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Itinerary help for 3 days in St. Petersburg

Itinerary help for 3 days in St. Petersburg

Old Aug 24th, 2021, 10:16 PM
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Itinerary help for 3 days in St. Petersburg

My wife and I have always been independent travelers (with the exception of African safari), but we are considering a Baltic cruise in summer 2022 as our first oversea trip post-pandemic. Although we are not into cruising per se, the Baltic itinerary does seem to make sense. Otherwise visiting St. Petersburg would involve the visa hassle. We are fine with a short 1-day stop in Helsinki and Tallinn, and we will plan for pre-cruise / post-cruise stays in Copenhagen and Stockholm anyway. The biggest challenge is St. Petersburg. The longest stop from a cruise ship is 3-day / 2-night, yet there are so much to see that we would normally allocate at least 5 full days. Coming from the mindset of independent travelers, we have so far decided:
  • Choose a cruise with 3-day / 2-night in St. Petersburg. 2 day is too short.
  • Book an independent private tour so that we can customize a little. We found it not much more expensive for 4 persons than a group tour. Our 2 adult daughters will join us.
We found a number of St. Petersburg operators offering “visa-free short excursion” that covers the must-see sights in 3 days. I would love to cram as much as possible into the time we have. However at the same time we do not wish to spend too much previous time rushing from point A to point B. We can use some help on how to use our time efficiently (sorry for the long list of “ideas” based on the initial research):
  1. Peterhof and Catherine Palace are included in the standard itinerary as both are considered must-see. However they are far from the city center. We are thinking about skipping Catherine Palace and only visiting the Peterhof garden (not the palace) to save some time. Is it a mistake? I am sure it is worthwhile, but so are many other sights closer to each other in the city center.
  2. The standard highlight tour of the Hermitage is typically 2 to 3 hours. I know we cannot see everything but it still seems very short to me. If we travel independently we would love to explore on our own after a guided tour of highlights. But without visa, we have to be in the company of our guide all the time. How about allocation a total of 4 hours, and asking the guide to show us one or two additional exhibits after the tour of highlights? Also we heard that the Hermitage can be very crowded in the summer. Does anyone have suggestion on some less popular (i.e. less crowded) but no less interesting exhibits in the Hermitage?
  3. The standard 3-day tour itinerary is similar among tour operators. Other than the big 3 (Hermitage, Peterhof and Catherine), it includes General Staff Building, Peter and Paul Fortress, Church on the Spilled Blood, St. Isaac's Cathedral, Yusupov Palace and Faberge Museum. These tours are efficient. I accept that it will be rushed out of necessity, but do you feel any on the list (other than the big 3) to be “way-too-rushed” if we only have roughly 1 hour allocated to it? In addition, we would have a quick orientation bus tour, a boat ride, a subway ride, and a walk. We are happy for that.
  4. The Hermitage is known more for Western European arts than Russian arts. For anyone who has been to the Russian Museum, would a couple of hours be rewarding? I do not think we can afford more than a couple of hours. It is not on the standard 3-day tour itinerary, but we can request to add it. It is practically next to the Church of Spilled Blood.
  5. We would like to utilize the evening hours. Ballet is an option but not a priority for us. I am aware that the Hermitage is open late a couple of days a week, if the cruise schedule works out. Is there any other attraction in the evening? The days are long in the summer.
I will reach out to tour operators but I really value your input as well.


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Old Aug 25th, 2021, 05:34 AM
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foggy, my husband and I are like you, all our travels over the 30+ years have been DIY. But we took a Baltic cruise in 2015, mostly for the same reasons as you.

St Petersburg of course was the highlight and we had 3N/2D in port. I contacted several tour operators and finally settled for SPB tours, though from what I understand they are all extremely well rated. We were an extended family group of eight and booked a private tour for all three days, with the same guide and van/driver.

Catherine Palace is not to be missed, absolutely fabulous, as also the Peterhof gardens. DH and I were rather underwhelmed with the Hermitage, but maybe it was because we went with such high expectations. We’d particularly wanted to see the impressionists but that section was closed during our visit.

None of us is a ballet buff but nonetheless we greatly enjoyed our evening at the Marinsky, I think it was the 150th anniversary of Tchaikovsky that year and we watched Sleeping Beauty. After all, how often do you get to see a classic ballet in St Petersburg?

It’s the White Nights in June, with long daylight hours, and there are several other activities in the evenings. You can discuss all of this with the tour provider and ask for suggestions.

