As part of a Northern European cruise in 2013, we visited St. Petersburg, Russia. This was one of my favorite stops–it was my fist time in Russia and I was excited to see the city that I had heard so much about over many years. Because there is so much to do here, the cruise ship (Princess Cruises) stayed overnight and this allowed us two full days in port. St. Petersburg was the capital of tsarist Russia, and the sights are numerous and stunning, providing a sense of the power and wealth of the Russian Tsars. This wealth and power were of course major reasons for the 1917 communist revolution.
Listed below are the main sights we visited over the two days.
Peterhof Palace. Known as the ‘Russian Versailles’. In good weather, visitors can take a hydrofoil along the Gulf of Finland from St. Petersburg to the Palace.
The gilded Ballroom of Catherine Palace.
Exterior view of Catherine Palace, the summer residence of the Tsars. Constructed in the 1700’s. It’s located about 25 km from St. Petersburg.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
The gold dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the largest in the world, covered with 220 lbs of gold. The cathedral was commissioned in 1818 and completed 30 years later.
Church of the Spilled Blood
The church’s name comes from the fact that it was built on the spot where the Tsar Alexander II was assassinated on March 1, 1881.
Drive around St. Petersburg
Our tour host drove us around various other locations in St. Petersburg, including this monument and government building where the G20 summit was hosted by President Putin in 2013.
Canal Cruise on the Neva River
There are numerous canals and rivers in St. Petersburg. A 90 minute boat cruise is a great way to see the city from a different angle.
The beautiful staircase in the Hermitage Museum. The Hermitage was the winter palace of the Tsars. The Museum contains art works that rival any other museum in the world.
Madonna and Child by Leonardo Da Vinci, in the Hermitage Museum.
Peter & Paul Fortress
A view of the Peter & Paul Fortress from the Neva River. This fortress was built to protect the city from Swedish attack and was used for holding political prisoners. The tall spire and tower identify the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral.
An interior view of the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral within the Peter & Paul Fortress. The tombs of many Tsars and their families are located here, including Peter the Great.
Yusupov Palace (also known as Moika Palace) was one of 57 (yes, 57) palaces owned by the extremely wealthy Yusupov family, who were members of the Russian nobility. This is the “Bedroom of the Princess”, one of many elaborately decorated rooms in this palace.
Part of Yusupov Palace is a museum about the murder of Grigori Rasputin, which took place at the palace in 1916. He was a mystic and an advisor to the Romanov family, the last Tsars of Russia. He grew too powerful and in this scene his enemies plot his death.
This parlor was the setting of the last meal and murder of Rasputin. He wielded too much influence and was greatly feared. Invited to a meal at the Yusupov Palace, he was given enough poison with his food to kill five men, and yet was not fazed. He was also shot several times, and still had enough strength to try to escape. He finally died in a courtyard outside the Palace.
History: Read Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie before going. It will give you some background on the tragic story of the last Tsar of Russia and the beginning of the Russian Revolution in 1917.
Weather: Even in August, it was cool. St. Petersburg is located on the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. Our first day was rainy and very windy. The second day was sunny and perhaps in the mid 60’s F.
Tours: Rather than take one of the cruise tours, we arranged our tour through TJ Travel, based on a recommendation of friend who had visited previously. They were excellent hosts, and the cost was about 35% cheaper than a cruise-arranged tour.
Entry: Russia requires visiting tourists to have visa (must be obtained prior to your trip), or by being a part of an official tour group with your cruise (by showing the appropriate documents). This is the only way you’re going to be able to get off the cruise ship. Passport control is taken seriously even for cruise ship visitors and eats up 15-20 minutes each way (entry/exit) on both days.