In this post I have planned a tour of St. Petersburg for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days, with visits to be made to the city’s main tourist attractions within certain schedules. I have also included visits that you just can’t miss in the city’s outskirts: Peterhof Gardens and Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin.
Article updated August 16, 2018 (originally written March 13, 2017)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- DAY 1. THE HERMITAGE, THE CATHEDRALS AND THE CITY CANALS
- DAY 2. PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS, CRUISER AURORA, THE RUSSIAN MUSEUM AND THE BRIDGES
- DAY 3. PETERHOF’S GARDENS, WATER FOUNTAINS AND PALACES
- DAY 4. CATHERINE’S PALACE AND THE MARIINSKY THEATER
In this article I have planned an itinerary for you to visit St. Petersburg’s main attractions, explaining which days are best convenient to visit each one of them, how to move from one to another and where to eat or shop during the tour.
To plan a tourist visit of one or more days to St. Petersburg, the following must be considered:
- Try to always buy tickets online. It is highly recommended that you buy tickets online in advance, such as the tickets to Peterhof Gardens and Catherine’s Palace. Below I indicate the links to other articles in which I explain in detail how to purchase tickets online for these attractions.
- St. Petersburg CityPass. St. Petersburg CityPass gives access to most of the city’s museums, as well as various tours, either by bus or boat. You can buy it for 2, 3 or 5 days. Depending on the route you are going to take, it might help you save money (or maybe not).
- Closing times of museums and cathedrals. The Hermitage is closed on Mondays, the Russian State Museum on Tuesdays. The main churches and cathedrals of the city, such as the Church of the Savior on Blood or St. Isaac’s Cathedral close on Wednesdays.
- Restaurants. If you are looking for good restaurants, it is advisable to book them in advance. Some have their website in English and you can make online reservations, and others can also be booked online through the reservation center: http://en.spb.resto.ru/.
- Walking. Most of the monuments and tourist attractions in the city can be visited by foot, though if you prefer, you can also use public transport, which works very well (the Metro, bus, tram or trolleybus). Now, to travel to Peterhof, the most convenient way is to use the Hydrofoil, and to go to Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin, the fastest way is to take a taxi (public transport is more economic, but you have to make transfers and you waste a lot of time). The Petersburg Metro is not as spectacular and luxurious as the Moscow Metro, but it is worth seeing. It has fewer lines and stations but above all, they’re very deep, one the deepest of the world (the stairs that go down and down are endless).
- Luggage. If you arrive to St. Petersburg by train from Moscow early in the morning, please note that you can leave your bags at the train station’s locker or ask your hotel to keep them.
Depending on your situation, and your personal tastes, you can eliminate or add more attractions to the itinerary. In some cases, I will give you alternatives to the scheduled visits, so you can choose the one that you prefer. I also recommend visiting the official websites of museums and cathedrals to see the most up-to-date schedules, as they can often change.
The itinerary I have made covers 4 days, and if you have less days available, you can simply eliminate the attractions that are less interesting to you. Keep in mind that it’s not the same to do the tour individually or in pairs (faster), than doing it with small children (it would be slower).
DAY 1. THE HERMITAGE, THE CATHEDRALS AND THE CITY CANALS
- Walking. On this first day of city visit, you can walk through all the attractions by foot, though at the end of the day I recommend taking a boat trip on the city canals to relax.
- Recommended days. Since the Hermitage closes on Mondays, the Church of the Savior on Blood does it on Wednesdays and the Fabergé Museum on Fridays, you can do this visit on a Tuesday, Thursday or on the weekend (but it’s busier).
If in Moscow, the most centric place in the city is the Red Square, in St. Petersburg is the Palace Square. It is worth taking a walk around to get acquainted with the city centre.
The Palace Square has been the scenario of many events of global importance such as Bloody Sunday (1905) or the October Revolution (1917). The most famous building on the square is the Winter Palace of the Russian Tsars (1754-62), in white and blue Baroque style.
In the center of the square you can find the Alexander Column, named after Emperor Alexander I, who ruled Russia between 1801 and 1825, and was erected after the Russian victory in the war against Napoleon’s invasion. Of red granite (the highest of its kind in the world), it is 47.5 meters high and weighs about 600 tons. It is so well seated that it does not need to be attached to its base.
