Welcome to St. Petersburg, for many the most beautiful city in all of Russia, which embodies the characteristics of a European capital while maintaining a strong national identity. A destination much loved by travelers for its romantic canals and the cultural beauty of the historic center. In June it hosted the 2018 Football World Cup but "Piter", as its citizens like to call it, is worth a visit at any time of year. Let's discover what to see and things to do in St. Petersburg and the main points of interests in the enchanting city of the Tsars.
- St. Petersburg Useful Information: Visa, euro exchange and road signs
- How do I get my visa for Russia?
- Where to change Euro to Rubles?
- Street info and language
- White nights in St. Petersburg
- What are White Nights?
- Visit St. Petersburg: Must-see Attractions
- Winter Palace and Hermitage
- Gardens and Catherine's Palace
- The Cathedral of the Saviour on Spilled Blood
- Peterhof Palace, Nevsky Prospect and other points of interest
- What to do in St. Petersburg: Nightlife and leisure
- How to get around St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg Useful Information: Visa, euro exchange and road signs
Keep in mind that to visit St. Petersburg you will need the tourist visa for Russia.
How do I get my visa for Russia?
On the web you will find the necessary documentation to apply for a visa, but if you are not practical you can contact an agency that will handle that. The costs of operations vary depending on your decision to do it yourself or to contact a Visa Center for Russia (regardless of your choice, please note that the approximate cost of the operation will NOT be less than at least 100€).
Where to change Euro to Rubles?
During your stay in St. Petersburg you will need to change euros into rubles (100 rubles equals about 1.50€ - Update data 2018). You will find numerous bank branches for exchange at the airport, in museums, in metro stations and in the large shops in the city centre, but you should avoid them because of the very inconvenient rates.
- The tip is to change in the many offices / exchange that you find on Nevsky or along the side rails, always after checking the scoreboards in view of what is the daily rate.
- Generally the commission is on the 25 or 30 rubles per transaction therefore less than 1 euro.
Beter withdraw at the airport, but always keep in mind the extra commissions.
- As often happens during big events, if you are in St. Petersburg for the World Cup, pay attention to fake ATMs that are no longer in use and avoid being helped by strangers who offer to come to the rescue for the change.
Avoid to go around with too much cash if you take the bus and metro, especially on Nevsky Prospect, the summer pickpocket mecca. Always try to pay by credit card, from the hotel to the restaurant, from the museums to the shops.
Street info and language
Street signs and subway maps are written in Cyrillic but you will also find bilingual signs with directions in English. Except for a few hotels and restaurants/bars, the English language is little spoken, especially among people of a certain age; despite this you can leave quietly for St. Petersburg. It is a super feasible journey and you can manage to explain yourself with hand gestures without problems.
- For some specific information, maybe contact the younger ones, who are certainly more likely to communicate in English.
White nights in St. Petersburg
In the period between June and July St. Petersburg hosts the natural phenomenon of the White Nights, an appointment very felt and lived in the city that every year attracts tourists from all over the world. Thanks to the particular geographical position of the Russian city, for about 50 days the sun never seems to set and the night gives wonderful plays of light; the phenomenon of White Nights is repeated cyclically every summer, it starts in the last days of May and reaches its peak after mid-June until the first days of July.
- These are the best months to visit St. Petersburg but it is also the time of year when the city is stormed by tourists, which results in rising prices. The advice is to book well in advance flight to St Petersburg and accommodation.
What are White Nights?
The phenomenon of White Nights is celebrated with open-air festivals, musical events and especially with the opening of drawbridges, a show that makes the city fascinating and evocative at different times and especially in night hours until the morning. Built on water as Venezia, the Russian city is a real "Museum of Bridges" and there are over 300, 20 of which are mobile.
You can admire the opening of the bridges free of charge by placing yourself in some strategic points of the city as the arrow of the island of Vasilievsky, from Dvortsovaya riverfront or from the side of Palace Square (always go there in advance to take your place, there are a lot of people at any time); another valid option is to enjoy the show from the boats that organize special tours and private excursions at night.
