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Moscow and St Petersburg - please critique the itinerary, suggestions for tour guides

Folks,

I have planned a summer holiday with my family to Moscow and St Petersburg. The itinerary is as follows:

Thursday 30-Jun-15 Departure to Moscow
Friday 01-Jul-15 Moscow
Saturday 02-Jul-15 Moscow
Sunday 03-Jul-15 Moscow
Monday 04-Jul-15 Moscow
Tuesday 05-Jul-15 Departure to St Petersburg by Red Arrow Express
Wednesday 06-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Thursday 07-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Friday 08-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Saturday 09-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Sunday 10-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Monday 11-Jul-15 Departure to Moscow by Red Arrow Express
Tuesday 12-Jul-15 Departure to Mumbai

I get 5 full days in Moscow (the first day we will be a bit tired so will take it easy). Then the overnight sleeper train to St Petersburg - 6 days at St Petersburg, overnight train back to Moscow, go directly to the airport, and fly back home. Please critique the itinerary mentioned above. The intention is clearly to sight-see at a leisurely pace, eat local food, have a good time in general.

Will I need the services of a local tour guides or can one get by by using Lonely Planet Travel guides? This is the first time I am visiting a country where not only is language a problem, but even the alphabets used are different, which means one cannot simply match names mentioned in a guide book with those on name plates and get by. As I understand, not many signboards are in English.

Any recommendations on budget tour guides? The larger ones are expensive, one quote I received was for USD 1200 for a 3 day tour of St Petersburg, for 3 adults, all tickets included (no meals) with about 7 - 8 hour of sightseeing each day.

Look forward to hearing from you all.

Thanks,

Mohan

Posted by
1257 posts

I suggest learning the Cyrillic alphabet - Russian is almost entirely phonetic, so once you know the alphabet, you can puzzle out the signs.

Posted by
7169 posts

We also used Dan Petrov on both of our Moscow trips. He's quite a fun and intelligent fellow and remains one of our good friends. Our most recent trip to St Petersburg we used Nikolai to take us to Catherine's Palace in Pushkin. We found Nikolai on www.toursbylocals.com where we've hired several local guides all over Europe.

Posted by
2936 posts

A disclaimer or two - first , I won't address Moscow , not having visited there , but I spent about three weeks in St Petersburg this past autumn and did it independently without any tour guides . I am in the minority about this , but I didn't find St Petersburg any more difficult to deal with than any other major European city . True , the alphabet is a bit of a puzzle , but if you learn the Cyrillic Alphabet ( a fairly easy learning curve ) you will be surprised at how your understanding will increase . As far as the 1200 USD quote you received , that doesn't sound all that bad . Three people for three days and eight hours per day breaks down to about $135 USD / day / person . Reasonable pricing to my mind . Central St Petersburg is easy to negotiate , with great Metro and Bus systems and English is common enough in the areas peopled by tourists . How much preparation and homework you do also has an enormous bearing on your outcome , the more , the better off you will be .

Posted by
20 posts

That tour price seems high to me. We will be in St. Petersburg for 3 days this summer on a cruise stop, but we will have Russian visas due to a pre-cruise visit to Moscow.

Look for a price in rubles or a guide that charges by the hour. We found one for one of our days in St. Petersburg this coming summer to take us to Catherine Palace and through the Hermitage for about $130 (including the taxi to/from Catherine's Palace) for the two of us. Of course, that might fluctuate a little bit if the ruble strengthens, but she has a $ hourly rate as well so we know the most we will have to pay. The guide is Oxana - maxella@mail.ru. She has been very responsive to emails and in helping us figure out the most cost-effective way to use her services.

The rest of the time we will be on our own. All of the sites are close together and for some you can buy tickets online ahead of time to avoid the lines. We will taxi to Peterhof and take the hydrofoil back (or taxi if the weather is bad).

Posted by
145 posts

Hi Mohan, I am pleased to hear you and your family are planning a trip to Russia. June should be a wonderful time whether wise. ...you might even come at the time when lilacs are in bloom and of course this is basically white night season in St. Peter.... all in all a good time!

I'm Russian so I cannot relate to the language / signage problem there, but I do think that they should have more signs in English than they have. However, as above mentioned posts said, if you learn Cyrillic alphabet, I think you should be able to read some of the signs.

