Pia Marsh

St. Petersburg captured my attention right from the moment I watched Anastasia as a little girl. Despite brimming with glitz and glamour, the former Russian capital has not always been like a scene from a Disney movie.

As you stroll down Nevsky Prospekt, the main street in the city, it feels as if every building, coffee shop and park has its own story. Nowadays, St. Petersburg is an eclectic union of old and new, where high street hipsters merge with thousand-year-old history.

We arrived in St. Petersburg on a gloomy October day after taking a two-day ferry trip from Stockholm (via Tallin). My friends and I were told that we could effectively avoid Russia’s strict visa process if we arrived in St. Petersburg via ferry, as long as we did not stay for longer than 72 hours. Ferries travel regularly from Stockholm, Tallin and Helsinki to St Petersburg for an affordable price – it’s a great option if you don’t mind the time restrictions.

If you travel during the summer, Russia’s midnight sun means you have plenty of daylight hours to explore the city.

Much to our dismay, it rained in biblical amounts for much of our trip, despite it only being early October. Lesson: be prepared for all types of weather, no matter what the season.

 

Let’s be clear from the beginning: 72 hours is not a very long time to explore a city. St. Petersburg is enormous, and despite the extensive metro system, it pays to base yourself close to the centre. Either way, the metro will be your savior - that is, if you can steer clear of the 2.15 million other passengers that also use the service daily.

Here are a few of my highlights:

The Hermitage Museum was one of our first stops. Formerly the homes of tsars, the Hermitage now houses one of the finest art collections in the world. To this day, it retains a lot of its palatial charm, complete with gold encrusted ceilings and grand staircases.

 

 

St. Catherine Palace is a baroque 18th-century palace where the Russian royal family often spent their summers. Somewhat reminiscent of Versailles in Paris, there is far more gold and grandeur hiding behind the palace’s blue and white facades than one would ever dream to imagine.  

The Market Place. We stumbled across this four-story democratic self-service food hall on the main street of the city. With views overlooking the Kazan Cathedral, the Market Place has a menu that features dishes from various corners of the world, prepared before your eyes and using only the freshest ingredients. You can find anything from Asian specialties to Russian classics. It’s the perfect lunch stop.

The Eliseyev Emporium was another lucky find for us on our quest for food. This gourmet food hall and boutique café is a striking example of St. Petersburg’ Art Nouveau architecture and is home to a vast selection of treats and goodies.

If there is one sight you absolutely cannot miss, it’s the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881, the beautifully decorated church looks like something out of a fairytale and the intricate history behind it does not disappoint.

 

Gorokhovaya Street is the epicenter of all things hipster. There are seemingly no end of cool bars, restaurants and quirky cafés on this bustling city street.

Clean Plates Society is known for its relaxed gourmet menu and this dimly lit café attracts a young crowd of hipsters and foodies alike. At night, the café turns into a club complete with a disco ball and a dance floor. The burgers are a highlight.

The Peterhof Palace is a series of palaces and gardens laid out on the orders of Peter the Great. The majestic estate covers a vast area in Peterhof and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Mariinsky Theatre has one of the most beautiful interiors in the whole of St. Petersburg. Opened in 1860, the historic theatre plays host to a vast array of opera, theatre and ballet performances.

 

Things you should know:

  • St Petersburg has one of the deepest metros in the world - with most stations situated around 60-70 metres underground. Admiralteyskaya metro station is 120 metres underground!
  • If it's culture you are looking for, you won't be bored. St Petersburg has over 200 museums, 100 theatres and 5830 cultural landmarks to explore. 
  • We arrived in St. Petersburg via ferry and only stayed for 72 hours – allowing us to explore the city but also avoid Russia’s strict visa process. Ferries travel regularly from Stockholm, Tallin and Helsinki to St Petersburg.
  • If you travel during summer, Russia’s midnight sun means you have plenty of daylight hours to explore the city but be prepared for all types of weather, regardless of the season.

Pia is a freelance journalist and writer, originally from the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and now permanently living in Copenhagen, Denmark. She writes about her travels (and her undying love for Scandinavia) at www.piamarsh.dk.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.