St Petersburg, Russia
Get to know what it’s like to visit this destination.
Getting To Know St Petersburg – Cruise Port Guide
Undoubtedly the highlight of any Baltic cruise, St Petersburg is the ‘Jewel in the Baltic Crown’ and Russia’s most European city. It is the second largest city in Russia and was the capital of the Russian Empire for over two centuries after its foundation by Peter the Great in 1703, acting as his ‘window on Europe’. Its history has been marked by revolution (October Revolution of 1917) and resistance (Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1944), and it has been known by three different names since its founding, starting as St Petersburg, then Petrograd, Leningrad and now it is back to St Petersburg.
St. Petersburg is considered Russia’s most European city and unofficial cultural capital, which can be explained through its collection of cultural, historical and architectural highlights that together form a historic district designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city blends European and Russian architecture demonstrated by its palaces and green spaces, along with no distinct city centre typical of other Russian cities. It is also a city that has water at its heart, with many waterways forming canals that branch off the Neva River which flows through the city out to the Gulf of Finland and to the Baltic Sea. Spread across 42 islands in the Neva River delta, most of the major attractions of St. Petersburg can be found on various embankments and connected by impressive bridges that stay open at night to allow the inland river traffic to reach the mouth of the Neva. Amongst its many monikers, St. Petersburg has also been referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ due to its connection to the waterways and canals and its bridges.
Port Location and Facilities
The Passenger Port of St. Petersburg is where cruise ships dock and is located on Vasilevsky Island, in the west of the city. It is approximately 8.5km from the defined centre of St. Petersburg at the Nevsky Prospect.
Immigration takes place inside the terminal buildings with multiple booths for processing; you must be seen by an immigration official each time you head ashore and each time you return to your ship. The terminal buildings contain souvenir shops, currency exchange machines and cash machines and toilet facilities. There are security checkpoints and baggage checks before you can enter the terminal to return to the ship.
What not to miss
Peter started off the development of royal palaces when he started construction of his version of Versailles, Peterhof Palace, on land that had been won from Sweden in the Great Northern War, now the district of Petergof on the outskirts of the city. 5,000 labourers worked with architects, water-engineers, landscape gardeners and sculptors to create this masterpiece. With decadent interiors and a stunning location on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, it was a true masterpiece of Petrine Baroque architecture and encapsulated Peter’s desire to modernize Russia. It was largely destroyed during the Second World War after being captured by the German forces in 1941 and has since been meticulously restored back to its former glory. The most notable internal features are the Chesma Hall with twelve large paintings depicting the Battle of Chesma, a great Russian naval victory in the Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1174, and the Picture Hall at the centre of the palace, whose walls are adorned with 368 paintings of women of different ages and appearances but based on the same model.
This amazing palace stands at the centre of a very beautiful, landscaped park stretching to 1,500 acres with French and English inspired gardens that are expansively beautiful and are the main attraction here. Fed by the underground springs from the Ropsha Hills 14 miles away, The Grand Cascade has gilded bronze statues and 64 fountains. The centre piece is the impressive Samson Fountain, which is an allegory of the might of Russia in Samson being victorious over the Lion of Sweden in the Great Northern War. The Lion shoots a jet of water up to 20 metres (66 ft) high and is fed by a special aqueduct; what is astounding is that all the fountains do not utilize pumps, but through pressure created by the elevation difference from the Upper to the Lower Gardens.
The State Hermitage Museum
Located on Palace Embankment, the former Winter Palace is nowadays one of the world’s major art galleries and an icon of St Petersburg – the most popular visitor attraction and a must-see that shouldn’t be missed on a visit to the city. The Hermitage complex is made up of four buildings, with the former winter residence of the Tsars and Tsarinas of Russia since Catherine the Great being the central feature. The Small Hermitage, Large Hermitage and New Hermitage were all added later to accommodate the ever-growing collection started by Catherine the Great who came to the throne just one year after this palace was finished in 1732.
It has been open as a museum to the public since 1852 and welcomes around 5 million visitors a year, putting it in the Top 10 most visited art museums in the world. In over 1000 rooms, The State Hermitage Collection includes over 12,000 sculptures, 16,000 paintings, 600,000 drawings and prints, 250,000 works of applied art, a mere 700,000 archaeological exhibits and more than a million coins and medals. In fact, there are over 3 million items in the collection, but only ever 5% on display. Did you know that it is even estimated that it would take 11 years to view each item on display for just one minute each?! The museum is closed on Mondays.
To the south of St. Petersburg 30 km away in the district of Tsarkoye Selo, you can visit the summer residence of the Russian Tsars, Catherine Palace. Athough primarily associated with Catherine the Great, due to her love for the complex, it was actually designed by the Architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli for the Tsarina Elizabeth, who named it after her mother Catherine I who was Peter the Great’s wife. It’s one of Russia’s most famous and one of the world’s largest palaces at almost one kilometre in circumference. It is a mix of Baroque and Neoclassical architecture and has been expanded upon several times throughout its history. It is very distinctive with its stunning blue and white façade, with gilded stucco, cupolas and sculptures that Rastrelli gilded with over 100 kg of gold.
The outside is memorable but inside is even more so, with a grand Great Hall covering approximately 1,000 square metres which takes up the entire width of the palace designed to host the most exuberant and lavish balls. Of all the rooms, the one that makes this particular palace stand out from the others, is the mystery and beauty of the reconstructed Amber Room. Given to Peter the Great as a gift by King Frederick William I of Prussia in 1716, it was looted and dismantled by German troops during the Second World War and has since been lost. It was decided to start construction of a replica in 1979, which took 24 years to rebuild and restore using 6 tonnes of amber. It finally opened in 2003 on the 300th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg.
