Russia Tourism Russia Visiting St Petersburg

Visiting St Petersburg


Entry into the Russian Federation requires a visa. All visas are issued by the consulate of the Russian Embassy in your country on the basis of an invitation issued by a Russian hotel or company. Your hotel will provide the necessary documentation, which is a tourist voucher sent to you in electronic form. Note that the cost price of issung a tourist voucher is only around ten pounds sterling ($15 or €13), so make sure you are not being overcharged for this service.

If you are planning on travelling to Russia independently, the most reputable contact and company is Vadim Rybakov of Liga Konsulting (, who can provide you with the necessary documentation. After you have been issued with an invitation, you can apply for your visa yourself at a Russian consulate or by using an intermediary firm such as Elena Veret of AnyVisa (


It is advisable to make a copy of your passport and visa to carry about with you in St Petersburg. The hotel may need your passport when you arrive to register your visas, and in the meantime you may want to change money, for which a passport is usually required (for sums over 500 euros, though the rules may differ from bank to bank).


If you are an independent traveller, you will need to register your visa yourself either by going to a post office and filling out the necessary documentation or, to save time, by visiting the website of a company such as the Alliance Travel Company ( The cost is approximately 600 roubles for one month and 870 roubles for two months.


The best places to change money are any of the currency exchange points on the stretch of Nevsky Prospekt between the two metro stations of PLOSCHAD VOSSTANIYA and NEVSKY PROSPEKT. You will see the buy/sell rates on offer in big neon signs on the building. Any commission on transactions is usually no more than $1, regardless of the amount changed. The official savings banks, called SBERBANK and with green logos, tend to offer a worse rate. Be sure to have fresh looking notes, as torn or marked notes (and coins) will not be accepted. Credit cards can be used for most payments in large shops and restaurants.


Nevsky Prospekt is served by Gostiny Dvor/Nevsky Prospekt metro station. Go to one of the ticket windows and buy a token (zheton) for 27 roubles, which you put into the turnstiles. For this amount, you can travel any distance. Alternative means of travel are bus and trolleybus. You pay 23 roubles to the conductor, who will approach you when you enter. This allows you to travel any distance, but you cannot change to another bus or trolleybus.

Taxis are expensive, but your hotel can avoid extortionate fares by booking a taxi and agreeing on the destination and cost beforehand. Many Russians stand at the side of a road and hold out a hand, signifying that they are looking for a lift. A private car will draw up and they state where they want to go and the price, then it is up to the car-owner to accept or refuse. This is not advisable for first-time visitors to the city without knowledge of Russian, but is always a last resort.


Plan any visits to museums beforehand, bearing in mind the days when they are closed, to avoid disappointment. Most museums close one day a week and are only open to 6 pm on other days (entrance until 5 pm). The following museums are closed on Monday (Hermitage, Peterhof, Oranienbaum), Tuesday (Russian Museum, Tsarskoe Selo), Wednesday (Peter and Paul Fortress, St Isaac’s Cathedral, Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood) and Friday (Pavlovsk).


The most famous museum is THE HERMITAGE in the Winter Palace and neighbouring buildings. It is advisable to decide first of all what you want to see, rather than trying to see everything, as you will only tire yourself. Highlights are the ancient sculptures in the basement; Italian Renaissance art (including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael); Rembrandt; Dutch masters of the seventeenth century, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists (Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso) on the top floor. Closed on Mondays, early closing on Sundays at 5 pm. Admission is 400 roubles. To avoid long queues, tickets can be booked in advance online at the museum’s website (

After visiting the Hermitage, which is on Palace Square, you can walk down Nevsky Prospekt, which has much to see and do and many different places to eat. Palace Square is also near the Admiralty Gardens (to the west, downstream the river) and the golden-domed St Isaac’s Cathedral (Isaakevsky sobor). You can visit the cathedral, which is now a museum, and climb to the top of the cupola for fine views of the city.

Making your way down Nevsky Prospekt, you will come to the Kazan Cathedral, which is a functioning Orthodox church housing the grave of Prince Mikhail Kutuzov, the Russian commander in the 1812 war against Napoleon. Opposite the cathedral you can take tea at the Singer Café on the first floor of the restored Art Nouveau building that houses the Dom Knigi bookstore (foreign-language books can be found in the back left of the ground floor). The café has views onto Nevsky Prospekt and the Kazan Cathedral. You will spot the enormous globe atop the building, which stands on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Griboyedov Canal.

Opposite the Kazan Cathedral it is possible to join a tour of the rivers and canals. The Griboyedov Canal is not the only place where it is possible to take a river cruise – they can be found at the intersections of most of the canals and main streets.

