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Moscow vs. St. Petersburg - which has the edge as a place to live?

Historic Saint PetersburgA recent survey placing St. Petersburg as Russia's best city to live in has re-opened a 300-year-old rivalry between the country's twin capitals.

The conflict dates back to Peter the Great's decision to move the national elite lock, stock and barrel to his newly-built eponymous Baltic city.

And the faultlines of that enforced dose of Europhilia don't lie so far below the surface today.

While Petersburgers regard themselves as the country's cultural cream, pointing to everything from treasures of the Hermitage to the anarchic explosion of the 80s Leningrad rock scene, Moscow sees itself as the hub of wealth, power and influence.

Sniping at the pretensions of the rival city is commonplace as well: Piter is damp, grey and grubby, little changed from the flea-ridden world of a Dostoevsky novel, while the capital is branded heartless and mercenary, home to merchants who would fleece their granny for a spare kopek.

The Economist advises

Researches at The Economist Intelligence Unit, associated with The Economist finance magazine, rated 140 cities worldwide in terms of their quality of life.

And the Russian rivals came in the middle of the pack ­ but Petersburg inched ahead of Moscow, finishing 68th compared with 70th.

Vancouver, Canada, topped the charts, while London and New York were surprisingly close to the Russian pair, both placing in the mid-50s.

The study of "liveability" monitors 30 indicated across five broad categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

Our readers reflect

Those old prejudices were borne out by many of our readers who told us what they thought about the two cities.

From lifelong residents of one or the other to recent arrivals from the rest of Russia or around the world, there was a common theme: Petersburg is more relaxed, but working in Moscow is more lucrative.

Olga Khrustaleva, born in Ryazan and now studying in Petersburg after a spell living in the capital, said she was happy with her adopted home ­ but missed friends from Moscow.

"Salaries are lower, but I guess most things are cheaper ­ apartments, rent, even the metro," she said. "St. Peter is more people-friendly and everything is in the centre and reachable in a short walk.

"I like both cities, but Petersburg is more European. But it's more difficult to find good job opportunities here."

That was echoed by Yekaterina Khazina who moved north after seven years in Moscow.

She grumbled about problems clearing up the snow and was dubious about its cultural reputation.

"I still feel like it's a provincial town here, and I think despite being dubbed Russia's cultural capital it lacks events," she said. "And for the same job you would get paid twice as much in Moscow.

"But I think St. Petersburg is a better place for me."

Home is best

Ilya Bogachyov has lived all his life in Moscow, and admits that his home town will always be his favourite.

But he added that Petersburg was the only other city he could imagine living in ­ because "it's a bit similar to Moscow".

The pace of life in the two cities is very different, though: "When you come to St. Petersburg it seems you're dashing down the streets, but in Moscow it's just the way people walk."


For Petersburg-born Igor Kuzmin, work meant moving to Moscow. And despite his native city's boast of being the "window to the west", he finds the capital more cosmopolitan.

"In fact Moscow is closer to Europe as reaching places is easier and cheaper than it would be from St. Petersburg," he said. "And I like the way business operates here ­ it's more American in style."

The view from abroad

Foreigners coming to Moscow tend to end up in one or other big city ­ at least for a time.

And they quickly become as partisan as the locals when defending their new homes.

Australian Francis Merson lived for many years in Moscow before heading back Down Under and wouldn't dream of trying anywhere else.

"I prefer Moscow," he said. "Everywhere in Russia has a pretty low standard of living, but Moscow has the most capacity for fun, which helps balance it out."

But Petersburg ex-pats defended their home: "It's an unbelievably beautiful city and simply taking a stroll here is itself a great pleasure," said American Trina Sen of her current home.

And South African Naz Gajjar agreed about the beauty of the "Venice of the North", and was impressed with the quality of public transport: "People should really appreciate the public transport they've got here. It's one of the best from what I've seen in different cities in Europe, Africa and Asia."

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