Have your camera ready and immortalize the St. Petersburg spectacle magically illuminated at night!
Visit St. Petersburg: Must-see Attractions
In addition to the wonder of the White Nights, in St. Petersburg there is much more to see including historical residences, architectural masterpieces and cultural sites recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Winter Palace and Hermitage
A stop at the St. Petersburg Hermitage is absolutely essential, even if you are not an art lover.
The visit winds along a path through magnificent palaces and can last an entire morning if not a day.
Given the length of the route (about 24 KM) you may happen to move from one building to another without even realizing that, so the visit can be dispersive if carried on independently and in the confusion there is a risk of skipping some key art work.
The main collections are in the Winter Palace but there are also crazy collections in the Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage and the Staff Building. Just a few names: Raffaello, Canaletto, Michelangelo, Canova not to mention the entire collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art and the rooms of the great Italian and Flemish painters.
For a complete and stress-free experience take the ticket with audio guide included (also available in English) and valid for two days so as to divide the visit in 48 hours.
- If you want to plan your visit independently without the help of the guide, study the location of the works on the official website of the Hermitage and establish which one you want to give priority.
The best time to visit the Hermitage is in the afternoon from 16:00 onwards.
Buying the online ticket you skip the row and the entrance is very fast from a side zone. The entrance for online tickets is located in the alley on the left, in front of the main entrance; easy to find, you can't miss it! For a complete visit take also the audioguide in English (it costs a few more euros but the explanation is detailed and satisfactory).
- If you do not have a ticket, the alternative to avoid the queue is to buy it at the automatic machines with credit card that you find at the entrance on the left so as to avoid the queue at the box office.
- If you want to opt for a quick tour, choose to visit the Hermitage on a closing day at 21.00 (Wednesday and Friday) and enter the Palace around 18.00. This will allow you greater peace of mind of movement to enjoy the best known works, usually surrounded in the morning by hordes of tourists.
There are different types of guided tours that include visits to all the buildings of the Hermitage, to be organized in one or more days.
Visiting the Hermitage with family: strollers and accessibility
Such is it's the beauty of the Hermitage that every child should visit it. The museum's size, the crowds and the fact that the staff speak only Russian make it a very demanding experience for those travelling with small children in pushchairs. In terms of accessibility, wheelchair users and those with walking difficulties can move around without problems thanks to the lifts inside the structure.
How to get to the Hermitage
. The St. Petersburg Hermitage is located in the city centre and is easily accessible by metro (Line 5 purple) with a stop at the Admiraltejskaja station. In addition to the Hermitage, this stop is also very useful to visit other famous attractions of the city such as the Cathedral of St. Isaac, the Bronze Knight or the artificial island New Holland.
Gardens and Catherine's Palace
One of the most famous residences of the Tsars of Russia, Catherine Palace is located about an hour from St. Petersburg near the town of Pushkin.
The sequence of rooms you will visit will fascinate you with their suggestive decorations and the beauty of the gardens surrounding the palace will immerse you for a day in the sumptuous life of the Tsars.
The Amber Room is worth the price of the ticket on its own but also the other rooms such as the Rake Room or the Green Room of Cameron are worth it no less.
Tickets for the Palace can be made on the spot the same day you decide to visit it but especially in the summer we absolutely recommend you to buy them in advance, even if you are obliged to choose the day of the visit at the time of booking.
The building, in fact, opens at 12 and at that time has already formed a long queue at the box office; entry to the ticket office is allowed for small groups to avoid crowds, so the queue is very long times and you could spend several hours in the queue.
Given that the airport is nearby, the trip to Catherine's Palace may be the last stop before your flight.
How to get to Catherine's Palace
You can get there by taxi or public transport: take the metro to Moskovskaya (20 min. from Nevskij Prospekt, the main road through St. Petersburg) and then from there the bus 545 (about 40 min. journey). Just let the driver know that your destination is "Catherine Palace" and he will notify you when you arrive at your destination.
