St Petersburg, Russia is a city with its monstrous palaces, fascinating history and extraordinary beauty. If you are going to St Petersburg and are wondering what you can see in two days then you have come to the right place!
I spent two days visiting the amazing (and I mean amazing) sights of St Petersburg while cruising with Celebrity Cruises to Russia and Scandinavia. I am so glad we had a two-day stay in St Petersburg as one really wouldn’t have been enough. Actually, I wish we had more time as there was so much to see.
This is a city that is rich in so many ways from its culture and people to rooms where walls are made of amber and statues that are literally covered in gold! To ensure we made the most of our two days in St Petersburg we booked two tours at Celebrity Cruise’s shore excursion desk.
The first was a small group experience to the Hermitage and Peterhof and the one that I highly recommend a full-day private car tour with guide and driver.
The private car tour was a little costly but the amount of ground we covered and the knowledge of the local guide made it worth every cent! The benefit of having the local guide was that we didn’t really have to line up to get into any of the attractions and she was able to take us to the front of the very long queues.
Before we get into what you can see in St Petersburg in two days it is important that you know a couple of things about St Petersburg. You will hear these names throughout the two days and having a little bit of knowledge upfront will certainly help you enjoy the experience even more:
Peter the Great – A 17th-century czar turned emperor that is known for founding and modernising Russia
Catherine the Great – The longest female ruler in Russia who wasn’t actually Russian. German-born Catherine the Great continued to grow, strengthen and modernise Russia as empress from 1762 until 1796
Leningrad and Petrograd – St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd in 1914 and in 1924 was renamed Leningrad before being renamed St. Petersburg in 1991
Just under one hour from St Petersburg you will find the town of Petergof. This is the home to the Peterhof Palace which was commissioned by Peter the Great in 1703.
Peterhof is now a UNESCO world heritage site after being restored from the extensive damage received during world war two. Peterhof is a popular tourist destination that gets jammed packed with millions of visitors every year!
To say this palace is glamorous is an understatement. If Peter the Great wanted to show his country as wealthy to the rest of the world then this place certainly does that. It is overflowing with lavish furnishings and paintings.
The dominant yellow facade stretches for miles, the size of the grand ballroom and the length of the hallways have wealth written all over them. This is a palace you just want to pack your bags and move into knowing instantly you will feel like royalty. It is over the top but tastefully extravagant and something I think I could certainly get used to!
As you move outside you will realise that the outside is just as impressive as the inside. The first thing you will see is the grand cascade, it’s the ritziest water fountain you will ever see. It is big, it has gold, more gold, and then even more gold.
What is even more amazing is that the fountains operate without the use of pumps, rather through natural water pressure-fed from the upper gardens – impressive right!
You will find that outside in the palace grounds there is plenty of room for everyone to enjoy the manicured gardens. Be prepared to get wet in the summer from a few little checky trick fountains that are spread throughout the lower gardens. It is a lot of fun and the kids love them! One minute you’re standing there dry and out of nowhere comes a fountain of water and your soaked!
Good to Know
Our guide did warn us about pickpockets inside and out as there are so many people close together in both areas. We didn’t have any issues with this.
If you lose your tour group as we did (we were too busy taking photos) don’t panic just find another Celebrity Cruise representative and they will make sure you find your way back to your guide
If you are a lover of art or not you will be impressed by the Hermitage! We were impressed just by the outside of the building as the green, gold and white facade ouses charm and wealth. It sits alongside the Neva River and forms part of the Winter Palace which was home to the Russian Tsars.
The Hermitage is said to own over 3 million pieces of Art and is the second biggest art gallery in the world. They say that it would take you a decade to see every painting in the gallery but as we were on a whirlwind tour we only got to see the main areas. There really is so much to see from elaborate paintings, statues, mummies (yes real mummies) to an 18th century Peacock Clock (now that’s a mouthful!) which can be found in the Pavilion Hall and still chimes today.
The artwork can be seen all over the walls and ceilings so make sure you look up. The chandeliers are grand, the artwork is phenomenal and everywhere you look you will find something that is fascinating. I do recommend taking the audio tour as this does help you to understand what you looking at. I am generally not a fan of the audio tour but as there is so much to see and so much history to understand this certainly does help improve your experience.
Something funny that I do recall being told by our guide was that cats are actually employed by the Hermitage to control the mice problem and this dates back to the days of Elizabeth I to help keep the mice out of her home.
As we visited as part of an organised tour with Celebrity Cruises we did find that we had to line up (in the rain) and were guided around the museum at a fairly quick pace. This also meant that there were a fair few other tour groups there which felt cluttered and a little rushed.
Good to Know
If I had my time again I would definitely visit the Hermitage on a private tour and allocate a whole day there to ensure we had enough time to appreciate all that the Hermitage has to offer.
Private Car Tour With Guide
I highly recommend booking a private car tour that has a local guide while in Russia. This can be a little pricey but I have to say we didn’t regret it and wish we would have booked this for both days.
We got to see so much more on the private tour including Catherine Palace, Nevsky Prospect, The Church of the Spilled Blood, lunch at the Ginza Project’s Smelt, the subway and so much more.
There are so many benefits to booking a private tour with a local guide including:
Tailoring your itinerary to what you want to see for the day
Spending as long or as little time as you like in any one location
Stopping at ideal locations (also less crowded) along the way for great photos
Choosing your own restaurant for lunch away from the tourist areas
Not having to line up at top tourist attractions
Local guide who has knowledge about the area and can speak Russian – we certainly couldn’t!
