St Petersburg (Russia) – What to do in 4 days

St Petersburg, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. Here’s how to spend 4 amazing days in this stunning city without breaking the bank.

Having heard much from other travellers along the way, I had been looking forward to the Hermitage Museum and the Peterhof Palace in Saint Petersburg, but soon after I arrived, it became clear that there was so much more this city could offer. In the end, four days were barely enough to get a complete experience of the city- the amazing sights, the illustrious history, and the colourful culture. It is a necessary extension/ detour for anyone travelling the Trans-Siberian Railway, as a trip to Russia will not be complete without checking out St Petersburg.

Day 1: Peter and Paul Fortress, Vasilievsky Island, Nevsky Prospekt

I continued my Russian/ Trans-Siberian adventure from Yekaterinburg with a one and a half day train ride to the cultural capital of Russia, St Petersburg. First looks in the city, along Nevsky Prospekt. Western media often paints Russia as some crazy place from another universe, but looking at this, if the haters are right, then London is probably in Andromeda. And yes, that’s Starbucks right in front (even Milan won’t get one till 2017).

I had some trouble finding the hostel, as it had shifted a couple of streets away but the address on the booking site was the old one. Rummaged through my emails and found one of them stating a different address. Didn’t have much of a choice but to give it a shot and glad I did. Left my bags at the hostel and I was ready to take on the city of St Petersburg!

Had a quick breakfast and decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the city on foot, first crossing the Neva river to the Peter and Paul Fortress, then over to the Vasilievsky Island, before looping back to the main island. Lots of interesting stuff to see, like real Egyptian sphinxes, to real submarines, spread around the city. Not to mention grand looking and well preserved architecture.

Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress was probably one of the earliest part of St Petersburg, established by Peter the Great in 1703.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral has a stunning 123m tall bell tower, too tall to fit into my photos. I spent some time wandering around the fortress, immersing in the magical atmosphere (Occasionally broken by hordes of tourists from a country famous for disruptive tourists. Fortunately, they disappeared as quickly as they descended.).

Vasilievsky Island

After the Peter and Paul Fortress, I crossed a bridge to get to Vasilievsky Island, which forms a large part of the historic center of St Petersburg.

It was nice walking along the Neva River, with pretty sights on both sides of the river.

3,500 year old artefacts from ancient Egypt on permanent public display. Not sure how they keep them in pristine condition though.

Continued wandering around the neighbourhood.

Back along the waterfront. There were many other historic and grand buildings on the island, including old churches and smaller palaces (not covered here).

From 3,500 years ago to something slightly more recent- Russian submarines from the Cold War era. The C-189 is actually a museum you can visit.

Another long bridge later, back on the main part of St Petersburg.

After a day of walking, I was famished, and started looking around for something interesting. Found this shawarma shop on the way back, slightly off the tourist track in a slightly run down place. I think it’s along Sadovaya Street, at the Apraksin Dvor (facing the road).

t was really good, stuffed full with meat, with a cup of tea, for ₽100 (about S$2.50 then). Ended up having my next few dinners at St Peteresburg here. For the great food, great price, and the friendly Pakistani guy.

Nevsky Prospekt

It was a good dinner. And then it was back to directed wandering around St Petersburg, this time towards some historic churches closer to the hostel. There was this guy busking along Nevsky Prospekt every evening I was there, going at classic after classic after classic, from Michael Jackson to the Eagles to ZZ Top and so much more. Kept me rooted for awhile. Realised he was playing the exact same set the next day (and the next), as it was near the hostel, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

I was in St Petersburg during the White Nights- a month in the middle of summer where the sun never seems to set, hence its name. The city was abuzz with life. I didn’t notice any special festivities for the season, but streets were packed as people seemed to be hanging around till late in the ‘night’, as it still seemed like it was during the day.

One of the last few stops of the day, the magnificent Kazan Cathedral, with elements inspired by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Baptistry in Florence.

And finally, the last attraction of the day, and one of the highlights of the city, the stunning Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. Tsar Nicholas II (who was himself assassinated)’s grandfather (Tsar Alexander II) was assassinated on these sacred grounds. The church also goes by many other names.

Honestly it wasn’t that dark then by my camera was struggling. Time for a camera upgrade maybe. But anyway, it was getting late (on the watch, not in the sky), and I headed back to the hostel. A couple more historic looking buildings on the way back, some of them here.

Day 2: The Hermitage Museum

Spent the day exploring the Winter Palace, the main building of the Hermitage Museum. Spectacular art collection in an equally if not more spectacular palace.

Palace Square

Palace Square, in front of the Winter Palace, Hermitage Museum. Historically and culturally significant square, with an imposing granite column almost 50m tall right in the center of the square.

London has the British Museum, Paris the Louvre, and Saint Petersburg the Hermitage. (and Singapore the National Gallery?).

The Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum is an exquisitely decorated and well preserved palace, with lavish interiors and grand halls. “Beautiful” would indeed be insufficient to describe its beauty. The audioguide (450 rubles) was really helpful in understanding the vast and rich collection of artwork (including pieces from Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt- lots of it, and more) and the story behind the elaborate decoration in each of the grand halls.

Pavilion Hall / Peacock Clock

Italian Stuff

Other corners

Findings on food and findings on foot

I was famished by then (in the late afternoon/ evening, close to closing time), and immediately went looking for food. With my stomach satisfied, and with many more daylight hours to go, I went exploring the area near the Winter Palace. There were a couple of interesting buildings in the vicinity, such as The Admiralty and the St Isaac’s Cathedral.

