Buying tickets (for travel or entertainment) is one of those things that, until recently, could be a long and frustrating experience if you didn't know how to go about it right. Since the advent of the internet, most tickets can be purchased online and collected in person from either dedicated desks or ticket machines at the station, airport, or theatre. As always, it pays to do some research in advance and if your Russian isn't strong then you may want to write down the important points on a slip of paper (dates, number of tickets, destination or performance). The most important word you need to look out for is ?????, pronounced kassa, which means ticket office.
Your best bet if looking to buy air tickets is to use one of the many travel agents that you will see while walking around. These can be identified by signs such as ????????? (aviya-kassa, or 'airline ticket office') ?????????? (aviya-billyeti, meaning 'airline tickets'), or ????????????? ???????? (toor-eest-eech-es-kaya ag-yen-stvo, or 'tourist agency'). Always bring your passport with you as this will be required for identification purposes. They may take a small commission of a few hundred roubles, but there will often be English speakers in the office and you can buy yourself peace of mind that you're purchasing the right tickets! If you want to buy tickets online, most of the major Russian domestic airlines have sites where you can do this and receive electronic tickets. Click here for Aeroflot's English-language booking site. It's worth printing off the ticket or booking reference confirmation to take to the airport with you, as enhanced security at airports means sometimes access can be restricted.
Buying railway tickets has its own particular perculiarities and language, and if you're a masochist or looking for a retro Soviet experience you may want to consider heading to the station from which your proposed train will depart (which one? that's part of the challenge!), finding the right ticket desk out of sometimes dozens (look out for special ticket desks for veterans, active military personnel, pensioners and so on), waiting in a formless and jostling line which appears to increase in length the longer you wait, and finally getting to the front just as the woman pulls out a handwritten ??????? ('break') sign and leaves for her regulated 15 minute or hour-long break. If you value your sanity, however, you can buy train tickets online from Russian Railways here, although this part of the site is only in Russian. Another option is to use a travel agent or one of the ticket offices as for airline tickets, in this case the sign to look out for is ?/? (pronounced 'Zhe-De') or ??????????????? ('zhel-yez-na-dar-ozh-na-ya' ) ????? or ??????. Again, a little advance research will go a long way as purchasing a Russian train ticket is not just a question of asking for a single or return. Click here to see an explanation of all the elements on the ticket, and be prepared to explain exactly what kind of ticket you want.
Buying theater tickets is a much more user-friendly process. You can either buy them from the theater itself, often several weeks before the performance, or from any of the small kiosks dotted around town (as in the picture) which specialise in theatrical tickets. (Be aware that not all of these kiosks will sell all tickets). There are a number of online sellers too, but only one in English. Most of the kiosks now have access to online ticket systems and will show you exactly where in the theater the seats you are buying are located, or you can choose for yourself. Many espcially classical music performances are sold as part of an ?????????, or block of concerts. Given the generally high quality of performances in St Petersburg, the enthusiasm of the local audienes, and sales in block packages, don't be surprised if the most popular shows are sold out well in advance - in Russian, ?????? (from the German word Anschlag).