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If I’m allowed to pick only one city that speaks to the imagination, it would be St. Petersburg. It’s been a long time since I visited this Russian gem. Nine years to be exact. But when I close my eyes I can still picture myself walking along the Neva River or strolling through the aisles in the Hermitage Museum. It’s a visit you won’t forget. So if you’re wondering what city you should visit next, take my word for it and choose St. Petersburg.

To help you plan your trip to Russia’s second largest city, I’ve got you covered with this 3 day city guide to St. Petersburg. Three days is not nearly enough to spend in this cultural hotspot, but it will give you a great sense of what the city is about. Don’t plan this trip last minute though, because getting a visa to Russia isn’t something you should plan at the latest. So let’s get into this first.

Visa to Russia

  • You can apply for a short-term stay tourist visa for a maximum of 30 days
  • You can stay in St. Petersburg visa free for a maximum of 72 hours if you are part of an organized excursion group. For more details check Moby SPL
  • If you want to visit St. Petersburg for a maximum of 8 days you can apply for an e-visa, but this only applies to visitors from 53 countries. Visit the website of your nearest Russian Embassy to see if your country is amongst those 53
  • If you are applicable for an e-visa you’re in luck! It’s free of charge
  • You need an invitation from some place or someone to obtain a visa. Ask your hotel to send you a hotel invitation
  • Make sure you apply for a visa two or three months in advance. That way, if they aren’t satisfied with the invitation you have time to correct it
  • It takes between 10 to 45 days to recieve your visa

So now on to the fun stuff! What should you see and do when you only have three days in St. Petersburg? And how do you get to these iconic spots? Let’s start with transportation.

A must do is a ride with the subway. Not only is it a fast way to get you to your destination, but the subway stations in this city are also architectural marvels. Don’t skip Avtovo and Kirovsky Zavod.

Unlike most cities in the world you can still take a ride in a trolleybus here. You can also take the tram or a normal bus, but it might be fun to take the trolleybus if you’ve never been in one.

The best way to see the city is by boat. They call St. Petersburg the Venice of the North for a reason. There are numerous tour operators offering up a tour. We went on a one hour-trip and it was a great way to see the city from a different point of view and relax in the process. Just walk along the Nevsky Prospekt canal and you will find ships at every corner. Some only offer tours in Russian, so if you don’t speak the language make sure to book a tour at an operator that offers a tour in English.

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Boat tours and hop-on hop-off buses have a bad reputation. Used only by people who want to check off sites by just passing by and shooting some pics, all the while thinking about the next place they’ll visit. But I don’t think that’s fair and frankly untrue. Sure, lots of tourists travel like this. But even more people use boats and buses to get to know a city before really diving into them. I’m one of them. It’s usually one of the first things I do when arriving in an unknown city. To get to know the city a little and to pick the places I would like to spend some time at during my days there.

A lot of the sights in St. Petersburg are at walking distance. In fact, if you want to, you could see most of the interesting places on a three to four hour walk. By going on a boat tour along the Neva River you can orientate yourself and pick out some nice walks for yourself to go on. And also, when you only have three days here, you can take a glance at things you don’t have the time for. And put them on your list for another visit. This city deserves it.

Now let’s get to the sights you surely shouldn’t miss. And start with one of the most beautiful museums in the world: the Hermitage.

Hermitage Museum

The Hermitage Museum is the second largest art museum in the world. Its collection consists of more than 3 million items, but only a small part is on permanent display. The collection fills six buildings that make up the Hermitage museum, but you can only visit five of them. Needless to say: it’s impossible to see everything in one day. Which also means that it’s totally worth it to spend a full day here. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you’ll be disappointed that you only have one day to spare.

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If you want to make the most of your day I have two tips for you. First: buy tickets online. You will avoid the huge lines and while others are waiting for about an hour around opening time, you will only have to wait 15 to 20 minutes. And secondly: when they scan your online ticket don’t forget to ask for a (free) map. You’ll need it! It’s easy to get lost in here.

I’m not going to tell you which collections you should visit. Your taste maybe different than mine. But what you cannot miss is the Winter Palace.

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The Winter Palace was the official residence of the Russian Emperors until 1917. It’s green and white from the outside and has a beautiful inner courtyard. After admiring it from the outside it is time to enter the palace. Be prepared to have your breath taken away from you the moment you enter the Jordan Hall. You are surrounded by colonnades and you will be walking towards the most awe-inspiring staircase you have ever seen: the Jordan Staircase. This whole hall still retains the original 18th century style, except from the grey granite columns (mid 19th century).

