72 Hours in St Petersburg
Updated: May 8
St Petersburg is known as the city of a thousand palaces, and as soon as you enter the city it's not hard to see why. The grandeur of the architecture is incredible here. Everything is very opulent and golden. Compared to Moscow, you can see that it was heavily influenced by its European neighbours. The city is rich in history, and was a favourite meeting place for the nobility. There are lots of things to see and do in St Petersburg, from the famous Hermitage, to the charming canals, to the stunning cathedrals. We spent 3 days here and hardly had enough time to do everything we wanted. The food is also amazing, and depending where you choose to eat it can be quite inexpensive as well. St Petersburg may not be known for being cheap, but there are certainly activities you can do on a budget here.
Getting To St Petersburg by Train
We travelled to St Petersburg via train from Tallinn in Estonia. There are several options you can choose from depending on what time of the day you want to travel, and if you would prefer to travel overnight. Rather than purchase tickets for a carriage on the sleeper train, we chose to travel during the day and bought seats in the normal part of the train. The journey takes just over 7 hours, and there was no air conditioning whatsoever (in the middle of the summer!), so take something to fan yourself with and lots of water! If you're travelling from Moscow to St Petersburg by train, I would highly recommend travelling overnight and purchasing a private carriage. There's more information about the sleeper train on my Moscow blog post. When you're booking your tickets you'll find a lot of confusing websites, many of which have very poor translations. We booked ours through Russian Railways and had no problems. I even emailed them at one point and they replied promptly.
Public Transportation in St Petersburg
The metro system isn't as large as the one in Moscow, and the stops aren't really near many of the main attractions, but it does come in handy. Your best bet if you want to use the metro is to find the closest stop to where you want to be and then walk to it from there. You can buy a card that gives you 10 journeys, which I'd recommend rather than multiple day passes since you won't be using it a lot. The metro system is actually one of the deepest in the world, which is a weird but fun fact. Yandex (Russia's version of Uber) is very cheap, which is useful if your feet are tired. We actually opted to use Yandex to get to the palaces that were very far out of the city centre.
Most of the attractions are overcrowded, which makes getting nice pictures difficult. If you wake up at sunrise you can head to your favourite spots and get photos without the crowds in the background! It's a great idea, because everywhere is deserted and you can take a moment to enjoy each place in peace.
So, what can you do in St Petersburg in 3 days? I know 72 hours seems like a good amount of time to visit a city, but there are a lot of incredible sites to visit in St Petersburg, many of which are in the opposite direction of one another. That being said, arriving with a strong itinerary and a general knowledge of how much time you'll be spending in each location is a good place to start. Here's what we managed to see in St Petersburg in only 3 days:
1. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is a long name for a church, but it's a very impressive one! This is the city's most elaborate church, and is one of the most popular attractions in Russia. It was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The bridges over the river are packed with people trying to get photos during the day, so we decided to wake up early one morning and get there hours before everyone else. The queues to get inside the cathedral are very long, and it's not cheap either, so if you're budget travelling take this into account. A word of warning: there are A LOT of people walking around dressed up as historical Russians and they will definitely come up to you so you can take photos with them. Don't do it. Once you've finished with your photo taking they'll demand whatever currency you have on you and they don't take too kindly to you telling them you don't have any cash.
2. Shop at the Eliseyev Emporium
Even if you don't feel like indulging yourself, make sure you stop at Eliseyev Emporium. It's an incredible food hall. Everything is over-the-top, and the cakes and other food on display look fantastic. Tip: They close at 11pm, so if you get there at 10:30, they have a big sale on all of their fresh cakes! I may have bought one ... or two. If you want to do some shopping in St Petersburg, you can't go wrong here.
3. Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan is packed during the day, so if you're looking to get a nice photo, get there very early. This is a very important cathedral in St Petersburg, and isn't too far from the Hermitage either.
4. Marvel at the State Hermitage Museum
How peaceful is the State Hermitage Museum at sunrise? This is the only time of the day you'll be able to get a shot without hundreds of people in it, and it's definitely worth waking up for. It's made up of five interconnected buildings, and is the largest art gallery in Russia. For those of you wondering, the Winter Palace is one of the buildings that make up the Hermitage. It's also the second largest museum in the world, after the Louvre. Fun fact: The museum is home to over 50 cats, who are used to hunt mice in order to protect the art. You can purchase your ticket at a number of machines just outside of the entrance.
You can also get a ticket to enter the General Staff Building, which has more art exhibitions inside. If you're only in St Petersburg for 2 or 3 days, make sure you go to the Hermitage, and block off a whole day for it. It's one of the main attractions in the city and is enormous to walk around.
5. Faberge Museum
The Faberge Museum is one not to be missed. It's home to the world's largest selection of Faberge eggs, and also showcases some other unique items from Russian royalty. It doesn't take too long to go around, and there is a lovely cafe inside with very fancy desserts.
