St Petersburg may be best known for its arts, culture and history, but over the past few years, Russia’s second city has proved itself to be also a fantastic setting for major football tournaments – dynamic, atmospheric, and with high COVID safety standards.
The city hosted seven Euro 2020 matches this year (the tournament was held in 2021 due to COVID-related delays), allowing a total of 132,752 people to attend the live games at the Gazprom Arena stadium.
Poland supporter Luke Zawadzki from Chicago, United States, is a huge fan of football and travels to see his team play as often as he can. He was in St Petersburg for much of the competition this summer.
He told Euronews: “I visited Russia during the 2018 World Cup and I really liked it. I was in Moscow and Kazan, so this time I wanted to visit St Petersburg because I had been told it's a very beautiful city. I wasn't disappointed at all.”
Luke spent a fortnight in the city, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying the matches, meeting new people and making the most of the sights, experiences and the unique culture. He said while he may have been disappointed not to see Poland go through to a second round this time, he still found the city itself amazing, especially the White Nights.
St Petersburg’s famous White Nights take place between the end of May to mid-July, when the sun never fully sets and the sky stays softly lit throughout the night – making it an ideal time for visitors to pack as much as possible into their visits.
Luke added: “I was in St Petersburg for two weeks. Of course, I liked the atmosphere there, it was a little different, probably because of COVID, but overall everything was fine. Gazprom Arena is a beautiful stadium. I went there for three games, Poland-Slovakia, Sweden-Slovakia and Poland-Sweden.”
Gazprom Arena, on Krestovsky Island, was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, whose quirky inspiration for the architecture was the vision of a spaceship that had landed on the shores of the Gulf of Finland. With a capacity of 68,000, the stadium is near the city centre and has three metro stations within walking distance.
The stadium is set to play host to the UEFA Champions League Final on 28 May 2022 next year.
Eduard Osipovich Dvorkin, St Petersburg's Physical Culture and Sports Committee Press Secretary, explained to Euronews that the city has already begun preparing for the big game behind the scenes.
“Now, the city - together with UEFA - has begun active preparations for the final match of the UEFA Champions League,” he said. “There are no plans to build any new infrastructure within the framework of the event; we will actively use the legacy of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2020 European Football Championship.”
He went on to say that the COVID safety standards in place during the Euros had set the bar high in the city: “Despite the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Government of St Petersburg with other involved organizations ensured that matches of the final tournament of the European Football Championship were held in accordance with all international standards.
"This concerned both the preparation of the city infrastructure, as well as ensuring safety and working with fans. As a result of the tournament, we received the highest marks from the UEFA leadership.”
Football supporters planning on heading to St Petersburg for the big game from further afield can do so by air, with the city's airport offering connections to most European and some Asian countries, or even by train via rail links from Central European countries as well as from the Baltics, France, Germany and Finland.
Fans will no doubt will be looking forward to spending time in the city’s sports bars, the Gazprom stadium and, although it’s yet to be confirmed, the much-loved Fan Zone in Palace Square, where the atmosphere was reportedly electric during the summer’s Euro games.
The Football Village at Konyushennaya Square, with family entertainment, refreshments and match screenings may also be reopened for the UEFA Champions League Final, along with the Football Park at Yubileiny, where sports activities and screenings were also held during the Euros.
Regardless of where visiting fans end up choosing to spend their time during the event, many will be reassured to know that the whole city is part of the international World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) program for safe tourism – Safe Travels.
This initiative recognised St Petersburg, which was the first city in Russia to join, as having implemented health and hygiene regulations that are aligned with WTTC’s Global Safe Travels Protocols. In other words, tourists can relax safe in the knowledge that the services provided by city tourism organisations meet international standards.
So with health matters in safe hands, that leaves little for football tourists to worry about over the next few months... except whether or not their team makes it through to the final.