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Visa Free Entry at St Petersburg

Hi:
I took the plunge and booked the St Peters ferry from Helsinki to St Petersburg the weekend of Sep 20-Sep23. I am staying 2 nights in St Petersburg. I made the booking with Art Avenue Hotel thru Booking.com. What do I need in terms of showing my hotel accommodation going through border crossing? Any recommendations on tours, places to go, where to get Russian food? Thanks

Posted by
6543 posts

To get a Russian Visa, you have to get someone to ask you to come there. You might want to Google the subject. Visas are also expensive.
Many travelers to St. Petersburg get visas waived by going in on cruise ships and meeting an approved tour guide operation. As long as you are with the tour, you can be on the ground. There are 50 or more great tour companies in St. Petersburg, and most people take two day tours.
We researched tour companies online, and made a reservation. We were met with a driver, guide and about 10 people in our group. A small Mercedes van took us through all the back streets and alleys to get us to the Hermitage and other places promptly--before all the big tour buses had time to get there. The prices for the tours are also very fair, and they even gave us spending money if needed which was applied to the bill we paid the end of the second day. It is a special city of great beauty.

Posted by
4686 posts

Hi Greg. I hope you enjoy the visit and the ferry experience - I know I did!!!

The place you need to prove your hotel accommodation is in Helsinki at the St. Peters/Moby check-in. With the "visa free" visit, THEY are responsible for you in St. Petersburg, in case you renege and overstay or something...so they need to make sure you have a legitimate place to stay. When I checked in with St. Peter, all I needed to show them was a paper print-out of my Booking.com hotel reservation, and that was enough to satisfy them.

In St. Petersburg at immigration, you'll be in line with a bunch of other people from the ferry. The ferry will give you something to give to the border control officer. There, you'll get a transit paper you need to keep safe with your passport and bring back with you when you depart Russia. You also need to show this transit paper at the hotel - they will need to fill something out because of your "visa free" status. Also expect to pay an extra visitor's tax (in cash) at the hotel when you check-in - just a few Rubles. I got my Rubles at an ATM near my hotel.

The ferry's "tour" (just a hotel shuttle bus type of thing, not really a "tour") drops you at St. Issac's square (and cathedral) right in the heart of St. Petersburg. I booked a hotel (called The Library) right across the street from St. Issac's, so I didn't have to walk far from where the shuttle bus dropped us. I see in Google Maps that your hotel is a bit further away, but if you don't have lots of big bags, you could still walk across the canal to your hotel, about 8 min walk according to Google.

I used my smart phone to navigate St. Petersburg on foot and by bus. It gave me walking directions but also public transit directions. I found the buses very easy as a result: just get on the bus Google suggested to get my to my next destination and pay the conductor or the driver in cash (40 Rubles now, I think? Was 30 in 2016, but has gone up.). I got off when Google told me to get off. I never got lost. You can take the subway too but I didn't need to.

In 2.5 days, I walked around, saw the sites, made short visits to the Hermitage (you could spend days there, I spend only about three hours), the Russian Museum, etc. I love bridges, and St. Petersburg has numerous really neat bridges, so I took the bus or walked to many of them.

I was there in early June when the days were long, but by your trip it will get dark earlier - that's good! Go out at night and walk around and enjoy St. Petersburg at night, very beautiful with everything all lit up, especially along the Neva. I had to stay up til midnight to do so in June!

FYI, you can walk around completely alone without supervision in St. Petersburg even with the "visa free" entry - I did. Just keep your passport and that transit document with you in case you need to show it, though I never did. St. Petersburg is quite touristy and didn't feel to me much different, in terms of exploring as a tourist, than most other cities I've visited.