It is also well worth a visit to see the impressive Atlantes of the New Hermitage:
10:30 a.m. Visit to the Hermitage
The first must-do visit in St. Petersburg is the Hermitage, one of the most famous museums in the world, containing one of the largest art galleries and antiquities collections. In addition, the interiors and rooms of this museum are certainly beautiful.
Since the museum is gigantic and you would need several days to see everything, the idea is to set priorities of what you want to see. The time inside the museum will depend on how much you are fond of art and how long you will be staying in the city, but even if you are not fond of it, the visit can take you around 3 hours.
- Visit duration: at least 3 hours.
- Price: 600 rubles (700 rubles in the summer season). I recommend to buy the tickets in the automatic machines (they are in Russian and in English), since there are usually no lines. The lines that you will see in the museum are mainly Russians who are entitled to reduced entry fee and must present proof of it at the ticket offices.
- Hours: If you want to have a whole day to visit, I recommend you do it on a Wednesday or Friday, since these days the museum has a wider schedule (from 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.). The rest of the days (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sundays) the schedule is shorter (from 10:30 to 6:00pm). The museum is closed on Mondays (and also on January 1 and May 9). It’s free on the first Thursday of every month, but lines can be very long.
- More info: The Hermitage of St. Petersburg: What to see and how to avoid queues.
- Guided tours: Skip the Line: Hermitage Museum Private Walking Tour.
In the Hermitage interiors there is a cafeteria where sandwiches and salads are served, which I only recommend if you are going to spend the whole day at the Hermitage, since it’s not possible to leave and re-enter. If you eat something fast and then you keep going with the visit in the afternoon to the Hermitage, it’s fine, but you have to consider that the prices will be more expensive than in outdoors, as food is not very varied and in summer there may be agglomerations.
Near the exit of the Hermitage you can find some good restaurants. If you are looking for a good Russian food restaurant at an acceptable price, you have the Yat Restaurant-Buffet. You can also have the Bellevue Brasserie, of French and Russian cuisine, located on the roof of the Kempinski Hotel and with fabulous views (photo below). Or even closer to the Church of Christ the Savior (next stop), you can find the fantastic Italian restaurant Amo Cucinare.
If you go to Nevsky Avenue, the most famous avenue in St. Petersburg, you can find also variety of restaurants, both of Russian and American fast food, as well as more elaborate cuisine. There is something for everyone.
4:00 p.m. Church of the Savior on Blood
The Church of the Savior on Blood is located at a 15 minutes walk from the Hermitage. It is one of the most significant churches in St. Petersburg, due to its pictorial composition and multicolored decoration that make it one of the main highlights in the architecture of the city center. It is located near the Nevsky Avenue, on the bank of one of St. Petersburg canals, the Griboyedov Canal.
- Visit Duration: 1 hour
- Price: 250 rubles. Tickets can be purchased the same day at ticket offices or online in advance. Official website: http://eng.cathedral.ru/. You can also buy tickets here: Entrance ticket to the state museum of the Church of the Savior on Blood.
- Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (closed on Wednesdays), though from May 1 to September 30 it expands its schedule till 10:30 pm
5:30 p.m. Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan
At a 10-minute walk from the Church of the Savior, there is another cathedral that is worth seeing and whose visit is free. It’s the Cathedral of Kazan, seat of the Orthodox bishop of St. Petersburg. It is consecrated to the Virgin of Kazan, the most revered icon of Russia.
- Visit duration: 1 hour
- Free entrance
- Hours: The cathedral is open every day from 7:00 am, till after the last liturgical service that takes place at 6:00 pm
Once you have finished your visit to Kazan Cathedral, and before you follow the route, you can detour a little to visit Pyshechnaya (at number 25 Bolshaya Konyushennaya street) and taste the classic Russian donuts, called Pyshki.
From here, you can take Nevsky Avenue to get closer to seeing both the interiors and exteriors of Yeliseev Stores, where you can find Russian products such as caviar, vodka, teas, and other gourmet products.
6:30 p.m. Boat cruise through St. Petersburg canals and the Fabergé museum
At a few minutes’ walk from Yeliseev Stores, on 53 Fontanka Street, near the Lomonosov Bridge, you have a dock from where the boats of Saint-Petersburg Boats company depart. One of them cruises through the canals, of 1 hour and 15 minutes of duration, departs every 30-60 minutes (it is best to look at the schedules, since they may vary upon the time of year).
