When I go on a city trip, I like to get a good impression of the city, but I don’t like jam-packed itineraries. That’s why I’m leaving a lot of space in this sample itinerary for Saint Petersburg. I have added a lot of things to see, but there’s also plenty of time to get lost in the city. A lot of your time will also be spent eating, because the food is delicious! So, this itinerary was written with free time in mind, if you don’t like freedom, you could do everything in three days instead of four, but I would advise you to take your time.
Saint Petersburg Free Tour
I don’t know about you, but when I arrive in a new city I love to learn about the lay of the land. I usually prepare my own walking tour, or I go on a guided tour. I like free tours the most, because I feel the guide works a bit harder to receive a well-deserved tip at the end.
I have already written a separate post about the Free Tour in Saint Petersburg.
Some of the sights that are included on this tour are St. Isaac Cathedral and the Church of the Saviour on Blood. I would advise you to take the rest of the day to visit the inside of these churches. They are absolutely beautiful, and therefore well worth your time.
Morning: Hermitage & Winter Palace Tour
The Palace Square is also part of the Free Tour, but it’s best to leave the visit of the Hermitage for the next morning. Even if you’re not interested in art, it could take you three hours just to walk through it all.
I have also written a separate post about the Hermitage Tour I joined.
Afternoon: Communist Tour
Since you have now seen quite a lot of the “old” and classical Saint Petersburg in the past 1.5 days, it’s time to focus your attention on the more recent history.
Saint Petersburg was the capital of the Russian Empire until 1917. That year it became the centre stage of the October Revolution. The capital was moved to Moscow, but Leningrad (the Soviet era name of St. Petersburg) remained the second most important city of the newly formed Soviet Union. Therefore, even though there are quite some sights in Saint Petersburg that relate to that time, you’ll find more in Moscow.
We did this tour with the same company who offered the Free Tour. As always, you could also opt to do this tour yourself by visiting the following sights.
Our first stop was the Finlandstation.
Like Fidel Castro & Che Guevara during their revolution, Lenin also arrived from another country by public transport. Cuba is an island, so the Cuban revolutionaries arrived by boat.
Lenin arrived by train from Switzerland. You can still see this train if you enter the train station, or you could walk around it and see it from the outside through the gate.
In front of the station is a huge monument of Lenin. The city has lost most of its communist feel, so the monument feels a bit out of place nowadays.
KGB Headquarters & Crosses Prison
We then walked in the direction of Petrogradskaja. On the way we passed by the Big House (KGB Headquarters) where secret things happen(ed).
We also saw Crosses Prison from a distance, which was an infamous Soviet prison.
Most of the sights on the tour are out in the open. This is also the case with the Aurora Cruiser. This is the boat which gave the signal to start the revolution by shooting a blank which triggered the storming of the Winter Palace.
A bit of a detour from the tour, but matching with the theme is another impressive boat. We saw this one when we were walking by the waterside, namely a C-189 (a Soviet submarine) which is now a museum.
The last stop on the tour was the Solovetsky Stone, a monument to victims of repression.
From the stone we could see the Peter & Paul Fortress, which was the main political prison of the city.
Most of these sights can be visited – although I don’t think they would let you into the KGB Headquarters. We decided we had learned enough about them from the outside so we opted out of entering the museums.
My feelings about this tour & the sights is that I don’t think this part of the city’s history is the most interesting part. When I visited Berlin, I loved to see the political prison and to hear more about its communist days. Somehow, this history doesn’t seem to fit with the city of Saint Petersburg.
Morning: Exploring Vasiljevski Island
The eastern part of Vasiljevski Island is known as Strelka. In its hay days it was the trade centre of the city. Nowadays, it’s an area inhabited mostly by students because it’s home to universities & academies. It’s also quite popular with tourists.
My friend and I decided to explore the area to the west of Strelka for a more “real view” of the island. A real view we got. We walked into the St. Andrew church only to find out that we entered the building right as the priest was blessing the churchgoers.
It felt a bit voyeuristic, we were the only travellers in the church. More importantly, we were the only people in the church who didn’t try to rush to the priest. Nevertheless, we didn’t feel unwelcome and it turned out to be a special experience.
The area outside of the church is not touristy either, and it’s great to roam along market stalls and shops along with the locals.
The reason we walked that way was to visit the Church of the Assumption of Mary.
It looked so beautiful from the bank of the river that we couldn’t wait to visit it for ourselves. What a gorgeous church! It’s really worth making your trek across the bridge for this church alone.
Afternoon: Yusupov palace
Something not worth either waiting for or walking to is the English language tour at the Yusupov Palace. We were looking forward to this tour because the description of this palace is pretty spectacular. This is the place where Rasputin met his unfortunate end, again and again. He was poisoned, shot, beaten, and finally drowned since all the aforementioned attempts did not kill him.
