St. Petersburg is beautiful and fascinating and a personal favorite. We visited last summer as part of a Tauck tour. Tauck does an incredible job of arranging a trip so that you can have an immersive, interesting and fun time, taking care of every detail so that all one has to do is enjoy the seamless experience. I can not imagine a better way to see St. Petersburg than our three day visit as part of this small ship tour!
It is much easier to enter Russia as part of a cruise or tour group for a few reasons. The first is that the tour company will take care of getting a visa for you. It is not all that easy to get one on your own. In addition, because we were on a small ship, we were able to dock right in town. We could walk to many attractions and were allowed free time after our group tours to explore a bit on our own. If you are on a large cruise ship, you dock much farther out and must take a 45-60 minute bus ride to town and are not granted the free time.
Because we were on a small ship, the beautiful Boreal, we docked in the heart of town.
We had three days to explore the area with local guides. These were some of the highlights:
- Catherine’s “summer palace” was incredible to see. Because we were with Tauck, we entered before it was opened to the general public. This saved us a tremendous amount of down time waiting in lines. The lines were beyond belief when we left!
2. We had some fun exploring the tourist shops in St. Petersburg, and laughed a bit at some of the popular items…
3. The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul was beautiful and interesting to explore. This is where most of the Romanov family is buried. It was interesting to hear the story of Nicholas and Alexandra from our local tour guide’s perspective. She had grown up during the Soviet era and had only learned of the fate of the Czar and his family relatively recently. We had local guides at all of our stops and because our group was so small, we had a lot of opportunity to talk with them.
4. A major highlight of the trip was our visit to the Hermitage. I have read that this is THE most crowded tourist attraction on the planet. It makes sense. The museum houses a world class collection of art on a par with the Louvre and the Met. It also happens to be the former winter palace of the czars. Even without the art, the building is absolutely amazing. When you put those two things together with the relatively short tourist season, you can see why crowds are so great.
We were very fortunate to be with Tauck, because we were granted early access to the museum, before the crowds descended. It was amazing!
An interesting fact about the Hermitage is that it does not house the considerable collection of impressionist art owned by the museum. This is housed in an annex located across the street. We were able to visit this collection as well, because of the free time allowed to us by our tour group. The building is not anywhere near as ornate as the Hermitage and the crowds are minimal. Our guide explained to us that “nobody really likes impressionism”. I have never heard this in my life!
5. We also had an overview tour of the city and we saw all kinds of amazing architecture. This is the Church of the Spilled blood, and it is absolutely beautiful, even on a cloudy day.
6. Tauck is known for its special events that come along with the tours. In St. Petersburg, our special event was an incredible night at the Yusopov Palace. This was one of the most ornate palaces in Russia before the revolution. It was also the sight of Rasputin’s murder. We came here one evening for a tour and learned all about the murder while we saw the beautiful palace. Then we were treated to a champagne reception and a performance in the Yusopov’s private theater. It was incredible to be able to use the palace similarly to how it might have been used back in the day.