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First time to Saint Petersburg/Russia

I am thinking about going to Saint Petersburg for April school vacation. Does anyone have any tips, ideas, wisdom to share about this destination? One person I know said that they found it difficult to find food!?! What has your experience been like?
Thanks,
Diana

Posted by
4637 posts

It is quite adventurous if you don't speak at least some Russian and don't read their alphabet.We did it along with other Russian cities few years ago. It was easier for us because I can speak enough Russian to get around and read their alphabet. We did it through this agency: http://www.expresstorussia.com .
It was not difficult to find food. Plenty of it everywhere.

Posted by
6869 posts

Have you checked into what it takes to get a visa to go there? They are expensive and a hassle to obtain.
The easiest way to see St. Petersburg is by a cruise ship. Approved tour agencies will pick you up at the port and take you fabulous tourist sights quickly and efficiently without the visa. We spent two days in the city and suburbs, and a tour is just the preferred way to go.
Although I'm a very experienced European traveler, I wouldn't go to St. Petersburg without being on a tour. The city is not easy to navigate, especially with the different alphabet. The weather is pretty awful in April with temperatures between 35 degrees F and 49 degrees. St. Petersburg in Spring is often too cold, and the "warm" Summer months are very, very rainy.
But out of all of the great cities of the world we've visited, St. Petersburg is at the top of our list.

Posted by
1854 posts

David, it sounds like you were pleased with your tour. Could you share the company you used? I am looking at Alla Tours for a possible cruise this spring. Thanks.

Posted by
2018 posts

And to add, if you're not excited about taking a cruise, the Rick Steves tour we took a few years ago was wonderful. In addition to St. Petersburg, we also stayed in Tallin, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland. No muss, no fuss and great direction from the office for help in applying for and filling out the required Russian visa forms.

Posted by
6614 posts

It is easy to get a visa but it is pricey for Americans -- if you go that route go ahead and get a 3 year visa -- it costs the same -- and then if you fall in love with the place as we did, you can go back hassle free. You can do it in person in Seattle whereas from Chicago we had to pay a good bit extra to do it by mail through the Washington office.

It is a very inexpensive place to visit. I think we paid 50 or 60$ a night for an apartment near Nevsky Prospect. We shopped in local grocery stores and found tons of restaurants near us with really good food. Few people speak English; I was happy to have the translation ap on my phone (used it to read occasional packages in the grocery store after the first debacle of buying kefir thinking it was milk for coffee -- luckily I love smoothies of kefir and OJ for breakfast).

We ate in many small restaurant near the Kazan Cathedral and our apartment. They had menus with pictures which seems to be common although they were mostly frequented by Russians. The pie shop where we ate one night had an English menu behind the counter as did a fast food place in a mall. IN addition at many places like the cafeterias and bakeries that are everywhere, you can order by the point and gesture method just fine. It was easy to find places to eat. We found the pie shops and cafeterias to offer fairly terrible food -- edible but sort of hospital cafeteria quality. The small restaurants, notably a couple of Georgian places, near the Cathedral were wonderful. We ate very very well for very little.
Bakeries do very good sandwiches; we got sandwiches and cookies at a bakery near our apartment on the days we went to the Hermitage which has poor food service. We were very happy with our choice as we watched people around us with the unattractive offerings of the Hermitage food counter.

The things I would put at the top of the list are:
Hermitage (we went 4 times)
Russian Museum (this is near the Church on Spilled Blood)
Church on Spilled Blood (https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2015/11/24/church-on-spilled-blood-dazzling-sight-on-the-griboyedov-canal/
Kazan Cathedral
Catherine Palace and Peterhof
Mariinsky Ballet (if it is the season -- we were there opening day Sept 25)

We were less thrilled with the boat tour, the Faberge Museum

We didn't get around to several great things like Peter/Paul Fortress and some of the churches and so plan to get back.

This is also a nice city to just do self guided walking tours in.

