St Petersburg – the cultural, bohemian, tram, bridge, rooftop, and coffee capital of Russia!!
From a young age, I had always wanted to visit Russia. I think it was the architechture of the churches that captivated me, the bright colors and multiple domes which provide a striking contrast with the flat Russian landscape often covered in snow – so when we got the exciting opportunity to travel to St Petersburg to attend the World Travel Awards I was bursting with excitement!
The sheer grandeur and history of Russia’s imperial capital is amazing , so it’s easy to see why it’s consistently voted among the Top Travel Destinations by TripAdvisor . I had a 5 day stay and tried to cover as much as I could, but left knowing there was still so much to discover and enjoy! I’ll share my best bits with you in this post, and suggestions of things I’d also cover if I had the opportuinity to go again!
FLY – From Ireland, you can travel via Dublin with various different airlines (always use skyscanner.ie to find the best fares) – but I found KLM the most regular carrier, with one brief stopover via Amsterdam.
VISA REQUIRMENTS – Please note that a tourist visa is required for Irish citizens entering Russia. It can seem like an over complicated process, but is actually very simple. I applied myself directly to the Russian Embassy in Dublin, but there are plenty companies to help you take the hassle out of it if you dislike paperwork. John and our other travel companions used a great Dublin based company called Visa To Russia. The visa is usually processed in 5-10 working days but can be processed sooner if needed. If you choose to apply directly to the embassy yourself it costs approx 86 eur for the visa and 25 eur for the invitation letter, versus if you use the company the cost is around 150 eur for the visa and 25 eur for invitation letter. What am I talking about? Find out more here
STAY – We stayed at Hotel Astoria – Opened in 1912, it is a St. Petersburg landmark, directly across from St Isaac’s Cathedral, and a short walk from most attractions especially Nevsky Prospect (for ALL the retail therapy!!)
Hermitage Museum / Winter Palace – Magnificently located on the bank of the Neva River, this Baroque-style palace is perhaps St. Petersburg’s most impressive attraction. Many visitors also know it as the main building of the Hermitage Museum. It is the 2nd largest museum in the world, but in fact it is more than a museum, it is a palace-museum, as it contains rooms and spectacular areas from the time of the czars. Even if you are not into art I think it is a must-see to view such a magnificent palace. Even the exterior is breathtaking!
Nevsky Prospekt is the central hub of St Petersburg. It is the centre for shopping, sightseeing and dining.
Beautiful buildings, breath-taking bridges and powerful palaces become only snippets of a walk down this sight-satisfying street. It is scattered with cafes and coffee shops where you can stop and rest up from shopping all the great well known stores such a Zara, and higher end designer shops too. For something a little different, try the Literaturnoaya Café for a coffee and cake and enjoy the historic atmosphere. The décor is dedicated to the past so you can admire its beauty as you sip away.
Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood
Even for people that aren’t particular fans of churches and cathedrals, this one is not to miss. Unique architecture and a tragic story are two reasons why it is worth a visit. The church is built on the same location as the murder of the emperor Alexander II. The church contains over 7500 square metres of mosaic inside an outside, so worth a look at least from the outside – but it’s well worth going in and won’t take up much of your time. For me, it’s these kind of churches that spring to mind when I think of Russia.
Peterhof Palace and Gardens
If you choose to visit Peterhof, you should set a whole day aside since it will take you at least an hour to get there (we went by boat which is the fastest and most comfortable option) and 3+ hours to explore the Peterhof estate and gardens.
To me, it was like Russias version of Versailles, only with more imoressive golden fountains! Make the Grand Palace a priority to see there as it is the most impressive thing to see, and if the weather is fine you’ll thoroughly enjoy wandering the stunning gardens. The day we visited, which was September, it was pretty foggy and therefore I preferred being inside the Grand Palace.
Some things to be aware of are that you will obviously be paying for the boat, and then there is an entrance fee but this only gains you access to the gardens (approx 15eur) , you then need to pay for a seperate ticket to access the Grand Palace (approx 9 eur). There is only a very small cafe outside the gardens on your way out, but be extremely careful if you choose to go to the cafe that you are finished with your sightseeing as you have to pay to re-enter the gardens!
St Isaac’s Cathedral
The golden dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral dominates the St Petersburg skyline. Its lavish interior is open as a museum, although services are held in the cathedral throughout the year. Most people bypass the museum to climb the 262 steps to the colonnade around the drum of the dome, providing superb city views. Of course, that was my favourite part and it couldn’t be missed as it was right beside our hotel!
So, that was a brief summary of my 5 days in St. Petersburg – I think I did quite well considering there is SO much to see and do , and if I were to be so lucky as to revisit anytime the only other thing I feel would be well worth seeing would be a ballet at the Marinsky Theatre!