I’m writing this because not so many days ago a friend of mine asked more or less this same question. And I won’t lie, I asked myself this too when I was planning my first trip to Moscow/S.Petersburg. Back then I knew almost nothing about Russia, apart from the things you can usually read in history books and that they have some amazing novelists. Anyway, what I found on the internet wasn’t always encouraging, especially if you are a woman. Most people were just as enthusiastic as I felt, but every now and then I came across people who suggested to only go with tour operators so that they’d take you to the main attractions and pick you up soon after (boooring!), even in the main cities. They also said to not wander the streets after the sunset (!), to not look at the policemen too much (!!) and stuff like that.
Now, since I’ve always been in love with Russian culture of course I decided to go and ignore all the scaremongering. Plus I’m from a city that sadly has a quite high crime rate so it’s not like I’m a naive woman who can’t tell a bad neighborhood apart from a good one and I’ve been to almost every big town of Europe so I know how it works.
Granted, the very first thing that happened right after getting on the train from S.Piet’s airport to the town’s center was that my friend got robbed! Anyway, at home I was robbed ten meters from my own house, I’ve witnessed bag-snatches in Lisbon, Paris (twice), Madrid. Bad things happen all over the world and big towns are almost never entirely safe.
Apart from that single episode on the metro my (our) perception of danger has been basically non-existent. Moscow and St. Petersburg are two incredibly beautiful cities, full of history and life and also quite tiring because of the long distances, so make sure you have very comfortable shoes. It is enough to use common sense and the normal precautions that would be used in any other huge city. I mean, I wouldn’t go and stare at policemen anywhere. Even traveling on the night train that connects the two cities, in second class, was fun and safe and as comfortable as it can be. Actually, the beds are even a little wider than those I found on other trains in the rest of Europe.
When I left Moscow it was dawn, the sky was pink and the city lights were still on. I swallowed my tears because I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of the taxi driver, but I miss Russia so much, and I’m planning to come back soon, probably for a trip a little more focused on natural landscapes.