St. Petersburg was a wonderful surprise to me! I had no idea how beautiful and rich with history the city is, and the food was so delicious too!
This article is published in partnership with Princess Cruises. All content and opinions belong to Mama Loves Food.
Table of Contents
I’ve tried to cover all the important points of visiting the city, but if you just need some quick info, feel free to use the table of contents below to jump around!
What to do | What we did | What to pack | What is the weather | Where is St. Petersburg | What time is it | Shopping | Downtown | Where to eat | Local events | When is the best time to visit | What you should know before visiting | Fun Facts | Why you should visit | Major points of interest | Getting around town | Other ports on this trip | Where we’ve cruised with Princess | Recipes inspired by our travels | Must-read cruising tips
What to do in St. Petersburg, Russia
Museums and Palaces
- Hermitage Museum – With an art collection to rival the Louvre, the Tsar’s former Winter Palace and four other buildings is home over three million artworks, including paintings by Da Vinci and Rembrandt.
- Peterhof Palace – Known as the ‘Russian Versailles’, the ornate palace overlooks the Gulf of Finland. The Grand Cascade fountain features Samson prying open a lion’s jaws as water cascades down terraced steps.
- Catherine Palace – Designed by Rastrelli, the opulent baroque Palace features a gold dome crown and is set in 1,400 acres of spectacular gardens and parklands. Visitors enjoy the gilded beauty of the Throne Room.
- Peter & Paul Fortress – Built to protect the city from Swedish attack, the fortress was a place for imprisoning political prisoners. The ornate interior now boasts the tombs of many Tsars, including Peter the Great.
Cathedrals and Churches
- Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood – This restored church boasts a dramatic “Russian-style” exterior and is built on the site of the March 1, 1881 assassination of Tsar Alexander II. The church is decorated with colorful ceramic tiles.
- St. Isaac’s Cathedral – The cathedral’s central gold dome is one of the largest in the world, and covered with 220 pounds of gold. It was commissioned by Alexander I in 1818 and took more than three decades to complete.
- Canal Cruise – Peter the Great conceived the River Neva as the main thoroughfare of the city, so that it could transport people and merchandise alike. The pretty Fontanka and Moika Rivers also run off the Neva.
- Ballet – A cultural essential, ballets can be found in theaters all over the city. From classics like The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, to literature and history based performances, there is a variety of shows to choose from.
What we did in St. Petersburg
We were so lucky to spend two days here! I’m going to be totally honest – I wasn’t super looking forward to this stop. In fact, when we were deciding where to cruise to I told my husband, “anywhere in Europe but Russia, please.”
I am so glad things worked out the way they did though. I. Loved. St. Petersburg. Truly.
This ended up being my personal favorite of all the ports. We had a private guide for the two days were were there and she showed us all the must-see sites including taking a canal cruise (there are SO many beautiful canals in St. Petersburg!) and watching the fountains start at Peterhof Palace.
We also visited local pirog restaurants for lunch that our guide said were very popular with the locals. And for good reason, the food was delicious. Make sure to get a pirog and a bowl of borscht. You won’t be sorry!
What you should pack
Summers allow for lighter clothing, but as with most of Northern Europe, layers and a light jacket or sweater for cooler evenings and occasional chilly days are always recommended. Casual clothing that can be dressed up or down and simply layered with comfortable flats or walking shoes are ideal.
Summer is also the rainy season, so anything waterproof, especially shoes or rain jacket would be best. Winters call for warm layers. Flannel, wool, fur and fleece are the styles of choice here. Thermal undergarments, layers, extra socks, gloves, scarf, heavy coat and comfortable walking boots are a must.
In any season, don’t forget a nice outfit for the theater. Black pants and a dress shirt for men or blouse for women will suffice in most venues, of course you can always choose to go dressier.
What is the weather in St. Petersburg
May-August are considered the mild months. Rain is frequent, but temperatures remain with average lows in the 50s and average highs mid 60s to low 70s. Winter spans November to March and is characterized by cold, snowy, freezing and dry weather. Temperatures average lows of mid teens to low 20s and highs in the 30s.
