St. Petersburg is Russia’s second largest city, With a population of over 5 million people, it is one of Russia’s most westernised cities as well as the country’s cultural capital. Formerly known as Petrograd and Leningrad, St. Petersburg served as the capital of Russia until the soviets transferred the government back to Moscow in 1918. Built by Peter the Great in the early 1700’s, St. Petersburg has grown to become one of Russia most important cities, not just culturally, but economically too.
From its iconic architecture to the unique local cuisine, St. Petersburg is a fascinating city offering a taste of Russia’s culture. In this handy guide, discover the highlights of the city waiting to be explored on a Baltic cruise.
Top 3 Excursions
If you would prefer to join an organised tour rather than explore independently, Cruise & Maritime Voyages offers an extensive Shore Excursion Programme taking in the main sights of St. Petersburg, so you can relax while we do all the hard work! Please note if you are not travelling ashore with an organised tour, you will need a tourist visa to visit St. Petersburg at a cost of £175 with 30 days notice prior to your visit. For less than 30 days notice a visa will cost you significantly more.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
This dazzling and exquisitely decorated church is located on the site where the Russian Tsar, Alexander II, was assassinated in 1881 by Ignaty Grinevitsky, a member of the revolutionary People’s Will organisation. Within a day of his father’s death, Alexander III declared his intention of erecting a great church to commemorate his father and decreed that the altar should be on the very spot where his blood had stained the cobblestones. Deliberately designed to resemble St. Basil’s in Moscow, it is one of St. Petersburg’s most striking landmarks, quite unlike the rest of the city’s architecture. You will see an extensive collection of contemporary Russian mosaics as well as many fine examples of precious stones, glazed ceramic tiles and jewellers’ enamel, used to cover the surface of the five domes.
St. Petersburg has long been regarded as one of the world’s most famous cities for ballet, and the second half of the 19th century was a golden age for ballet, thanks to the musical genius of the Russian composer Tchaikovsky, who wrote his three masterpieces: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty (first performed in the city in 1890), and The Nutcracker.
During this evening tour, you will have the opportunity to enjoy a classical ballet performance at a reputable venue in the heart of the city of St. Petersburg. The final details of the performance and venue will be available once on board. Seats will be reserved and tickets are subject to availability and must be purchased in advance by our local agent; therefore, we regret that once tickets have been reserved, refunds cannot be considered. A glass of Russian champagne or mineral water will be served during the interval.
Founded by Catherine the Great, this 18th century baroque Winter Palace graces the banks of the River Neva, and has evolved into the Hermitage Museum, housing the most extensive collection of art in the world with more than 3 million exhibits. Among the treasures are thousands of paintings, rare sculptures and the finest display anywhere of arts and crafts, carpets, embroidery, lace, porcelain, furniture and silverware.
The Hermitage is so vast it would take a lifetime to experience all of its treasures. Occupying more than 1,000 rooms and halls, the Hermitage collection includes works by the world’s greatest historical artists. Just as dazzling are the patterned parquet floors, ornate staircases, moulded and painted ceilings, gilded furniture and decorative malachite of the palace itself. Walk through a few of the display rooms with your guide, who will relate fascinating facts about the museum’s history, art and architecture.
Top 3 Restaurants
Italian to the core, Percorso combines an opulent interior with delicious food. Choose from fresh seafood, delicate meat, homemade pasta, cheeses and much more. Combine this with a nice glass of wine and your meal will be complete. As well as the magnificent food, Percorso boasts a stunning interior. You can choose to see the chef preparing your food, sit near the fireplace or choose to sit somewhere with a view of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city
Featuring a variety of traditional Russian dishes, this restaurant uses the highest quality ingredients. Dining at Troika is a pleasure that will create everlasting memories. Dating back to the 1970’s, Troika has been entertaining the residents and guests of St. Petersburg for over 40 years. With a unique style combining Russian Art Nouveau and Byzantine luxury, this beautiful restaurant was lovingly restored in 2008 and new elements were added to further enhance the character of the place. The Variety Show is the highlight of the restaurant and continues to amaze guests by professional ballet, unique costumes and regularly changing performances.
Red.Steak & Wine
Red.Steak & Wine offers something completely new – a sophisticated modern non-classical steakhouse with a twist of informal eating and drinking. Guests have a full range of the best available steak cuts cooked over real charcoal without breaking the bank. With an extensive wine list and a great price-value ratio, spectacular starters and generous deserts, Red.Steak & Wine is a must whilst in St. Petersburg.
Top 3 Etiquette Tips
Handshakes are the standard form of greeting. Do not shake hands over thresholds though, according to Russian folklore this will lead to an argument down the line! Remove your shoes and coat when stepping in to someone's home.
If you're visiting friends in their home, it's courteous to bring a small present. Flowers are always popular, but do be sure to bring an odd number, as even numbers of flowers are given only at funerals in Russia.
You'll be expected to drink a vodka shot in one go if you're a man, but women will not be judged too harshly if they sip. Vodka is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Russia and is often served neat. Once a bottle is finished, put it on the floor, not back on the table, as this is also bad luck.
Top 3 Souvenirs
Originally made by the House of Faberge from 1885 to 1917, real Faberge Eggs are of course now museum pieces. The most famous Faberge eggs were made for Romanov Dynasty as presents for their mothers and wives. Like Matrushka dolls, they contain secrets. Only the secrets in the genuine eggs were usually made of jewels and precious metals. Today’s reproductions can range from $20 up to a few hundred dollars and are the perfect gifts to give to loved ones.
Also called babushka dolls, these nesting dolls are made of wood with painted designs. Usually there are a minimum of five nesting dolls in a set, but sets can include a dozen or more. Interestingly, matryoshka dolls were only invented at the end of the 1800s, and were a copy of a Japanese design. Since then, designs and themes have become ever more creative and whimsical; for example, during the perestroika years, a set of dolls was created that contained Communist Soviet leaders, their sizes assigned by the length of their term of office.
As with all countries on the Baltic Sea, amber jewellery is widely available. Baltic amber comes in colours ranging from yellow and green to dark red and even purple. Passengers on Baltic cruises will find a wide selection in all ports, as well as at the on-board shops. The cost depends on many factors, but amber is available in just about any budget, and makes a unique, easy-to-carry gift.
Top 3 Free Things to Do
Browse the Bookshops
If you’re a bookworm, you will love St. Petersburg’s oldest bookshop, Dom Knigi and the Bookvoed chain of bookstores. If you aren’t planning on buying a book but still want to read one, you can just pick a title, sit down and read if from cover to cover, no one will ask you to leave. These shops offer a collection of art books and obligatory Russian classics as well as a lot of books in English.
Enjoy the parks and gardens
If you love green spaces, don’t miss St. Petersburg’s beautiful parks and gardens. There are plenty to satisfy any taste. Wander through the small hidden Yusupov Gardens, the royal Mikhailovsky Gardens or the famous Summer Garden with its impressive marble sculptures. The recently opened New Holland Island in the city centre is St. Petersburg’s latest cultural hub and a haven for artists, writers, professionals and tourists alike.
Alexander Nevsky Monastery
The Alexander Nevsky Monastery is the most important Orthodox monastery in St. Petersburg. Its Church of Annunciation was the first resting place for the tsarist family. The monastery is magnificent both inside and out, but for many visitors the major attractions are its four historic cemeteries (which charge a small fee). This is where you will find the graves of Dostoevsky, Tchailkovsky, Roerich and many other great names of Russian culture.
To view our range of Baltic cruises visiting St. Petersburg please click here.