How To Buy Tickets for The Mariinsky

Choosing Your Tickets.
If you are traveling specifically because of the opera or the ballet; or if going to the Mariinsky is one of the main reasons of your journey, you wouldn’t like to get to the theatre and get stuck with poor seats. And believe me; there are a lot of them. Learn more about avoiding them on my post about Where To Seat At The Mariinsky.

In Favor of Buying Online.
Official online tickets are usually your best alternative. All seats available at the box office are available online—except for the Tsar’s Box on occasion. Buying online is good because it enables the buyer to directly compare the available seats and choose his/her seats. Registration on the Mariinsky website is required and payment is made by credit card. I have done this process almost 30 times and never had problems. PayPal is not accepted as of March 2015.
In the process of buying, you will be prompted to choose either Full Rate or Special Rate. The latter doesn’t apply to you unless you are a Russian citizen, are living permanently in Russia, officially working there or have a Russian student card. Basically this means that foreign tourists must pay the Full Rate.
You can either print your own tickets or get them from the box office. You may be required to show your passport if you go to the box office. Unless you’re either going for the Tsar’s Box or you’re officially studying in Russia and are looking for student bargains, online tickets are your best option. (Last updated in April, 2015).

Advice on Buying From The Box Office.
I don’t advise you to buy tickets directly from the box office. The language barrier may make the difference between you being told that a performance is sold out and “we still have a seat in the Tsar’s Box.” This situation actually happened to me once.

Tickets for Sold-Out Performances.
I know it sounds like a cliché, but I did tell you that most performances would sell out, didn’t I? Anyway, here are the two classic solutions: either hope for someone selling a ticket outside of the theatre or buy a ticket from a reseller. There is usually someone waving a ticket around trying to get rid of it because of that partner who didn’t come or some other reason; but you may have trouble spotting these people and there will most likely be language barrier issues. I accidentally bumped into a professional ticket reseller who could speak perfect English once. Every now and then when I needed tickets, he would sell them to me. He will overcharge you anywhere between 20 to 30% (it may have been more sometimes) but his seats are usually good and he has partners who can help him to find tickets.
If you are buying a ticket from any reseller, make sure it is a Full Rate official one—otherwise you will risk not being admitted into the auditorium. If you need a reliable reseller’s contact, send me a comment with your email below. (If it’s urgent, send me a comment and not an email because I check for comments more often than I do for email.)

Read my Sad Stories

Where to Seat at the Mariinsky

Different People, Different Tastes.
Some years ago, I preferred seating on the back so that I could easily read the surtitles. I am now a more experienced opera-goer and lately I have been trying to avoid looking at the surtitles because it prevents me from focusing on the dramatic thread. Moreover, I trust the power of the music more than the text. Therefore, I now prefer the first few rows of the stalls. But it is entirely up to you to decide where you want to seat, keeping in mind that the majority of the seats at the old Mariinsky are bad seats. Keep reading to find all that you need to know about this topic.

Old Mariinsky vs. Mariinsky-2
The two opera houses couldn’t be more different from each other. Virtually all seats are "good" at the Mariinsky-2 whereas most seats are bad at the old stage.

Don’t Take Your Chances With Seating.
Because you will most likely end up losing. Being a reasonably tall guy, I can promise you that at least 4 out of 5 times you seat behind the first row of the stalls, you will have heads significantly obstructing your view at the Old Mariinsky. Be reasonable—the Mariinsky is not that expensive after all and you will very easily get into terrible seats if you’re not willing to invest some 3,200 rubles. Also, buy your tickets on time because most performances will practically sell out (I didn’t believe it at first but it is true) and you don’t want to end up buying overpriced tickets from a reseller. (Learn more on the Buying Tickets for The Mariinsky post.)

Avoid Seating on the Back.
In all cases, avoid the back rows because they are far away from the stage and it is very likely that you will get heads in front of you; also, there may be a photographer making noise next to you. Check my Sad Stories below.

My Personal Choices if I Were You.
1) At the Old House.  If you are a tourist (unless you have a Russian student ID), you will have to pay a full price ticket. That means that the first 15 rows or so in the stalls have the same price. My advice is to sit on the first row so that you at least won’t have to deal with the heads for sure. Unless you’re watching maestro Gergiev or Pavel Smelkov, I cannot promise that the conductor won’t be noisy. Bear in mind that you will have heads virtually everywhere in the stalls except for the first row. You will even have heads in the central boxes, 1st row, parterre level. If you're going for the ballet, the first row of any balcony, near but not contiguous to the Tsar's Box, will be a good choice.
2) At the Mariinsky-2.  The answer is easy. All seats are good but my personal favorites are rows 4-6 in the Stalls, dead center. You can also give a shot to the dress circle, row 1. The acoustics are great in the back of the auditorium. Productions that don’t require a huge orchestra will have additional rows (A, B/Б and C). I wouldn’t sit there if I were you because you will have to deal with heads in front of you. (Check the section About Surtitles below.)

