Well folks, here we are with the third quarter final of the knock-out City Rumble tournament which had been going on since early 2021! Two quarter-finals are already behind as we see London defeating Melbourne and Seville knocking out Dhaka, meaning one semi-final is already set. The winner of today’s City Rumble will take on the victor of next week’s – which is Cairo and New York City for the final place in the final four. But today it’s the winner taking the third place, and our destinations are the Japanese capital of Tokyo and the old capital of Mother Russia (before Moscow muscled in on the gig) Leningrad. What? You thought it was called St Petersburg? Well it might be St Petersburg to you, but it will always be Leningrad to me. Just kidding! I’ve never called it that! Anyways, we are talking about two exceedingly special cities, and something tells me this is going to be a very hard call when it comes down to it.
So let’s get ready to (city) RUMBLE!
Both of these cities are to my mind, HUIGE. Statistically, Tokyo is significantly larger than St Petersburg. It’s greater area according to Google has over 37 million people, with the city itself having slightly less than 14 million. The city proper of St Petersburg has around 5.5 million. But I have to say that it’s built on a grand sale, because both times I have visited I have felt dwarfed. When getting dropped off at the bus stop near a metro in St Petersburg I was still miles form the centre and the roads were huge and the old buildings high (not sky scraper high). And perhaps this is why it seems bigger than it is, because it doesn’t have much in the way of skyscrapers bar the Lakhta Building which is 462 metres tall. The next tallest building in St Petersburg is the Peter and Paul Cathedral.
In contrast Tokyo is a city of sky scrapers, and has the Tokyo Skytree standing at 634 metres. It’s a city not just give you vertigo but also to give you a pain in the neck from all the looking up! Needless to say Tokyo, although steeped in ancient history, is a very modern city full of alternative culture, robots and tall buildings, where as St Petersburg is a city to visit for the history, the grand old buildings museums, classical music and grand boulevards.
They are aesthetically very different cities. Both incredibly rewarding in their own ways. Tokyo showcases the modern with the Miraikan Museum, a science museum where you can see robots that will interact with and loads of cutting edge technology. And you are swept around on one of the world’s most comprehensive, clean and quiet metro systems. Or perhaps a monorail. Tokyo has always fought against the elements, against earthquakes and the like, and so to counter said elements it has to be a modern city.
St Petersburg luckily doesn’t have to worry too much about earthquakes, however it does have bitterly long and cold winters to battle. So actually once you’re inside you find the place is actually very warm, if not hot. It’s a very well heated city, and the buildings have very thick walls to keep out the cold. And they’ve been built they way for a long time, and the most impressive building is the Hermitage/Winter Palace. Today it’s the centrepiece of touristic St Petersburg, a museum to rival any museum in the world. And Tokyo can’t compete with the Hermitage, Tokyo does not have a palace with the scale and grandeur of this building. It does have a number of great museums, but nothing like the Hermitage.
But back on the weather, looking for a clear differential between these two, and it has to be said that despite the humidity which is seriously oppressive in August and September, the weather is better in Tokyo. Both cities can see a bit of wind, but you can really feel the arctic breeze in St Petersburg. The river partially freezes over in winter, but even in October it was bitterly cold, and I saw snow in April. Summers are the best time to visit without a doubt, but don’t expect more than low-20s for the temperatures. In the Winter we are talking well below freezing.
Tokyo on the other hand has better weather, although to be fair here it’s very variable and depends on what time of the year you go. I would say April to June is probably the best time to visit Tokyo as it’s not too hot or cold and it’s not time for typhoon season, which comes at the end of summer and can still hang around until October. The winter is cold, but I think you are unlikely to see snow. On average 1-2 days a year of snowfall. So it’s going to be just cold, temperatures of single figures for the winter. And you know, St Petersburg COVERED in snow might be more enticing.
So ummm ok. People in Tokyo are polite. If you’re lucky maybe friendly. And will help you as best they can although some are terrified of being approached in a foreigner language and may just rin away. St Petersburg, well the Russian people get a bad rap for being unfriendly which whilst being understandable, is a bit unfair. Russian people are actually some of the warmest and most welcoming people there are, but they take time to warm to you. They initially appear cold and so if you are having a one minute encounter you may find them less than receptive. Take time to get to know someone one – buy them a drink for example, and before you know it, you have a new friend.
Value For Money
So, firstly accommodation. Not cheap in either, but I feel confident St Petersburg provides more value for money than Tokyo where hotel rooms are often on the pokey side. Neither city is a bargain destination, but finding a well-priced single room in Tokyo that isn’t a shoebox isn’t so easy. No wonder this is where Capsule Inns come from! And even some of them you can pay around $50 for. Other options include ‘business hotels’ like Toyoko Inn – a chain found around the country, but they are so small! Especially the bathrooms. If that’s not an issue for you, well they are clean and have decent amenities.
I can’t really speak for rooms in St Petersburg as in two trips I stayed in one hostel and someone’s flat. The hostel was bare bones but that was 1999 and things are a lot more geared towards foreigners these days in Russia. Doing a quick search I see a lot of options for well under $100USD which look very serviceable.
Otherwise the costs are similar I would say. Although if you buy things in supermarkets or off the street St Petersburg can be surprisingly cheap. Tokyo is not as expensive outside accommodation as you might expect. If you self-cater you can save a lot of money, and there are plenty of Ramen shops and other alternatives to restaurants which will give you great Japanese food for a fraction of the cost.
You’ve come all this way, you want to see something, right? The list of sights to see for the two cities I would say weighs heavily in terms of quantality with Tokyo. I’ve mentioned the Miraikan Museum and the Skytree, there’s also the Tokyo Tower, two Disneyland theme parks, the Tokyo Museum, the Science Museum, great temples like Todaiji and Sensoji, the palace, the Shibuya crossing, parks, cos-players in Harajuku, a Robot Restaurant, Akihabara with it’s culture and Maid Cafes, and that’s just giving myself 30 seconds to riff. There are countless more. Uneo has a beautiful lake and the Shitamachi Museum, and old museum that showcases life the in Showa era, a place I often like to mention.
St Petersburg has, aside from the Hermitage, and that Lakhla Tower, the incredible Palace Square. The Church on the Spilled Blood is a beautiful example of Orthodox architecture, Nevsky Monastery is another highlight, as is taking in a musical performance. Also check out the St Peter and Paul Fortress, and Nevksy Prospect is an incredible street. Watch the trolley buses go by.
In terms of sheer volume, Tokyo outweighs most cities in the world. Easily. But St Petersburg is wonderful just to BE there. Even if everyone that walks past you didn’t notice you or give you the slightest bit of eye contact!
Because a decision must be made. Ho hum. For me I adore St Petersburg, but I am going the other way and awarding the win, with little confidence, to Tokyo on the basis of I think on the whole people (most of which aren’t me) will enjoy it more and get a little more out of it. If the splendour of a place coupled with history and names, if just being in such a place does it for you, then St Petersburg, but it is so hard to go past the incredible Tokyo, a city that somehow is very modern but you still feel the past. A city that manages I think to have something for everyone.
Tell me what you think. Please. This was probably the hardest one yet. And then there were FIVE! Tune in next week to see if Tokyo’s opponent will be Cairo or New York City. And do comment as well today! Thanks and of course…. May the Journey Never End!