Welcome to the port of Saint Petersburg!
St Petersburg is the second-largest city in Russia and the major gateway between the Baltic Sea and Russia. Its rich history and lavish architecture have made it one of the most visited cities in the world and a must-stop when cruising Northern Europe.
In this article, read about:
- Port of Saint Petersburg
- Saint Petersburg shore excursions & things to do on a cruise
- Important notes
Port of Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg cruise port is located at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland, and most of the cruise ships dock at Vasilyevsky Island.
Cruise ship schedule in port can be limited to hours or in some cases up to three days, so it’s important that you have everything ready to enjoy the most of your stay in St Petersburg.
For first-time visitors, this experience can be a little bit overwhelming; not only because of the language but due to the many rules and regulations you will encounter when coming to Russia; so it is very important that you will do some homework at home when planning your visit here.
It’s important to take into consideration that during peak summer months you will encounter traffic, congestion, waiting and queueing at the main attractions, due to the number of cruise ship passengers and regular visitors, so be ready and be patient.
The first thing you will need to do when planning your time in St Petersburg is to check if you require a visa for Russia. There are three ways to get a valid visa:
- If you want to get around the city of Saint Petersburg on your own (without joining an organized shore excursion by your cruise line/independent tour company), you need to apply for a visa in your home country, as it is not possible to obtain it upon arrival. Getting this visa can take up to 2 months. Get the Russian visa information on www.saint-petersburg.com/russian-visa/.
- Book a shore excursion with your cruise line – If you can’t obtain a visa at home or want to avoid the hustle, don’t worry, you can still visit the city by booking an organized shore excursion through the cruise line as this will be your official pass.
- Book a shore excursion with an independent tour operator – You can also check your available options with the different Independent Tour Companies, which offer a wide variety of full-day and half-day Saint Petersburg tours.
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Either you choose to book a cruise ship-sponsored tour or through an independent tour operator, be aware that you will need to stick to the shore excursion itinerary as tourists are not allowed to stay behind in the city and come back on their own to the ship. Most of the Saint Petersburg shore excursions include some but limited shopping time, which is normally around one of the local tour company’s recommended stores.
If your country does not require a visa, I will strongly suggest arranging your transportation ahead of time to maximize your time in this port of call, especially during the peak summer months as English Speaking drivers are in high demand.
St Petersburg Cruise Terminal
St Petersburg has two main docking places: The Marine Facade, and English Embarkment.
The Marine Facade passenger port is the biggest one and its located approximately a 30-minute driving distance (about 11 km; 6.8 mi) from the Saint Petersburg city center. This brand new building facility is massive and consists of 8 terminals designed to accommodate the largest cruise ships. At the Marine Facade facility terminals, you will encounter different souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, ATMs (only for Russian currency), a Taxi Booth, and information Assistance. There is no Wi-Fi in the port.
Lieutenant Schmidt Quay or English Embarkment cruise terminal is located very close to the city center. The distance between this port and Hermitage Museum is only 2 km (1.2 mi), or a 20-minute walk. However, English Embarkment can only accommodate small ships.
There is no shuttle bus provided from the St Petersburg cruise port to the city center.
Imagine having 3000 people wanting to get off the ship at the same time, it’s crazy! This is definitely one of the most challenging parts of working on a cruise ship.
The immigration process is mandatory to exit the terminal building and return back to the ship. This process is slow on the first day of arrival as each passport is checked thoroughly and can take up to one hour or more.
If the ship is staying is longer than one day or if you have a second or third shore excursion, the process will be quicker.
If you are planning to take two or more shore excursions in one day, check with the Shore Excursions team to confirm that you will have enough time to meet for all your tours.
Guests joining the cruise ship shore excursions will meet onboard the ship, be escorted in groups to Immigration and then to the bus parking lot. It is important that each member of your family has the physical passport, tour ticket, and cruise ship card ready when going through Immigration.
If taking shore excursions with an Independent Tour Company, check with the Guest Services Desk in advance about the disembarkation process for you and bring your tour confirmation. You will also need to present a physical passport, tour confirmation, and cruise ship card to the Immigration Officers. A representative of your selected tour company should be waiting for you with a sign right outside the terminal building.
If you are adventurous and you do not require a Russian visa, there is a bus 158 that stops at each terminal around every 30 mins. This bus stops at Primorskaya Station where you then can take the metro to Nevsky Prospekt. This is quite an experience, just make sure you have local currency, a good map, and a translator.
The currency in Russia is the Russian ruble (RUB). The exchange rate: 1 US dollar = around 75 rubles, 1 EUR = around 90 rubles. Make sure you always have some cash as not all places accept credit cards.
From Nevsky Prospekt, it is easier to walk to some of the main highlights such as the Church of the Spilled Blood, St Issac´s Cathedral, and the Hermitage. You can also find canal tours and Hop on Hop off bus stops.
Due to the nature of the city and its landmarks, the options for guests with limited mobility are quite limited. Due to city regulations, large buses are not allowed to park anywhere so they must stop at designated parking areas, however, this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the city.
There are different panoramic tour choices available, however, if you are wishing to utilize a wheelchair (manual or electric) on any of these tours you will have to provide the total dimensions (height, length, and width) and weight of the electric scooter or wheelchair at the time of booking. Use of a motorized scooter is not guaranteed.
St Petersburg Shore Excursions & Things to Do on a Cruise
There are many attractions in St Petersburg and often not enough time to see all of them, but below I will list some of the most popular amongst the cruise ship passenger.
1. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
This is probably one of the most visited landmarks in the city. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is located somewhat less than a 30-minute drive from the Marina Facade cruise port, in the city center. This 19th century, sumptuously decorated multicolored church was built by the order of Alexander III on the site where his father had been assassinated.
