I was charmed by Saint Petersburg since I was a kid. I remember reading books about the Russian upper-class, the life in Saint Petersburg, the architecture, the white nights, the Neva river, the Romanovs and Catherine II.
This year, my dream finally came true. I was to spend 10 days in Saint-Petersburg, explore the city and the surroundings, learn more about the people, the culture, taste the food and meet some amazing people!
Tip: When planning your trip to Russia think about what you want to see and the weather. It’s perfect if you want to go in spring and summer but it can get quite cold and the days are very short in winter (it gets dark after 4 PM). There is a plus if you visit in winter – there are no queues at the museums and everything is very scenic, covered in snow.
My trip was in June ( a perfect time, in my opinion) and my fist step was applying for a Russian tourist visa, which was not a very difficult thing to do. Once I got that out of the way, purchased my tickets and got ready for the trip. I think three of the perks of visiting Saint Petersburg in June are the white nights (you get daylight for almost 24 hours), the Scarlet Sails and the weather (I actually got a tan).
Here I am, feeling on top of the world, in Saint Petersburg, at 3AM.
But let’s get back to the beginning.
Arrived at the airport and booked a taxi through the official airport taxi office, which you will find inside the airport, on the right, just before leaving the baggage claim area.
Tip: Always ask and double ask about the price. A friend of mine ended up paying nearly 80£ for not doing that – so don’t be ashamed to ask, it’s your money.
After 7 hours on the road, finally got to the hotel and everything went smooth from there. I have had loads of fun, met amazing people and explored so many lovely places.
Before getting there, I have heard people sharing different opinions about the city and some of them were not the best, in matters of how safe a tourist might feel. I just wanted to mention, for you reading this now – I have felt very safe in Saint Petersburg. At all times and everywhere I went. I can say it felt safer than Paris did, a year ago. During my 10 days stay there, I have only had one guy looking at me and making a comment, based on the fact that I was speaking English and not Russian, but that was it and to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered.
I have put together a list with my favourite places in Saint Petersburg and I hope that you will find it useful.
Here is what I have explored in Saint Petersburg:
1. The Nevsky Prospekt Street & The Anichkov Bridge – 5 hours
I loved walking on the Nevsky prospect boulevard in Saint Petersburg. Even now, writing about it I realize that I miss it and would love to go back there again. The boulevard is displays beautiful buildings, is full of shops and it has people transiting it all day and all night. Starting from the Comedy Theatre to Anichkov bridge and walking all the way to the Vosstanya station. If you make a right at the vosstaniya station – you will get to one of the biggest shopping malls in the area – Galeria.
2. The Hermitage Museum – 6 hours
The State Hermitage museum (Winter Palace) is right in the centre of the city and it used to be the residence of the Romanovs. This attraction is a must for Saint Petersburg. You should not miss it.
So much history, so many pieces of art and so many stories. I was definitely impressed with everything that was going on at the palace. Make sure you have over 5 hours for the Hermitage, so that you can explore its beauty and relax at the same time.
3. Church of The Saviour on The Spilled Blood – 1 hour
One of the icons of Saint Petersburg (and sometimes Russia for that matter), the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood is another must see when exploring Saint Petersburg. It’s very beautiful both on the outside and the inside.
You can visit in on the same day as the Russian Museum, Saint Michael’s Castle & The Mikhailovsly Gardens.
4. St Isaac’s Cathedral – 1 hour
Saint Isaac is another Cathedral that you must visit, when in Saint Petersburg. It was built in the 1800s, by Tsar Alexander I and it took about 40 years (!!) to construct. It is not only a cathedral but is a museum as well and its interior is simply beautiful. It is quite close to the Hermitage and is in the city centre so you can always visit it when visiting other attractions.
5. The Peter and Paul Fortress – 6 hours
Crossing the Neva River, you will get to the Petrogradsky District and here you can visit the Peter and Paul fortress, which is the original citadel of St Pete. Here is where Peter the Great started from when building Saint Petersburg. In the 20th century, it was used as a tsarist prison. The prison can be visited – I did visit and it was a very interesting experience.
6. Catherine Palace (Pushkin) – 5 hours
You will need to travel a bit away from the city to get to Catherine Palace but it is definitely worth it. The gardens are such a wonderful place to wander, relax and let everything sync in. The interiors of the palace are of unrivaled beauty. Catherine Palace surely does justice to the Rococo (late Baroque) style with its interiors and decorations.
Can you image that this entire place was built by and for a woman, as a ‘summer palace’? A lot of damage has been done to the palace during WW2, but fortunately, some of the rooms, like the Amber Room, have been reconstructed and we can now marvel at their beauty.
7. Peterhof Palace – 6 hours
Peterhof Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a clear display of power. I don’t think I’ve seen something that’s more impressing and imposing before. It’s also known as ‘The Russian Versailles’ but I have ben to Versailles and Peterhof is definitely more impressing. It is called the Peterhof Palace, but it is actually a series of palaces and gardens, where everywhere you turn there is something to catch your eye.
While there, you should experience the ‘trick fountains’ – apparently Peter the Great loved to play pranks on people and was also a modest man (I am not so sure about the latter, giving the grandeur of the place).
Make sure you go there early as during the day the place is flooded with tourists, especially in spring and summer.
8. Boat Party on the Neva – 2 hours
Even if you are not a huge fan of parties, you should not miss this one. The views are amazing and the mood is just right. Depending on the group, you can bring your own drinks or buy drinks from them. The music is a really cool mix of Russian, European and international songs and you can stay both indoors or outdoors – so don’t let a bit of rain scare you away.
9. The Local Food
I am a foodie and a huge advocate of trying local food wherever I go. I don’t always like it, but I always try it. In Saint Petersburg, you will get the chance to try Russian dishes, Ukrainian dishes, Asian dishes, different types of fusion food, street food and their version of American fast food. I loved my culinary exploration in Saint Pete and I strongly suggest you try everything you think you might like, as eating out at restaurants and food in general is relatively cheap.
10. The Petersburg Metro
Riding the metro in Saint Petersburg was a lovely experience. To be honest, I felt safer than riding the metro in Paris (waaaay safer actually) and everything was so beautiful. Metro stations are a work of art in St. Petersburg. I wanted to get off at each station, just to wander around and look at all the pillars, the walls, the statues and the decorations. The metro was also the cheapest way of transport, as a one-way ticket was about 20 rubles, which is about 0.20£ (imagine that!).
If you visit St. Petersburg and want to explore the city, you should take the metro – it’s safe, clean and it is a great way to experience the local vibe.