A few intrepid travelers come to St. Petersburg by car from Finland. Driving in Russia is best avoided. Roads are poor, petrol stations few and far between and the quality of the fuel is inferior. An International Driving Permit and licence from the driver's home country is required. The minimum driving age is 18 years. Bringing a car from Europe entails making a customs declaration promising to take it out on departure. Also required are the vehicle registration documents and proof of valid insurance cover.
Major roads are designated by a letter (such as ‘M' for motorway) and a corresponding number. Traffic drives on the right, speed limits are 60kph (37mph) in the city, 110kph (68mph) in outlying areas and 120kph (72mph) on highways. It is illegal to turn left on most main thoroughfares. The wearing of seatbelts is mandatory.
Drink driving is a very serious offence likely to result in a prison sentence. In law, a blood alcohol ratio of 0.04% is permissible, however, in practice, drinking any alcohol and then driving is illegal.
Once in St. Petersburg, head straight to your hotel and settle the parking question. It's easy to park in St. Petersburg, since any sidewalk or embankment is fair game, though underground garages are extremely scarce in this city built on swampland. Existing maps in English do not indicate one-way streets or other crucial driving details, though the Russian-language pocket-size Atlas of St. Petersburg Roads (Atlas Dorog Peterburga) is quite useful.
Traffic in St. Petersburg has gone from a trickle to a substantial rush-hour event over the past decade. Be sure to have all of the car's documentation in perfect order, as the ever-hungry traffic police will quickly spot and fine any infraction. Renting a car with a driver is easier and often cheaper than driving your own.
Emergency breakdown service:
Open: 24 hours
Routes to the city: The main roads into the city are the M10 from Helsinki to Moscow and the M11 from Berlin via Poland.
Approximate driving times to St Petersburg:
- From Helsinki - 5 hours 30 minutes
- Moscow - 10 hours 30 minutes
- Berlin - 25 hours