Good luck with your planning, IMO it’s half the fun of traveling!
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Old Aug 25th, 2021, 12:58 PM
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Perhaps things have changed a lot since we went in 2010 to St Petersburg and Moscow but if what you really want to see is Russia you may be overestimating how much trouble it is to get a Visa. We did both completely independently. We had a little help from the front desk of our StP hotel to get our concert tickets and our train tickets but that was all we didn't organize on our own. One highlight for us in StP was the house now museum in which Lenin had his office but now includes quite extensive displays on modern Russian political history. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/russia/.../374361/360547
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Old Aug 25th, 2021, 02:44 PM
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If you have 3 days, it might be good to do a group tour for 1 or 2 days, then have a private tour that you can ask for specific things for the remaining day(s). The good thing about the organized tour is that they seem able to "cut the line" and get into museums, palaces and other sites quickly. You see a lot of major sites in a very compact amount of time. The bad is that you see what the Russian government wants you to see (showcase underground stations with fancy mosaics that I could have lived without -- interesting but not a priority, one of the longest escalators I've ever been on for example.) At the Hermitage they take everyone to see the DaVinci painting or whatever they want you to see that day and not the Impressionists which most everyone would prefer to see. You get the idea. They are proud of their memorial columns which are all over the city. One particularly hideous pair imo are the Rostral Columns. Whatever you choose, it's interesting as all get out.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/F...mn_details.jpg

Those ship prows have an unfortunate resemblance to cow udders from some perspectives, lol, not what the artist anticipated, I think.

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Old Aug 25th, 2021, 03:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Trophywife007 View Post
If you have 3 days, it might be good to do a group tour for 1 or 2 days, then have a private tour that you can ask for specific things for the remaining day(s). The good thing about the organized tour is that they seem able to "cut the line" and get into museums, palaces and other sites quickly. You see a lot of major sites in a very compact amount of time. The bad is that you see what the Russian government wants you to see (showcase underground stations with fancy mosaics that I could have lived without -- interesting but not a priority, one of the longest escalators I've ever been on for example.) At the Hermitage they take everyone to see the DaVinci painting or whatever they want you to see that day and not the Impressionists which most everyone would prefer to see. You get the idea. They are proud of their memorial columns which are all over the city. One particularly hideous pair imo are the Rostral Columns. Whatever you choose, it's interesting as all get out.
Good idea Trophywife, the tour operators have it all figured out down to a T. Direct entrance to museums and sites is a huge advantage which is hard to replicate by the DIY visitor. Maybe you can try and do away with the underground station and longest escalator. I also remember those Rostral Columns and the da Vinci (an insignificant painting), but, hélas, no Impressionists 😟

But there’s no denying the grandeur and beauty of the many palaces and churches and I got to see many places I’d only read about and never expected to see in person. So no regrets at all.

Last edited by geetika; Aug 25th, 2021 at 03:46 PM.
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Old Aug 25th, 2021, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by geetika View Post
Good idea Trophywife, the tour operators have it all figured out down to a T. Direct entrance to museums and sites is a huge advantage which is hard to replicate by the DIY visitor. Maybe you can try and do away with the underground station and longest escalator. I also remember those Rostral Columns and the da Vinci (an insignificant painting), but, hélas, no Impressionists 😟

But there’s no denying the grandeur and beauty of the many palaces and churches and I got to see many places I’d only read about and never expected to see in person. So no regrets at all.
Agreed; no regrets. It all is interesting I just wish we had more days. I hope we make it back there someday.

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Old Aug 26th, 2021, 02:05 PM
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When I joined my friends on their Baltic Cruise in 2018, I had the same concerns about touring and visas for St Petersburg and shore excursions. I am not even that enthusiastic about cruising, but it was a friend's big birthday, so I joined the party.

The cruise line offered the typical two-day St Petersburg excursion that hits all the spots mentioned by the OP--in busloads of 50 people at a cost of about $650 per person for the two days.

Through Fodors and Cruise Critic, I knew of the reputable private tour operators (who would not be in business very long if they could not get you back to the ship in time) who offer the same tours at dramatically lower prices in groups of no more than 16.

We were looking at booking a private tour for our group of 5, which was priced at about $350 per person for the two days--and we would get to adjust the schedule.

Then on Cruise Critic I found a posting in our roll call from someone who had booked a private tour for her group of 10--they had 6 spots available. The person had already fine-tuned the usual itinerary based on their interests--fine-tuning which happened to match mine. No Catherine's Palace, since it is very far out of town and much is considered a restoration. Instead, we were able to include the General Staff Building at the Hermitage--where all the iImpressionists are hiding! Cost per person for this group of 15, which included lunch both days, was just less than $250 per person. My group decided they would risk touring with the unknown group of 10 for two days to save $100 each.