Had a nice walk along Nevsky Prospekt back to the hostel to end off the day, people watching along the way.

Day 3: Art districts, Metro stations

Spent the day exploring some hipster art districts and the famed St Petersburg Metro.

It was interesting just walking along the streets. Then again, it’s interesting walking the streets of almost any foreign land. Here, looks like someone just bashed his/her way through the back to the main street.

Loft Project ETAGI

First stop, Loft Project ETAGI – a multifunctional art space at an old bakery building in the heart of St Petersburg.

Pushkinskaya 10

Slightly further down Ligovsky Prospekt, Pushkinskaya 10, another art space. Most of the stuff would only open later in the afternoon so I had a quick look round the place and left.

The morning spent at the art areas gave a me refreshing take on St Petersburg, a different perspective from the St Petersburg I had experienced in the previous 2 days and read about in the months leading up to the trip.

St Petersburg Metro

In the later part of the day, I headed off for a self guided tour of the St Petersburg metro. Metro stations in St Petersburg are known to be among the most beautiful in the world, so I had to check them out for myself, since I’m already here. The St Petersburg metro is one of the deepest in the world, and escalators take several minutes to get from one level to another. Not really ideal for claustrophobics, as escalator tunnels are narrow and the openings only come into sight near the ends.

Vladimirskaya Metro Station

Baltiyskaya Metro Station

Many stations were adorned with art. Murals such as the one below can be found at many of the older stations, featuring similar themes from the Soviet era.

Narvskaya Metro Station

At Narvskaya, I took a detour to explore surface level sights between Narvskaya and Avtovo.

Back On Terra Firma

Soviet emblems and architectural styles are more evident further from the city center in St Petersburg, in contrast to Moscow, where Soviet emblems and architectural styles are loud and clear within the city center.

Further down the road, passed Komsomolskaya Ploshchad, a historic square that is also a huge roundabout surrounded by distinctive Stalinist style buildings.

Avtovo Metro Station

Then arrived at Avtovo, to head back underground.

Ok, not that much of a surprise since I had been reading about it. Nonetheless, still gasped upon seeing it in real life. It was mind blowing. See it (in real life) to believe it. Don’t know why they built it like that, or if anyone else will ever do the same, but the walk through the station was simply jaw dropping. Even the ventilation grilles are stunning.

Other subway shots

Chyornaya Rechka station. One of the the slightly newer stations (but still older than Singapore’s oldest line). I thought it’s quite amazing how they make huge underground structures like that without lots of support columns, so many years ago.

More streets and markets

Ended my metro tour at Sennaya Ploshchad. This square used to be a bustling market years and years ago. Now the market’s gone, but the square’s still bustling. Further down the road along Sadovaya Street, a historic market that’s still around (kind of). The stuff being sold at Apraksin Dvor wasn’t that interesting, but that it was hidden away from the main road made the place a little interesting to explore. Also, along the road on the outside, the shawarma that’s really good value that I had on the first day. I’ve had to have it again.

Made a turn at Nevsky Prospekt to head back to the hostel, this time crossing the Anichkov bridge on the other side, with a different sculpture on this side.

Day 4: Peterhof Palace

Took a day trip out of the city on my last day in St Petersburg to Peterhof (appears to be pronounced Petergof) Palace.

Getting to Peterhof

Made a trip to Vitebsky Railway Station, slightly unfortunately, as it was the wrong railway station for trains to Peterhof. The rail terminal was an interesting building though, the first railway station to be built in the whole of Russia, and now preserving a very retro look after careful restoration. Would have been great for photoshoots. Found my way to the right station, Baltiysky Railway Station, not long after. Got my tickets (₽55 rubles each way), but no idea when my train was coming, or where to wait for it. Desperately attempted to ask for help but it’s hard getting around without knowing a word of Russian.

Can’t remember what happened next exactly, but seemed like it involved following the crowd, getting off the train and on to a bus (₽28), and finding myself at Peterhof (Petrodvorets) eventually. About an hour of travelling.

Peterhof Palace

Paid the entrance fees (₽250 rubles for entrance to gardens) and got into the famed gardens. (The area in the above photos are the free areas.) And wow, it was beyond spectacular. Just take a look.

Meticulously maintained gardens. Apart from the main fountains, there were little surprises spread throughout the sprawling gardens of the palace.

After a couple of hours roaming the sprawling gardens of Peterhof Palace (lots of other nice features/ touches not shown here), took one last shot of the Grand Cascade fountains before leaving.

Back to St Petersburg

Timing was pretty decent. All the remained back in the city was to get dinner, grab my bags, and head to the railway station for the train to Moscow leaving that night.

And onward to Moscow

And with that, I left for the final stop of my overland adventure (day 48 so far) from Singapore to Moscow, Moscow!

St Petersburg budget

Actual travel dates: 24 June 2015 – 27 June 2015
Accommodation: ₽1550 (3 nights in a hostel, inclusive of visa registration)
Food: ₽1500 (a little on the budget side)
Attractions: ₽700 (doesn’t include entrance ticket to the Hermitage (₽200 rubles) – free for students, and probably the last time ever I got to use my student pass)
Transport (within St Petersburg and to Peterhof): ₽350
Total St Petersburg expenses: ₽4100 (~S$100/ US$75 at June 2015 rate)

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