from Moscow.
I am annoyed I did not buy a large bag of Siberian cedar nuts from a random seller at the Bronze Horseman monument. They are really nice, taste like pine nuts and indispensable for pesto and salads. They are normally bloody expensive except from the street stall they weren’t.
You will also find caviar in delicatessen, but as a vegetarian, I gave that one a miss. I also gave shopping a Eliseev a miss. I did visit the shop for the lavish decor- but none of the products really wowed me – and they were really expensive! For cheaper sweets and patisserie, you could visit “Sever-Metropol” Patisseries all over town. My hotel belonged to teh Metropol group, so We got Sever eclairs and other carb heavy treats every morning for breakfast.
My Russian is extremely rusty to say the least, but I fancied to brush it up a bit and practice my Kyril Reading skills. I also decided on my very last day to pay a visit to some of the more obscure but nonetheless beautiful Russian Orthodox Churches. I set out on a long bus ride to Chesme Church in Southern St Petersburg, almost halfway to Catherine Palace, and not only chanced upon a small service with full choir, but also one of the best church merchandise stalls.
So I bought this really lovely booklet on the Churches of St Petersburg and surroundings. I wish I could have added a day – but still managed to see three of the churches before heading back to the ferry port.
I also bought a couple of tiny wood-mounted icons and a silver medallion the stall at the Chesme Church. This is the beautiful little church you see on the title photo of the book. If you are into saints, especially Russian ones, you will find a limitless selection of icons of all sizes and silver pendants at very reasonable prices. Just avoid the “big churches” like St Isaac, Saviour of Spilled Blood or Kazan Cathedral.
Useless but very pretty things
Here’s where I abandon my usual ” I only buy consumable or useful things” when I caught a bus to the ferry terminal of St Petersburg and blew my cab money. I arrived early and stood in the check-in que for half an hour. So I had at least half an hour to spend in the very nice and very reasonably priced souvenir shop in the otherwise rather desolate Morskoy Vokzal.
First up, Faberge egg fridge magnets. I mean, every one needs them.
Then I got this rather sweet Russian doll brooch with a bear/cat chimaera. It will look nice on a chunky cardigan.
Small wooden Easter eggs for my Easter shrub – a Eastern European tradition, and very popular in German as well. I put some flowering twigs in a vase and hang these pretty eggs on them for decoration. I also got some beautiful real eggs from Romania but dare not hang them in case the cats get them.
And, to get the annual purchase of a Christmas ornament related to travel done, the wooden Christmas Egg. Aria is already very interested in it.
Therefore, after two and a half days, I left St. Petersburg with a rather light suitcase. But not all was lost – read more about my Tallinn and Helsinki fabric shopping, which ensured that I returned home with my suitcase nicely padded out!
The small print
This trip was entirely self funded. At the time of writing, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has made leisure travel to many countries impossible. I hope this post will help you plan your trip once it is safe to travel again, and in no way do I condone leisure travel while there are restrictions in place. Please ensure it is safe to travel and check with your countries foreign office. I have received no monetary or non-monetary rewards for linking aside from some affiliate links to Booking.com. I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in unless otherwise stated. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth. More details on my affiliate link policy are here. I visited Russia in autumn 2019 and first published this pos tin July 2020. This post was revised and updated on 26 February 2022.