I have just returned from what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I was bowled over by the vast number of magnificent and grand buildings.
We were lucky with some lovely weather which allowed us to do what we enjoy best - walk the city. We covered a huge area and managed very easily ourselves with no need for a guide. Smolny, Peter and Paul, area around the Marinsky . . . We walked miles! We found the city well sign posted and street names have the roman letter equivalents on them which makes following a map very straight forward. Also, a quick look at the google maps app on the phone really helped with navigation too. We also used the metro which was a delight compared with London!
I feel quite lucky to visit in October. There was a definite sense of the main tourist 'cruise ship' time of year being over and consequently none of the sites were too busy and there was no hustle and bustle. We were very alert to street crime but didn't feel watched or approached or followed. Could the pickpocket gangs have moved on with the cruise tourists? We felt very safe. No queues anywhere! Not even when visiting the Hermitage.
We saw some amazing cathedrals, beautiful canals and bridges and just so much history.
When I told people we were going there was very much an expectation that one should have a 'guide'. We didn't and I don't think we needed one. I read a lot before we went and have a pretty good knowledge of the history. So much information was in English, eg the prison at Peter and Paul fortress.
This is a modern 'western' city and not one to be afraid of. I am slightly envious of those of you that live here!