We have outlined the best things to do and added all of our insider tips to help you have the best time in St. Petersburg.
Looking for a city crammed full of gorgeous buildings, stuffed with manicured parks, bursting with palaces and exploding with history? St. Petersburg is your go-to city.
Russia's a bit tricky to get to, but not as an ILP volunteer!
We have a guide all about volunteering in Russia right here.
For loads of reasons, the historic city of St. Petersburg is a favorite trip for our ILP Russia volunteers love to take. Because pretty much every ILP Russia volunteer spends a weekend or two here, we have all of the info you need to plan a perfect itinerary here, complete with our highlights and suggestions.
- Things To See In St. Petersburg
- Day Trips Outside Of The City
- Places To Eat
- When Should I Visit?
- How To Get Here
Things To See In St. Petersburg
Church Of The Savior On Spilled Blood
This church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 (hence the name). Get your camera ready because you will want to photograph every inch of this incredibly intricate exterior ... then you go inside and take a hundred more pictures. The whole cathedral is smothered in indescribably detailed mosaics and paintings that make the 4.6 million ruble price tag worth it.
It's stunning, breathtaking, borders on the unbelievable and an absolute must-see.
- Get here: You can ride here on the metro (the nearest stations are Nevsky Prospect / Gostiny Dvor) — the intersection between the blue and green lines.
- Hours: 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM, closed on Wednesdays
- Cost: 250 Rubles (100 for an audio guide in English)
Pst: That picture is of the ceilings found in this cathedral which are all mosaics ... Everything you see is made up of thousands and thousands of tiny tiles!
This will probably be the biggest museum you'll ever see in your life — block out decades to actually see and read about everything ... seriously. There are over 3 million pieces here (not all can be displayed at once). There are also over 400 rooms, filled with artistic and cultural treasures.
It's enormously impressive — inside what is also known as the Winter Palace, you can find paintings by the greats like Rafaela, Rembrandt, Monet, Matisse, Renoir and more, along with sculptures by Rembrandt, Monet and Michelangelo. You'll see stately palace rooms, portraits and statues, relics and pretty painted ceilings. Even if you don't love museums, the exhibitions here capture a slice of Russian history that shouldn't be missed.
- Get here: The nearest metro station is Admiralteyskaya.
- Hours: 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM (9:00 PM on Wednesdays)
- Cost: Absolutely free if you have an ISIC card.
If you don't have ISIC, it's 300 Rubles to 700 Rubles, depending on how much access you'd like. Get ticket information here. (Also — it's free every Thursday, but the lines will be very, very long!)
Get even more info about touring the Hermitage here (get the low down on student discounts, what exhibits to see and more information to help you out).
St. Isaac's Cathedral
Come visit the stunner of a cathedral for an impressive tour of the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city. You'll love the stained glass windows, paintings and impressive facades. But real gem is the view from the top; climb 300 stairs to reveal the city of Saint Petersburg spilling out below you. It's very pretty in the day time, but see the city lit up at night is also lovely. If you only have time for one thing, I'd recommend climbing up to the top — the interior is lovely, but if you are spending some time in Russia and Europe, you'll be familiar with the huge and gorgeous cathedrals in other cities ... not all of them have rooftop views like this.
- Get Here: Admiralteyskaya is the nearest Metro stop
Hours: 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM (Last admission at 5:30 PM) — closed Wednesday
Cost: 400 Rubles for access inside and outside, but you can get it for 200 with an ISIC card.
Peter Paul Fortress
Big, big, big fans of this section of the city. The fortress is the original citadel of Saint Petersburg, way back when Peter The Great was in charge. The cathedrals house the remains of several Russian Tzars; towering spires and a geometric layout hide some impressively opulent palaces inside. Quite a few tourists make it over here to see where the Romanov Tsar are buried (which I highly recommend).
Pro tip: if you go when it's warmer out (late Spring, summer or even early Fall) there's a stretch of sand around the fortress where you can climb up on the back stone wall and soak in some sun.
- Getting here: Gorkovskaya is your nearest metro stop, but it's about a 10 minute walk over the bridge to get to the actual fortress.
- Cost: Free to enter, but you'll need to pay to enter the church and to see the exhibitions. Tickets are 550 rubles. The church is where all the Romanov tzars are buried (minus a couple).
Go To The Theater
Arts and culture are an enormous part of Russia, and the city of St. Petersburg is the cultural hub of this country. Miranda, an ILP volunteer who went to Russia, recommends seeing the circus in Moscow .... but says you'll be be missing out if you didn't see the ballet in St. Petes.
