7 Things to do in Saint Petersburg: How to Spend 2 Days in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Monday, October 23, 2017

Russia has always been a place that I have wanted to go to ever since I was a young child. I was fascinated by how large the country was, not to mention the rich history and famous story of the Russian Revolution. I used to spend hours googling conspiracy theories about Anastasia Romanova, the Russian princess who was supposedly assassinated in the revolution and this summer my family and I finally had the chance to visit St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of the country.

Unlike the other destinations on our Baltic cruise, we actually got two whole days here. Here's what we got up to and 7 things that you can do if you're lucky enough to be able to visit St. Petersburg - enjoy!

1) Visit the State Hermitage Museum

This was our first stop on our trip and it did not disappoint. It's a culture and art museum and is the largest in the world. It was founded in the 18th Century when Empress Catherine the Great acquired many items for her personal collection and it now has over 3 million items - pretty impressive right? It was originally a palace and many events took place in these buildings including balls for the nobility and ceremonies for officials but after the 1917 Revolution was turned into a museum and there are now 5 buildings which make up the 'Hermitage'.

The 'White Hall' in the Winter Palace (pictured below) is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. It's all white (as the name would suggest), and is full of chandeliers and gold details.

2) Drink some Vodka!

What would a trip to Russia be without drinking a little bit of this famous drink? We had our shots with our lunch in between visiting palaces and the jolly Irish man next to me had a biiiiit too much to drink. Fun fact: apparently when the Nazi's surrendered in 1945, the Russians celebrated and partied so hard that the entire country ran out of vodka and Peter the Great (whose palace is listed at number 4) is rumoured to have drunk around 2 litres of the stuff a day... if that's not dedication and a high alcohol tolerance I'm not sure what is!

3) Stroll the halls of Catherines Palace

Our second palace of the trip was Catherine's palace, the royal family's summer residence which has the most beautiful blue exterior the city is famous for. It is absolutely stunning and definitely has more of a palace feel than the Hermitage because that's been converted into a museum.

Think of lavish interiors adorned with gold and an amber room like nothing you've ever seen before. Unfortunately, pictures were prohibited in the amber room, but if you click here you can have a look at it. As with many beautiful places around Europe, the Nazi's destroyed a lot of the palace during WW2, including the amber room, but it was reconstructed in 2003 and is as beautiful as ever.

p.s. This palace isn't technically in the city center, it's around 50 minutes south by car so it's best to book a guided tour.

4) Then go onto Peterhov's Palace

This was our third and final palace of the trip and the exteriors were definitely the most impressive. The palace was built for Peter the Great (the guy who supposedly drank 2 litres of vodka a day) and it has a total of 64 fountains, most or all of which are golden and is known as the 'Russian Versailles' (the historic royal residence in Paris, which is so beautiful if you haven't been you definitely need to go).

p.s. This palace isn't technically in the city center, it's around 50 minutes west by car so it's best to book a guided tour.

5) Eat some Russian food!

There are so many different Russian foods to try, and when you're there you should definitely try some. It can be a little bit of a nightmare for vegetarians or vegans, but I found this soup which had a tomato vegetable base and wheat berries (farro? barley?) which are super popular in Russia - try it! Other stereotypical Russian foods include:

  • Borsch / Borscht - a beet and cabbage soup 
  • Blini - like a crepe, it's normally made with buckwheat with savory fillings or white flour for sweet fillings
  • Pelmeni - Russian dumplings, usually with a meat filling (lamb, pork, beef etc.) 
  • Pirozhki - similar to the pelmeni but they're covered in a pastry and even have some sweet fillings
  • Beef stroganoff - sautéed beef stew normally with pasta

6) Buy a Matryoshka doll

'Matryoshka', Russian nesting doll or Russian doll are all names given to that famous wooden doll which houses mini versions of it inside itself. The history of the dolls is really interesting - they were originally created (if I remember correctly) to have educational scenes on them, about farm life etc. or fairytales and it wasn't until much later when they became world-famous and highly sought after items with all sorts of images on them. You can get cheaper, machine-made versions for around $5 or they literally go up to hundreds or even thousands like the ones below which are handmade and hand painted.

7) Take a look at the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

In the typical Russian Orthodox style, this church is absolutely beautiful and filled with mosaics in its interior. The streets towards it are lined with tourist shops and it is a tourist trap however, if you walk a little further you can walk by the canal which is really pretty.

A couple of Travel Tips for Russia

  • When I was there I found that not many people spoke English so either learn a bit of Russian before you go or get good old Google Translate out. Don't be an ignorant tourist!
  • Russia isn't in the EU so visas are important
  • Russia doesn't use euros (see point above), they use rubles (try to find a trustworthy ATM machine before you go)

Other Stops on our Baltic Cruise:

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