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First time in Moscow & St Petersburg in Dec 2015

We are planning to travel with my 2 year old baby girl to Moscow and St Petersburg for the first time.
1. What would be the best sites to visit for both cities 4 days each ?
2. What are the difficulties we might have while travelling with a 2 year old (maybe weather, etc)
3. What is the expected budget for each city on a daily basis?

Hope to hear your insights soon.

Posted by
7898 posts

We were in St. Petersburg 2 weeks ago coming in off a Baltic cruise ship. The fine weather was very unusual for September as it's usually colder and rainy there. I'm sorry, but Russia has a different alphabet, and independent travel would be difficult there. You would also have visa issues since someone has to "invite" you to come into their country. It's really a place for a most experienced travelers to visit--and I wouldn't consider taking a child there.

Posted by
1430 posts

St. Petersburg is more beautiful than Moscow and has more interesting sites. Apart from this:
1. December is bitterly cold. You have to be adequately dressed with shoes adequate for ice, snow and rain. I wonder if I would bring a child in the Russian winter. I personally found fascinating a visit to St.Petersburg in late November with fog, rain and positively freezing temperatures, but it does not look like a fascinating environment for a little child.
2. Both places are not really tourist friendly - little foreign languages spoken, hotels and services not always at western level, visa issues, and may be expensive if you want quality eating and accommodation. It is one of the few places where, in my opinion, group travel is better than going on your own. Also having a local friend would open doors you do not even imagine, but of course not everybody has a local friend.
3. Do not even try to go on your own without learning at least the Cyrillic alphabet. For example, in metro station the exit route is marked only in Russian; if you do not know the Russian for exit and how it is written, you will never get out.

Posted by
11294 posts

December is not a usual time to go to Russia as a tourist, and Russia is not a usual destination with a 2 year old. So, if you can give us more details of why you're going to Moscow and St. Petersburg in the first place, we can give better advice.

What the visa situation is will depend on your nationality. If you are a US passport holder, it's not easy or cheap to get a Russian visa, but it's certainly doable. For other nationalities, it can be much easier (one poster here explained that as an Israeli passport holder, she could enter without needing a separate visa at all). If you do have to get a visa, be prepared to use an agency to help you, as it's just not easy on your own. And do be sure to follow their rules to the letter, or your visa application will be rejected.

I agree with lachera - if you're going on your own, you MUST learn the Cyrillic alphabet. It's not hard; I used a book called Teach Yourself The Cyrillic Alphabet, which appears to be out of print. However, a similar book is here on Amazon:

This book breaks the alphabet down into letters that are the same as English, those that look the same but have different sounds, those that make sounds we don't have in English, etc. As lachera said, there is almost no signage in the Roman alphabet, so you really must be able to decipher Cyrillic and sound it out (even if you don't know other aspects of the language).

As for best sights, a guidebook will answer that question better than a forum can. For St. Petersburg, all I can say is don't miss the Russia Museum. The Hermitage is more famous, and has great art - by artists you can see in other museums. But the Russia Museum has stuff by local artists you can't see elsewhere, and it's wonderful. Don't miss The Wave by Aivasovsky - breathtaking. The Church On The Spilt Blood is also amazing. And I loved both the Yusupov Palace and the Sheremyetov Palace (the latter is now a museum of musical instruments).

In Moscow, Red Square, The Kremlin, Lenin's Tomb, etc are the famous sights. Do make sure to see the fancy Metro stations, like Mayakovskaya on line 2 and almost any station on line 5 (the ring line). And a great lesser-known sight is the Gorky House, an Art Nouveau wonder.

Budget? Like any city, there's quite a range, and your cost will depend on your needs and wants. Accommodations in these places are expensive. In St. Petersburg, I stayed at a nice place in a great location with a shared bathroom for only €80 per night, but with a 2 year old you probably want a private ensuite bathroom. For food, do you want to eat in restaurants for every meal, or can you get stuff from a supermarket? Some sights are expensive, like the Hermitage or the Kremlin; others are much cheaper. A ten-trip ticket on the Moscow Metro is a bargain; a taxi or private car is not. Etc.

Posted by
15477 posts

One more consideration is the lack of daylight hours. In Moscow sunrise is around 9 am and sunset at 4 pm. In Saint Petersburg, it's 10 am to 4 pm - yes, 6 hours of daylight.

Posted by
4066 posts

We recently spent close to three weeks in St Petersburg as independent visitors with visas . As Harold recommends , the book on learning Cyrillic is a must . We purchased a copy via the Amazon link he provided , and it was , indeed , invaluable. For now ( as I am getting progressively less attentive ) here is one quick tip - We stayed at a rather lovely hotel ( Crowne Plaza , Ligovsky Prospekt , 61 ) just near Ploschad Vosstaniya and Uprising Square . A two block walk from the hotel you will find the metro , numerous bus stops , and two great ( and very reasonable places ) for meals . The Stockmann ( CtokmaHH - in Cyrillic ) department store has a beautiful supermarket in the bottom level , and in the adjoining mall , the OBED bufet on the fifth floor is incredible for both quality and price . The hotel cost was about $160USD / night included a full breakfast and the staff was among the most helpful I have ever encountered . English was spoken there with ease .