A little further down Nevsky Prospekt is the RUSSIAN MUSEUM (Russkii muzei) in the Mikhailovsky Palace on Arts Square (tucked a little way off Nevsky Prospekt, basically behind the Grand Hotel Europe). Home to purely Russian art, the Russian Museum offers an alternative to the Western art in the Hermitage, with Orthodox icons, avant-garde paintings and Russian takes on such European movements as Romanticism and Symbolism. The permanent exhibition is arranged in chronological order, beginning with icons and ending with the 20th century. Climb the main staircase and begin with the icons in the first hall to your left at the top of the stairs. Closed on Tuesdays and early closing at 5 pm on Mondays.

After visiting the Russian Museum, you can go out the second exit into the relaxing Mikhailovsky Gardens behind the museum. To the left is the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (Spas-na-krovi), which was built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. It has Neo-Russian mushroom domes on the outside and stunning Art Nouveau frescoes and marble walls and floors on the inside. Closed Wednesdays.

The Peter and Paul Fortress (Petropavlovskaya krepost) is where the history of St Petersburg begins and now houses the city museum. You can visit the tombs of the Romanov emperors and empresses, including the last tsar and his family, political dungeons, the imperial mint and various permanent and temporary exhibitions on the history of St Petersburg. It is on an island roughly opposite the middle of Palace Embankment. Walk along Palace Embankment from the Hermitage, cross the Art Nouveau Trinity Bridge and turn left to enter the fortress across St John’s Bridge. Closed on Wednesdays and early closing on Tuesday at 5 pm.


This walk will take either one or two hours at a leisurely pace and goes from the Winter Palace and back again, round many of the famous sites of St Petersburg.

Starting from the Alexander Column in the very centre of Palace Square, walk in a northerly direction and come out onto the embankment of the River Neva. Turn left along the embankment and you will find yourself opposite the gold spire of the Admiralty. You are now on Admiralty Embankment, where you will see the famous statue of Peter the Great called the Tsar Carpenter.

Continue along Admiralty Embankment until  you come to the Bronze Horseman on Senate Square, scene of the Decembrist Revolt in 1825. Keep going past the yellow Neoclassical building, which used to house the Senate and Synod, and you will find yourself on the elegant English Embankment.

Cross the Annunciation Bridge, turn right and walk up the River Neva along the other side. To your left, as you walk beside the water, you will pass the Academy of Arts, monument to Mikhail Lomonosov, St Petersburg University, Academy of Sciences, Kunstkammer and former Stock Exchange, arriving at the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island.

Cross Palace Bridge to the other side of the river and you will find yourself back outside the Winter Palace. You can stop there or continue your tour for another hour by turning left after crossing the bridge and proceeding further up the river along Palace Embankment.

This route will take you past a line of stunning buildings, including the Winter Palace, Hermitage Theatre, Grand Duke Vladimir Palace, New Mikhailovsky Palace and the Marble Palace. Cross the road with the Trinity Bridge to your left and the Alexander Suvorov Monument to your right and keep on going until you come to the wrought-iron gates of the newly restored Summer Garden.

Enter the Summer Garden and enjoy a leisurely stroll past the fountains and ancient sculptures, coming out at the opposite side. When you exit the Summer Garden, in front of you is the River Moika and to your left is the River Fontanka. Follow the right bank of the River Fontanka past St Michael's Castle and you will eventually come out in the middle of Nevsky Prospekt at the Anichkov Bridge.

From this point you are an equal distance between either MAYAKOVSKAYA or GOSTINY DVOR metro stations on Nevsky Prospekt. Cross the Anichkov Bridge to the left-hand side of Nevsky Prospekt and walk back towards Palace Square at the top, passing the Alexandrinsky Theatre and monument to Catherine the Great, Public Library, Gostiny Dvor, Kazan Cathedral and Stroganov Palace on the way.


St Petersburg is home to several outstanding opera and ballet companies, including the world-famous Mariinsky Theatre. The hotel reception can book tickets for any shows. Check the websites of the Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky and Maly Theatres in advance to see what is on the playbill.

The Mikhailovsky Theatre and the Maly Theatre are both in the vicinity of the Russian Museum on Nevsky Prospekt. The Mariinsky Theatre is harder to find among the maze of streets that ran along the Griboyedov Canal beyond the Haymarket (metro station: SENNAYA PLOSCHAD). One suggestion is to not go directly to the theatre (performances usually start at 7 pm), but to visit a nearby place of interest beforehand, from which it is simpler to find the theatre, rather than going direct. There are two main places of interest near the Mariinsky Theatre.

The first is the Yussupov Palace (Yusupovsky dvorets) on the River Moika. The site of the murder of Grigory Rasputin in 1916, this is the most sumptuous non-tsarist palace in St Petersburg. You can tour the ornate interiors and visit a recreation of the murder scene in the basement. The address is 94 River Moika Embankment and the palace is best reached by walking along the River Moika from Nevsky Prospekt (starting from the Stroganov Palace, which is a branch of the Russian Museum). From the Yussupov Palace it is a short five-minute walk to the Mariinsky Theatre.


