So you want to go to Russia? I was a little skeptical about heading to Russia given it isn’t advertised by the BBC to be the friendliest of places. I thought I would give St. Petersburg a try however, and I am so [pleased I did. It’s a bold statement, but I would confidently say that St. Petersburg is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The city was founded by, you guessed it, Peter the Great, with the intention of it copying and improving cities from all across Europe. I have to say, it does a remarkably good job at this. Whilst the city is not like the rest of Russia, this makes it much more friendly to less experienced travellers and with a basic knowledge of google maps you’ll do just fine without the help of tour guides.
Here is a budget friendly itinerary to make your holiday to Saint Petersburg cheaper then that hideously expensive holiday to Ibiza or Magaluf that your friends were planning.
Important: You will need an ISIC card for most student discounts in Russia, if you don’t already have one you can get one once you arrive in St. Petersburg from SPUTNIK-ISIC (They are very cheap in Russia!).
The Hermitage: Free
One of the biggest and oldest museums in the world, the Hermitage houses a collection of over 3 million art pieces, sculptures and artefacts. The imperial collection is on display in over 400 rooms, meaning unlike other museums, this isn’t a museum you can visit just once. The usual ticket price is 700 Rubles, but for students it is free! This is particularly amazing since I recommend going two or three times during your visit. The entrance includes access to the main museum as well as several other palaces; You should probably go twice to the main museum and once to explore the Palace of St. Peter I and the Menshikov Palace. Be prepared to queue however, getting tickets will take up to an hour, but it’s well worth the queue. Here are some pretty photos to entice you:
Top tip: If you can, go on a Wednesday/Friday evening at around 5pm, since it remains open until 9pm on these days and the large crowds usually pla250guing the museum are gone.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral: 150 Rubles
The exterior of this magnificent cathedral is fitted with large granite columns and adorned with sculptures. The interior, which in my opinion is the most beautiful out of the cathedrals I have visited, is decorated with beautiful mosaics and paintings on the walls as well as the malachite columns. It really is a magnificent sight and for students it’s only 150 rubles!
After your visit to the cathedral head to the park behind to see the Bronze Horseman, a statue of the famous St. Peter the Great. I personally don’t think there is much to the popular tourist attraction, but given it’s only a few meters away, you may as well give it a go.
New Holland Island
This military island turned recently turned chic and retro. Getting its name from its origin as a Dutch style dockyard, New Holland now really does feel like something you’d find in the middle of Amsterdam. The entire island is dedicated to the pursuit of art and all things creative, a stark contrast to the atmosphere of the naval prison that was once situated on it. After three years of reconstruction following a trial period, the park opened up to the public in 2016 and is a perfect place to sit and read a book snuggled into a bean bag.
Savior on Spilled Blood: 150 Rubles
Maybe this post is starting to get a little churchy… but what can I say? The churches in St.Petersburg are the highlight in my opinion. Though very busy, this one takes a top spot due to its intriguing looking exterior and marble mosaics on the inside. If you are being super cheap then you can get away with not going inside, but at only 150 rubles (usually 250 without student discount) I think its worth it.
Peter and Paul Fortress
This is the original fortress of St. Petersburg and was built in 1740, it has a rich history of uses including a prison grounds during the 1920s. The prison was famous for its oppression and cruelty to prisoners and you can enter the prison cells when you visit there (at a small fee). You can pay for tickets to see a variety of things at the fortress, including a visit to the cathedral and Grand Ducal burial site but I would recommend just walking around and getting a flavour of the atmosphere. In my opinion, the cathedral is less beautiful than St. Isaac’s mentioned above.
The Great Mosque of St. Petersburg
Wow. Just wow. What a design for a building. Unfortunately, the Mosque was closed during my visit, but a gaze at the architecture left me fairly speechless. It is one of the largest mosques in Europe, accommodating up to 5000 people and it is an easy walk from the Peter and Paul fortress (but hides behind the city landscape). You won’t regret going to see this one.
Other places worth a visit
Taking a walk around the city you’ll fail to miss the beauty it offers, here’s some more pointers on what not to miss:
Summer Garden: 18th Century gardens full of statues.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan
Anichov Bridge: Elegant bridge built in 1841.
The visa problem
There is one big downside of visiting Russia, the visa process. It isn’t the easiest and certainly isn’t the cheapest. You will need to get a visa invitation before applying for a visa in person at one of the offices in London or Edinburgh.
Currently, the cost of a visa is around £108. However St. Petersburg is so cheap whilst you are there, and if you visit Moscow and surrounding places too, they are also cheap. Because of this if you are going for a week or more, this fee will be absorbed by living costs. I went for 6 days and including the visa fees, spent far less than I did in Spain for a week. It really is worth it, despite those pesky visa fees!
If you are struggling to get a visa invitation, a very cheap provider which I used is VisatoRuss. They sent me mine within a few minutes of my order and the cost was £8.99