Where is St. Petersburg, Russia
Located on the Neva River in Russia, Saint Petersburg’s location at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea make it an important port. Situated where the Gulf curves into Russia, while it is coastal, the city itself is almost more centrally located in Russia than fully east or north in the country.
What time is it in St. Petersburg
The city of Saint Petersburg operates on MSK (Moscow Standard Time) and does not participate in DST (Daylight Savings Time)
MSK (Moscow Standard Time) is eight hours ahead of EST (Eastern Standard time), twelve hours ahead of Alaska Standard Time (AKST), eleven hours ahead of PTD time zone (Pacific time zone), and ten hours ahead of MST (Mountain Standard Time).
It is important to note that St. Petersburg does NOT observe daylight savings time (DST) and remains in MSK (Moscow Standard Time) year round with no time change.
Where to shop
Cultural attractions and activities generally outshine shopping as a “to do” in Saint Petersburg, however, there are still places for those that enjoy shopping as their pastime.
Nevsky Prospekt is the main thoroughfare and holds a variety of stores. If you want to combine shopping and culture, visit one of the galleries where you can purchase your own piece. The city has a number of commercial and private galleries with items for purchase.
Bookstores are also plentiful and house unique collector’s editions of Russian literature as well as other classics. Souvenier shops/kiosks are readily available and can be found throughout the city.
Downtown St. Petersburg
In lieu of a downtown or city center, St Petersburg has a main thoroughfare called Nevsky Prospekt that runs from Admirality (one district) to the Moscow Railway Terminal.
Nevsky Prospekt is essentially the aggregated location for many of the popular attractions, sites, shopping and dining options across Saint Petersburg.
Where to eat
- Stolle (This is where we got the delicious meat pies!)
- Mr. Bo
- Yedim Rukami
- Severyanin Restoran
- See more highly rated eateries in St. Petersburg!
Events in St. Petersburg
- White Nights – White nights is a months long celebration from May to July that higlights the 24hr daylight the city experiences. While there are specifically dated events to note within the period (noted separately below) the overall celebration includes Stars of the White Nights Festival, a series of classical ballet, opera and music performances at the Marinsky Theatre.
- Water Lanterns Festival – Celebrated as the most romantic event of the Autumn season, attendees visit Yusupov Garden to enjoy symphony orchestra and opera arias while handmade lanterns are released.
- Palaces of St. Petersburg Music Festival – What better way to celebrate the city’s history and culture during a music festival than hosting the performances at the many city palaces. Enjoy the music as the tsars once did amongst the palace scenery.
- International Festival of Street Theaters – For three days in late May, one of the parks in St. Petersburg will host participating troupes from all over Europe to perform on open air stage venues throughout the area.
- The Scarlet Sails – Perhaps the most famous event of the White Nights celebration, Scarlet Sails is a music concert, fireworks display and water show all rolled into one.
- Jazz Festival – Musicians and bands from all over the world join to welcome Spring at the end of February, beginning of March. Listen to blues, fund, bossa nova, jazz and more.
- Imperial Gardens of Russia Festival – Held at the Mikhailovsky Garden by the Russian Museum, this festival of garden and park art takes place end of May / beginning of June.
When is the best time to visit
The best time to visit Saint Petersburg is in the Summer months. While rain is frequent, the pleasant temperatures, endless daylight and multiple festivals and celebrations from Mid June-September make it still the best time to explore all the city has to offer.
What you should know before visiting
- Always Have your Passport. Russian police can stop anyone, at anytime to check documents. Make sure to have yours on you at all times. If you do end up caught without it, just cooperate and be polite. Once they validate your identification, they will release you without issue.
- Drink Up. Refusing an offered drink is considered rude and offensive. The only accepted refusal is if it is for health reasons. As a side note, never finish your drink if you’re not ready for the next one (as the “no refusal” disclaimer will still apply round after round)
- Exchange Money in a Bank. You will see other exchange locations, some even in hotels. You can use these, but know that sometimes the exchange rate will be higher or there will be fees. Some have also reported amounts not being correct or bills being fraudulent. Any bank should be able to exchange your money to RUB and at the going exchange rate.
