With canals, cathedrals and royal palaces, there is lot to explore in the Russian city of St Petersburg (SPB). To avoid visa hassles, save time on buying tickets and simplify travel, we chose the 2 days private guided tour option.
- On our drive to the city, we stopped at few unusual places like Egyptian Sphinxes and Rostral Columns on the river.
- We started off the main tour with the Hermitage Museum. Started by Catherine the Great, 3 million exhibits are spread across over 5 buildings. This is amongst the largest art museums in the world. The museum is housed in the Winter Palace, which was the official residence of Russian Monarchs.
- You could potentially explore this Museum for days but thanks to our guide, we were able to quickly move from one key area to the next. It was not just the exhibits but also the architecture of the interiors which was captivating.
- Opposite the museum is the large Palace Square. It is flanked by Winter Palace on one side and General Staff building on the other. Through the arch you can goto Nevsky Prospekt, the main street in SPB. No wonder this carriage dint seem out of place in this lovely setting…
- While it looks like a relatively simple structure from outside, St Peter and Paul’s Fortress is considered birthplace of SPB. It was built in 18th century to act as military fort and was then used as political prison. The cathedral on the grounds has a 400 feet bell tower with a gilded dome. The cathedral has beautiful interiors and is the burial place for many Russian Tsars.
- A structure which symbolizes SPB is the colorful facade of Church of Spilled Blood. The onion domes and the colors are unique. The interiors with mosaic panels don’t fail to impress either!
- Standing tall, in middle of town is St Issac Cathedral. While the exterior is typical European, the interiors are absolutely impressive. With beautiful mosaics and columns made of lapis lazuli (blue rock) this is a must see attraction.
- We came back to cruise, freshened up and headed back for watching famous Russian ballet, Swan Lake! The old theatre had its own charm. This was my first ballet performance and I was thrilled watching this masterpiece. For around US$ 100 pp extra, this was worth it!
- We started the day with a boat tour along the canals of SPB. This offers a very different perspective of this city. We went under many bridges and saw quite a few interesting buildings. Away from the crowds, this was a lovely start to the day.
- We then headed to Yusupov Palace just in time for its opening. This is actually a private residence which belonged to one of the richest families in Russia. We managed to beat the crowds and explored the little palace at a leisurely pace. SS Tip: Don miss the palatial yet intimate theatre
- We headed out of town towards the famous Catherine Palace. The blue color makes this palace stand out. The rooms are huge and spectacular. The key attraction is the Amber room made with amber mosaics and gilded frames. We then walked along the beautiful gardens before heading back to town.
- Next stop was UNESCO heritage site, Peterhof for its gardens. The gardens are spread across lower half and upper gardens. The fountains are absolutely breathtaking. Stroll a little away from the main fountain and explore the smaller yet enchanting areas. There is a lot to see so do budget few hours for exploring this area.
- We took Hydrofoil to come back to main city. This is a Russian speed boat but made for a much larger capacity. The ride was absolutely smooth and we were back in 45 minutes.
- Based on various online reviews, we booked the private tour through Alla Tours. Once confirmed, we downloaded vouchers from their website and had to simply show the same for immigration. Our dedicated Russian guide and driver picked and dropped us back at cruise port.
- All the ticket costs were included (including early entry) and we were able to skip the long lines and save time. Our group of 10, paid around USD 300 per person. This was cheaper than the shore excursion offered by the cruise. We paid part amount online in advance (no payment required for group tours) and balance at the end of Day 1.
- Visa: For cruise passengers, if you have tour bookings, you can simply pass through immigrations without any visa. They just stamp your visa on entry and exit.
- Currency: You can pay using credit card at restaurants so there is no requirement per se to get local currency of rubles. But for souvenir shopping, you can consider converting your foreign currency at any of the standard forex shops near tourist attractions
- Internet: Most of the tourist spots and restaurants have free wifi. International roaming seemed lil patchy on mobile network.