St. Petersburg

We will have two full days in St. Petersburg on our cruise next summer. What can we see in two days and what shouldn't we miss? Thanks!

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2811 posts

You have to get a visa for St. Petersburg (very expensive and hassle-filled), unless you go on a shore excursion with your cruise line or with an approved Russian tour company. On Cruise Critic, everyone says that the local tour companies are much better than the cruise line excursions. If using these companies, you can join one of their pre-planned excursions, or can do a private tour. If you want a private tour, you can often find others on Cruise Critic who will join you, reducing the cost. Here's the Cruise Critic Northern Europe and the Baltics Ports Forum, with lots of great information about St. Petersburg from a cruiser's perspective: http://tinyurl.com/by57g9z Here's the Cruise Critic Roll Calls, where you can sign up for your sailing to arrange tours with others on your ship: http://tinyurl.com/ap7h55m continued..

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2811 posts

continued.. Here are four Russian tour companies that get good reviews on Cruise Critic. I have no personal experience with any of them: http://www.alla-tour.com/ http://www.denrus.ru/ http://www.redoctober.us/ http://www.spb-tours.com/st-petersburg/en/ As for what to see, look at the packages on the websites above, and you'll see the "recommended highlights." These are heavy on palaces and bling; if you want to see something else, you should work with a tour company to focus on your interests. Of the things I've seen that are not on most tours, I loved the Russia Museum, the Yusupov Palace, and the Sheremyetov Palace. While the Hermitage is amazing, it's also overwhelming. I loved the Cathedral on the Spilt Blood. I haven't been to the palaces outside of St. Petersburg (Peterhof and Catherine's Palace).

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7181 posts

We chose Alla tours. The options we chose were:
Two Day Strenuous (Not sure if they still offer that. If so, be sure to pack a lunch from the ship). Ten person (all matched up by Alla from our ship) which seemed to be a good balance of smaller group to good price, we paid $300, including tip, each. Catherine's Palace let's groups of six or fewer enter without a line, so that may be worth factoring in. Your ship will use scare tactics to get you on their tours; ignore them. If you follow your guide's instructions carefully, you will get through immigration with no problem and be off and running before the ship's tours are even formed up. Overall the tour was everything they promised. I'd have no problem choosing Alla again.

Posted by Dorothy
New York City, NY
85 posts

Wow, I'm glad I looked at this post. I'm taking the same cruise in late August and had no idea about the need for a visa, etc. (Guess I had rosy ideas about perestroika and how much things changed!) I'll use this information well. Thank you so much, Harold and Brad, and thanks Brendon for asking the question!

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9084 posts

I seem to be of the same mind as Harold on the Russian Museum vs the Hermitage. True, the latter has a very impressive collection and the building itself is amazing. But... you can find similar (if much smaller) Old Master collections in just about any large city in Europe. But the Russian Museum? Russian artwork, by Russian artists, featuring Russian themes. You won't find anything like it outside of Russia. My favorite gallery in the Hermitage? The Napoleonic War gallery. If you've read War and Peace, it's kind of nice to have a face associated with some of the non-fictional characters in the book.

Posted by Galen
Dallas, United States
389 posts

Dorothy: No, you do not need a visa when arriving in St. Pete via cruise or ferry, and you use the cruise or ferry tour, or another approved tour company. (See Harold's first post, first line.) The other posts give you a good idea of companies to choose from other than the tour operated by the cruise company. We arrived, without a visa, via overnight ferry from Helsinki, used the ferry company's tour on day 1, used Alla Tours on day 2, and went out on our own on day 3. We stayed night in a St. Pete hotel. Its an amazing place, don't miss seeing it.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9084 posts

If dining in St. Petersburg, this is a must (and I rarely use the word "must" associated with travel): borscht! Dear God, is it delicious in Russia!

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3489 posts

It's not non-Perestroika, it's quid pro quo and bureaucracy. The U.S. charges close to $200 for a visitor's visa to Russia, so Russia charges the same. Israelis get on-the-spot free visas. I think some South Americans do too, since there seemed to be quite a few from our ship who also went through passport control without problems. My friends and I were independent in St. P and loved everything. But don't regret the cost of the tour. Almost nothing is in English, so without a guide, you usually don't know what you're looking at. Try to join a small group - or put your own together - on cruise critic. We spent hours at the Hermitage, took a canal cruise, and went to the Peterhof - got there just before the fountains started and enjoyed watching them go on, with the musical accompaniment. Then we toured the private apartments and were lucky enough to be invited to join a small private tour in English. We missed the inside of the Church of the Spilled Blood, but even the outside is a wow.

