The former imperial capital still captivates, with accommodations that are often nothing short of sumptuous. In fact, as elsewhere in modern Russia, where luxury almost always means opulence, sophisticated minimalist interiors are few and far between here. Instead, heavy curtains, tapestries, ornate furniture, and deep carpeting grace the interiors of many of the top hotels, some of which are set in stately 19th-century mansions and charge prices to match the surroundings. One pervasive shortcoming is service, and in even in some of the grandest hotels you might encounter a somewhat haughty staff.
Like Moscow, St. Petersburg has a shortage of moderately priced hotels, and even economy-class hotels cost about twice the price you'd pay in almost any other European city. The best budget options are some of the guesthouses in former mansions that were converted to communal apartments during the Soviet era. Much nicer in this reincarnation, they're intimate, have a genial atmosphere, are often furnished with antiques, and charge rates that often include home-cooked breakfasts and modern comforts, such as free Wi-Fi.
On an organized tour, you're likely to land in one of the old standbys run by Intourist, the Soviet tourist agency monopoly. Most U.S. and British tour operators take advantage of the discounted rates at the Moskva or the Oktyabrskaya. If you're traveling on your own, the main reason to choose one of these hotels is their lower rates; many of them aren't convenient to major attractions.
An expanding number of realty agents like City Realty can organize a suitable and safe apartment rental, usually in the center of the city. The prices for such apartments usually run the level of three-star hotels, but accommodations often have much more space.