You can see why it’s Russia’s Cultural Capital with buildings like The Hermitage, The General Staff Building and other museums that have gathered true masterpieces of painting, sculpture and jewellery. It’s also home to the Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky Theatres which host Russia’s famous ballets.
Summer is a fantastic time to visit St Petersburg, especially with the White Nights Festival. It’s when it never gets properly dark due to the high latitude. It’s not the only city that has White Nights but it has taken acclaim to this phenomenon with the city coming alive and bustling with people throughout the night as well as the day! The whole city seems to take on a two-month continuous round-the-clock celebration.
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Do I need a Russian Visa to Visit St Petersburg?
Russia requires you to have a visa unless you are arriving by boat to St Petersburg or your country is listed in the “visa-free regime”. Your St Petersburg visa will be free in this case and you are able to stay for 72 hours. Read more about Russian Visa’s in What you need to know before going to Russia.
How Many Days Should I Spend in St Petersburg?
Three days is a must, as there is so much to do and see. It’s best to gauge your stay on how much time it will take to do all the main sites. A 4 Day itinerary will allow you to complete a day trip to Catherine’s Palace or The Peterhof Grand Palace.
If you are planning to extend your stay and visit Moscow, read more about Moscow here.
Where to Stay in St Petersburg?
Soul Kitchen has to be one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Before we had even arrived they upgraded us to a private room instead of the 4-bed dorm we previously booked for the same price. When we arrived, they checked us in early and offered us coffee and a slice of apple cake for breakfast. The hostel had a welcoming and comfy feel that made you think you were at home. It’s won several awards for being one of the best hostels.
St Petersburg 4 Day Itinerary: Day One
Start the first day with a bit of culture at the State Hermitage Museum and General Staff Building which is open every day except Monday. Tickets are 700 roubles, this gives you access to both buildings. If you are lucky enough to be in St Petersburg the first Thursday of the month then the museums will be free to enter.
The sheer size of the museums means that you can easily spend 3+ hours in each so allow a whole day to complete Hermitage and General Staff Building.
The secret to beating the queues is to get your ticket at the General Staff Building. It’s home to Russian and European decorative art, paintings and sculptures including Impressionist and Postimpressionist paintings for example work by Matisse and Picasso. Most of the impressionist paintings are located on the third floor and it’s also a great height to capture a photo of the Hermitage.
Grab some lunch before tackling the Hermitage. Try Shtolle (Штолле) pie shop or Bushe (Буше) bakery.
Now to tackle the Hermitage and as a bonus, you get to skip the queues! The museum was founded in 1762 when Catherin the Great acquired an extensive collection of painting from Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky.
The museum holds the largest collection of paintings in the world and took us over 3 hours to see roughly 45% that was on display. Being such a large collection, the artwork is spread across 6 buildings; Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, General Staff Building and Hermitage Theatre.
St Petersburg 4 Day Itinerary: Day Two
St Petersburg is home to a significant number of churches and cathedrals. There are three that I recommend seeing in the centre; Kazan Cathedral, St Isaac’s Cathedral and Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood. Do wear respectable clothing when entering working churches or cathedrals.
Kazan Cathedral is a traditional orthodox and is free to go into as it’s a working cathedral.
Continue down Griboyedov channel embankment and you’ll come across the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood. Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in March 1881 at this site and they Alexander III built the church on this site to commemorate his father, hence the name Spilled Blood.
Stop for a cheap and cheerful Russian doughnut at Pyshechnaya (Пышечная). It’s a popular place with locals and tourists, the queues move fast so you won’t be waiting long for your doughnut.
A ten-minute walk away is St Isaac’s Cathedral with its gleaming gold dome which is plated with pure gold and dominates the skyline of St Petersburg. No longer a working cathedral it has been turned into a museum and viewing point. It’s 250 roubles for the museum and 150 roubles for the viewing point. Note: The museum is not open on Wednesday and be aware that the price does change the viewing point based on the time.
Work off those doughnuts by climbing the 262 steps to the top of St Isaacs Cathedral and admire the view of St Petersburg. As the city is low rise you’ll be able to see a lot from the cathedral.
Extend the cultural experience by heading to the ballet. Do book in advance as the more affordable tickets sell out fast. I managed to get tickets to the Mikhailovsky Theatre for £24 per ticket. The cheaper tickets sometimes have a restricted view so if you are purchasing circle tickets then either get the front row or back row so you can stand. Buy tickets to Mikhailovsky Theatre here.
St Petersburg 4 Day Itinerary: Day Three
Enjoy a lovely walk across the Birzhevoy Bridge towards the Peter and Paul Fortress. Taking in the different views of the Hermitage and St Isaacs gleaming in the distance. The fortress complex is open to walk around. It was the original citadel of St. Petersburg and then in 1720 was turned into a garrison and prison. We didn’t enter any of the museums as we read on trip advisor that the museums were only in Russian.
