Policemen & bureaucrats. For any Western traveller disturbing the system anybody want to visit the country can be refused at the border. (One of my favourite "your documents not wrote in Cyrillic"!) The registration system is good way for some bribing. The average street policeman could not speak any foreign language, but if you look like a tourist, you could be a target for money income source. No panic! Ask always receipt and name(s) of officer(s).
Saint Petersburg has a somewhat undeserved reputation for being a dangerous city. Things have calmed down since the Wild West (or Wild East) days immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but some common sense is still required.
Take care of money, documents, cameras, mobile phones, and anything of value because of pickpocketing. Especially watch out on the Metro during busy times, as people start pushing at the train doors, and pickpockets are frequent, particularly (but not only) at Gostinyy Dvor Metro Station. When riding the Metro, keep in mind that robbery can be a real threat; you should constantly watch what is going on around you and who is standing very close to you. Nevsky Prospekt and nearby markets are also pickpocket hangouts.
Theft of photo equipment is really a big problem in Saint Petersburg. Photo bags probably won't save your camera—it can be opened in less than 5 seconds; the straps can be slashed with a knife even more quickly. Cameras should be kept in bags slung across the body at all times, with your hands keeping a firm grip on them, and no watches or jewelry should be visible at all. Quite obviously, do not show in public that you have a lot of money. Robberies are not uncommon, and many foreigners have been threatened at gun and knife point. However, foreigners are not targeted specifically, and robbers will attack both foreigners and natives that carelessly reveal their wealth.
As with most other major cities, avoid traveling alone at night, and do not get into altercations with drunks. If traveling at night, it is recommended to stay on the main sidewalks and avoid any dark alleys or yards.
Downtown and western parts of the city are safest. Suburbs like Kupchino, Veteranov and Ligovo are struggling with criminality and poverty. Sennaya should be avoided at night time.
As a general rule, the farther you are from the city center, the more dangerous it is.
Gangs are a problem, although mafia gang wars are unlikely to affect tourists. Some gangs, however, such as neo-Nazis or angry hooligans, are out looking for problems and commit crimes that can affect tourists. Hatred toward people with darker complexions is not uncommon, and neo-Nazism is a concern. St. Petersburg, and Russia in general, can be regarded as a seriously dangerous destination for tourists of darker complexions so travelling in groups is highly advised.
Saint Petersburg's football club, Zenit Saint Petersburg, is one of the biggest clubs in the country, and has its own band of hooligans. If you decide to visit the football stadium to watch the club play, you should buy tickets to center sectors. If you do not do this and a fight starts, you are likely to get dragged into it by either the hooligans or the police, since both will think you are part of the brawl.
Take special care on Nevsky Prospekt, particularly the area with the city tour buses, a favorite spot of pickpockets and particularly of those after photo equipment. On the bright side, "Nevsky Prospekt" sees little mugging.
Russian driving is wild. Drivers attack their art with an equal blend of aggressiveness and incompetence. Guidelines are lax and rarely followed. As a pedestrian, take great care when crossing the roads, as pedestrian crossings are in 99% of cases ignored (even by police). If you are thinking of driving yourself, bear in mind that the local traffic police are extremely corrupt, even by Russian standards. Pedestrian crossings with a traffic light are quite safe to use, most car drivers will stop.
Bar fights do occur. In the center of the city and around Nevsky Prospekt, they are rare. However, in the suburbs and local cheaper pubs, fights occur almost daily. If you are staying with locals living in these areas, it might be a good idea to avoid these bars. Police are unlikely to show up as they consider fights as small, unimportant, regular and a waste of time, and they will probably laugh at you for calling.
Gypsy cabs are ubiquitous and a little risky; never take one lingering near bars/clubs where expatriates and tourists congregate.
Saint Petersburg has a relatively big problem with street children who make their living out of stealing. They can be a hassle and can beg you aggressively. Act like any other Russian would: say no, then just ignore them and go away. If they start touching you, be very firm in pushing them away.
Gay travelers must practice extreme caution while staying in Saint Petersburg, as attacks often occur. Many Russian people look upon public demonstrations of homosexuality with undisguised contempt.
Another subtle danger that can affect your trip is the inevitable effect of winter weather. Poor harvesting of snow and ice is a big problem in city. Caution is advised in snowy winters because of falling ice from roofs, and pedestrians should pay special attention to ice on the streets. Snow on marble is very, very slippery—take small steps and watch your feet!
St. Petersburg regularly experienced floods during its history, sometimes catastrophic. However, the construction of the preventive dam has been completed, and catastrophic floods are unlikely to happen again.
Overall, be warned that if you are used to living in the US and/or Western Europe, Saint Petersburg, as well as the rest of Eastern Europe, will seem different, and, at times, a bit intimidating. On the other hand, Russian people are usually friendly, welcoming and interested towards foreigners, and nothing should happen to you unless you put yourself in harm's way. If you don't care about them they don't care about you, and nothing should get in your way of having a great holiday.
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