The Cathedral of the Saviour on Spilled Blood
To appreciate the best of St. Petersburg architecture, include in your trip program a tour of the Cathedrals to discover architectural masterpieces such as the Peter and Paul Fortress (opposite the Hermitage), the Cathedral of Kazan and especially the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.
Monumental even if only observed from the outside, inside the Church is a show of mosaics, colors and representations that cover every millimeter of the walls. The ticket is not expensive, if you can not buy it online we recommend you buy it at the vending machine next to the checkout to avoid the queue (the machine accepts both cash and credit cards).
A tip? Go there early in the morning, even around 9:00 a.m., so as not to get crowded. The building is closed on Wednesdays.
The Cathedral of St. Isaac, the largest Russian Orthodox Church in the city, transformed into a museum, is also a must-see. The external colonnade is really impressive, we also recommend the climb to the gold dome which offers, with a small surcharge, a wonderful panoramic view of the historic center of St. Petersburg.
- The spectacle from the Dome is indescribable but to get to the top you have to climb a spiral staircase with over 200 steps.
Peterhof Palace, Nevsky Prospect and other points of interest
Another unmissable stop on a trip to St. Petersburg is a visit to the Peterhof complex, one of the seven wonders of Russia with a picturesque view of the Gulf of Finland. The residence is of a unique beauty, considered by many even more beautiful than the Palace of Versailles. Access to the Lower Gardens is subject to a fee, while the Upper Gardens are free. All other small museums in the gardens, including the Main Palace, are not included in the ticket and require the purchase of separate tickets.
- The gardens are wonderful, the unmissable part of the structure. If you are undecided on the tickets to buy, put at the top the visit to the gardens and that to the Palace.
Peterhof is about 40 km from St. Petersburg but can be easily reached by an efficient bus, train and hydrofoil service.
If you like to walk, take a walk along the entire Nevsky Prospect, the main street of the city, and enjoy the majesty of the buildings that surround it. Don't miss a trip to Arts Square, where the monument to Aleksandr Sergeevič Puškin stands, or to New Holland Island with its characteristic arched door.
- If you can get away from the center, take a walk to the flea market of Uldenaya (take the blue metro to Uldenaya and immerse yourself in the colorful banquets of the city).
- Do you have a strong stomach? Book a trip to Kunstkamera, the ethnographic museum founded by Peter the Great that collects oddities of all kinds.
What to do in St. Petersburg: Nightlife and leisure
After a day spent at the museum, what does "Piter" offer for an evening of fun? One of the main streets of St. Petersburg is Rubinstein Street, a street full of cafes and restaurants located right in the center. The street is not really very long but the large number of bars and clubs concentrated here means that at night the area is the heart of the city nightlife. If you are at Nevsky Prospect, you can walk less than 5 minutes to Rubinstein Street.
A gem where you can stop for lunch or an aperitif just a few steps from the center? As a "top" address we recommend the Loft Project Etagi, one of the largest multifunctional centers in St. Petersburg built in a former bakery. The structure hosts exhibitions and art galleries, a hostel with colorful rooms where you can stay overnight, a cafeteria and a roof terrace from which to enjoy a panoramic view of the city . Loft Project Etagi is less than a 20-minute walk from Nevsky Prospect.
How to get around St. Petersburg
Unlike the capital Moscow, 3 or 4 days are enough to visit St. Petersburg and the city can be easily visited alone and without any problem. If you prefer to travel by public transport, the city is well served by bus, metro and train.
For underground transport, the advice is to buy the cards for consumption and load an amount chosen by you based on the number of trips to be made (bear in mind that the individual trip costs 45 rubles, about 0.65 €). On the other hand, on buses, tickets can be purchased directly on board from the ticket-maker (the ticket costs 40 rubles).
Another valid alternative is the taxi, a very used means of transport in St. Petersburg given the low costs. The drawback is that during the hours of the day the streets are often paralyzed by traffic, so the taxi is more convenient in the evening hours while during the day the subway remains the easiest option to move, especially to cover long distances.