Posted by Kathleen
Camano Island, WA, usa
331 posts

I checked the ferry terminal site for St. Petersburg and it said that you did not need a visa if you are doing a less than 72 hour stopover. Also it mentioned a 25 euro hotel shuttle available. You might be able to book a tour thru your hotel (which you need to book ahead). Having been to St. Petersburg a while ago...it seemed to be an easy walk to most of the main sites. We did take a hydrofoil on the River Neva to the Summer Palace. It would probably be worth it to have an English speaking guide. I went to the Hermitage without a guide but with a few other Art Majors because we knew what we wanted to see.

Posted by Dorothy
New York City, NY
85 posts

Thank you, Galen and others. So then it is possible to walk around on your own, after the tour is over. We've been wanting to have dinner at what seems like an amazing restaurant, Palkin, our splurge of the trip. I appreciate all the information. This helpline is so valuable!

Posted by Nancy
London, UK
159 posts

Dorothy - we ate at Palkin 2 weeks ago - it was absolutely FABULOUS!!! They had mixed up our reservations so our group of 12 ended up in the wine cellar! Amazing!!! And be sure to have ice cream for dessert!! Talk about dinner theatre!!! And yes, the borsht was wonderful!

Posted by nancy
bethesda, md, us
212 posts

One thing we loved was Peter's Walking Tour. Wonderful way to explore the backside of the incredibly beautiful city. The main peter'swalk takes you to important buildings and parks that beef up the usual diet.

Posted by Dorothy
New York City, NY
85 posts

Wow, Nancy! We were planning to eat at Palkin (TripAdvisor rates it #2 overall and #1 for best fancy restaurant) - but I've been having trouble making a reservation from the US. When I click the link from TripAdvisor, I get a strong warning to avoid the website. We actually went to my husband's Russian barber and had him call the telephone number on the Palkin website but it turned out to be a shoe store in St. Petersburg! (I might have gotten it wrong - will try again.) Sorry, I don't want to take over this thread, but how did you make the reservation? Yes, I read that the ice cream is amazing!

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3489 posts

Check carefully. My understanding was that if you don't have an individual visa, you must stay with the Russian tour guide at all times and you are not allowed to leave the tour or to stay ashore after the tour.

Posted by Galen
Dallas, United States
389 posts

Chani - This was not our experience last June. We arrived without a visa; we were never told, nor was there an expectation, that we should stay with a tour group. After all, we had no tour to stay with!?! We stayed in a local hotel, walked the neighborhood, and traveled on public transportation--bus and taxi. Of course, we left town within 72 hours as we were supposed to.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3489 posts

Galen - I was there 4 years ago, so perhaps things have changed. Or maybe it's different on the ferry and a cruise ship. We had to go through passport control on leaving the ship and on returning. When we left on the first day, the clerk didn't want to let us through because we didn't have visas in our Israeli passports. After 2-3 minutes of discussion (we didn't know any Russian, she didn't know enough English) a senior clerk came over and told her to let us through. They argued heatedly for at least 5 minutes, then the first clerk, with bad grace, stamped our passports. We were given papers that had to be presented when we returned to the ship and warned that there would be problems if we lost them. The next morning we went through the same procedure, except for the arguing. People on the ship who didn't have individual visas had to leave and return with their Russian tour guide in order to go through passport control.

Posted by Nancy
London, UK
159 posts

@Dorothy - I called them directly (+7) 812 703 53 71. Their English is fabulous!! Let me know!! That meal experience was one of the highlights of our trip!

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7181 posts

Chani, Oh yes, the stupid little pieces of paper immigration sticks in your passport on day one. As far as I can tell, they put it there only so you will lose it and have to pay a fine. We didn't lose ours because we had been forewarned by other travelers. On day two of our stay, they didn't put a piece of paper in our passports and didn't care that we didn't have them when we returned to the ship.

Posted by Dorothy
New York City, NY
85 posts

Thank you, Nancy! I didn't realize they spoke English at Palkin. We had my husband's barber call back using the correct number and he made the reservation (I think he enjoyed doing it!) Really looking forward to this meal!!

Posted by Barbara
Palm Desert, CA, U.S.A.
3 posts

Thanks to everyone who answered here as I am taking a river cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg in July. For this trip I had to obtain a visa which was time consuming but fairly easy. We will be visiting St Petersburg for 3 days. One of our tours is Hermitage. Will look into Palkin. thanks for the phone #. Will respond here when the trip is over and let you know what else I found interesting.