About Surtitles.
Forget about surtitles unless you’re watching a Russian opera. All non-Russian operas will be surtitled in Russian only. As a rule of thumb, don’t seat in front of row 4 at the Mariinsky-2 if you care about the surtitles; the first row will do fine at the old stage.

The Tsar’s Box.
Sitting on the Tsar’s Box is considered a must-do by many online advisors. Personally, I think it is an overrated experience and I don’t advise it because (1) it is expensive, (2) seats of equivalent quality are available at lower rates and (3) I have several sad stories about sitting on the Tsar’s Box. Check Sad Story #1 below and the post on The Audience at The Mariinsky for another. I would advise you to just ask the lady at the entrance of the Tsar’s Box to let you take a sneak peek during the interval; I have seen many people doing this and the ushers will usually let you in.
But if you insist on sitting there, here’s what you need to know. First, the Tsar’s Box is always reserved until a few days or a couple of weeks before the performance, should a diplomatic commission want to sit there. Sometimes availability will be shown online; other times you will have to ask directly in a ticket office. Ticket offices are at the opera houses and in most places reading Касса or КACCA in the main streets. Also, don’t seat on the Tsar’s Box unless it is on the first row. You will understand why when you see it.

Budget Seats?
If you are on a tight budget, here is a secret about the Old Mariinsky. The best seats in the cost-quality category are in the 3rd row (yes, 3rd; not 2nd) of the first few central Stalls Boxes. You will save about 30%. The seats are not too comfortable but they have NO heads. You may have to deal with a chandelier though. At the Mariinsky-2, any seat will be fine if it matches your budget. Thank me later.

Why You Don’t Want to Be Late.
Unless you have that typical Russian skill called, hem, bribing, you will have to sit in the balcony if you’re late. (Paying "facilitation fees" is possible and I have heard of people who did it several times). It can be an interesting experience if it is at the Mariinsky-2, which has awesome acoustics up there. However, sitting in the 19th-century wooden benches with people making all sorts of noise and more latecomers coming in at the Old Mariinsky, with restricted view, you can take it from me—you don’t want to be late.

Extended Advice on Seating.
There are some seats that look better than they actually are. I have marked some of them in red on the map, meaning that I would never seat there again. The green seats are the recommended ones. The seats that I haven't assigned to a color: either I have never tried them or just would not risk sitting there if I were you.

Buying Tickets.
For tips on buying tickets, using the Internet platform and resellers, please check my post about it by this link.

Read my Sad Stories

How to Get to The Mariinsky: Accommodation and Traveling

Sleeping.
As far as I know, there are not many hotels near the Mariinsky because most of the tourists want to stay closer to Admiralteskaya or Nevsky Prospekt. The Mariinsky is not exactly main-interest downtown even though it is one of the top touristic attractions. P.Z.’s advice might vary provided the objectives of every reader. Nevertheless, assuming the readers are tourists, P.Z. would advise them to choose their hotel independently from the location of the opera house. In most of the cases, taking a taxi to the Mariinsky would be the wisest choice. So just choose your hotel according to your budget and main touristic attractions and get a taxi to the Mariinsky. Learn more about this on How to Get to The Mariinsky: Transportation.  

What To Do in St Petersburg?
There are so many more things to see other than the opera in St Petersburg. You will be missing out on the trip if you don’t see the Neva and its façades at night, the bridges when they’re open, the Cathedral of the Savior on The Spilled Blood, the Fortress, Peterhoff—just to name a few of the beautiful attractions. There are also lots of other things to do in St P; just buy a touristic prospect and it will most likely have everything you need to know. Don’t go just because of the opera because you will be amazed by the architecture—unfortunately most probably not by the performances. Two of classics at both the old Mariinsky and the Mikhailovsky are Eugene Onegin and Swan Lake and are must-see repertoire. More information will be available on my How To Choose Your Operas post.

When to Travel to St Petersburg?
Paradoxically, I would say that the best time to be in St Petersburg is precisely when the Mariinsky is closed. At least if you want to find good weather. St P is a problem during snow time because the snow is very dirty downtown and the cleaning service is not sufficient. So, I would say that the best time to travel to St Petersburg is just either before the Mariinsky closes or after it re-opens. I would prefer the first. However, the best performances will be in December because apparently many of the great Russian singers will be back for holidays. More info on How To Choose Your Operas.
Don’t forget that every non-Russian citizen needs a visa to pass the border. I have heard of many people (mainly Italians) who had serious problems in having their visas issued; make sure you have a visa by the time you start booking hotels and buying tickets.

Withdrawing Money. 
The Russian word for ATM is bankomat. As far as the Mariinsky is concerned, as of January 2015, there is one ATM at the entrance of the old Mariinsky. There is no ATM at the Mariinsky-2 and the bars of both opera houses do no not accept credit card.