Posted by
3458 posts

We also spent considerable time in St Petersburg this past September . As Janet has written so eloquently above , there is no point in repeating what she has said , my sentiments mirror hers . But , just one or two additional thoughts ; As Janet states , apply for the three year visa , it is the same application process , and the consular fee ( $160 ) is the same as a single or dual visit . You fill out the application online via ILS ( information on the Russian embassy website ) and submit it by mail . Since I live in New York , I simply brought it to the Russian Consulate on 91st street . Learning the Cyrillic Alphabet is a plus , and it has a fairly easy learning curve . Getting around the city is not difficult at all , buses , trolley buses , the metro , and shoe leather work well . Several times , we also used the Marshrutkas ( mini buses ) to great advantage . Read down this thread , in the last dozen or so posts , there is more information worth your time . While sites are a matter of taste ( to some degree ) , We loved the Shuvalov Palace which is the newly opened Faberge Museum . We visited after six PM one evening which enabled us to visit independently ( tours are anathema to me , I do my own homework ) , but there is a very well done audioguide which is helpful if you are unfamiliar with Faberge's work , I hope Janet won't hit me ;--) . Have a look here for a start https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faberg%C3%A9_egg . One last thing for now , This was a real highlight for us - About twenty miles from downtown , in the Gulf of Finland , lies Kotlin Island , and the City of Kronstadt . The is home to The Russian Baltic Fleet and its stunning Orthodox Naval Cathedral of St Nicholas , This will knock your eyeballs out !! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kronstadt_Naval_Cathedral Happy planning !

Posted by
3458 posts

Janet , what did you see at The Mariinsky ? I am green with envy , we were too early for it .

Posted by
6614 posts

It was a program of several short things. There was a classic white tutu number with the ensemble and several soloists; a dying swan by Saint Saens (always the great showpiece of fading divas since it requires perfection but not leaps and bounds), and Scheherezade. We had really great seats. Front row balcony about 8 seats to the right of the Tsar's box. A great night -- although we almost missed it as we got lost walking the two miles from our apartment to the theater but luckily were rescued by a passerby and sent in the right direction.

Posted by
3458 posts

Janet , Thanks , The Scherezade must have been spectacular , This is my favorite rendition of the of the dying swan , danced by the famous ballerina , Ida Nevasayneva -- https://youtu.be/WQcMFLpmv7s . This spring , The American Ballet Theatre is doing Ratmansky's " Firebird " On our subscription , can't wait !!

Posted by
6614 posts

We saw a stunning firebird at Maggio Musicale in Florence about 12 years ago -- it brought be back to ballet. We had a terrible company in Nashville and given that second rate ballet unlike second rate opera is just not enjoyable, we had sort of quit. The Mariinsky really was fabulous.

Posted by
7205 posts

You can easily use TripAdvisor to locate and pinpoint good restaurants in your location. I never went hungry in St Petersburg as long as I had a few minutes to research nearby restaurants.

Posted by
5468 posts

The (recreated fifteen years ago) Amber Room in the Catherine Palace was on my bucket list. It was great, as is the rest of the palace. Note that the architecture of the palace was thoroughly destroyed by the retreating Germans, so only the objets d'art that were hidden elsewhere can be said to be the "original" Catherine Palace. This attraction can have very long lines and limitations on re-entry or staying in one place (like the Amber Room!) too long. So if your budget permits, you might investigate whatever (... non rip-off, that is ... ) VIP or private guide options there are. We jumped the line (see next paragraph) at our appointed group time.

Although we were there on an organized river cruise (Viking River Cruises), during our free time I had no feeling that it was an intimidating or difficult city for non-Russian speakers to see. It's loaded with foreign tourists (like NY, London, and Paris) all year round.

Posted by
6614 posts

We had a private guide for Catherine Palace through Tours by Locals and were very pleased with that. Door to door service, excellent guiding -- we didn't get caught up in the huge tour groups and didn't have to wait in line for anything. Our guide was Nikolai through that site and it cost us $170 for his services for an afternoon; it made visiting this site easy and we could go at our own pace which tends to be slower than that of the rush rush tour groups.

Posted by
7205 posts

Janet: We also used Nikolai for the exact same tour. I couldn't believe how cheap he was, and he even included transportation in his own car. He was a good guide and we treated him to lunch after the palace tour at a nearby local mom & pop dive of a cafe which was located just next door to a bakery where the bread was served to us in our restaurant. The bread was baked in a giant clay oven and you could stand on the street and look in and watch them baking.

I have high regards for toursbylocals.

Posted by
1724 posts

We went to St.Petersburg 2 years ago and loved it. For restaurants, I found the recomendations in Steve's Snapshot book for St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Tallin to be good. We especially liked Zoom Cafe, Our favorite restaurant was the Georgian restaurant just around the corner (on the canal) from the hotel we stayed at 3Mosta Hotel. We also loved staying at the 3Mosta- it was very quiet, comfortable and only a few blocks from The Hermitage and Church of Spilled Blood. In general, it really helps to learn the alphabet, though most restaurants and sites speak adequate English. We also got the 3 year Russian visa and ended up going to Mosco last year. Thank god for frequent flyer miles!

Posted by
1724 posts

addendum: Looked up the name of the Georgian restaurant we liked- Rustavali.