How to do St. Petersburg on your own
Cruise ships normally stay overnight because there is a lot on offer, which means there is a lot for you to figure out here on the banks of the river Neva. You can explore on your own and this is what the St Petersburg Explorer tour offers. A coach takes you to a stop with a guide to help, and then you use the map and audio pen to find places. If you don’t hire the additional pen then you are in the lap of Google and information on your phone. Whichever, you are due to re-group at the coach, go to another stop, wonder round and then back to the coach. Three coach coach stops as anchors in a day of freedom where you soon learn Russia is the same as everywhere else, places look familiar, people are the same with the same religions. So much so that with the wealth of opulent Roman churches the Romans remain to this day the world winner. Russia is a place or art, literature and culture, it is not the strange place that the cold war may have convinced previous generations it was. Sure there is passport control, but we were also told to carry passports in Belgium and Germany, which are / were supposed to be one with the UK / Europe. It is famed for pick pockets working in groups, most will stop you and offer you a leaflet or tour avoid being stopped or standing in groups. Take nothing. In book two of Solo Cruiser that happens on the Baltic, Sally Katz includes a story where a lens was unclipped from someone’s camera in the crowded church of the spilled blood. That was us relaying a true story to her as she used our films built the novel around a real cruise. Don’t carry anything you don’t need.
Whilst Russia needs a visa to visit, if on a cruise ship you take an excursion from the ship into St Petersburg, at this moment that excursion allows you a visa waiver. Most people book with the ship, some travel with private and alternative excursions and are met at passport control by the ship. Once in St Petersburg you off you are remarkably free to explore, no more so than with the audio pen tour. The tour company gives you a very simple card to carry whether ‘guided’ or ‘on your own’, which says in Russian the equivalent of, ‘I am lost, please ring this number’. That goes to the tour operator’s office and they will get someone to you. It is well organised and visitor friendly.
The Hermitage Museum might be on your list, but here is the tip, Mondays is a day many places close like the buildings in the Square. Check. If the museum or whatever is closed one of the two days you are in St Petersburg, it might dictate which day you do what. Otherwise, escaping on your own and the audio commentary from the pen is a great day-one excursion because you will learn the city and have an understanding and orientation.
The pen is shaped like a pen and it speaks to you as you touch it on the map. It explains by way of commentary the places along a walking route and you can go which ever way you wish and in any order, or not at all. The trip is sometimes called the St Petersburg Explorer, but here is our second tip, many trips have similar names and do similar things so some of the places you can see on this tour will also feature on similar tours and you don’t want to do them twice.
Here is our trip; first coach stop was by St Issac’s Theatre which is sadly well before it opens at 10.30 so if you want to see inside you need to loop back later, but that is easy. Stop two we went AWOL (ran away across the bridge and into St Peter and Paul Fortress which is not on this audio tour, but it is that easy to do your own thing), because it was the area we covered above the day before on the Emperors and Assassinations tour. We easily made the next coach rendezvous and headed for stop three which was the Nevsky Prospect. Here we had three hours on our own, and the provided map showed a suggested route up and down the 4.6km main road. You will see we went to a few places, left some of their suggestions out, and added a few others. The pen also tries to up-sell by suggesting points and times when you can take a canal boat trip. We didn’t because there is so much to do. We went down into Palace Square as you will see, but the buildings themselves are closed as it was Monday. Please note that loss or damage to the pen is charged and is expensive. Imposed rule is only two can share a pen.
Other highlights include the Yusupov Palace (where ‘the mad monk’ Gregori Rasputin was dramatically murdered in 1916); Catherine the Great’s palace (with its breathtaking 978-foot white, gold and blue façade which is where Violet goes to a Ball in the evening in the novel The Perfect Storm and has a mad escape back to her ship); St Isaac’s Cathedral (which has marble walls studded with semi-precious stones); the onion-spired Church of Spilled Blood and the battleship Aurora, whose guns signalled the start of the Russian Revolution. We have films of the following tours, Ballet evening, Peter and Paul Fortress, Emperors and Assinations, Church of the Spilled blood.
- P&O Cruises to St Petersburg – Click here
- Fred Olsen Cruises to St Petersburg – Click here
- Thomson Cruises – Thomson Baltic Cruises
- Saga Cruises – Click here
Or to book your cruise go direct to the operator’s sites via their cards or adverts on this site. That will give you the best current deal and availability.
- Take something to eat and drink or schedule a stop, the day is long and can be tiring.
- Do not carry a wallet or bag you do not need, do not talk to hawkers or people handing out leaflets unless you are aware of the situation and someone is watching your back. Pickpockets work with leaflet givers and book sellers.
- Walking Shoes and what to pack. This is a walking cruise, maybe seven stops with seven cities to explore. Be pared.
- Share your pictures with us and share these films with other cruisers. Send them to us in comments.
- Plan your Baltic Cruise, share our over view film with fellow travellers and plan. There is a lot to do.
We have way over twenty films on Baltic Destinations and tours so you can see what you are getting and plan ahead. We can recommend the Abba Museum in Stockholm, we loved Tallinn, it is our favourite cruise route. Bruges Canal Boat tour is probably the best deal on the route. You can get to Southampton Cruise Terminal by coach so, so cheaply have you ever considered it? If you have never cruised, and we are mainly a cruise site, then click here to see how to look at what cruising is.
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READ THE CRUISE BEFORE YOU CRUISE THE SEA. In the book charts, SOLO CRUISER BOOK SERIES. Violet Becket has never cruised. In fact, she has been nowhere in a long time. Too long. Book 1, Virgin Voyage has been in the book charts for some weeks now.
Sally Katz used our Baltic films to peg her book 2 on! With permission. Each book takes place during a cruise! Book 1 is a Canary Islands cruise, Book 2 is in the Baltic, Book 3 is in the Caribbean, and Book 4 goes from the ABC islands through the Panama Canal.