The cruise ends at the same starting point, near the Fabergé museum. If you still have enough energy and enough time left, you can go visit it, as it doesn’t close until 8:45 pm. You can buy tickets at the ticket offices (though also online, which must be redeemed). The last session to make a free visit is between 6:00pm and 8:45pm. You can do the visit in 1 hour.
- Visit duration: 1 hour
- Entrance fee: 450 rubles (150 rubles for the audioguide, and you must leave a cash deposit of 1,000 rubles to pick it up)
- Opening hours: The museum is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 8:45 p.m., except Fridays. The ticket offices close at 8:15 p.m.
Once you have finished the city canal cruise or the visit to the Fabergé museum, it’s a good time to dine at one of the many restaurants on Nevsky Avenue.
DAY 2. PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS, CRUISER AURORA, THE RUSSIAN MUSEUM AND THE BRIDGES
- Walking. This visit can be done by foot, but also by public transport.
- Recommended days. Any day of the week except Tuesday (since the Russian State Museum is closed) or Wednesday (since some museums and cathedrals are closed).
If you walk to the Fortress from Nevsky Avenue, it is well worth to cross through the Palace Bridge and through Birzhevoy Bridge, from which you can contemplate the Neva river.
The Peter and Paul Fort is the second most visited attraction by tourists, aside from the Hermitage. It sits on a swamp-filled island on the banks of the Neva River. It is the original citadel of St. Petersburg, founded on May 27, 1703. It marks the beginning of the foundation of the city. Within the fortress you can find the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, as well as the State Museum of History of St. Petersburg and the Museum of Space Exploration.
- Visit duration: minimum 2 hours. You can begin the tour of the cathedral, which opens at 10:00 a.m. and then continue the visit to the bastion of Trubetskoy and the museums (which open at 11:00 a.m.).
- Standard entrance fee: it is worth buying the combined entrance that costs 600 rubles, that gives you access to the cathedral and the different museums of the Peter and Paul fortress: the bastion of Trubetskoy, the St. Petersburg History Museum 1703 -1918, the Museum of the History of the fortress and the Museum of Space Exploration.
- Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Some of the museums open at 11:00 a.m. and close on Wednesdays. More detailed timetables can be found on the official website: http://www.spbmuseum.ru/themuseum/visitors/regis.php.
You can eat inside the fortress, but if you are looking for a good restaurant I recommend Koryushka restaurant, which is located next to the fortress and with a breathtaking view of the Neva River. From the website itself you can book a table. In addition, on the same island, and very close to this restaurant there is also a small sandy beach which in summer is very busy and from which it is possible to take a bath in the Neva River (see photo above).
3:00 p.m. The Cruiser Aurora
A 5-minute walk from the Peter and Paul Fortress, you can find the St. Petersburg Mosque, which is worth stopping by. From here the tour can continue to the Cruiser Aurora (another 10 minutes walking from the mosque).
The Cruiser Aurora, located at around a 15 minutes walk from the Fortress, is another of the symbols of St. Petersburg, since it is from this cruise that began the Russian Revolution in 1917 and that ended the Tsarism. Many tourists or couples come to take a photo next to the boat. You can also visit inside (the entrance costs 600 rubles).
4:00 p.m. The Russian State Museum
You can continue the visit to the Russian State Museum. To get to the museum you can walk about 35 minutes from Cruiser Aurora or you can take the public transport (bus number 49, which is around a 5 minutes walk from Cruiser Aurora).
The collection of the Russian State Museum contains more than 400,000 exhibits covering the entire history of Russian art, from the 10th century to the present day: Russian icons, paintings, graphic arts and sculpture, numismatics, etc.
- Visit Duration: 2 hours.
- Standard entrance fee: 450 rubles
- Hours: 10 am to 6 pm. Thursday from 1:00pm to 9:00pm. Closed on Tuesdays.
7:30 p.m.: St. Isaac’s Cathedral
From the Russian State Museum to St. Isaac’s Cathedral you can have a stroll of around 20 minutes (you can also take a bus from Nevsky Avenue to the Cathedral, such as number 5).