We had to wait until 3pm to join the English tour, which is ridiculous. The video was in Russian, and we were handed a big leaflet where we could read everything in English. We felt like they could’ve given us this leaflet the whole day. The tour itself is very underwhelming as well. They have simply rebuilt all the scenes of the events with ridiculous looking mannequins. It’s funny to go and see, but don’t set your expectations too high.
However, the wait worked in our advantage because we decided to roam around the area to kill time. That’s how we accidentally stumbled upon a gorgeous church, the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral.
Morning: Self-made Subway Tour
Now, this is an interesting activity. My experience with metro stations is not necessarily very positive. Usually they are simply something you have to endure to get from A to B. If you would tell me I would actually spend all morning roaming through metro stations just for fun, I would have laughed at you.
However, that’s exactly what we did and I would ask you to trust me and to do the same!
We visited these stations, and they are all worthy of a visit.
The Admiralteyskaya station is the deepest station in the city. You have to take two escalators down to reach the station at 86 metres.
The station lends its name from the location next to the Admirality building. That’s why its theme is the Russian navy, and sailing.
Most people in and outside of Russia will have heard about the famous poet Alexander Pushkin. This subway station is named after him and at the end of the hallway you’ll find a sculpture of Pushkin.
Avtovo is the grandest station of all. It looks like you enter a palace when you see the grand columns and marble interior of the station. The ceiling of the station is supported by almost 50 columns, 30 made of marble and approximately 20 are decorated with glass.
The name of the station comes from the Kirovsky factory located in the vicinity. On the walls of the station you can find depictions of the various industries of the former Soviet Union: electricity, oil, coal mining, etc. Good luck trying to figure out which image means what 🙂
The station is located at the Revolution Square, that’s also where it got its name and theme. The design is dedicated to the October Revolution, and it includes a relief of Lenin delivering a speech.
That station concluded our little tour. It’s easy to do this tour and it’s cheap. As long as you don’t exit the stations you don’t have to insert a new coin into the machine.
Since you are already in a subway station, you could use the afternoon to visit one of the palaces in and around Saint Petersburg. We visited in late winter/start of spring and we didn’t like the weather that day so we decided to chill in the city centre instead. See my list of things to see/do next time I would visit St. Petersburg for inspiration in terms of palaces or other day trips.
Where to Eat?
This post is already way too long, so I’ll keep the restaurant as brief as possible. In short, I loved the food in Saint Petersburg! I found out I actually love love love Georgian food. They have this thing called Khachapuri, which is bread with cheese and it’s divine! I didn’t really need another reason to want to visit Georgia, but surprisingly I got one anyway.
I can really recommend these restaurants:
Suliko – Georgian
We had one dinner and lunch here, which shows how great the food is.
I ordered Khinkali (Georgian dumplings), Kharcho (a traditional Georgian soup with beef, rice & walnuts) and of course Khachapuri!
Mamalyga is in the vicinity of Suliko and it’s also a very delicious restaurant with a nice atmosphere. The kachapuri is very tasty here.
Yat – Russian
Yat is the first Russian restaurant we visited. I ordered the traditional Schi soup with sauerkraut & beef and I accompanied that with a Russian salad. Delicious, but reservations are recommended here.
Singer – European
Singer is a coffee shop inside a book store. I don’t recommend it for its food, but the view is pretty beautiful. If you sit close to the window you can gaze out at Kazansky Cathedral.
Taverna Grolle – Russian
If you visit the aforementioned Vasilyevsky Island, Taverna Grolle is a great restaurant for lunch. I ordered tefteli (meatballs with tomato sauce & mashed potato) here.
Pelmenya – Dumplings
Pelmenya only has dumplings. I haven’t really tried dumplings in the countries I have visited, because it’s not something that on my radar. However, after trying different dumplings from around the world in this restaurant I will definitely try to locate it more often.
Tandoor – Indian
Yes! Delicious Indian restaurants are always a good choice when travelling. If you crave a curry, Tandoor is a perfect pick!
Conclusion & What Remains
This was everything I had seen during my four day trip. I don’t regret visiting any of the sights, and I hope they inspired you a bit as well. Saint Petersburg surprised me. I had expected a different kind of city; a city I wouldn’t like with people I would dislike. However, I found the people to be friendly, and the city to be worthy of a visit. One thing I know for certain, I will be back and I want to visit more of Russia now.
These sights are on my to-do list for my next visit to Saint Petersburg:
- Pushkin/Catherine Palace (Tsarskoe Selo)
- 2 days Veliky Novgorod