Continue completing a loop around the fortress and walk across Troitskiy Bridge. Take a break in the Summer Gardens or Mikhailovsky Gardens. During summer, you may come across an ice-cream truck. We stumbled across a guy selling unicorn ice-cream. Which colour would you choose, black or pink?
End the day by enjoying a Russian meal at the Soviet cafe.
St Petersburg 4 Day Itinerary: Day 4
A short distance away from St Petersburg is Catherine’s Palace and Peterhof Grand Palace. Both are stunning Palaces and worth a day trip to at least one.
Catherine Palace is located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin). The palace was once the summer residence of the Russian tsars. Now a museum, displaying over 300-years of history and elaborately decorated Rococo-style architecture. The palace is most famous for its baroque style and neoclassical interior that exemplifies Russian wealth and extravagance.
Our choice was Peterhof Grand Palace. The palace was founded by Peter the Great and is often referred to as the “Russian Versailles”. In the palace grounds there are 64 elaborate fountains and more than more than 200 bronze statues, bas-reliefs and other decorations.
People mainly visit the lower park famous for its a range and diversity of fountains, the Grand Cascade being the most decadent running from the Grand Palace to the Marine Canal.
How to get to Peterhof Grand Palace
We caught an Uber to Peterhof Grand Palace as it was only a couple of pounds each and seemed the simpler option at the time and then the Hydrofoil back to the city. This option ended up being around 1,100 roubles each.
However, you can catch the mini-buses (marshrutkas) № К-300, К-424, К-424А from Avtovo metro station which is the most budget-friendly option.
If you are not on a tight budget then the Hydrofoil from the Neva river embankments of the Lower park in Peterhof is super easy. It’s 800 roubles each way and try and get a window seat to catch the sites.
How much does it cost to visit Peterhof Grand Palace?
Depending on the attraction you wish to see at the Peterhof Grand Palace you will be presented with an associated fee. The most popular attractions are listed below
- Lower Park is open 9am to 8pm, extended on Saturdays to 9pm and entrance fee is 750roubles.
- Upper Garden is open 9am to 5.30pm, extended on Saturdays to 9.30pm and entrance is free.
- Grand Palace is open daily except Monday and the last Tuesday of each month. The entrance fee is 700 roubles.
How to Travel to St Petersburg Russia
Below are the various different transport modes you can use to travel to St Petersburg.
There are four mainline railway stations serving inter-city and international trains. Two are historic buildings in the very centre of the city, while the others are a short metro ride from Nevsky Prospekt and the downtown area.
To get between Moscow and St Petersburg or vis versa the easiest way is by train. You can either catch a day train that will take about 4 hours or save some money on accommodation and take an overnight train. Moscow to St Petersburg train cost for the 006А train with the 2nd class ticket was around £60 each. The train was modern and more comfortable than our Vietnam train experience.
Pulkovo is the airport in St Petersburg and is split into two terminals. Pulkovo-2 is where most of the international traffic arrives at Pulkovo-1 is mostly a domestic airport. Pulkovo doesn’t have a metro station nearby and the bus is the only transport option. You have the option of Aeroport Express, Marshrutka minibus shuttle services or one of the city buses N39 or N13.
Cruise or Ferry
There are two passenger ports you can arrive into, one for sea passengers (Sea Station (Morskoy Vokzal)) and one for river passengers (River Station (Rechnoy Vokzal)) in the far south-east of the city.
Most passengers arrive by cruise ship and won’t have to worry about the port that you arrive at as the cruise companies will organise your onward transport.
Those who aren’t arriving by cruise are advised to plan your onward journey in advance as neither terminal is convenient for the city centre or most hotels.
Sea Station (Morskoy Vokzal)
The Sea Station (Morskoy Vokzal) is the docking point for St. Peter Line ferries from Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn. The station has no metro stations located nearby and you will need to catch a bus to get to the city centre.
River Station (Rechnoy Vokzal)
The River Station welcomes river cruises from Moscow and the Russian North, and is located in the far south-east of St. Petersburg on Prospekt Obukhovskoy Oborony. The closest metro station to the River Station is Proletarskaya Metro Station which is about a 10 minute walk away.
There is an increasing amount of coach options form international destinations to St Petersburg, the most popular bus options from Baltic States or Helsinki. The city does have a Central Bus Station, although many international routes are operated by non-Russian companies which use their own bus stops. These stops are generally close to either railway stations or major hotels. Some bus companies you can use to get to St Petersburg are:
- Lux Express offering bus services from Estonia and Baltic States to St Petersburg.
- Ecolines offering bus services from Latvia to St Petersburg.
- Savonlinja offering bus services from Helsinki to St Petersburg.
Have you experienced White Nights? What were your favourite things about it?