6. Catherine Palace
What's one more palace when you're in St Petersburg? Catherine Palace in particular is one of the greatest in Russia, and is home to the famous Amber Room. It's not the easiest to get to though. It takes a long time through public transportation, so we took a Yandex which cut the journey down to 45 minutes instead of 1.5 hours. Yandex are cheap, so it didn't break our budget at all and was more convenient. When you arrive, you have to pay to enter the park first, which is huge and has many other points of interest too. Once inside, you need to join a long line to purchase a ticket for the palace itself. We arrived shortly before it was due to close and there was almost no waiting time. If you can, get your tickets in advance online to avoid the waiting. This palace is considered by many to be the best place to visit in St Petersburg. If you're planning on visiting, this is another attraction that can very easily take up a whole day.
7. Check Out Saint Isaac's Cathedral
I'm pretty sure everywhere we went there was scaffolding, but hey. Saint Isaac's Cathedral is massive, and functions as a museum too. You can get tickets for the roof as well for what they describe as the best views of St Petersburg.
8. Hop on a River Cruise
There are many options for river cruises in St Petersburg, but Anglotourismo came out on top during my research. The meeting point is opposite the Faberge Museum, so it's easy to locate. We took the evening cruise, which was amazing, and we saw many key attractions from a unique angle. The cruise isn't expensive either, so it's something to add to your list of things to do in St Petersburg on budget.
9. Catch a Show at the Mariinsky Theatre
Mariinsky Theatre is one of the main theatres in St Petersburg, so if you have time make sure to take in a show! I would recommend booking your tickets ahead of time if possible because it's a very popular thing to do and they can sell out quite quickly.
10. Look Up at the Admiralty Building
The Admiralty Building is the current headquarters of the Russian Navy, and is a beautiful building, even against the backdrop of dark rain clouds. It sits very close to the river so you'll probably be able to see it poking through the buildings surrounding it.
11. Explore the History Behind Yusupov Palace
There are lots of palaces to explore in St Petersburg, but Yusupov Palace was one of my favourites. It has a lot of history behind it, but is probably most famous as the place where the infamous Rasputin was murdered! So if you can't make up your mind on what palaces to visit in the city centre, this is a great option.
12. Find a Bit of Egypt in Russia
If you're walking along the river, try to spot the sphinxes outside of the Academy of Arts. This most likely won't be at the top of anyone's itinerary, but it is quite an unusual thing to see in St Petersburg.
13. Eat the City's Best Donuts
I'm not a big donut eater, but I had to try these ones. They come from the city's oldest donut shop, Pyshechnaya, and are incredible. There's always a long line of people, and they only take cash, but they're very cheap so make sure you stock up! We took some on our train journey from St Petersburg to Moscow for a little treat. This is a unique thing to do in St Petersburg so add this to your list of where to eat.
14. The Cabin of Tsar Peter the Great
The Cabin of Tsar Peter the Great is a short walk from the popular Peter and Paul Fortress, but worth a quick stop. There's a small entry fee to go inside, but I personally didn't feel that it was worth it. It's a nice little building though.
15. Peter and Paul Fortress
Built by Peter the Great, the Peter and Paul Fortress was the first structure built in the city. It never actually served its defensive purpose, but was a prison for many prominent Russian prisoners. Add this to your list of free things to do in St Petersburg, because the complex is free to walk around! The museums inside require tickets which you can buy at the entrance though.
16. Eat Dumplings at Pelmenya
I loved dumplings before coming to Russia, but now I'm obsessed. Pelmenya is the best restaurant in St Petersburg if you ask me. They have a variety of dumplings and raviolis to sink your teeth into from all over the world. We ate here every night, and definitely tasted the entire menu. It's located on the same street as the Faberge Museum so it's easy to locate. I'd highly, highly recommend eating here!
17. Peterhof Palace
Peterhof Palace is Russia's response to the building of Versailles. This palace is seriously impressive. The gardens cost just as much to get into as the palace itself, so it's not cheap to do both. We arrived on a day that it was closed (typical) but we had access to the gardens, which were huge. Make sure you check the website for opening times, because they are closed on certain days, especially at the end of the month for cleaning purposes. The easiest way to get there is by Hydrofoil, which is a high speed boat that docks outside of the Hermitage. Again, not cheap but definitely the quickest and least stressful. We took a Yandex there and the Hydrofoil back, which turned out to cost the same. Even if you only have 3 days in St Petersburg, go to this palace. It'll be the best use of your 72 hours in the city!
Where To Stay in St Petersburg
We stayed at Hotel Esplanada (15% off booking using the code "krista2019") which was only a short walk or Yandex ride to the main train station. It's a great budget hotel to stay at in St Petersburg, in a busy area of the city. It also sits along one of the canals which was nice to wake up to in the morning. You can read my review of the hotel here.
Price range: €22 +
St Petersburg is a fantastic city to visit and I loved every minute of our 72 hours there. Yes the attractions can get a little pricey, but there are more then enough free things to do in St Petersburg to help keep you within your budget. I'm already thinking about my return trip and all of the dumplings I'm going to eat.
Don't forget to plan your trip to Russia well in advance and sort out your tourist visa. You can find more information on that in my Moscow blog post, which also covers further details about getting the train between the two cities. If you are making your way to Tallinn, here are my recommendations on what to see there. Get in touch if you have any questions or concerns about visiting Russia, and remember to follow me on Instagram!