Nevsky Prospekt is the city's commercial lifeline, offering an almost repetitive abundance of souvenirs, clothing, and snacks. Gostiny Dvor shopping arcade concentrates all of Nevsky's riches in one two-story pre-revolutionary mall. The facades on Nevsky tell only part of the story, since many lead back into passages of luxury boutiques, discount clothing stores, or jewelry shops. Commerce thins out at Nevsky's extremities. Upper Nevsky holds the posher shops, while Lower Nevsky (east of Moskovsky Train Station) is calmer and less pretentious. Souvenir and art stands clog the thoroughfare and adjacent courtyards, and seem to multiply in summer.
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The area from St. Isaac's to Palace Square is a shopper's wasteland but an architectural paradise. The Summer Gardens and adjacent areas are similarly commerce-barren, except for the Vernisazh — the city's most convenient, reliable, and extensive gift bazaar.
With Nevsky so saturated, the area around Chernyshevskaya metro station is emerging as a calmer, less expensive shopping alternative. Several antiques shops have opened here, along with an increasing number of hotels and cafes centered around Ulitsa Pestelya, in this neighborhood north of Lower Nevsky.
Russians do most of their shopping at farmers' markets and open-air bazaars, most of which are outside the center of town. These lively and pungent markets offer a fun if intense way of experiencing the real Russia, and quickly make you forget those Gorbachev-era images of bread lines and shortages. In the food markets, pomegranates and kiwis spill from fruit stands, rows of lamb carcasses line the meat stalls, and familiar American coffees and candies rise high in the dry goods section. In the non-food markets (which Russians call the "things" market, or veshchevoi rynok) you can find fur coats, Turkish leather jackets, 20¢ Russian-made underwear, Chinese-made plastic chess sets, and just about anything else, at prices below what shops charge. Two food markets near the center worth checking out are Vladimirsky Rynok (Kuznechny Pereulok, just outside Vladimirskaya metro station) and Maltevsky Rynok (Ulitsa Nekrasova, not far from Chernyshevskaya metro station). Both are cleaner and slightly more expensive than average. The main "things market" downtown is Apraksin Dvor (Sadovaya Ulitsa, south of Nevsky Prospekt and near Gostiny Dvor metro station), with throngs of shoppers morning to night, 7 days a week. Pickpocketing is common, so keep one eye on your wallet.
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