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The iconic church houses the Museum of Mosaics and is situated in the vicinity of stunning city gardens and palaces, such as Mikhailovsky Garden, Summer Garden, the Field of Mars, St. Michael’s Castle, Marble Palace, and many more.
2. St Issac’s Cathedral
Overlooking the vast Alexander Garden and the St. Issac’s Square, Saint Issac’s Cathedral or the Isaakievskiy Sobor is a monumental Orthodox basilica and one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. The church was ordered in the 19th century by Tsar Alexander I and has been transformed into a museum since the Soviet reign. This exquisite Orthodox cathedral is located in the city center and features an impressive gold-plated dome and opulent interior. Its golden dome dominates the skyline of the city, and you can climb the spiral stair that will lead you to the viewpoint at 43 meters high where you can admire the 360-degree view of the city.
3. The Hermitage Museum
Located in the baroque Winter Palace State, in the city center, the Hermitage is the second-largest museum in the world after the Louvre with over 3 million items. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and features enormous collections of art, culture, and antiquities, housed in six different buildings. Getting tickets in advance is recommended as normally you will encounter long lines at the entrance. Organized shore excursions will save you time as they will get the entrance tickets for you in advance.
4. Nevsky Prospekt Avenue
Admire the beautiful and opulent architecture of the most famous avenue in St Petersburg, spanning from the Admiralty to the Alexander Nevski Monastery. Located right in the heart of the city, this avenue is full of shopping stores, restaurants, and cafes overflowing with locals and tourists. Some of the highlights you will find along Nevsky Prospekt are the Kazan Cathedral and the National Russian Library.
5. Explore the City’s Rivers and Canals
Taking a boat trip is a must-do when visiting St Petersburg, especially during the White Nights Season (end of May to mid-July). During this period the sun never fully sets and the sky stays bright with a light similar to the sunset. Seeing St. Petersburg highlights from a different perspective while sipping champagne or enjoying a folkloric show is quite an incredible experience!
6. Fabergé Museum
Housed in the 18th century Shuvalov Palace, in the heart of the city, Fabergé Museum is a tribute to the famous Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé. This museum holds over 4000 pieces of Russian artistic work, the world’s largest and impressive collection of Fabergé eggs including nine unique Easter eggs created by the artist for the last two Russian emperors. Tickets can be purchased online or on the same day directly at the museum.
7. See the Russian Ballet Performance
Ballet is an essential part of Russian Culture and it is considered one of the best in the world. The city offers a wide variety of daily performs and stage masterpieces such as the Swam Lake and The Nutcracker. Mariinsky Theater is one of the most renowned and important Theaters in the city, so make sure to get your tickets in advance.
8. Peterhof Palace
This palace is probably one of the most visited palaces in Russia not only for its history but for its beautiful architecture and stunning fountains. This summer imperial palace is located 30 km from St Petersburg (a 45-minute drive from the cruise port) and the design was inspired by the Palace of Versailles after Peter the Great’s visit to France.
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To visit the whole Peterhof museum complex takes more than a day so it’s important that you prioritize your visit to the Grand Palace and the Gardens. Getting here with an organized shore excursion is the best option so you will not have to worry about the long lines at the ticket booth; however, besides the line to get the tickets, there is also a line to get inside the Grand Palace. For the adventurous people, you can take a hydrofoil to Peterhof from the city center you will be in Peterhof in 40 mins; yet this is the fastest way, it is the most expensive as well.
9. Catherine’s Palace
The summer residence of the Romanov family is located around a 40-minute driving distance from the Marine Facade cruise port (35 km, or 22 mi from the city center), in the suburb area of Pushkin (Tsarkoye Selo). This beautiful state is included in the Unesco World Heritage sites and was a gift from Peter the Great to his wife Catherine II.
The baroque style of the palace and its interior decoration will make you feel like a prince/princess, especially when walking down the biggest treasure of the Palace, the famous Amber room. Very often you will find brides and grooms taking portraits at this amazing landmark. When visiting inside you will be required to wear shoe protection, and a picture or video taking is restricted in certain halls.
10. Moscow Day Trip
Exploring Russia’s capital city is on everybody’s bucket list when planning your visit to Russia. You will need to dedicate a full day to this adventure due to the distance from St. Petersburg to Moscow (about 700 km; 435 mi). The best option is to take an organized shore excursion because you will be guided and taken care of from beginning to end.
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You will take a 4-hour high-speed train to get to Moscow and then transfer to a bus for a guided sightseeing tour of the city’s main highlights including the famous Red Square and its iconic St Basils Cathedral and Kremlin, the official President’s home. The Government building is not open to the public but you can definitely visit some of the museums and monuments located within the walls of the Kremlin.
- Air conditioning in Russia is not as strong as you might be used to in other parts of the world. You will encounter this on the tour buses and in some of the main attraction buildings especially during the peak summer months, so it’s important that you will dress accordingly and keep hydrated.
- Large bags are not allowed in the main attraction so make sure you bring only what is necessary.
- The local currency is the Russian ruble. Check with your cruise line if an exchange is possible onboard the ship. Dollars and Euros are accepted at the souvenir shops. Local cafes and local transportation only accept Russian money.
- You can use your credit cards, however, I will only suggest using them at recommended and reliable stores.
- Pickpockets are also commonly found around the main touristic areas so be careful with your belongings.
- A conservative dress code is required when planning to visit any religious sites.
- If you have any dietary restrictions and you will take a shore excursion that includes a meal or snack, make sure to communicate this in advance (at least 72 hours prior), to see if this request can be accommodated.
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