These palaces provide just an insight into the highlights and wonders that await you when you explore St. Petersburg.
NoFlyCruises recommends http://www.visit-petersburg.ru/en/ the official city tourist portal of St. Petersburg, for more information on the city.
The currency of Russia is the Ruble. Credit/debit cards are accepted for most major purchases at souvenir shops and in the terminal building. There are cash machines in the terminal complex. US$ and Euros are also accepted by some souvenir shops and street vendors. There are plenty of souvenir shops in the terminal building and it is advised to avoid unnecessary stops whilst on any excursions and save any retail opportunities for when you arrive back at the port when you will have time to browse at leisure.
Most cruise lines visit during the milder months of the year (May-September) when the Baltic Sea is no longer frozen. Whilst temperatures in July can reach into the high 20s and even low 30s in Celsius, the average temperature is around 18 degrees and it can be colder. It is worth wearing light layers which can be removed throughout the day. Summer is also the wettest time of year so a light raincoat is worth packing.
One of the features of visiting St. Petersburg in the summer months (June-July) are the ‘White Nights’, when the city experiences up to 19 hours of daylight due to its position at 7° south of the Arctic Circle.
In order to visit ashore you must be in possession of a valid Russian entry visa. Most cruise lines include the visa as part of any organized shore excursion that you book. If travelling as part of a ship organized shore excursion you must stay with your guide, escort and group at all times. If you plan independent travel with external companies ensure that the agency you have booked with provide you with a visa, or that you are in possession of one in advance. You cannot purchase independent visas whilst onboard a cruise ship. Failure to have a valid visa will prohibit you from entering Russia and border regulations are strictly adhered to. If you are not planning on proceeding ashore, then you do not require a visa. Check with you onboard excursions team the terms and conditions they have in place for booking and cancellations, as most excursions in St Petersburg have limited booking deadlines to the normal terms and conditions in place in order to secure museum and palace entries.
As Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg has an extensive transport system, made up of buses, trolleybuses, trams and a metro system. The St. Petersburg Metro is one of the deepest in the world and one of the most lavishly decorated, making it a tourist attraction in its own right. For more information check out http://www.metro.spb.ru
For Hop On Hop Off services, including information on the routes and prices, check out https://city-sightseeing.com/en/105/st-petersburg
Safety whilst ashore
Whilst the majority of places are safe and there is an obvious police presence in the city, pick pockets do like to operate in crowded locations where they know tour groups will be gathering. When alighting from transport and when queuing for entrances take extra care of your belongings and be aware of your surroundings. Report anything suspicious to your guide or escort immediately.
If embarking on organized shore excursions bear in mind that itineraries for museum and palace entrances are strict and so the pace of your group may be quite quick. Most excursions are high in activity level and there are lots of steps in museums and palaces, and some areas of uneven surfaces. Do check with your onboard excursion team for all the advice they can provide on their excursion programme, including on accessibility. Museums and palaces do become crowded and it is advisable to travel lightly as some places do not accept large items and require them to be bag checked and stored, which can delay the group and limit your time inside. In most museums and palaces shoe covering must be worn and will be provided on entry; this is to protect the integrity of the flooring.
Photography is permitted in most museums and palaces and where it is not, there are clear signs informing you of this. If you do not adhere to the rules in place there are attendants and security on hand who will inform you in no uncertain terms.
St Petersburg is a large city and so whilst every effort to avoid traffic and be on time for entrances and on returning to the ship will be stuck to, there may be times when delays occur. It is best to go ashore with an open mind and you will enjoy the experience of this fantastic city.
Where to Eat
NoFlyCruises recommends the following eateries:
Shtolle, 1-Ya Liniya Vo, 50, St Petersburg, Leningrad Oblast, Russia, 199004
https://spb.stolle.ru/ (In Russian)
Shtolle is famous for its amazing selection of hearty pies, with around 40 varieties from savoury options such as chicken, spinach, cheese and rabbit, to sweet options like apple and apricot. There are 13 bakeries across the city, with this one on Vasilevskiy Island the first to open in 2002. All the interiors are designed in elegant 19th Century to early 20th Century style and offer a nice inexpensive but delicious option for a bite to eat with a tea or coffee. A truly local St. Petersburg experience.
Destination photos courtesy of Sam Whiteside ©
Key highlights of St Petersburg
- The State Hermitage Museum (Winter Palace)
- Main Museum Complex
- The General Staff Building
- Winter Palace of Peter the Great
- Menshikov Palace
- The Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory
- The Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre
- Catherine’s Palace (Summer Palace)
- The Amber Room
- Peterhof Palace
- Peterhof Gardens
- St Isaac’s Cathedral
- The Bronze Horseman
- Peter and Paul Fortress
- Peter and Paul Cathedral
- Tomb of the Romanovs
- The Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood
- Nevsky Prospect
- Stroganov Palace
- Anichkov Bridge
- Kazan Cathedral
- Palace Square
- The Admiralty
- New Holland Island
- The Faberge Museum
- Yusupov Palace
- Alexander Palace
- Pavlovsk Palace
- Field of Mars
- Summer Garden
- St Michael’s Castle
- Lakhta Centre (Tallest Building in Europe)
- Neva River
- Fortress of Kronstadt
- Naval Cathedral of St Nicholas
- The Grand Menshikov Palace
Regular cruise line visitors
- Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
- P&O Cruises
- SAGA Cruises
- Princess Cruises
- Celebrity Cruises
- Viking Ocean
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