One of the tough parts of travelling is that you often don’t have a lot of time to discover a given destination. Take St. Petersburg in Russia for instance. It’s the second largest city of the largest country in the world! So technically you could spend weeks exploring it without running out of things to do. However, if you’re doing a multi-country trip, you may only have 24 hours to spend here. This can be a little frustrating, we know.
Luckily for you, we’ve been around the block. Here’s a handy guide to those must-see things you should include in a whirlwind adventure through St. Petersburg.
Explore the city by boat
St. Petersburg is not called ‘the Venice of the North’ for nothing. It’s filled to the rafters with rivers, canals and no less than 342 bridges! As such, a boat trip is a great way to see a bunch of attractions without having to switch transport. The Golden Ring route in particular travels through the urban landscape past many wonderful sights. This includes the Sheremetev and Yusupov Palaces and many of the city’s unusual bridges. You will also see the St. Nicholas Cathedral and Mariinsky Theatre. And that’s just the tip of the sightseeing iceberg! Tours are conducted in English, French, German, Spanish, Finnish, Chinese and Italian. Be sure to stop by the St. Isaac’s Cathedral & Colonnade and Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood for those must-have travel pics. Even if you don’t have time to go inside for a proper tour, these buildings are popular for a reason and worth stopping by!
Go here for the official St. Petersburg city guide.
Get some culture
If you enjoy art, St. Petersburg is the place to be. Aside from the slightly whimsical architecture (come on, some of it looks almost exactly like candy castles!), there are plenty of other beautiful things to see and experience as well. St. Petersburg is a cultural hub. Visitors can look forward to world-class art museums, including the Hermitage Museum and the State Russian museum. Here you can see some fine European art, as well as priceless Greek and Roman antiquities. If at all possible, see if you can squeeze in a ballet or opera recital at the Mariinsky Theater. It’s a little pricey, but it is worth it. The Russian ballet is world-famous for a reason – you won’t see finer form or more breathtaking choreography anywhere else. If you prefer something a little more avant garde, try the Museum of Nonconformist Art at the Pushkinskaya 10 Arts Center. The centre is a collection of galleries, concert venues and studios that flow into one another. This is where you’ll find Russia’s most interesting modern art.
Feeling brave? Go to a Russian Banya!
If you don’t mind feeling a little vulnerable, a Russian a banya experience should be at the top of your list. Especially if you enjoy slightly strange cultural experiences that make a great story. A ‘banya’ is a bathhouse or spa. Although, not a spa like you’d find in countries like Switzerland. There are no manicures or gentle massages. You can expect a very hot steam bath, followed by a whipping with birch branches (we know, but it’s good for you!). This improves circulation. That is then followed by a plunge in ice cold water. The entire process is repeated a few times. Throughout this treatment, the locals around you will also to be stark naked. Like we said, it’s not for the feint of heart, but you won’t get a more authentic Russian experience. You’ll also feel like a million bucks!
Do a little shopping
Looking for some Russian souvenirs? Head to Nevsky Prospekt – the main avenue of the city and a superb shopping area. It takes two hours to walk the full length and this is the place to shop for everything from Matryoshka dolls (inexpensive and light to pack!) to wooden flatware in the traditional Khokhloma style. You will also find gorgeous Palekh-style lacquered boxes Pavlov-Posad shawls and scarfs.
If you can tick off a few of these experiences, you’ll be able to say you enjoyed a slice of St. Petersburg. It’s a great way to spend a free day on our Northern Explorer tour.
Top Tip! No matter where you’re from, you will need a visa to get into Russia. It’s compulsory. You’ll need to visit your nearest Russian embassy in person, with a letter of invitation from a licensed tourist organisation. Expat Explore provides all travellers booked on the Northern Explorer tour with this letter of invitation provided by our local partner in Russia, an official sponsor of tourist visas.
Oh, and download a translation app. Russian locals can be a little strange. They won’t simply switch to English if you let on that you don’t understand their language. It’s best not to get offended. Half the fun of travelling in Russia is being amused by their straightforward, no-fuss attitude. Just roll with the punches!
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