It was two very busy days, but the tour company (TJ Travel) connected all the dots very efficiently. Having early entry to the Hermitage really made a difference--we found out as the crowds began to arrive during the end of our visit. A real highlight for me was the General Staff Building which would not have been on the standard tour. Lunch one day was just OK--hearty fare in a large restaurant. The second day the lunch was in a smaller, more atmospheric place and we all enjoyed it. At the end of the second day we made a stop at a souvenir shop--I'm sure connected to TJ Travel--my friends were perfectly happy to shop there briefly.

I think our actual itinerary was switched around because one of our sights was not open on a certain day, but this is the tentative list we had contracted. We saw all of these--just in a different order.DAY 1

8:30 am Meeting at the ship (please, note the start time of the tour will be adjusted depending on your ship arrival time).

8:30 am - 10:00 am City tour includes driving and photo stops in the most beautiful, historical places of St. Petersburg. A visit to subway station.

10:00 am - 1:30 pmInside guided tour of the State Hermitage Museum (early admission). In order to minimize the flow of tourists inside the museum, the Hermitage authorities reserve the right to adjust the entrance time slot. Winter Palace Staterooms. Italian High Renaissance art, Rembrandt's paintings, the collection of Dutch and Flemish masters etc.

1:45 pm -2:45 pm Lunch

3:00 pm - 4:00 pm Guided tour of the General Staff building

4:30 pm - 5:30 pm Inside guided tour of the Faberge Museum

6:00 pmReturn to the ship or optional evening program (theatre / folk show / boat trip)





DAY 2

9:00 am Meeting at the ship.

9:00 am - 10:00 am Continuation of the city tour, including the Spit of the Basil Island Michael’s Castle, Summer Gardens of Peter the Great, the State St Petersburg University, Academy of Fine Arts, The Russian Academy of Sciences Ancient Egyptian Sphinxes, the Monument of Peter the Great, Admiralty etc.

10.00 am - 11.00 am A stroll along Nevsky prospect. This is a perfect way to blend into the crowd and feel like a local. Get acquainted with the genuine Russian spirit by walking down the main city street where you will feel the vibes of the city, admire such classical architectural masterpieces as Gostiny Dvor, Singer's Building, Kazan Cathedral etc. and learn more about Russian everyday life. If time permits, there will be a shopping stop

11:00 am - 12:00 pm Driving to Petergof

12:00 pm - 1.30 pm Guided tour of the Upper Gardens and Lower Fountain Park

1:45 pm - 2:45 pmLunch

3:00 pm - 3:30 pm Inside guided tour of the Church of the Spilt Blood

4.00 pm - 4.30 pmInside guided tour of St. Isaac's Cathedral

5:00 pmReturn to the ship


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Old Aug 26th, 2021, 02:11 PM
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Wow, thanks for the quick feedback.

Geetika, good to hear that you enjoyed Catherine Palace and ballet. We are in contact with a number of tour companies, SPB included.

Laurie, we may very well go through the trouble of getting Russian visa in the future, but perhaps not the first oversea trip post-pandemic. Thanks for bringing up the Political History Museum. The problem with the standard 3D/2N St Petersburg itinerary is an almost exclusive focus on lavish lifestyle of Russian Empire aristocrats. It is understandable given the time constraint. The “must-see” sights are incredible heritage and rightfully popular. We just wish that we have more time to include some counterbalances, such as the unthinkable human suffering during the siege of Leningrad in WWII.

Troffywife, good point on the “cut the line” privilege of the tours. There are only a handful of Da Vinci in the world, and I can understand the tour operator assumes that everyone wants to see these rare pieces of arts. That is why we are thinking of a private tour. My wife is particularly interested in paintings by Russian artists such as Ilya Repin, which are impossible to see in the West.
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Old Aug 26th, 2021, 02:33 PM
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Thanks, ellenem, for the details of your personal experience. I will definitely ask about early entry to the Hermitage. Yes I am aware that the Impressionist Collection is in the separate General Staff Building. Glad that you enjoy it. Do you find the standard 1-hour adequate? I always find it difficult to estimate the amount of time required to enjoy a museum (not necessarily seeing everything), and tend to err on conservative (i.e. over-estimate) side. Unfortunately we do not have such luxury in St. Petersburg.
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Old Aug 26th, 2021, 02:38 PM
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We went through Alla tours and our group was much smaller and less expensive that what Ellenem mentions. We had two fully packed days -- to the point of eating lunch on the bus as we drove to another location. There were no shopping stops except at one particular tourist store. Our guide was excellent.