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the most sumptuous and grandiose of the city’s churches. You can go upstairs to the top of the dome, from where you can contemplate a spectacular view of St. Petersburg. In summer it opens until 10:30 hours. In addition, during the white nights (from June 1 to August 20), you can go upstairs to the top of the dome (from 10:30am to 4:30pm).
- Visit Duration: 1 hour
- Entrance fee: 250 rubles (150 extra rubles to go to the top of the dome). They can be bought the same day in the ticket offices or in advance by Internet (they have to be redeemed).
- Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (closed on Wednesdays), though from May 1 to September 30 it expands its schedule till 10:30 p.m.
When you exit the Cathedral, it’s a good time to dinner. In the surroundings of the cathedral there are very good restaurants, in which it is advisable to book reservations in advance:
- Percorso (Italian cuisine). One of the most luxurious in the city, located on the ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace.
- Mansarda Restaurant. (Italian, Russian and Oriental cuisine). From Ginza group.
- Teplo (Russian cuisine).
- Tandoor (Indian cuisine).
- Stroganoff Steak House (Russian and American cuisine).
1:00 p.m. St. Petersburg’s Drawbridges Cruise Tour
At dawn it is a good time to take a cruise to see how the bridges of St. Petersburg lift to let the ships pass. Some of these bridges are true works of art: the Palace Bridge, Troitsky, Liteyny, Bolsheokhtinsky, Alexander Nevsky, Sampsonievsky and Blagoveschensky.
Night cruises to see how the city’s drawbridges rise have become one of the city’s main tourist attractions. Through GetYourGuide, you can buy the ticket for 12.5 euros, on a 2-hour tour: Raising Drawbridges Night Boat Tour.
DAY 3. PETERHOF’S GARDENS, WATER FOUNTAINS AND PALACES
- Walking. Public transportation (Metro and bus) to reach Peterhof and the Hydrofoil (fast boat) to return from Peterhof to St. Petersburg centre.
- Recommended days:
- If you want to visit the Peterhof Grand Palace, you must do the visit between Tuesdays and Sundays (closed on Mondays). However, the days of greater volume are Saturdays and Sundays, which are preferable to avoid in summer.
- If you don’t intend to visit the Grand Palace (the gardens and fountains are much more interesting to visit than the Grand Palace per se), then a Monday is a good day to visit Peterhof, as with the palace closed, but the gardens and most of the nearby buildings open, tourist groups often avoid these days. You will find fewer crowds.
- The fountains of the gardens begin to function from their official launching (in May), until their closing that takes place in mid-September with the fountain festival. Therefore, summer is the best time to visit.
09:30 a.m. The Upper Park
Peterhof is located at around 30 kilometers from St. Petersburg and can be reached by land and sea. I recommend going to Peterhof complex by land, either by Metro and bus or by taxi, and begin the visit on Upper Park, which is located at the park entrance and consists of five fountains (which you can see in the background of the photo below, behind the palace).
10:00 a.m. The Lower Park
After the visit the Upper Park, then it would be the time to enter the gardens and fountains of Lower Park (with the online ticket, which costs 700 rubles, it can be accessed directly by the turnstiles). Throughout the visit to the gardens you will also find different museums and buildings spread throughout the complex.
Keep in mind that Peterhof complex has a very large extension and in one day it is impossible to visit all the museums and tour all the gardens. Throughout Peterhof complex you can find many other small buildings, museums or churches, such as the Farmers’ Palace, Marly Palace, Cottage Palace, Church Wing, The Museum of Collections, The Museum of Playing Cards, etc.
- Visit Duration: 3 hours minimum
- Entrance fee to Lower Park: 700 rubles. It is highly recommended to buy the Internet ticket in advance (they already come with the barcode), print it and go straight through the turnstiles and avoid lines (you don’t have to redeem the tickets).
- Hours: Lower Park opens from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Saturdays closes at 9 p.m.). The fountains usually start to work at 10am. The Grand Cascade and the Samson fountain begin to function at 11am during the summer season. Throughout the day, the largest influx of people can be seen around 11am, at the time of the launch of the Grand Cascade.
- More info: The Palaces and Gardens of Peterhof, a must-go site in St. Petersburg.