Posted by
321 posts

Hi,
There are simply too many options to come up with meaningful recommendations - tastes and interests differ, - but here's what we did as a small group over the course of 2.5 days:
Day 1 (late arrival): a stroll down Nevsky from roughly Sennaya sq to Palace sq., with stops at major landmarks along the way. Night boat ride (Neva plus canals); bars, pubs, and clubs until 6am (raw, dodgy and young at Dumskaya, and a bit more upscale and refined at Rubinshteina St.).
Day 2 (the only full day): a bus tour of the main sites downtown. It was Saturday, I think, and traffic was not horrendous, so we changed the tour on the fly to include Piskarevskoe memorial cemetery. I am glad we did, even though I'm not sure you want to do it first thing in the morning - it leaves you with a lingering and very powerful impression. Otherwise, the usual suspects: Strelka (vasilievsky island), the Avrora, St.Isaaqs, Kazan cathedral, Spilled Blood and arts square, the sphinxes, Smolny, etc. Hermitage after lunch (guided tour of 1.5hr, then another couple of hours on our own). Mariinsky opera in the evening (old stage, bought tickets 3 weeks in advance). Done at 11, proceed to bars, pubs, clubs.
Day 3: free roam. I did Peter and Paul fortress plus Artillery museum and the new Museum of the Navy. Others did Russian museum plus Erarta; the General Staff building of the Hermitage plus Dostoevsky memorial apartment; Yusupov palace plus New Holland island (mixed reviews on that itinerary); Peterhof (well, that was rushing it for sure). Yet others caught up on some sleep :-)
Food-wise, we generally sought out Georgian places for lengthy sit-down dinners and hipster hamburger places for a quick bite between tours. All food options we tried were invariably very good to excellent.
You might want to check out top 10 to top 20 attractions on TripAdvisor just to see what may be in line with your interests, but bear in mind that not all of them can easily be done on your own within such a short timeframe. For instance, Catherine's palace, beautiful though it is, is pretty much run over by organized tour groups, and is quite a drive away. Peterhof is more doable (and also quite beautiful), but can easily take a major part of the day if you decide to not only do the palace, but also explore the parks (most cruise tours do a 15 minute walk to the nearest fountain and back, while realistically you can easily spend hours in the Lower park alone).

Posted by
23 posts

Getting a Visa can be tedious. And if you don't have the patience, you might want to consider using a Travel Agency. They really help simplify the process.

Posted by
321 posts

getting a visa is tedious. Get a travel agency

Considering that the original question was about a 72hr visa-free ferry trip, and subsequent answer from Andrew H explained, in great detail, how that arrangement works (to recap: it's visa-free, hence the name), I find your advice somewhat questionable.

Thanks for bumping the thread, though - maybe it will encourage more people to get a visa-free ferry, which gives you two days in Saint Petersburg without the need for a visa or the need to be accompanied by a licensed tour guide at all times.

Posted by
43 posts

Greg,

I too have booked the St Peter Line ferry roundtrip for travel in July from Helsinki to St Petersburg through the St Peter Line website. At time of booking I was given a booking number, but I have not received any email confirmation of the reservation. I have sent repeated requests for an email reservation detail confirmation to St Peter Line via the contact page on their website and by email to two individual contacts listed on the website, but to date I have not received a response. Can you please tell me if you were only given a booking number at the time of your online reservation and have you received any subsequent communication from St Peter Line regarding your reservation? Thanks.

Posted by
4686 posts

When I booked in May 2016, I did receive an email with a PDF attachment of the reservation. (I still have it in my email - just checked.)
I would note that since then, Moby has taken over the company, so not sure if booking has changed since then. I'd be surprised if they didn't email you something, however.

Have you checked your credit card to see if they've charged you for it?

Posted by
18 posts

I am planning the same trip from Helsinki to St Petersburg around the end of Sept or beginning of Oct 2019, I haven't decided, yet. I was wondering if you had to book a hotel through the St. Peters Line. Somewhere on their website, I read you had to book a hotel through them, but I have read many blogs where it says you did not have to book through them. The rates for the hotels are higher booking through them and the hotels seem to be a bit further from St Isaac's Square. I would hate to be denied access to the ferry for not booking through them. This isn't the easiest website to work with!

Posted by
1606 posts

Recommended restaurants: Pelmenya with great dumplings (on banks of Fontanks River neae Nevsky), Zoom (good food and great staff), Shtolle (a casual chain with tasty fruit or meat/fish filled pastries that you buy by the piece). Also recommended trying a Georgian restaurant. A couple I like are Rustaveli on the Mokya riverbanks and Wine and Khachapuri (a busy, popular restaurant with many locals).
I have gone to St. Petersburg twice and always booked my room through Booking.com. The main thing is to have the hotel sign and date the room form that will be added to your passport at the border.