In May, we went to St. Petersburg, Russia after visiting Paris for the French Open (travel posts here and here). Lots of people asked why we chose St. Petersburg, as most Americans don’t travel to Russia, and the answer was simple: it was cheaper than other options. We knew that we were going to France and that we had to fly through Frankfurt (because United is the worst), and we thought we should tackle another city while we’re halfway around the world already. After looking up flights to Munich, Vienna, etc., we decided on St. Petersburg, and I’m glad we did.
I did not know a whole lot about St. Petersburg before booking the trip, but had a good image in my mind of what it would be like. For the most part, I was right, but the one thing I did not expect about this beautiful city was how good the food is. And I should clarify: I don’t think I ate anything Russian in Russia. The food scene in St. Petersburg is world class. The restaurants are trendy, the cocktails are delicious, the dishes are eclectic… and we loved every bite and sip.
We soaked up so much history and culture in just four days in the city. We bought Faberge eggs (ahem, eggs from the Faberge Museum), walked until we could walk no more, toured this canal filled city by boat, used more audio guides at museums than I would like to admit, and frolicked in at least five parks.
Long story short: You need to go to St. Petersburg at some point in your life. And when you go, I’ve outlined four perfect days in the city. You can also use this custom Google map I created which plots all of the places named below.
- Leave the hotel and walk to breakfast at Coffeeshop Company (Nevsky Prospect, 22/24).
- Visit the gorgeous Faberge Museum (Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanki, 21 – it opens at 9:30am) and make sure to purchase a golden egg as a souvenir.
- Buy tickets for an 11:00am boat tour with Anglotourismo (ticket booth at Nab. Reki Fontanki 27 next to north western corner of Anichkov Bridge and directly across from the Faberge Museum). The tour is incredibly informative and will help you get your bearings, which is good early on in your trip. It lasts an hour and a half.
- Head to Fartuk (Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanki, 54) for lunch, and make sure to try the pineapple basil lemonade (and the cocktails!). This restaurant is super trendy and can be pretty busy, but worth the short wait.
- Walk north on the Nevsky Prospekt, stopping into the Kazan Cathedral (Kazan Square, 2) to view the gorgeous interior and snap a photo of the impressive exterior.
- Head east towards St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Saint Isaac’s Square, 4) right before you get to the Neva River and tour this enormous church (fourth largest in the world!), which was ordered in 1818 by Tsar Alexander I and completed 40 years later. It has room for 14,000 worshippers. Feast your eyes on the 52 smalto mosaics and the iconostasis, with its malachite and lapis lazuli columns. If it’s a clear day, climb the 300 steps to the dome’s observation deck for great city vistas.
- Grab a cup of coffee and snack at Coffee Bar Bonch (Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa, 16), before heading back to the hotel to get changed into something a little fancier. Take a taxi or walk to the Mariinsky Theater (Theatre Square, 1) for a 7pm show.
- Eat a late dinner after the show at nearby Severyanin Restoran (Stolyarnyy Pereulok, 18) or Cafe Idiot (Naberezhnaya Reki Moyki, 82). Get frozen yogurt at Egurti (Griboyedov Canal Embankment, 26) on the walk back to the hotel.
- Start your day off with breakfast at Bushe (Malaya Morskaya st., 7).
- Walk across the Nevsky Prospekt to Palace Square, and admire the massive Alexander Column and the impressive Winter Palace (part of the Hermitage).
- Next, go to the Hermitage Museum (Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya, 32), which is one one of the world’s greatest art galleries. The art collection is on all three floors of the Winter Palace and the main two floors of the Little and Large Hermitages.I highly recommend you get an audio tour guide which will walk you through the entire museum and explains in great (and interesting) detail what you’re looking at in each room. My favorite piece was Madonna Litta by Da Vinci – no crazy crowds like the Mona Lisa. Keep in mind the museum’s hours: Tuesday – Sunday from 10.30am-6pm and on Sunday from 10.30am-5pm. Grab coffee at the Museum Cafe if you’re needing some caffeine.
- Next, wander around the Strelka – a spit on an island in the Neva River that is a former port of St. Petersburg— to see the Rostral Columns (twin lighthouses) and to take in the views of the Winter Palace on one side of the river and the Peter and Paul Fortress on the other.
- Eat a delicious lunch at Restoran (Tamozhenny Lane, 2), which looks like a Restoration Hardware store with a restaurant inside. It’s seriously unbelievable gorgeous, and the food was delicious too!
- Visit the Kunstkamera: The Great’s Antropology and Ethnography Museum (Universitetskaya Emb., 3) to see some of Peter the Great’s personal cabinet of curiosities.
