How to get to St Petersburg
There are no direct flights from USA or Canada, but major European carriers offer one or two stop flights from many US gateways. Alternatively, you may wish to travel to a European city and make your way by land from there. Helsinki is the closest foreign capital to St Petersburg – you can travel from Helsinki to St. Petersburg either by plane, train, or ferry. From Montreal and 5 US cities you can reach Moscow by Russian Aeroflot company and arrive from Moscow to St Petersburg on the same day by plane (1 hour) or by night train (about 8 hours). There is also a fast train from Moscow to St. Petersburg called Sapsan (4 hours).
Here is a link for Flights to St Petersburg Russia
You can see St Petersburg being aboard a river cruise ship between St Petersburg and Moscow (we highly recommend Viking River Cruise Company) which gives you a chance to spend 2-3 days in St Petersburg.
Ocean Cruise (Baltic countries cruise)
or take The Baltic Cruise with any cruise company (1, 2, or 3 days in St Petersburg depending on your ship)
About the Russian Visa
In order for travel to Russia you have to obtain tourist visa (but we arrange visa free excursions for cruise ship passengers and those arriving to St Petersburg from Helsinki by ferry — Princess Maria or Princess Anastasia). We can provide you with a visa support letter (visa invitation letter) for receiving a visa in the Russian Embassy/ Consulate. For this you must show proof of a pre-booked accommodation in Russia for the entire period of your stay and know exact days you will be in St Petersburg.
Upon arriving in Russia you have to be registered within 7 working days at the Russian Visa and Passport Service (if you stay in a hotel they will do this for you but sometimes it is not free).
Stay Healthy & Safe
As in any big city (alas!) we have pickpockets. We have to admit that they are hard working people and know their business very well. So when you are in the downtown or attending a public event be careful: don’t keep your valuable private belongings in the back pockets of your trousers or in any other place they can be seen and accessible to everyone. Keep an eye on your expensive cameras and be attentive using Metro and overcrowded (in high tourist season) public transportation. Actually it is enough to use your common sense and everything will be OK!!
If you have some health issues you can use the services of the local “American Medical Clinic” (www.amclinic.ru) Or “Euromed” clinic (http://en.euromed.ru).
They will charge you in full but if you have a medical insurance you will be provided with all necessary papers to be reimbursed later when you return back home.
Food and Restaurants
Restaurants mushroom in St Petersburg every day. Of course we have “McDonald’s” and “Subway” restaurants, not mentioning numerous Italian, Japanese, and Chinese establishments. But while walking in the downtown if you are hungry try delicious pancakes with different stuffings at “Teremok” – or Russian pies at «Stolle» — fast, cheap and very tasty.
Russian pickles, Borsch (traditional beetroot soup), Solyanka (a delicious meat soup), and beef stroganoff are available at the highly recommended ‘Na Zdorovie” and “Chekhov” restaurants.
Be ready that in many restaurants it is allowed to smoke although the city has started arranging non-smoking zones.
We recommend to drink bottled water which is available everywhere ($ 2-3 per bottle).
Be ready that in many places they don’t accept credit cards, but fortunately we have plenty of ATM’s which are available everywhere (you can find them in the entrance of many metro stations), so you can get local currency, RUBLES (one ruble is 100 kopecks). The exchange rate is 1$ = 30 rubles, 1 euro = 40 rubles. You can see the current exchange rate on our website. When bringing traveler’s cheques expect to pay up to 3% commission for getting cash (not every bank accepts them). We recommend Raiffeisen Bank — Moyka Embankment 36, in the center of St Petersburg, working hours are from 9am to 6pm).
St Petersburg is one of the most beautiful and elegant cities in the world – but while surfing the Internet for its numerous museums keep in mind:
— Museum opening hours (10-11am — 5-6 pm, each has its own day off, but it is practically never Sunday or Saturday + an extra day off at the end of each month for cleanup day)
— No discounts for senior citizens, only for children and students upon showing ISIC (international student identification card)
— Some museums have special opening hours only for Russian speaking tourists and separate hours for foreigners, hours for individuals and hours for the organized groups.
— The St Petersburg downtown area is very vast and if you are limited in time and wish to see as much as possible just hire a driver with a comfortable car, not only a guide, as all sites of interest are situated rather far from each other (otherwise the city tour will take 6-8 hours and this is without entering museums).
— May through the middle of September is the high tourist season in St Petersburg and there are long lines in many museums — plan your time in advance or try to buy tickets on-line (though not all museums offer this possibility)
— Only the Russian Museum, Hermitage, and St Isaac’s Cathedral offer special services for handicapped tourists
— The most famous theatre in St Petersburg (if not in Russia) is Mariinsky (formerly Kirov Theatre) Theatre of Opera and Ballet — it is possible to book tickets (don’t forget to register first) on-line but keep in mind that tickets for foreigners are more expensive (the idea is that the cost is the same for everyone, but locals receive a discount).
— Museum rules sometimes surprise foreigners: they ask you to leave your jackets, raincoats, umbrellas, bags, and even bottles of water in a cloak room. If you didn’t pay for taking pictures you must leave your camera in a cloak room safe box (this is what they demand in the Hermitage for example).
Public Transportation and Taxi Services
Public transportation is wide spread, cheap, and doesn’t depend on the distance. You have to pay inside a bus, trolleybus, or in the metro station entrance, the cost is less than US $1. Stops are relatively few and far between, so getting off at the wrong stop can mean a lengthy walk. Please beware of pickpockets! Registered taxis are run by many different companies They are usually a Russian Volga or a Ford, painted bright yellow with a chequered logo on the doors.
Most Russians eschew taxis in favor of hitching rides in private vehicles, which enables locals to earn extra money as chastniki (moonlighters). You simply stand near the road and flag down any likely looking vehicle heading in the right direction. When a car stops you can show a written note with your destination and what you are willing to pay the driver. They might haggle a bit, but there is so much competition that it’s a buyer’s market.
Making Calls Abroad
Mobile phones are widely popular in St Petersburg. Europeans using the GSM system can use their own phones in the city, but Americans must rent a special phone from their cellular dealer before leaving; in their case calls will be expensive. Anyone intending to use a mobile phone extensively, or over several months, will save money by buying or renting a SIM card from a local dealer and using a Russian network. We recommend MTS (www.spb.mts.ru) or MegaFon (www.nwgsm.com). Always keep in mind the time difference when calling from Russia.
What Gifts to Buy
— A very good idea is to buy St Petersburg porcelain (the factory was founded in 1744). Prices vary greatly from cheap up to very expensive, but quality is invariably very high, not mentioning the beautiful design.
— Lacquer boxes made of paper-mache and belonging to different schools will strike your imagination with their beauty
— A set of Christmas toys
— Imitation of Faberge eggs (though not loved by everyone)
— Matryoshka dolls or nesting dolls
Dress Code of the Country
Nothing special — keep a European style, but when attending a church service try to cover your head (women) and naked parts of your body (so gentlemen no shorts please). When in the theatres (ballet or opera performances) you can be dressed casually, but be sure there will be many (mostly foreigners) dressed more formal.