- Guided tours and tickets:
Throughout Lower Park there are small kiosks and fast food outlets so you can stop by. Within the gardens of Lower Park there are also two restaurants, open from May to September:
4:15 p.m. The Grand Palace
The center of the Peterhof complex is called the Grand Palace (Baroque style). The afternoons are the best time to visit the Grand Palace of Peterhof, as there are usually fewer crowds. In summer, you have to get in line to buy the tickets (they can’t be bought online due to the large influx of tourists).
- Visit duration: 1 hour
- Entrance fee to Lower Park: Entrance costs 600 rubles (for Russian citizens it is slightly cheaper, 450 rubles). The tickets can only be purchased online for the Grand Palace between October and April. From May to September, due to the large influx of tourists, online tickets are not available on the website. This means that once you have entered Lower Park, you should go to the palace ticket offices and get in line to buy them.
- Hours: there are two hours of visits:
- From 12:00 to 2:00pm. At this time the line can become very long.
- From 4:15 to 5:45pm (until 7:45pm on Saturdays). In the afternoon it is better to visit the palace since you can usually find fewer lines.
- The palace closes on Mondays and the last Thursday of each month for cleaning.
I recommend that you return to Saint Petersburg centre in Hydrofoil which you can take from the pier of the complex and leaves you in the pier located opposite the Hermitage. The boats depart every 30 minutes from Peterhof, from 11am to 7pm and take about 35 minutes. The one-way ticket costs 750 rubles and can be bought at the dock itself, though if you buy online, it is usually more economic.
The afternoons are a good time to go shopping in St. Petersburg. In the center you can find the Gallery Shopping Mall, next to the Moskovsky train station. You also have the Passage, the House of Books, etc.
DAY 4. CATHERINE’S PALACE AND THE MARIINSKY THEATER
- Walking. To go to Catherine’s Palace the fastest way is to take the taxi. You can also take public transport, which is economic, but it involves doing transfers and can take quite some time.
- Recommended days. Any day of the week, except Tuesdays, since the Palace is closed that day. In weekends, there is more tourist attendance, so it is preferable to avoid Saturdays and Sundays.
12:00 p.m. Catherine’s Palace and the Gardens
Another must do visit if you are traveling to St. Petersburg is Catherine’s Palace, a spectacular palace that was the summer residence of the Czars. It is located in the city of Pushkin (formerly knows as Tsarskoye Selo), at around 25 kilometers southeast of St. Petersburg.
- Visit Duration: 2 hours
- Entrance fee: 1,000 rubles. It is highly recommended to buy online tickets. It includes entrance to the palace and gardens.
- Hours: During the summer season (from June to August), Catherine’s Palace opens every day of the week (except on Tuesdays) from 12:00 to 7:00pm. Catherine’s Park has a wider schedule (from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.). In winter, schedules can differ and can be changed, so it’s best to consult them earlier on the Palace’s official website on this link: http://eng.tzar.ru/info/price.
- More info: Catherine’s Palace in St. Petersburg: how to buy tickets online.
- Guided tours: Catherine Palace and Amber Room: Guided Tour.
After the visit to the palace, it would be a good time to eat. There is a cafeteria in the lobby of Catherine’s Palace, a summer cafe in Catherine Park gardens, as well as two restaurants and several fast food kiosks. You can find more information at this link: http://eng.tzar.ru/info/services/restaurants.
In the afternoon you can take a walk and relax in the gardens of the palace. You can also visit the exhibitions that take place in other pavilions of the complex. More information can be found on the official website: http://eng.tzar.ru/.
7:00 p.m. Opera at the Mariinsky Theater
And a good way to say goodbye to St. Petersburg is to attend a ballet or opera performance on the historical stage of the Mariinsky Theater. Or, as an option, attend a function at the Mikhalovsky Theater.
- Duration: an opera performance can take about 3 hours.
- Price: The cheapest entrance fee can cost around 600-700 rubles. I recommend buying tickets online in advance on the official Theater website.
- Opening hours: ballet and opera performances begin usually at 7:00pm.
- More info: Opera and ballet in St. Petersburg: Where to go and how to buy tickets.
Alternative. Since the season of the Mariinsky Theater begins in September and ends in June, a good alternative for those traveling during the summer is to attend the most popular Russian folklore show in St. Petersburg “Feel Yourself Russian” at the Nikolaevsky Palace.
I hope this article has helped you plan your visit to St. Petersburg. If it has been useful, you can help me by sharing it in your social networks.