Trans Siberian Railway: St. Petersburg

FINALLY. The last stop of the Trans Siberian Railway. Well. Kind of. My friend and I ended up taking a train to Helsinki after St. Petersburg but since I only spent a couple days there and didn’t see or do anything, I’m not going to write about that part of our trip. I will say, however, the trains to Helsinki and St. Petersburg are quite nice and painless.

Okay. St. Petersburg. We stayed in St. Petersburg for 5 nights and 6 days. We had heard that there was a lot to see and do in St. Petersburg so when we were planning our trip we wanted to be sure to spend a decent amount of time in St. Petersburg.

I though Moscow was pretty awesome and my friend and I kept talking about how we didn’t understand all the bad stuff people kept saying about Moscow. We both thought it was a beautiful city and then we went to St. Petersburg and were blown away. I still like Moscow but man… St. Petersburg is pretty spectacular city. I thought Moscow was pretty but St. Petersburg was just SOOOOO beautiful. The architecture, the streets, the canals, and everything about it. I fell in love a bit with St. Petersburg after my visit there.

Sleep

We were planning on CouchSurfing the entire time that we were in St. Petersburg but one of our two CouchSurfing hosts fell through at the last minute. Instead of scrambling to find a new host, we decided to spend a few days in a hostel before moving to our 2nd CouchSurfing host who lives in the suburbs.

We arrived in St. Petersburg in the morning and walked about 15-20 minutes to our hostel from the train station. We stayed at All You Need is Hostel which is a super hip and cool hostel close to all the main attractions. We weren’t able to check in early but they allowed us to hang out in the common area and take showers while we waited. As far as hostels go, I was pretty impressed. The common areas were nice and spacious, we had free access to a washing machine, and it was clean. It got a bit loud at night since the hostel is located in downtown St. Petersburg but besides that, I didn’t have any complaints. The staff even allowed us to check out late so we could sleep in and let us store our luggage with them for the rest of the day before we could meet our CouchSurfing host.

The other half of our time in St. Petersburg was spent CouchSurfing. Our CouchSurfing host lived close to an hour away from the center of St. Petersburg by subway. Our host met us at a subway stop and then took us the rest of the way to her house which was a 15-20 minute walk or a bus ride away from the subway. As far as big cities go, I didn’t think this was that bad of a commute. As usual, our CouchSurfing host was really awesome. Since we were at her place during the week, she didn’t have time to show us around much but we had great conversations in the evening and she met us one evening and took her on a personal tour of St. Petersburg which was very cool since we were seeing things that only a local could’ve shown us.

Things to do

We mostly did things on our own but we did meet up with a CouchSurfer a couple times who took us around which was a really interesting experience. He couldn’t host us but gave us a tour of “the most beautiful city in the world.” This is a really great option for anyone who wants to meet a local and I would recommend meeting up with CouchSurfers to show you around if not stay with a CouchSurfer. Our meet up host drove us around the city, took us to Peter and Paul Fortress and Peterhof Place (Summer palace). Below is the full list of things we did while in St. Petersburg.

The Hermitage – The Hermitage of course is famous. It’s one of the largest and oldest museums in the world showcasing art as well as Russian culture. I happened to be in St. Petersburg on free admission day at the Hermitage which is the first Thursday of every month and decided to visit the Hermitage then. The museum opens at 10:30 a.m. I got there early. I can’t remember how early but maybe 45 minutes before doors opened and man. The line was already long. And it only got longer as more and more people piled in line after me. On normal days you can buy tickets ahead of time online and forgo the ticket lines but since it was free admission day, this was not possible. So if you want to go to The Hermitage on free admission day I suggest getting in line early. I probably waited an hour and a half to get in from where I was in line. I can’t imagine how long others waited. Lines remained long for almost the entire day and it was very crowded once inside. You can find your own corners that are deserted but most of the museum is swamped with people during free admission days of course and high peak tourist season.

The Hermitage is also huge so expect to spend at least a few hours there. I spent almost my entire day there. Make sure to grab a map in the ticket hall area because it’s very easy to get lost in the museum. I would also suggest doing some research ahead of time to see what you would like to see ahead of time. The Hermitage is a behemoth of art and culture so it’s impossible to see everything in one visit or even 10 visits. If you don’t care to wander, that’s fine too but if there are certain artists or art pieces you want to see, it’s not a bad idea to do some planning to make sure you see all that you want to see.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood – This church was one of my favorites that we saw in Russia. There is an entrance fee to see inside which is as equally beautiful as the outside.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral and Colonnade – There are a few options for the cathedral. You can buy combined tickets to go up the colonnade for a view of the city and go inside the cathedral or you can buy tickets separately if you only want to do one or the other. You’ll have to climb a bunch of stairs if you go up the colonnade and if you’re afraid of heights, it might not be the best but the view from above was pretty good.

Peter and Paul Fortress – This is the original citadel of St. Petersburg. We went here in the evening as things were winding down so we just walked around the grounds which was nice.

Peterhoff (Summer Palace) – This is outside of St. Petersburg and our CouchSurfing friend took us but it’s very easy to arrange transportation with a tour agency. This is sometimes referred to as the Russian Versailles since it’s modeled after the real Versailles in France. Expect a ton of walking if you go here. We went into the palace itself but most of our day was spent walking around the gardens and fountains.

Loft Project ETAGI – A friend of mine who is originally from St. Petersburg recommended this place to me as an alternative of the normal tourist route. It’s a multifunctional art space. It’s basically a 5-story building that houses exhibition spaces, restaurants, boutiques, and so on. There’s always new things going on there so if you have time, it’s worth a visit and provides quite a contrast from the tourist attractions.

Wander the streets – St. Petersburg is absolutely gorgeous and there are a lot of interesting streets and alleyways so if you like walking, definitely just wander around and see what you can find.

The Ballet – We saw Swan Lake while in St. Petersburg and oh man… It was incredible!!! I can’t even describe how good the ballet was. Just trust me that it was amazing. I wrote a past post on seeing the ballet in Russia if you’d like to find out more about seeing ballets in Russia.

So if you have the time, I would recommend spending several days in St. Petersburg and catch the ballet while you’re at it. And that concludes my Trans Siberian Railway recap. I know Russia gets a lot of bad media and I don’t agree with the politics of the country but the people that I encountered in Russia were kind, generous, and welcoming. I’m so glad that I was able to experience Russia first-hand and I hope to be back!

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