Posted by
4066 posts

Since I am still awake , though not for long , one other bit to mention - Do not miss visiting the recently and magnificently restored Shuvalov Palace on the Fontanka River just north of the Anchikov bridge . This is the newly opened Faberge Museum , and while the collection will keep you in a state of perpetual drool , the palace restoration is mind boggling . No detail has been overlooked , and the totality of the endeavor recalls the splendor of Imperial Russia as it was in the last decade before the Great War . If you go after 18:00 hours , you will be able to go through on your own , rather than being herded through on a tour . The accompanying audioguide is very well done and will provide great detail

Posted by
7722 posts

We just spent 9 days in St. Petersburg and enjoyed the lovely September weather. I had come prepared for rain but we really only had one rainy day -- it was lovely. It is a hard town to be a tourist in -- Public transport is difficult -- the metro has such long stretches between stops, it is not of much use and the trolleys were hideously overcrowded. It is hard to deal in a place where few speak English and you can't even easily read the signs -- we had thought we had learned enough of the alphabet to get by, but we hadn't and that made it harder. (having a phone that can read and translate helped)

We did okay independently and getting the Visa (we got a 3 year visa and hope to go back next year or the year after) was easy. We also rented an apartment and so did some local food shopping which was fun. Restaurants are cheap and we had pretty good food -- the cafeterias are fairly terrible but most of the small restaurants in our neighborhood near the Kazan Cathedral were very good.

I would not do this with a two year old. And I would particularly not do it with a two year old in the dead of winter. None of the things we did from boat trip (not in Dec of course) to visits to palaces and museums would be anything but a misery with a toddler. It is not a great tourist destination with a toddler, but in winter it would IMHO be a nightmare.

We visited the Russian Museum, various churches, the Hermitage for four days, Catherine Palace etc -- not a one of those would be pleasant for a small child in December.

I personally, don't see anything wrong in visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg in Dec. This month the cities will be beautifully illuminated and getting ready for Christmas and New Year, so you will definitely enjoy it. In my opinion spending time in Russia in Dec it is much more interesting then in Dubai. I spent New Year once in Abu Dhabi and I think it was the worst one in my life (no snow, no Christmas tree and so on...)
Of course, you trip planning depends on your budget and I think it will be much better for you to arrange a private tour so you will have a car and tour guide next to you who can always assist and advice on where to go and what to do, just because you will be there with 2 years old girl.
1. What would be the best sites to visit for both cities 4 days each ?
I would recommend you to visit sight in the morning and to leave evenings free, as spending all days walking with little girl can be complicated.
So my suggestion is:
1st day: Red Square and Kremlin, Armory Chamber (is gorgeous, but I think it will be too much). Also on the Red Square there is GUM Trading house, with the newly open biggest in Russia store for children, your baby might like it.
2nd day: Tretiakov gallery, I guess audio guide in English is available there if you want to do it on your own, but I think guided tour will be easier and more interesting.
3rd day: I would recommend Kuskovo, beautiful palace and park, even in winter.
In St. Petersburg I recommend:
1st day: city tour (there bus tours, so it is cheaper than private) and St. Isaac’s Cathedral (for example).
2nd day: Pushkin (Catherine palace), there bus tours in particular days, if you want to save
3rd day: Hermitage and let’s say and Giant house for baby
4th day: Faberge museum (they have tours in English) and Oceanarium or museum of dolls for your girl
Something like that.

Posted by
15477 posts

Hmmm, Pauline hasn't been back so either she's figured it out or changed her plan.

Posted by
15477 posts

Stick around the forum, Anastasia. It sounds like you will be a great source of information for a destination that most of us know little about. Questions about Russia pop up regularly.

Posted by
1 posts

December is not a top tourist season in St Petersburg of course, but the huge advantage is that museums will be less busy than in summer when it can be really crowded. Make sure to take warm clothes, something you can wear in the rain and in the snow. Also when you will be planning your trip take into consideration that days are short in winter.
Classical places to visit in St Petersburg are:
the Hermitage museum
The Savior on Spilt blood church
St Isaac's cathedral
Peter and Paul fortress
All of them are easy to reach
Also most tourists visit the Catherine palace - it is situated in the suburb and it may be not so easy to get there if you don't speak Russian, so many people prefer to take tours there. If you are interested, I can tell you more about options that are available.
Peterhof ( a suburb famous for the fountain park, but since the fountains function generally from May to early October, the only possible reason to come there in winter is to see the Grand palace. My personal opinion is that the place is much more inetersting in summer).

Less known but highly recommended places:
Faberge museum (they have tours in English and sell tickets online)
Russian museum
Pavlovsk palace (it is situated in a suburb of St Petersburg. It's possible to visit it the same day with the Catherine palace as they are a short drive from each other)