I suspect that operators are controlled by higher ups on where they take their groups.
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Old Aug 26th, 2021, 02:51 PM
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I must admit that during our hour in the General Staff Building, I wandered away from our group quite a bit, preferring to study the work of favorite artists rather than study the works on which the guide chose to concentrate her descriptions. I could have used a bit more time there. On the other hand, in the main part of the Hermitage, I found myself getting ahead of the group, having seen enough of the old masters--personal taste I guess. (My degree is a BFA is that puts it in perspective.)

In the General Staff Building I had a really moving moment for me. Years ago my mother had seen a Van Gogh in a magazine she really liked and she wanted to get a poster of it. In researching it, I discovered it was at the Hermitage. At the time, I did a lot of research and found there were no internet sources to get a poster. This had totally slipped my mind until I turned a corner in the General Staff Building and there was Mom's painting. I studied it with tears in my eyes--Mom had died the year before.

I confess I did something I never thought I would do: in the Hermitage gift shop I bought one of those souvenir paintings on canvas--a reproduction of Mom's Van Gogh in a size very close to the original. The frame I bought for it cost three times the cost of the canvas. I don't care.

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Old Aug 26th, 2021, 06:12 PM
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ellenem, that’s a lovely story, incredible how you got to see your mom’s Van Gogh! We mostly stayed with our guide, though my
mom would wander away quite often to take pictures. Can’t remember how much we paid, around $200 perhaps?

We booked our ballet tickets for the Marinsky online, as soon as they opened, we could choose our seats and had the same SPB van and driver with us.

BTW, our driver had a bottle of vodka with him and would offer us shots every morning, am sure he had a few too himself!


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Old Aug 26th, 2021, 06:32 PM
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Disclaimer - I haven't used them but friends did on two different trips . . . a small company owned by a Russian woman and expat American man. They customized each day's itinerary for a fraction the $$ of the cruise lines. The first friends were so pleased they recommended them to the 2nd set of friends a couple of years later. https://vj-services.com/tours/private-tours.html

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Old Aug 27th, 2021, 02:39 PM
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Thanks for sharing your story, ellenem. It is a moving one. My wife is particularly interested in seeing some paintings by Russian artists, and I will try to make it happen. She has a good point that we do not really need a guide to tell us about Rembrandt. It would be a better use of the guide’s knowledge on Russian arts.
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Old Aug 28th, 2021, 12:29 AM
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I loved the Catherine Palace, which was a highlight of the trip. Another highlight was the food! Research some good restaurants near your hotel and go. One of our favourite meals was in a restaurant serving Georgian food. It was fantastic! We also enjoyed our boat tour which included going through a city canal and seeing the Hare Island. We also enjoyed just walking around the city and getting a feel of its architecture, which is stunning.
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Old Aug 29th, 2021, 06:20 PM
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Thanks, I will keep Georgian food in my radar zone.
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Old Aug 29th, 2021, 07:22 PM
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We took a Baltic Cruise in 2018 that had a two-night, three day stop in SP. I booked us a private tour with an English speaking guide and a driver. This turned out to be an excellent decision. We saw and did more than many of our fellow cruisers. Our guide took us through the Hermitage, making sure we saw all of the best pieces. Yes, it’s a giant museum, but realistically there is no human way to see all of it, or even most of it. So it’s best to have a guide who can get you to all the best pieces in a timely fashion.

We were able to customize a few things. We wanted to eat dinner at a couple of restaurants we chose, we saw a folk dance show one evening, and a tour of the Fabrage Eggs. We also stopped at World War I memorial, and took a ride on the Metro.
Our guide also arranged a shopping trip. Here is the website for the company we used.
https://www.bestguides-spb.com/cruise.html
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Old Sep 14th, 2021, 10:25 PM
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What days of the week (sorry, I'm clueless about cruise schedules)? Wednesdays are "long days" at the Hermitage, closing at 8 or 9. By far the best day to visit if you want to spend some extra time at the museum with little to no crowding.

Definite yes for the Russian museum, even if just a couple of hours (it's also huge). And another shout-out for Georgian

For WWII and the Siege please consider Piskarevskoye memorial cemetery. A memorable place.

Last edited by napoxoguk; Sep 14th, 2021 at 10:59 PM.
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