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, the ‘Jewel in the Baltic Crown’ and Russia’s most European city, elegant St Petersburg was Czar Peter the Great’s ‘Window on the West’. The grandeur of the Italian and French-designed baroque and neo-classical buildings, many reflected in the city’s network of waterways, is rivalled only by the riches of its priceless art treasures – nearly two million of them in the fabled Hermitage Museum alone. Let our St Petersburg cruise port guide help you plan the best way to spend your days in this exciting city.

St Petersburg was the capital of the Russian Tsarist Empire for two centuries and this amazing city is every bit as Imposing, ornate and as grand as you expect it to be. You’re in for such a treat when you get out and explore this wonderful place. In order to decide what you might like to see here in St Petersburg, it is important to understand a little of its background.

The City was founded in 1703 as a ‘Window on the West’ by Peter the Great, who wanted to bring Russia out of what he considered a dark age and more like the developed economies of Western Europe. He even toured Europe prior to founding the city, and he brought back ideas for what he wanted to build, originally even wanting a canal network like Amsterdam which is clear in some of the road layouts. He founded a fort here and called it Saint Peter Burgh, so incredibly, although St Petersburg has a lot of history it is only officially just over 300 years old. It has been known by three different names in that time, starting as St Petersburg, then Petrograd, Leningrad and now it is back as St Petersburg again.

Peter started off the development of royal palaces when he started construction of his version of Versailles, Peterhof Palace. 5,000 labourers worked with architects, water-engineers, landscape gardeners and sculptors to create this masterpiece where, as you’d expect, the rooms inside the palace are impressive, over the top and opulent. However, it’s the gardens that cover over 1500 acres that are even more impressive than the inside. This amazing palace stands at the centre of a very beautiful, landscaped park with French and English inspired gardens that are really very pleasing on the eye 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 numerous other beautiful sculptures surrounding its spectacular design.

Another name you’ll hear a lot of while you’re here is Catherine II, better known as Catherine the Great. She was the former wife of Peter III who was successor to Empress Elizabeth the daughter of Peter the Great, and she was brought to power following a conspiracy to depose her husband. Catherine the Great possessed an ability to inspire passion and loyalty in the men who wooed her, and her rule was beset by scandal because of her love affairs. However, she left the country vastly enlarged and she bought impressive collections of European Art for the Hermitage Museums, now contained within the stunning Winter Palace on the banks of the Neva River.

The Hermitage, located on Palace Embankment, 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 and at the heart is the Winter Palace, former Winter residence of the Tsars and Tsarinas of Russia since Catherine the Great. 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 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?!

Catherine Palace, although primarily associated with Catherine the Great because she loved the place, was actually designed by the Architect 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 also very distinctive with its stunning blue & white façade. The outside is memorable but inside is even more so. In particular the main highlight, the one that makes this particular Palace stand out from the others, is the mystery and beauty of the reconstructed Amber Room, the original of which is believed to be lost in Germany somewhere following the occupation of the palace by the Nazis during WWII. It took 24 years to rebuild and restore using 6 tonnes of amber and finally opened in 2003.

These palaces provide just an insight into the highlights and wonders that await you when you explore St Petersburg.

Travel Tips

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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
  • Metro
  • Lakhta Centre (Tallest Building in Europe)
  • Neva River
  • Fortress of Kronstadt
    • Naval Cathedral of St Nicholas
  • Oranienbaum
    • The Grand Menshikov Palace
St Petersburg Cruise port

Regular cruise line visitors

  • Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
  • Silversea
  • P&O Cruises
  • SAGA Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Viking Ocean 

St Petersburg


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