Hello, My family of 5 (two adults, three kids ages 10, 13, 14) would like to visit St. Petersburg and Moscow this summer. Any suggestions for a local guide or tour company that would be good? We would plan to arrive by ferry from Helsinki. We are looking for someone to guide our family or at most a small group around the key sites and someone to help with the VISA acquisition. We have heard it is challenging to just travel around on your own. Cristi
If you arrive by ferry from Helsinki, you can only see St. Petersburg without a visa; you will need a visa to go to Moscow. So, since you'll need to have a visa anyway, you may also want to look into the train from Helsinki to St. P: http://tinyurl.com/ar83knw For guides in St. P, here are four companies that are often recommended on Cruise Critic (all of them will also work with people arriving by methods other than cruise ship): http://www.alla-tour.com/ http://www.denrus.ru/ http://www.redoctober.us/ http://www.spb-tours.com/st-petersburg/en/ Traveling in St. P on your own isn't too hard; Moscow is harder, but still possible. But, this is assuming you can handle big cities (subways, etc) and that you learn the Cyrillic alphabet. If you're not used to cities of 5 million or 10 million (or so) people, and/or don't feel comfortable with all signage not being in the Roman alphabet, you'll do much better with a guide. For getting between St. P and Moscow, take either the Sapsan (high speed day train taking about 4 hours) or overnight train (taking about 8 hours). Don't fly - that's much more hassle. I can't help with the visa, but be aware that it is complicated and expensive. I tried to do it myself, because I live in New York City with a Russian consulate. My sister was working at the US Embassy and took care of getting me the needed papers, but I had problems at the consulate (very limited hours that they accept applications). I ended up paying an agency to do the waiting for me ($80 in addition to other fees).
Russia is one of the few countries in Europe where I think your money is well spent using a travel agency. The regulations are Byzantine and not particularly transparent if you don't understand Russian. And now that good ol' Putin seems to be getting more paranoid and anti-American, I don't imagine the process will simplify anytime soon. I used a company called "White Nights" several years ago to arrange my visa and a 1 week homestay in St. Petersburg. The company may no longer be in business, or they may have changed their name, but there's probably other similar travel agencies out there.
Cristi, You already know from previous posts that we visited St. Pete via ferry from Helsinki as you are planning. My suggestion now that you are looking for guides or tour agencies is that you visit, if you haven't already, TripAdvisor to see what folks are saying about the various tour companies and agencies that help with visas. Have a great trip.
Thank you to all the helpful information. We have traveled extensively and normally would not worry about navigating a large city. However, the alphabet and the different culture for this culture made us think that using a guide might improve our experience. I appreciate your input. Cristi
We spent a few days in Moscow January before last. Wonderful side trip and i am glad we did it. I'm not real big on guides but I have found that there are times and places where they can make a difference. We hired a guide in Moscow named Daniel Petrov. The kid was exceptional. http://www.waytomoscow.com/
Hello Cristi, I can help you with the visas and plan your whole trip. My US travel company Russian Connections has been helping people with everything Russia for over 15 years. Please let me know if you are interested in using our services, my email address is email@example.com, for more information about us you can go to www.gettorussia.com. Thank you