I am cruising to st. Petersburg. One day, I am purchasing a combination of the hermitage and 3 hours "free time" at Nevsky prospect. The second day we have hired a van for 8 hours. We would like to see Catherine's palace in the a.m. If anyone has done this, what else is "do-able"" in the two afternoons?
Will you have your own visas (so you can go anywhere on your own) or will you be getting visas because you are with a tour company?
My don't-miss is the Russia Museum. While the Hermitage is great, it's also overwhelming. In addition, most of the artists can be seen in other museums around the world. The Russia Museum has great art, by artists you've never heard of and that don't travel. Don't miss The Wave by Aivazovsky - breathtaking!
Another favorite was the Yusupov Palace; it's an intimate palace, if you can imagine such a thing. The private theater is alone worth the visit. You can take a separate tour of the basement, where Rasputin was assassinated (or at least, where the process was started); I didn't get a chance to do this.
And don't miss the Cathedral on the Spilt Blood. It's stunning.
Note that Nevsky Prospekt is just a street, like the Champs-Elysee, so after a few minutes you'll be wanting something to do. If you find it as underwhelming as I do, note that the Cathedral on the Spilt Blood and the Russia Museum are very nearby.
There's lots more to see, and it will depend on your interests. We loved the Sheremyetov Palace, which is now a museum of musical instruments. A plus is that it gets few visitors, so it's a nice change from the more famous places that are, deservedly, thronged.
Since you're on a cruise, you will find Cruise Critic invaluable. Here is their St. Petersburg port review: http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=73
Here's their Northern Europe and the Baltics Ports Forum: http://tinyurl.com/by57g9z
Ditto what Harold said about the Russian Museum... With such a short time, I would prioritize it over the Hermitage, especially if you've already visited a few other Great Art Museums of Europe. And unlike the Hermitage, you can see everything in a few hours.
Thank you. I wonder if it is possible to drive to Catherine's palace from the cruise terminal in the a.m, have lunch, and still have time for other sites in the afternoon? We are arranging the van through the cruise, so we don't need visas.
Sandy, I took an organized tour and we went to Peterhof Gardens by hydrofoil in the morning, the Catherine Palace after lunch, and finished up at the Peter and Paul Fortress.
For the Catherine Palace, verify that it is open on the day you are visiting. it is closed one day a week. I assume that your van includes a guide who will arrange the tickets for you? My understanding is that the guided tours need to work around the timeslots when they can get tickets for Catherine Palace, so you may not have a choice of morning vs afternoon.
We are also going to SPB on a cruise and asking the same questions. We have decided far to make a private tour and ditch the suburban things like Peterhof and Catherine's Palace. Too much driving and car time. We found a company that will do some off the beaten path things though it will cost us. We want to go to a different street, to visit a market but also a supermarket.
Doing the Hermitage and the Russian museum for certain. But generally we don't want to waste time in traffic.