A long weekend in St. Petersburg

Moscow isn’t the only beautiful city that Russia has to offer. St. Petersburg is known for its amazing sights and wonderful culture. Some friends and I took a long weekend trip to St. Petersburg from Moscow and my adventure started on the train – but more on that further down. We had a phenomenal time and still rave about it all the time. If you have the time and want to see more of Russia than Moscow, then St. Petersburg should definitely next on your list.

Getting there and getting around

If you simply plan on visiting St. Petersburg and only St. Petersburg then of course, you’re best to try and take a direct flight there from most places. If you’re coming from Finland or similar areas, you can look into getting a train ticket but the flights may still be the more practical and cheaper option. We went to St. Pete’s from Moscow and flying was certainly the cheaper option, but the trains weren’t much more expensive if you booked your ticket far enough in advance. However, here are a couple of advantages to taking the train over the plane. The first one is simply that it’s generally better for the environment. Of course, it’s still not great and travelling can often be a bit of an ecological issue but the train is better for your carbon footprint than a plane, so try and keep that in mind. The train is also quite a bit more of an adventure than a flight – especially if you book an overnight train, of which there are usually more than enough on offer in Russia. 

Getting around in the city is pretty similar to Moscow. The easiest way to get about is with the Yandex Go taxi app. The busses are also cheap and easy and of course, you have the option to use the metro. I never actually used the metro so I can’t say too much about this but from what I’ve heard it’s pretty much the same as in Moscow. You can read a bit more about the Moscow metro in my article about my first month in Russia. If the weather allows it, I’d recommend walking around St. Petersburg as much as you can rather than being transported. There’s so many amazing things to see including small details on the buildings and in the parks that walking is a great way to really experience this amazing city.

The Hermitage

One of the top sights and a must-visit in St. Petersburg is the Hermitage. The Hermitage is a palace that has been converted into an art museum. It was originally the royal winter palace and was commissioned by the Empress Catherine the Great and has had many extensions added since. You should try and book tickets online in advance to be sure that you can get in and get the time slot you want. In advance doesn’t mean days before thought, it simply means before you go. We booked our tickets in the morning and went there that same evening. Maybe to be on the safe side and so that you have more of a choice regarding the time slot you could try and decided when you’d like to go the day before and book your tickets then. Another important thing to know is that when you hand your jackets and/or bags in, you need to make sure you take everything with you that you’ll want and need in the museum because to get that stuff back, you’ll need to exit the museum and you’d have to buy a new ticket to reenter. 

The Hermitage is a museum of art and culture. It’s the largest art museum in the world going by gallery space. Something particularly great about the Hermitage is that not only the art pieces that are on display are stunning but the building and the interior itself is beautiful. The ceilings in the Hermitage are beautifully decorated and the architecture of all of the buildings is really pretty. There are famous pieces spread all around the museum including pieces by Rembrandt, Rubens and Velasquez. For anyone who is just a general sight seer a visit to the Hermitage would probably take about 1.5h but if you’re interested in art or some of the artists on display, make sure you take at least 2 hours for the visit.

A walking tour

One of the best things our amazing friend, Michelle booked for us to do in St. Petersburg was a walking tour. Our wonderful guide Vadim spoke fantastic English and had a lot of general information and fun facts to tell us whilst we were walking around the city. To keep you on your toes and make sure there’s still more for you to see and learn when you go, I’ll try not to tell you about everything we were told but instead will give you some insights. 

St. Petersburg has a lot of interesting Russian and European history, and this shows in a lot of the architecture and general style of the city. The founder of the city, Tsar Peter the Great was very much a fan of Europe and making Russia an important country in Russia so he made sure that European culture was very present. Even antique Roman and Greek influences are noticeable. St. Petersburg is sometimes even referred to as the Venice of Russia. This nickname comes from the many canals that flow through the city and the even more bridges that you’ll notice when walking around. You’ll learn a lot about the city’s story during the second world war and there are various legends and myths based on the Siege of Leningrad. 

A highlight and longer stop that we made on the tour was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This is one of the iconic landmarks in the city and is certainly somewhere I would recommend paying the ticket for to go inside. The church was built in the classic Russian orthodox style even though it is actually quite a new building as it was constructed at the end of the 19th/early 20th century. The interior is full of artwork all over the walls and ceiling that was all made of mosaic. Mosaic is basically art (usually patterns or portraits) that’s made from small stones or glass and the inside of this church is full of mosaic masterpieces. 

During the walking tour you could certainly tell that there’s a lot of history to so many buildings and places in this city and there’s a photo opportunity waiting around every corner.

Peter & Paul Fortress

A fantastic sight to put on your St. Petersburg to do list is the Peter & Paul Fortress. The fortress is very close to the city center and the area itself is free to visit. Depending on how much you’d like to see and how long you’d like to walk around for, you don’t need to plan in too much time for your visit here but it’s still worth it. The Peter & Paul Fortress is basically the birthplace of St. Petersburg and is the “old town” area. The cathedral in the center is based on Dutch architecture and the rest of the buildings have a similar kind of look. Try and be on the main square in front of the church for midday because once a day at 12 there’s a cannon shot from the fortress walls. It’s a long-standing tradition that used to be there to help the people of the city know what time it is. A short walk around this old area of the city is very insightful into what the city was when it was founded and it’s then great to compare it to what the city is now. The transformation is breathtaking!

The bridges of St. Petersburg

One of the great experiences in St. Petersburg is watching the bridges go up. During the day, the bridges in the city look unmovable but after about 1am (for the detailed plan on which bridge goes up at what time, you should check on Google while you’re there) the bridges start to move up to let bigger ships through. The one we went to was the bridge near the Hermitage and this seems to have been recommended to us the most as well. In itself, I guess all you’re really doing is watching a bridge move up and/or down but somehow it does feel special. I’d suggest putting it on your list of things to see while you’re in St. Petersburg. Maybe connect it with a late dinner and a couple of drinks beforehand so you’re not too tired when you go and head off a bit earlier than “on time” so that you get a decent spot as this is quite the popular attraction. 

Peterhof Palace

The last specific sight I’d like to tell you about is the Peterhof Palace. This is basically the Russian imitation of Versailles and it’s a series of palaces and gardens in Peterhof which is about an hour’s drive outside of the main city area of St Petersburg. You can’t visit the inside of the palace, so this is only really a place worth visiting if the weather allows it. The gardens are stunning, and the fountains are amazing! There’s gold elements and statues everywhere you look and a stroll along the sea is a unique experience. We took a Yandex taxi there and then took the ferry boat back to the city. The boat runs every hour and lets you out near the Hermitage. It’s a lovely experience and wasn’t too expensive either. The ticket to enter the grounds is about 13€ which is only worth it if you’re not going to be standing in the rain for the entire visit. 

It’s safe to say that St. Petersburg is a beautiful city with a lot to offer. In addition to all to the points I’ve already mentioned, it’s also worth look into visiting the Fabergé Museum, St. Isaac’s Cathedral or any of the other palaces that I simply shouldn’t start mentioning because we’ll be here until tomorrow. To but it simply, this is a city with so much to offer and simply beautiful architecture. We even did a short tour walking on the roofs in the city and the view was stunning and the whole experience was just amazing. You definitely won’t run out of things to see, do and learn when you’re in St. Petersburg.

If you’re interested in more destinations, packing tips or more advice about Russia, check out some of the other articles and stay tuned for more! In case your questions aren’t answered here, or you have any comments or personal experiences you’d like to share, don’t be afraid to get in touch, comment and let me know. 

You can also follow @megsplaces on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook for regular updates, pictures, story polls and video clips!

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