Equally close to the Mariinsky Theatre is the ST NICHOLAS CATHEDRAL (Nikolsky sobor), which combines powder-blue Baroque architecture with golden domes. The church is best accessed by walking down Sadovaya Street – just keep on walking until you see the gilded spires on your right. Turn right before the church into Nikolsky Pereulok, cross the bridge and keep straight ahead until you see the entrance on your left (you will see people standing outside begging for alms and maybe some tourist buses). To reach the church, you have to enter the grounds and walk round to the other side. The interior is also designed in the Baroque style and has a miracle-working icon of St Nicholas, which you will see surrounded by a golden setting and many candles on the left-hand side of the church.

Another interesting religious site is the ST ALEXANDER NEVSKY MONASTERY (Aleksandro-Nevskaya lavra) at the very end of Old Nevsky Prospekt. Many famous Russians (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Peter Tchaikovsky, Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) are buried in its cemetery. Take the metro to PLOSCHAD ALEKSANDRA NEVSKOGO and cross the square with the statue of St Alexander Nevsky to enter the monastery grounds.


The former imperial residences of TSARSKOE SELO and Pavlovsk are located near each other outside the town and can be accessed by train or minicab. TSARSKOE SELO was the home of the last tsar, who lived in the Neoclassical Alexander Palace. Nearby is the Catherine Palace, a famous masterpiece of Baroque architecture. Both palaces are now museums and stand in beautiful parks – the Catherine Park is planned in the French style, while the Alexander Park is laid out in the English style and includes “Fyodorovsky Gorodok” (a Neo-Russian village with the private chapel of Tsar Nicholas II). PAVLOVSK has a Neoclassical palace built for Paul I, the son of Catherine the Great, and a sprawling landscape park in the English style.

Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk are close together, so it is worthwhile doing both on the same day. Tsarskoe Selo is closed on Tuesdays and the last Monday of the month, while Pavlovsk is closed on Fridays and the last Monday of every month. Both are served by train stations, which follow one another – Detskoe Selo (for Tsarskoe Selo) and Pavlovsk. The train leaves from Vitebsky Station, usually the platform on the far right-hand side (metro station PUSHKINSKAYA). Buy a return ticket to either place, as the cost will be the same. Pavlovsk Railway Station is opposite the entrance to the park (exit the station and cross the road). From Detskoe Selo station, you can easily get to Tsarskoe Selo by walking through the town of Pushkin (takes about 30 minutes) or taking a local bus or minicab. An alternative is to take a bus or minicab directly from St Petersburg, as this brings you very close to the imperial palaces. Minibuses leave from MOSKOVSKAYA metro station (outside McDonald’s on Moskovsky Prospekt).


PETERHOF is the Russian Versailles, with golden fountains, palaces and gardens dotted with statues, pavilions and other amusements. Lying on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland, Peterhof can be accessed by sea from outside the Hermitage. The main ensemble consists of the Grand Palace, Upper Gardens and Lower Park. The palace is designed in the Italianate Baroque style, while the parks are laid out in the French fashion. The palaces are closed on Mondays and the last Tuesday of the month.

An often overlooked side to Peterhof is the nearby park of Alexandria, which is a quieter place to walk and relax near the sea. The imperial family preferred to live here in the nineteenth century and it is laid out in the English landscape style with Gothic Revival architecture (Cottage, Farm, Gothic Chapel). If you are not planning to visit any of the museum sites on the territory of the park, you can escape the entrance free to the park itself by visiting after the ticket office closes at 4:45 pm, when entrance is free for everybody.

For something slightly more Russian, visit the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, which is designed in the Neo-Byzantine style of the late 19th century (it looks a bit like St Basil’s on Red Square). You can climb to the top for views of the surrounding countryside for 30 roubles. The church is easily spotted on the main road between the parks of Peterhof and Alexandria.

The most spectacular way to reach Peterhof is by hydrofoil from the river embankment outside the Hermitage. But lots of minibuses travel to Peterhof from AVTOVO metro station, costing 50 roubles one way. Go to AVTOVO, leave the station and cross the road via the underpass to your right, going up the right entrance at the end of the underpass and you will be where all minibuses park. After you pass Strelna (Konstantin Palace on right), then Mikhailovka and Znamenka, also on the right, look out for the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul on the left-hand side and you will know you are almost at the palace – time to get out by approaching the driver and asking him to stop.

On the way back, just stand at any bus stop on the St Petersburg Highway and put out your hand for a minicab or coach. Do not attempt to get on any other forms of public transport, as they likely just service the town of Peterhof. It is recommended going at least one way by hydrofoil from the Lower Park to right outside the Hermitage, as this takes you across the Gulf of Finland from the city centre directly to the palace park. The hydrofoil costs 500 roubles one-way and 800 roubles return.

A second alternative is by train from Baltiiskaya Station (a single fare is 56 roubles), metro station BALTIISKAYA. The station is called Stary Petergof. Note that the train does not take you directly to the parks or palaces – and it can be very tricky finding it from the beautiful Neo-Gothic train station.

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