- The City has been renamed 3 times. It started as Saint Petersburg, was renamed in WWI to Petrograd, and then to Leningrad during WWII. In 1991, the name was restored to St. Petersburg again. And while many think the name is in homage to the first Emperor Peter the Great, it is actually for Saint Peter, as the city was founded on the day of this patron saint.
- You would need 10 years to see the entire Hermitage. Even if you only spent 1 minute on each exhibit, you would still need the entire decade (and then some) to get around the entire museum.
- Saint Petersburg runs one of the deepest subway systems in the world. With its deepest station 86 meters underground, only 2 other stations (one in Kiev and another in N. Korea) are deeper. The system was intentionally built this way to preserve it in times of war.
- When it rains, it pours. In it’s 314 year history, St. Petersburg has had 288 floods. 9 out of every 10 years are marked with one. The extensive rainy season, combined with the abundance of waterways throughout the city, makes this no surprise.
- Alexander Column can hold its own. The 47.5 meter high column, weighing 600 tons, has stood freely, under its own weight, without being affixed to anything for 185 years. It’s creator, Auguste de Montferrand, had to walk under it every day to demonstrate its safety to locals who were afraid to walk underneath it.
- Nevsky Prospekt, the main avenue that spans most of Saint Petersburg, is the warmest part of the city. It actually averages 2-3 degrees warmer in the summer and 10-12 degrees warmer in winter.
- The ballet is old. The Russian Ballet as well as the Mariinsky Theatre are not only consider among the best in the world, they are also among the oldest of their kind in the world.
- Copycats. There are 15 Saint Petersburg cities in the world, including one in Florida near me!
Why you should visit
Some of the best and richest culture, art, music, theater, history, architecture and more can be found here. If only one museum holds enough sites to spend an entire decade admiring, imagine what the city as a whole brings.
If you are someone who not only likes to see and learn of other cultures, here you can immerse yourself in one.
Major Points of Interest
The Hermitage (or Winter Palace)
Undoubtedly the city’s most famous attraction, the Hermitage is home to some of the world’s greatest treasures. The collection has grown so large that it spans multiple locations in the city, with the primary and largest being the Winter Palace.
Centuries worth of European fine art, Greek and Roman antiquities, and remnants of the opulent lifestyle of the Russian Imperial families.
Home of the famous Russian Ballet and many more renowned theatrical events, viewing a performance in this theater is a must see.
Come for the world class performances and get the added benefit of the history, opulence and architectural wonder of the theater itself.
Peter the Great took over a decade to select the perfect location for his summer residence. He took the general “feel” of Versailles and then customized it to make it his own.
A lavish estate that represents all the opulence and decadent lifestyle of the imperial families. Exquisite architecture, extensive gardens and parks, as well as artwork and history are found in abundance here.
Getting around St. Petersburg
The metro is a quick, inexpensive, and incredibly deep subway system (seriously, it is SO deep!) that is worth experiencing at least once if you are there. Station entrances are marked with a big blue letter M.
The metro, buses and trolleybuses are clean and safe, but can get very crowded. Taxis are available as well, but not all are metered and some metered taxis show egregious prices, so always name your destination and negotiate a price before committing to a ride.
Uber is not available in St. Petersburg.
Ports on this trip
- Copenhagen, Denmark – Copenhagen was the starting point on our Baltic Sea cruise, and what a fabulous way to start. The capital of Denmark totally stole our hearts!
- Berlin, Germany – Berlin is a city rich with history and culture and was my 12 year-old’s absolute favorite stop on our trip. Definitely worth the drive in from port!
- Tallinn, Estonia – If you’re looking for a cobble-stoned storybook style European town, Tallinn is where you want to set your sights. I left thoroughly enamored with this magical town.
- St. Petersburg, Russia – St. Petersburg was a wonderful surprise to me! I had no idea how beautiful and rich with history the city is, and the food was so delicious too!
- Helsinki, Finland – We love Helsinki! The bright and vibrant colors along with the fun and quirky building shapes and super friendly people in Finland made it an absolute joy to tour!
- Stockholm, Sweden – Stockholm is a beautiful walkable city filled with gorgeous architecture, canals, and brightly colored buildings. I could easily have spent a week wandering around and soaking in the sites.
Where we’ve cruised with Princess
Caribbean, Central, and South America
Alaska and Canada