Your guide and driver will arrange your itinerary efficiently so you are able to see as much as possible
Whatever you do don’t miss Catherine Palace when you’re in St Petersburg. Although all of the palaces are spectacular I think this was my favourite palace in St Petersburg.
Catherine Palace is known as the Summer Palace and is in the city of Pushkin. It takes approximately half an hour to drive to Pushkin from St Petersburg.
Catherine Palace was not built for Catherine the Great but this was known to be her favorite palace as well.
The palace was originally built in 1717 for Empress Catherine I, and over the years both Empress Elizabeth and Catherine the Great extended the building and added their own taste and flair to make it what it is today – spectacular!
Walking up to the palace gates we could see the blue and white Rococo styled palace facade which the palace is famous for and yes it is elaborate, over the top, dripping in gold, and it’s tremendously enormous… Catherine Palace looks simply stunning!
Our guide purchased our tickets and got us to the front of the queue which is another great advantage of taking a private tour.
As you enter the palace you will have to check your large coats and bags into the cloakroom and your guide will help you with this. You will also be given a pair of shoe covers that helps preserve the ornate parquet flooring.
This process does take a little bit of time as there are so many people visiting the palace. So just be prepared that there will be many, many people trying to look at the same thing you want to see. What worked well though is that we found a tour group and stayed at the back of the pack which meant we were always the last people in a room. This allowed us to get some pics without seven thousand others in it!
The inside of the palace is beyond belief, the walls, ceilings, floors and furnishings are that of what a place should be – rich, glamorous and beautiful so be sure to take your time to appreciate the history that this palace has. One of the first rooms you will see is the “Great Hall” and from here you will understand how amazing and elaborate this palace really is.
It is important to know that during WWII the palace was significantly destroyed, so what you see today has been impressively restored.
The most intriguing mystery of the palace is the whereabouts of the “amber” from the amber room. German soldiers dismantled the room and took the amber with them and no one is really sure where it is to this day.
The room has since been re-built using around one hundred thousand pieces of amber and original construction techniques and I have to tell you it is nothing short of exquisite.
I know anyone who visits this palace will be so impressed, I hope you love it as much as I did!
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The Church of the Spilled Blood is another famous site that you have to visit when you are in St Petersburg. It is famous for being the place where Alexander II was fatally wounded back in 1881. However, the construction of the church began in 1883 by Alexander III as a monument to his father.
The Church sits along the Griboedov canal and is elaborate to see on the outside with its brightly coloured domes and golden spires.
But trust me it is even more uniquely elaborate inside. There are over 7000 square meters of mosaic tiles making up the patterns and pictures all over the walls, floors and ceilings.
We originally had only planned to view the outside as we thought that was spectacular but our guide encouraged us to see the inside and went and purchased the tickets. We were so glad we did, it is truly spectacular.
The cost is very minimal (250 Rubles) and the church is open most days (closed Wednesdays) from 10.30am to around 5.30 – 6.00 pm. We spent approximately one hour here and then walked along the canal which is lined with souvenir stalls up to Nevsky Prospect.
Nevsky Prospect & Eliseyev Emporium
Shopaholics get ready for this… Nevsky prospect is the main shopping street which is around 4 kilometers long, full of restaurants and shops!
We loved walking down this street. It really felt that we were shopping with locals and the sheer size and length of the street also meant we were getting to see and feel the atmosphere which was the real St Petersburg.
As you walk along Nevsky Prospect you will see to the Eliseyev Emporium. The Emporium is on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and Malaya Sadovaya Street. Make sure you go in and experience this magical shop.
This is one of the oldest grocery stores in Russia and the interior is exquisitely elaborate. They sell confectionery, souvenirs, bakery goods and many more delicious treats. You can even sit under one of the palm trees and enjoy a coffee! Be sure to try the macaroons and the nougat – YUM!
Lunch overlooking the Hermitage at the Ginza Project’s “Smelt”
As this was our last day in St Petersburg we wanted to have lunch at a restaurant that overlooked the city so we went to a Ginza Project restaurant called “Smelt” Korushka which is right near Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva River across from the Hermitage.
This restaurant was perfect, the interior was beautiful, the views are spectacular and the food was great.
Like you do when you are on holidays we had to try a local dish which was fried smelt. Now my husband and tour guide gobbled them up… but me no way, I don’t like fish on a normal day let alone fish with eyes! But we also had the Chebureki which was extremely delicious and looked like a huge cheese puff.
We allowed one and a half hours here and thought that the restaurant was reasonably priced – 3190 Rubles for 3 people.
I would definitely have lunch here again next time I’m in St Petersburg.
Good to Know
When going to Russia book a shore excursion with your cruise company as this way you don’t have to arrange your own visa
Book a private car tour with a local guide. The benefit of a local guide was that we bypassed most queues, which meant we had more time to see other attractions
We found that not everyone spoke English so having a local guide was very helpful when shopping and ordering lunch
Stop at a local souvenir shop so you can buy a traditional Matryoshka doll or a father frost figurine
Visiting St Petersburg between June and September will mean the weather will be pleasant to walk around and you will have more hours in your day before the sun goes down
Thoughts & opinions shared about St Petersburg, Russia: What to See in Two Days are entirely my own