Travel Tips for St. Petersburg, Russia

We spent two days in St. Petersburg in 2003, as part of a cruise to Baltic capitals.  St. Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703, and was intended to be Russia's "window on the West," where Russia could connect with the rest of the world.  The city flourished under the reign of Catherine the Great (1762 - 1796).  St. Petersburg has been a central part of Russian history, from its position as the residence of Tsars, to the scene of the Bolshevik assault on the Winter Palace in 1917.  Its hardest time came during World War II when the city, then named Leningrad, was besieged by the German army for 900 days, from 1941 to 1944.  St. Petersburg celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2003.

Our favorites:

  1. The Hermitage -- this impressive building was originally built as the Winter Palace for Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, between 1754 and 1762.  It now houses one of the largest and most impressive art galleries in the world, with more than 3 million works of art.  If you spent just one minute looking at each work of art, and didn't take a break, you would need 11 years to see the entire collection in the Hermitage.  And if that were not enough, the Hermitage itself is an architectural standout.

  2. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood -- built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, this magnificent structure was based on several other churches in Moscow and Kiev, when it was planned and constructed in 1883.

  3. The architecture -- in imperial Russia, during the reign of the Tsars, no expense was spared in building palaces and state buildings that were the rival of any similar buildings in Europe. 

  4. When cruising, you don't need to show your passport when going ashore at a new port.  The local immigration authorities have already reviewed the passenger list, and have cleared everyone.  This holds true just about every place -- except in Russia, where you are required to officially enter the country as you leave your ship, and must carry your passport with you at all times.  This pretty much sums up the Russian government's approach to performing its duties.


  1. Don't drink the water.  The St. Petersburg water system has been infested with the parasite Giardiasis for years.  Don't drink anything with ice in it, don't eat fresh vegetables or fruit (which may have been washed with tap water), etc.  (At the first stop, one of the passengers on our tour bus asked the guide, "Can I get a cup of coffee here?")

  2. If possible, don't buy anything to eat or drink while ashore.  At one of our stops, a push cart salesman was selling bottles of water with well-known labels.  The only problem was all of their seals had been broken, and they had obviously been refilled, probably from the local tap water.

  3. Do not attempt to see this city yourself, by taking out a visa and skipping the organized tours.  Crime is high in St. Petersburg, and your ship will be docking a long way from the downtown part of the city.  This is one city where your tour money is well worth it.

 He said -- The stereotype of Russia lives on, from the moment we left the ship to when we returned.  You know you are in Russia at this port, and that adds to the excitement of visiting someplace we thought we would never go. 

 She said -- The Hermitage was awe inspiring, and it underscores the tremendous gap that existed between the Russian nobility and the peasants. 


Photos of St. Petersburg







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