Five years ago, I took a group of Japanese ladies (a large group!), to Moscow - Suzdal - St. Peter. Because of the visa requirements, the need of guides, etc etc, I had to use an agent in Russia. My first contact turned out be very unreliable, so I was apprehensive when I started to look for another one. Really apprehensive. But I am pleased to say that the agent whom I used "Ulko Tours" was absolutely wonderful. The owner Elena Ulko has an agency that specialises in American tourists coming to Russia. Nevertheless, she arranged great Japanese guides for us. Transportation, restaurant recommendation, ballet tickets, etc were all great. I have a lot of great things to say about Elena and her agency. I even felt compelled to write a review on TA because they did a great job. If interested, here is the link to my review and company information. http://goo.gl/uzOmJ1 It never hurts to write and ask what they can suggest for you private tours

I am not sure whether you wanted to consider adding one more destination to your itinerary, but we loved visiting Suzdal (Golden Ring town). There are some day tours out of Moscow (which I think would be crazy do in one day), but the next time I visit, I considered getting a ride there on a tour bus, and they just staying overnight. I think Suzdal is about 3 hours away from Moscow. There is also a train connection from Moscow to Suzdal which I cannot commend on. It's a love little town with dozens of amazing churches. Very picturesque. Very tranquil. When I was researching it for a private trip, I think I saw that there is an overnight train to St. Peter (from Vladimir which is a neibourghing city with Suzdal). I think it's double. Check out some of the images online for Suzdal to see if that is something you might like to add.

In Moscow, given a chance, take a looks at the Diamond Fond of Russia at the Kremlin. Must buy tickets in advance. wow, I've never seen anything like it!

St. Peter is my favourite city in Russia. I am sure you will have a great time there!

Enjoy! if you have any questions, get in touch.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks for the detailed response Anna! I will check out Elena from, Ulko Tours. As also Suzdal.

BTW I wrote to Daniel Petrov (Moscow) and Oxana (St Petersburg) and both haven't responded yet - albeit I wrote just yesterday.

Posted by
145 posts

Hello Mohanapte, I'm sure you'll get some replies. good luck!

Posted by
7169 posts

I can also recommend Elena. We used her on our first trip to St Petersburg and found her on the www.toursbylocals.com She has since started her own travel/tour agency. She's extremely nice and was a pleasure to work with.

Posted by
352 posts

I can highly recommend Peter of Peterswalks. Their philosophy is personalized service with a focus on explaining not only the major tourist spots, by normal daily life. We particularly enjoyed hearing the personal stories about adjusting to the changes that have occurred over time- the good and the bad.
You will not be disappointed if you use this company. I would recommend doing a walking tour on your first full day in SPB. It will really help you orient yourself as they focus on showing you the neighborhood "shortcuts" to take when getting from one place to another.
http://www.peterswalk.com/

Posted by
6 posts

I have visited Russia 5 times and St. Petersburg is my favorite Russian city. As earlier posted, it is fairly easy to learn the cryllic alphabet - one of the many such sites can be found here: http://www.russianforeveryone.com/RufeA/Lessons/Introduction/Alphabet/Alphabet.htm
I've used the services of Alla Tours for both St. Petersburg and Moscow and found them to be wonderful. http://alla-tour.com/
I found their prices very reasonable when considering that you get very full days of touring with their guides and all admissions are covered.
For Do It Yourself:
I now have a 3 year visa & feel comfortable traveling without a guide. It is really not too difficult to get around in St. Petersburg and/or Moscow. I always print out a metro map and also take along maps of the city. Both St. Pete & Moscow offer hop-on/hop-off bus tours. Check out the St. Petersburg Card: https://petersburgcard.com/en/
and the Moscow Pass: https://moscowpass.com/

Posted by
4131 posts

We did Russia in connection with a River Cruise that included four days in Moscow and four in STP before and after the cruise.

Russia is great and you can do some things on your own, but I don't recommend trying to do much on your own.

Suggest finding tour guides. I have read that Red October is a excellent tour company (my Son used them in STP) for tours in STP. For STP you have the Hermitage and Church of Spilled Blood as well as others sites that can take 2 days to see. However, you need to see Catherine's Palace and Peterhof that are several miles from the city.

For Moscow there are sites that are not right near Red Square, like the New Maiden's Convent. Also, suggest going to the ballet and Russian Army Show in STP.

Posted by
4637 posts

St.Petersburg is somewhat easier to do on your own if you don't speak Russian and don't read their alphabet. I even saw some signs in English. But almost everything in Moscow is only in Russian. You would benefit greatly having a guide. We used this company and were very satisfied with their services: http://www.expresstorussia.com

Posted by
20 posts

Respectfully disagree with previous poster about Moscow. We found it easy to get around on the Metro on our own. There are information desks in the Metro stations with English-speaking help if you get lost. There are also large maps posted around Central Moscow with information in English. Every restaurant we went to had an English menu and at least one English-speaking employee. Don't be intimidated, you don't have to have a guide.

That being said, we used a guide for the first day at the Kremlin because we had limited time and we didn't want to wait in line at the Kremlin or the Armoury. The second day, we went on our own to Izmailovsky market, Gorky Park, Muzeon Park, and Kitay Gorod. Uber is also good in Moscow provided you don't try and use it at rush hour.