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 would overcharge me anywhere between 20 to 30% (it may have been more sometimes) but his seats were usually good and he has partners who can help him to find tickets. Unfortunately for us, it looks like he has quit the business as of October 2017 but I suspect it shouldn't be too hard to find someone else if you arrive 1 hour before curtain time and pay attention just outside the main entrance of the theatre (go closer to the box office at the Mariinsky-2). 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. Also, try to have the reseller show you the seats in map by the box office. The best seats at the Mariinsky will never cost beyond 110 euros and you are being taken advantage of if you pay more than 40 euros for a sub-prime seat.
Read my Sad Stories
Sad Stories: Ticket Resellers
When I was still planning my stay in St Petersburg, I came up with all the questions that I’m addressing here. I once found the testimony of a couple who had bought tickets from an online reseller. The outcome was that they paid the double of the tickets’ face value by credit card; they were in front of the opera house to collect the tickets as they were instructed to and the reseller never showed up. Conclusion: be careful with online resellers and prefer official sources. Curiosity: ironically, this couple also said that they had come on a cruise ship and had entered the city without a visa, which could have got them thrown into a Russian jail. Do be careful about the legal aspects of your journey too! Russian bureaucracy knows no limits—it’s not just a joke.