For those (like ourselves) not familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet, Russia is not the easiest country in the world to find your way around in, and dual-alphabet signage is now only just starting to appear, and only in the main tourist areas. It is doubly-important, then, that the independent traveller find accommodation which is as close to all the main attractions as possible, and which is, itself, easy to find, in a street everybody knows. It also helps if the hotel is small and friendly, with staff who speak English sufficiently-well to get you over the first-half-day hurdles.
The Northern Lights Hotel, in St Petersburg, in my opinion, ticks all the boxes. We consider ourselves very lucky indeed to have found this establishment -- I think we might have heard of it first on Tripadvisor, but maybe it was on waytorussia.net -- and our experience there was so rewarding that we consider it a payback and a pleasure to give them a few kind words on this forum.
Location: unless you have a week to spend on your sightseeing (it's a big city!) you need to be near the river, as close as possible to the Hermitage (the tourist office is just outside), and, hopefully, close to Nevsky Prospekt, which is the main boulevard cutting right through the city. It also helps if you are near a landmark which everybody knows and is on every street map.
Well, Northern Lights is an eight-minute stroll from the river, a further three minutes along the riverside to the Hermitage, and its street actually runs off Nevsky Prospekt (there's a McDonald's sign pointing into the street from Nevsky.... past McDonalds and about two more blocks, and there you are). What's more, Northern Lights is only half a block from St Isaac's Square, one of the main landmarks in the city -- you can see the dome of the church from afar. Just for a clincher, Northern Lights is directly opposite the house where Vladimir Nabokov used to live and work, and which is now a museum (currently giving free admission).
The building itself is nothing to write home about, and there is little on the outside to advertise the fact that a cozy hotel is inside.... just a buzzer (number 6) with the name of the hotel beside it. Once you are buzzed in through the security outside door, you walk up a dank and dingy staircase -- it looks like something out of a black-and-white foreign movie; the kind where Anna Magnani stands at the top and yells down abuse to people at the front door, while kids run up and down, their footsteps echoing on the concrete walls -- to the third floor, where suddenly you see a very new-looking door.... the only thing in the building that doesn't look like it's been there since the Stalin era.
That's Northern Lights, and when you walk in, the atmosphere changes instantly and dramatically... cozy, warm, bright, clean, no echoes.
The staff is at least three young girls -- that's all we encountered, anyway -- and each one speaks English quite beautifully. They are very welcoming and eager to please... nothing is too much trouble. They bring the (included) breakfast right to your room, which is equipped with table and chairs. If you bring food from outside, you can store it in their refrigerator (there is a supermarket just across the canal a block away, and we found this a good way to save a bit of money, as St Petersburg (and, in fact, Russia generally) is NOT cheap).
If you want the internet, you are welcome to use theirs, free of charge. I had one main question to ask (at the insistence of my teenage daughter): where is the ballet school where Nijinsky, Pavlova and Nureyev trained? That didn't throw them for a second, and we found it easily (a ten-minute walk... it seems that just about everything we wanted to see was a ten-minute walk). When we were leaving, and needed an edge-of-town address, they checked it on the net and told us which bus to catch and where. They wrote directions down in Russian so we could show the bus conductor. In short, their care of their guests is impeccable.
Northern Lights is a budget boutique hotel... just five rooms and a bathroom/toilet (we kept returning to use that, hours after we had actually checked out... public toilets are not too common and invariably cost you money in Russia). Everything was spotlessly clean, and they weren't put out by our post-check-out drop-ins. They willingly stored our backpacks until our ferry left in the late afternoon.
When we returned to Australia, there was an email from Northern Lights thanking us for staying with them. The pleasure, girls, was all ours. Highly recommended.