My Tips for Travellers on St Petersburg Must See Attractions
In this article I am going to be providing my tips for travellers visiting the interesting, beautiful, and amazing city of St. Petersburg in Russia. As usual, I’m going to focus on getting there, getting around and the must do things to do in the city.
Some of my observations about St Petersburg:
- St. Petersburg is often viewed as the Venice of Russia. I can see why as there is water everywhere! Lots of canals, lots of islands and the massive Neva River which heads out into the Baltic Sea. This is the river you sail up to if you’re coming in on a cruise ship.
- St. Petersburg has the unusual honour of being known by three different names within one century. It was called Petrograd in 1914. In 1924, it turned to Leningrad, and in 1991, it turned back to it’s original name of St. Petersburg.
- St. Petersburg was founded by Tzar Peter the Great three hundred years ago driven by a vision to create a beautiful water-based city, which would not only be admired all around the world but also would be a strong naval state. At that time, Sweden was dominant in the region and he wanted to make sure that Russia had a very strong navy and would wrestle domination of the sea from them. Over 10,000 people died building his vision.
- St. Petersburg is the linked to the Tsars, stunning architecture and culture. Although Moscow is the political capital, St. Petersburg is where culture thrives.
- It’s also where the Communist Revolution started when in 1917 the popular uprising overthrew the old Tsar system.
- It went through a traumatic time during the Second World War when it was surrounded by the Nazis and besieged for eight hundred and seventy-two days from September 1941 to 1944. One million people died mostly from starvation.
- Large areas were bombed and iconic buildings like the Winter Palace, where the Hermitage Museum is now, were damaged. The Palace had to be reconstructed although the art works were preserved as they had been evacuated or hidden in the basement to protect them from the bombs.
- St. Petersburg has terrible weather! Whenever you talk to anybody in St. Petersburg, they talk about how they only have a maximum of 70 sunny days, lots of rain and gets really cold in the winter. So visiting in summer is best. In winter, the days are very short and with only a few hours of daylight. In summer it hardly gets dark..
Getting to St Petersburg
You can fly into St. Petersburg but getting there by cruises is very popular. If you’re on a small ship cruise line like Silversea you will dock right in the centre of the city. Getting there on a cruise is a popular because as a tourist you need a visa to visit Russia, and it’s quite a hassle getting one. You need an invitation from a local, confirmation of all your trips and your flights, where you’re staying and you have to visit the Russian Embassy. It’s quite a complicated process and can take some time and be relatively expensive.
However if you go on a cruise into St. Petersburg and go on their tours you will not need a visa.
Most of the cruises that go to St. Petersburg spend two or three full days there to allow time to see everything.
Traffic is terrible in St. Petersburg. One of my tips is to try and visit on a weekend, particular in summer, because the locals disappear into the countryside. Getting around St. Petersburg on a Saturday or Sunday is easy but during the week it can be terrible. You’ll find if you’re going on tours they build in lots of time for traffic.
Tips for Travellers on must do attractions
While I was in St. Petersburg I went on a half-day tours each day.:
- The first was a bus and boat tour to give an overview of the city.
- The second tour was around the Hermitage. We did one that let us into the Hermitage before it opens. This was phenomenal, because the Hermitage gets incredibly packed and busy and instead we had a couple of hours going around the Hermitage when almost no one was in there.
- The third tour that we did was a shopping tour. The reason we did the shopping tour is you get time, even though you don’t have a visa, to walk around the City Center by yourself. This allowed us to get a flavor for the city. That was a great thing, because you also get a real flavor and feel for the city.
Boat tour of the canals: I would strongly recommend a tour which takes you around the city and on a boat tour. The boat tours are great and take you along all the canals and into the Neva River. You get to see all the palaces and the beauty of the city.
The Hermitage: This is an absolute must tour. It’s really important to go around with a guide as there’s so much to see. You could spend days and days there. A guide will make sure that you see the key buildings and art.
The Hermitage Museum consists of five buildings, with the Winter Palace being the most impressive. This is where the Tzars used to live. It’s hard to even describe how amazing the Hermitage is ! The opulence is just quite unbelievable. It has over three million artifacts including art by Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso and Matisse. The great thing about is you can take photographs and video inside.
You can get really close to the artworks. Unfortunately, some of the artworks have been attacked before, so some of them are a little bit more protected. Even if you’re not into artwork, it’s really worth going to have a look at because the buildings themselves are just unbelievable.
The tour guide warned us we would walk about 1,5 miles on the tour. We did that at least!
Watch my video tour of the Hermitage Museum:
Shopping tour: I would also recommend doing that tour where you get a chance to walk around the city. Although do not plan to actually do much shopping as it is very expensive! It’s one of the top ten most expensive places in the world. The guide who took us on the shopping tour said, “Whatever you do, don’t shop here.” She claimed that people from the city prefer to go to Finland to shop, because even with the cost of traveling there and staying over you can spend less if you have a lot to buy.
The main shopping street is called the Nevsky Prospekt. It’s a very historic street and is three miles long. There are some beautiful buildings and many nice coffee shops. Expensive ones!
We also went to the Pushkin Gallery, which claims to be one of the largest gift stores in the country. They sell Russian dolls, lacquer boxes and copies of Faberge eggs. Even these gifts were quite expensive, for example the Russian Dolls cost you $40 and upwards.
Other key things to see are
- St. Isaac’s Square. In St. Isaac’s Square there’s a beautiful cathedral with a beautiful gold dome. It’s absolutely gorgeous. There’s a statue of Czar Nicholas the Third. He was part of the Romanov Dynasty who ruled until the revolution in 1917. The St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the fourth largest cathedral in Europe and took 40 years to build. In the square is also the legislative assembly for St. Petersburg and the region. Just behind St. Isaac’s Square is a stunning statue of Peter of Great on a huge rock.
- Another cathedral worth seeing is St. Nicholas Cathedral. It’s a very pretty part of the city where seven bridges converge.
- Academy of Arts building that have two genuine Egyptian Sphinx.
- Peter and Paul Cathedral and Fortress. This is where the heart of St. Petersburg started from as a fortress to defend the city.
- Opposite the Peter and Paul Fortress is the massive artillery museum. Standing outside are tanks and huge guns. It covers the history of the Russian and Soviet War machine.
- Cruiser Aurora, which is the oldest ship in the Russian Navy. It’s also one of the most important historical ships in Russian history. It was the ship that fired a blank shot at the palace to start the Communist Revolution in the 1917. The ship was built in 1900, been through four wars and is a beautiful looking ship. Touring it is really fascinating.
- Cathedral of the Spilt Blood. Paul the First was assassinated on the spot where it was built to commemorate him. It’s covered in acres of brightly coloured mosaics.
St. Petersburg, absolutely fascinating. Best seen from the river. It took me a long time to get here for the first time. I loved it.
Listen to my podcast about St. Petersburg. The episode of the podcast is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. For more on the guides and to buy their St Petersburg guide visit TipsForTravellers.com/DK.