You'll find quite a few theaters and shows around, but the Marrinsky Theater is a stunner. Built in the 1800's, this theater has housed some of the most famous and iconic shows in all of Russia. We love the things you can buy in this country but getting a picture and seeing a show may be our favorite Russian souvenirs.
Here is the website of the opera house so you can see what might be playing while you are visiting. We recommend talking to your Local Coordinator about booking tickets VERY early — they tend to sell out quickly.
Day Trips Outside of the City
Peterhof Palace - Do not miss this!!
We've heard again and again how Peterhof is the highlight of St. Petersburg — this series of elaborate palaces and even more elaborate gardens, all laid out on order of Peter The Great. Once you visit, you'll understand why this is called the Russian Versailles: it's sumptuous and insanely pretty (plus, is right across from Finland which is just the coolest).
We suggest spending most of your day here: it takes about an hour to get from St. Petes to the actual palace complex, and then you'll want plenty of time to wander around the gardens. Don't rush your visit! You can go inside of the palace, but we've had ILP group spend hours just walking around and admiring the fountains and curated hedges.
Insider tips: They only turn on the fountains certain times of the year for a limited amount of time. Check to make sure you plan your visit right if you want them to line up with the fountains.
Getting here + Costs: We have a comprehensive guide about Peterhof Palace here that will help you plan your trip, just know it's an all-day activity.
Catherine Palace (in Tsarskoye Selo)
The opulence and extravagance of how the old Russian rulers lived is more than evident after a visit to the Catherine Palace. Over 100kg of gold were used to decorate the elaborate palace, not to mention the exorbitantly expensive and handcrafted furniture inside. This place screams royalty and is another jewel in St. Petersburg's crown.
- Getting Here: Moskovskaya metro station is your nearest stop; from there you can take a local city bus (marshrutkas) to the "Pushkin" stop.
- Hours: Always closed Tuesdays, and the last Monday of each month.
May to September: Wednesday to Sundays 12:00 PM -5:00 PM. Mondays 12:00 - 8:00 PM
June to August: Wednesday to Sunday 12:00 PM -7:00 PM ; Mondays: 12:00-8:00 PM .
October through late April: 10:00 AM -5:00 PM Wednesday to Sunday, 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. on working Mondays.
Cost: 720 Rubles (Students with an ID can get half off). The lines can be quite long, just as a head's up.
Get even more detail on Catherine's Palace right here.
Alexander's Palace (in Tsarskoye Selo)
Also in the city of Tsarkoye Selo (where Catherine's Palace is) is the beautiful and former imperial home of Nicholas II — if you're familiar with the story of Anastasia, this is her family (though the childhood movie adaptation is vastly different than what history tells us). The building was commissioned by Catherine the Great in the 18th century, serving as a place of residence for a handful of royals, then for the family of Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei.
Alexander's Palace first served as a place of seclusion for the royal family, then acted as their place of imprisonment during the Russian revolution focused on overthrowing the Romanov family. From this palace, they boarded a train to be exiled in Siberia, before being moved to a house in Yekaterinburg, where they were executed.
Now, the palace is an important reminder of Russian history, allowing visitors to tour the surrounding gardens and walk through several rooms belonging to the family. The Alexander Palace has gone through a series of renovations after serving as headquarters for the German military in WWII. Please check closures before planning your visit, as restoration work is still underway (the space is receiving a $31-million dollar update). You can get a glimpse at what the palace looked like at the family's residence through these photos.
Getting Here: Follow the directions to get you to Catherine's Palace (above). From there, Alexander's Palace is a 10-minute walk.
Hours: The palace is temporarily closed for renovations, supposedly with some rooms reopening in 2020, with the palace fully reopen by 2021. Learn more here.
Places To Eat
Grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner from a menu full of Russian favorites at any one of the Stolle cafes. They might be best known for their pies, both sweet and savory. Flaky pastry is stuffed with fruit, or filled with mushrooms, fish, or other rich fillings. Yum!
There are several Stolle cafes in St. Petersburg (and other cities in Russia).
Clean Plate Society
More of an "American prices" restaurant, this place is delicious. Full of local dishes like the best beef stroganoff I had in Russia to options like spicy Thai curries and falafel wraps, this place is tasty and trendy. You'll pay around $7-11 for a main course which is kinda of pricey in Russia, but so worth it. We also loved the English menu. This place was soo good I eat here every time I visit St. Petersburg ... and get the beef stroganoff every time.