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After spending time in the palace it is time to check out the other collections. You’ve got 120 rooms to choose from.

As a Dutchie I loved the Hall Of The Netherlands. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many paintings from Dutch artists outside of my own country.

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Hermitage Museum - Ticket info

  • buy your tickets online, to avoid the long lines
  • an online ticket will cost you ?15, which is ?5 more than on-site
  • the entrance for guests with online tickets is in between the Small and the New Hermitage on Millionnaya Street

FUN FACT: 60 cats live in the museums basement. You can find them all over the embankment and on the square during summer. They even have their own press secretary. You won’t find them inside of the museum anymore, but that used to be the case in previous eras.

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The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood

After a first day at the Hermitage Museum it is time for something completely different. The Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood. A weird and kinda creepy name if you ask me. The reason for its name is that this church was built on the exact same spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881. Two years later they started building the church and when it opened in 1907 it had a different name: the Resurrection of Christ Church. It still is the official name, but hardly no one uses it anymore.

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The church is absolutely gorgeous from the outside. The resemblance to the St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow is obvious. Especially when looking at the five domes. When you step inside you lay eyes on 7000 m2 of mosaics. There is so much to see that you keep circling around the church benches. It is amazing what people are capable of building.

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After spending an hour or so in and around this beautiful church, walk towards the Neva River. There you will find lots of souvenir stands where you will find anything Russian, including the famous nesting dolls. Some with the faces of celebrities on them. Even if you’re not a fan of souvenirs, it’s still interesting to see how creative they’ve been to keep people interested. And who knows? You might be leaving this city with a Madonna or Obama nesting doll in your luggage.

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Walk along the Neva River

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The Neva River is one of the largest rivers in Europe by volume of water, but at the same time it’s one of the shortest rivers of the world at only 74 kilometers. It’s the main waterway in St. Petersburg. The first architects assessed the value of urban development along the Neva. They started with large embankments along the river. At one of which the Winter Palace was built. If you’re into architecture, like me, you are in for a treat when you choose to take a walk along the Neva River.

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We chose to walk along the Neva from the side with the least iconic sites. That way we got a good look at all the beauty on the other side of the river and also caught a glimpse at all the Soviet architecture on our side of the river. Aside from the Winter Palace, one of the other highlights during your walk is the Peter and Paul fortress. In this case: all that glitters is gold! An amazing sight to see. Unfortunately it was closed when we visited the city, but if you check out the official website, you’ll see that it is worth a visit. Lots of interesting collections in the museum to check out.

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After your visit to the Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood and a long walk along the Neva River it is time for dinner and an outfit change. You’re going to see a ballet performance.

A ballet performance

You can’t say you’ve been to St. Petersburg if you haven’t been to the ballet. The most famous theatre is the Mariinsky Theatre. But if you want to go there you should reserve your tickets months in advance. Other beautiful theatres are the Mikhailovsky Theatre and the Hermitage Theatre. If you are a ballet adapt then I advise you to see a ballet performance at one of these grand places.

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But since we hadn’t seen a ballet performance before we decided to go for a budget option. We saw the Tchaikovsky classic Swan Lake in the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. We really loved the experience. Kind of a “when in Rome” kind of thing, don’t you think?

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Nevsky Prospekt

Prospekt translates to avenue in English. The Nevsky Prospekt is St. Petersburgs main street. A great start for your third and final day in the city. Have a breakfast at one of the many places you’ll pass by during your stroll. There are lots of shops to visit and a huge shopping mall called the Gostiny Dvor. But even if you’re not a fan of shopping, Nevsky Avenue is a must do because of the architecture. The National Russian Library and Kazan Cathedral are true eye-catchers.

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The walk along Nevsky Prospekt takes about 40 minutes without stops and ends at the Palace Square, where you can catch your last glimpse of the Winter Palace.

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The Bronze Horseman

I’ve got one last tip for your last day in St. Petersburg: Senate Square. A beautiful square next to the Neva River. In the centre of the square you will find a bronzed statue of a man on a horse. Catherine the Great commissioned the built of this statue of Peter the Great. On a huge stone you will spot a Peter in action, riding a horse. The statue itself is impressive, but the stone is a tale in itself. It even has a name: Thunder Stone. The statue’s pedestal is the largest stone ever moved by humans. It originally weighed about 1500 tonnes. But it was carved down during transportation to its current size.

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That was it! My 3 day city guide to St. Petersburg. Did I inspire you to go? Or have you already been? If you’ve been to St. Petersburg before, what tips did I miss? What should I definitely check out on my next visit to Russia’s second largest city?