- Next, head towards the Peter and Paul Fortress . Walk around and check out its cathedral, which houses the tombs of every czar since Peter.
- Wander past the mosque and drop in to Peter’s Cabin then wander down Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt to take in the gorgeous Style Moderne architecture.
- Wander through the gorgeous Alexander Park, and head back towards the southern part of the city.
- Walk down Gorokhovaya Street and stop for a casual (yet seriously delicious and worth a wait!) dinner at Zoom Cafe (Gorokhovaya St, 22). We ordered so much food here, and the bill was not expensive at all. Get cocktails, lemonades, appetizers, etc. You won’t regret it!
- Grab a quick breakfast at Starbucks – or Старбакс, as it’ll say on the sign (Nevsky 55) by the hotel. Good luck ordering that Triple, Venti, Soy, No Foam Latte!
- Next, head towards the Russian Museum (Mikhailovsky Palace, 4). Housed in the Mikhailovsky Palace, the museum was founded in 1898 by Nicholas II and has one of the finest collections of Russian art, as well as opulent interiors. Keep it mind it is closed on Mondays.
- Walk through the beautiful Mikhailovsky Gardens, also known as the Summer Gardens, and visit Saint Michael’s Castle (Sadovaya St, 2), which you can walk through quickly.
- Eat lunch at nearby Park Dzhuzeppe (Griboyedov Canal Embankment, 2В). Ask to sit downstairs in the open window section for best lighting and views.
- Next, visit the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (it’s so gorgeous and fairy-tale like!). I recommend you pay for a guided tour to learn about the details of the church.
- Head next to the Kempinski Hotel (Moika, 22) and go to the glass-walled bar on the rooftop for cocktails and relaxation.
- Go to the hotel to change into something nice for a fancy dinner at L’Europe (in the Belmond Grand Hotel – Mikhaylovskaya ul., 1).
- Eat breakfast at Kofe Khauz (Nevsky Prospect, 43) near the hotel, then walk back to the hotel to take a private car to Catherine Palace, which is south of St. Petersburg in Pushkin.
- Eat lunch at Bushe (Moskovskaya St., 25), and then go to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve (Sadovaya St., 7).
- Take transportation back to the city and rest before dinner at colorful Leica (Kanala Griboyedova Emb., 29A).
- Make sure to get one last frozen yogurt at Egurti (Griboyedov Canal Embankment, 26) before heading home!
*Itineraries above all referencing the Hotel Novotel Saint Petersburg Centre as “the hotel.”
Important Things to Know
- Visa Information: You must apply for a Russian visa before traveling. You can complete the forms online. This site provides helpful information on the process. You may now even obtain your visa via mail. Make sure to follow every single detail, as you don’t want it to get sent back (I made multiple visits to the ILS office in Houston). You will need a visa support form from your hotel. Contact the hotel’s concierge, and they will know what to give you.
- Language Barriers: Most people do not speak English, but you will be fine in restaurants, where it’s much more commonly spoken. Learn the basics, like thank you and hello. Also, I gave the addresses to all sites and restaurants above, as the names will not be written in Latin, and we spent far too long looking for Fartuk when it looked like Сырники on the sign.
- Walking: It is a very walkable city, and we never took a taxi except to and from the airport. With that said, bring comfortable shoes!
- Airport Transport: Contact the hotel to book your airport accommodation. We did it online through the airport website, and I seriously regretted it when we got into a car from 1995 that had holes everywhere. Seriously!
- Groceries: We didn’t find the grocery store (Stockmann – Nevsky Prospect, 114) until the last day, and we wished we had asked earlier. It was below a shopping center, and it reminded us of a Whole Foods. It was huge and had a big selection. We like to grab snacks and drinks for the hotel room, and if you do too, make sure to visit early on in your trip.
- Fancier Hotels: We stayed at the Hotel Novotel St. Petersburg Center and loved it (we got a suite so that Isla could have her own room). Fancier options that are in great locations are the Grand Hotel Europe, Hotel Astoria and Corinthia Hotel.
- When To Visit: St. Petersburg has its high season during the ‘White Nights’ in June, when music festivals and other cultural events mean most hotels tend to be booked up, so good alternatives are spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October). Months to avoid are November to March and July and August, when the city makes contact with its inner swamp and can break out in plagues of mosquitoes. Winter in St Petersburg is supposed to be gorgeous (yet obviously very cold!).
View my other City Guides (including Mexico City, Athens, Istanbul, Bali and others!) here.