- Address: Gorokhovaya St, 13, Sankt-Peterburg, 190000
Hours: 11:00 AM to 1:00 AM
I'm Thankful For Today
This aptly named cafe serves up some classics we can't get enough of. Come for bomb breakfast omelets and pancakes, yummy entrees for dinner and lunch (like fish n chips, salads, along some other local dishes) and some quirky desserts.
- Address: Gorokhovaya St., 24, St. Petersburg
- Hours: 10:00 AM to 1:00 AM
When Should I Visit?
St. Petersburg is worth seeing, so please make time for this city no matter when you are in Russia. However, if you'll be living in Russia for a semester, you'll have your choice of seasons:
Go towards the end of your semester. It will be warming up, which means sunny days to explore the city and the grounds of Peterhof. They also turn the fountains on around mid-May, so try and pack your visit in right before you'll be leaving Russia.
We suggest going early, pretty quick after you first get to Russia. If you're there in the summer and early fall, you might catch the fountains at Peterhof. If you'll be going in September and to-mid October, plan on seeing the pretty fall foliage in St. Pete's (and the fountains - they turn off at the end of October for the season). So pretty!
How Long Should I Visit?
There really is so much to see in this city, but we get that you want to explore what else Russia and Europe have to offer. We suggest spending three full days here — but two full days will let you see the highlights.
Also something to keep in mind: You may have long layovers in St. Petes if you'll be flying to countries like Finland or any of the Baltic countries. Past ILP groups have visited St. Petes on a weekend, then seen even more between flights to the Baltics on their vacations.
How To Get Here
St. Petersburg is exceptionally well connected, so you'll be able to get into the city via train or via plane — whatever works best for your itinerary.
You'll need to fly into the Pulkovo Airport (code LED)— Use search sites like Skyscanner to help you get the best fare, but to help you get an idea, you can get from Moscow to St. Petersburg from less than $100 round trip. Sometimes, the fare jumps up to $200 if you're booking in more popular seasons like the summer, or if you're booking your ticket late.
Look for airlines like Pobeda and UTair.
To get into the city from the airport:
It's simple using public transport. City buses 39 and 39 EX and the minibus K39 will take you to the metro stop Moskovskaya (Московская) from the airport. It takes around 35 minutes and costs 40 Rubles — just pay the driver directly.
Once you get to the metro, you can ride on the blue line (metro line 2) for about 20 minutes to get into the city center, or wherever you're headed.
Uber and taxis are also available, but you'll end up paying 500-900 Rubles for an Uber, and about 500 more Rubles for a taxi ride into the city from the airport. Might be good as a last resort, though we're bigger fans of just taking the city buses and metro if you can.
Getting There Via Train
St. Petes has five major train stations, so be sure to watch what station you're booking a ticket for. There are faster trains that are only 4 hours, or longer overnight trains that are more like 10 hours if you're coming from Moscow.
Prices have a huge range (toy around with booking tickets here): you can pay $35 or $150+ depending on the speed of your train and the type of seat/carriage you book in. There are seats only, open sleeping compartments and more private, closed compartments that impact the price.
Once you arrive at the train station in St. Petes, you can ride the metro or hire a taxi to get into the city itself.
Traveling By Train From Moscow?
Veliky Novgorod is one of the most important historic cities in Russia (known as the birthplace of the country, which is hecka rad) plus it’s an easy stop over from Moscow to St. Petersburg. It's sandwiched between the two and makes for a fun stop-over to break up your time on the train. It's also home to the oldest church in Russia which you know you need to see. Here's more about visiting Veliky Novgorod.
Getting Around The City
Thanks to the metro system, it's simple to get around. The metro here is huge, second only to the metro in Moscow if you're looking at big and impressive metros in Russia.
It's 45 rubles per ride anywhere in the city with unlimited transfers, or you can buy multi-ride cards. For a weekend, you'll only need a few coins, depending on how much walking you want to do. I got 4 tokens for a weekend (2 to get me from the train station and back, and 2 to get me to the hostel on the other side of town).
You can easily buy tickets via the kiosks you'll find inside the metro stations. They're in English, so as long as you have cash, you'll be set to buy a ticket. There are five lines which are all color coded: M1 is red, M2 is yellow, M3 is blue, M4 is green, and M5 is violet. Easy enough.
The metro is open from 5:45 AM to 12:20 AM every day.
Taxi and Uber are also popular options for getting around.
Ready for palaces galore and a slice of history everywhere you look?
Then a semester abroad in Europe is for you! Click below to learn about what cities you can volunteer abroad in Russia with ILP: