Russia private guide Igor, offers small-group (six people maximum) tours of St. Petersburg, offering his expertise in architecture, European art history and Russian history. We asked him how he would recommend a tourist spend one day in St. Petersburg, and here’s what he has to say.
While Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, offers enough history, culture, art, music, and architectural sights to fill a longer trip, you can get a very good taste of the city in just a day or two. One easy way to visit St. Petersburg without a visa is by coming on a ferry from Finland or Sweden. Not only is it usually cheaper to fly via those countries, but it gives you the opportunity to explore St. Petersburg during 72 hours without a visa, under a special provision for ferry boat passengers. You just need your return ticket and hotel booking for the night and there’s no need for the red tape usually associated with a trip to Russia.
If you only have a day in St. Petersburg, here’s a good walking tour to see some of the highlights of the city. Start at Nevsky Prospect, the main thoroughfare of St. Petersburg, which is stretched like a taught string tied between two major points on the bow of Neva River, the Admiralty (originally a fortified shipyard) and Alexandr Nevsky monastery. From there go towards the Neva embankment along one of the many canals and channels that were built up during the 18th and 19th centuries. Other historical places of interest to see include Mikhailovsky (St. Michael’s Castle), the Summer Garden, Field of Mars, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Micheal’s Palace (Russian Museum), and the Marble Palace, each playing an important part in Russia’s history over the last 300 years.
Across the Neva River, look back on the sweeping panorama of its embankment before making your way to the historical nucleus of the city and its main attractions – Peter and Paul Fortress, Trinity Square, and Kshesinskaya Mansion (the home of the mistress of the last czar Nicolas II, who lived there until Lenin moved in to conduct his revolutionary activities). Along the embankments you’ll see the Grand Duke’s magnificent palaces and the spit of Vasilyevsky Island (a promontory of land created for former city port and later used as official city center) as well as those places that were built to glorify Russia’s might and power like the Stock Exchange building, which looks like ancient Doric temple, and the Custom House, with its warehouses decorated with Etruscan Rostrum columns.
Other sights to see include Saint Isaac’s Square, home to the impressive bulk of the cathedral and equestrian sculptures of two of the most prominent emperors on both side of it; the first two streets in St. Petersburg, which later became the center of capitalist development in Russia; and the mansions of the richest Russian families, each of whom could rival the czar with their riches. Take an hour boat ride along the canals to see St. Petersburg from another angle or learn about the famous Russian writers and poets such as Pushkin and Dostoevsky, musicians like Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein, and ballet companies like the Mariinsky Theatre, a successor of the Bolshoi Theater, after it moved to Moscow.
- Igor Kasatkin