Please sign in to post.

St. Petersburg off the beaten path

We too are going there on a cruise. We have booked a tour (actually are about to do so) and working our an off the beaten path itinerary.

We are staying in the city and not going out the the suburbs (too much driving, too much opulence; make me want to start a revolution!). We have focused on some things - the Russian museum for one.

Does anyone have additional ideas for things to do or see or experience there?



Posted by
11288 posts

Of the "beaten path" sights, my favorite was the Church On The Spilt Blood. I also loved the Russia Museum - good choice! Don't miss The Wave by Aivosovsky, and be prepared to gasp. The Yusupov Palace is an intimate and liveable palace, if you can imagine such a thing, and the little theater is by itself worth the price of admission. I didn't have time to take the separate tour of the basement, where Rasputin was assassinated (or rather, where the job was started).

Of the less famous things, my favorite was the Sheremyetov Palace. It's another fancy villa turned into a museum of musical instruments, including some amazing tiny violins complete with videos of them being played. They also have an intact glass armonica (not a typo), which are rare because most of them have broken. The palace itself is great too; the highlight was the Etruscan Room. As a bonus, it doesn't get many visitors, so you can really enjoy it.

The Hermitage indeed has great art - by artists you can see in other museums. It also has crush load crowds. But the palace and the art is amazing. Your call.

Nevsky Prospect, despite its fame, to me was just a street (sort of like the Champs-Elysée). A canal or river cruise, on the other hand, is very nice, despite being a cliché.

The Metro is fascinating - unless you will go or have gone to Moscow, in which case it's distinctly in second place. Nothing can top the Moscow Metro. But if you're not going to Moscow, be sure to see St. Petersburg's Metro.

I haven't been to the suburban palaces myself, as they're not my interest either. So when I say I really liked the Yusupov and the Sheremyetov, know that this is coming from someone who isn't a "palace person."

I was under the assumption that we needed to book excursions through the cruiseline in order to leave the boat without a visa. Getting a Russian visa seems $ and lengthy. Is St. Petersburg a safe place to venture on our own ( 2 single ladies) or should we stick with the tours? Is it worth getting our visas?

Posted by
11288 posts

"I was under the assumption that we needed to book excursions through the cruiseline in order to leave the boat without a visa."

  1. If you see St. Petersburg via a cruise line excursion, you do not need a visa.

  2. If you see St. Petersburg through a tour company authorized to get you a "visa equivalent," you do not need a visa. It's not really called a visa equivalent, but that's what, in effect, it is. If you get a group together, you can get a customized tour in a smaller group than the ship's tour. The cruise lines, understandably, are not eager for you to know about this option, and try to "scare" you into thinking you have no option besides taking their tours, putting up with visa hassles, or staying on the boat.

  3. If you want to be truly independent, or if you hire a guide who cannot get you the "visa equivalent," then you must get a visa.

Here are some companies that come up frequently on Cruise Critic, which can get you the visa equivalent (there are others too):

"Getting a Russian visa seems $ and lengthy."

It is, but of course people have done it.

"Is St. Petersburg a safe place to venture on our own ( 2 single ladies) or should we stick with the tours?"

Opinions differ on this. I don't think anyone finds it "dangerous," but it is daunting for some. I found sufficient English for my needs in the central tourist areas, but not everyone does. If you are going on your own, you MUST learn the Cyrillic alphabet; if you can't or don't want to do this, don't even THINK of going on your own.

(Sidebar: I just met frequent poster Chani and talked travel with her. She had no trouble managing with English in Spain, but did have trouble in St. Petersburg. I found the EXACT opposite, as I would have starved without Spanish, but central St. Petersburg restaurants had English menus. So everyone has different experiences in each place.)

You should definitely look at Cruise Critic, as there are extensive reports of all three options. Here's their Northern Europe and Baltic Ports Forum: