As thousands plan to descend on Russia for World Cup matches next month, preparations are taking form. With Luzhniki stadium in Moscow and the Saint Petersburg stadium being the main hosts for the event, there are already plenty of signs, being set up, in those cities, which will ensure fans get themselves safely to these matches. Russia has also suspended the handling of dangerous goods for a 2 month period during this time. So safety is high priority.
St Petersburg is a Russian city unlike most of Russia. Deemed the ‘Venice of the North’, with canals and bridges which were once part of the former USSR. This former Leningrad harbours one of the largest museums in the world – Hermitage, holds the White Nights Festival where the city never sleeps and has earned UNESCO world heritage recognition for its historic centre.
So, there is plenty for visitors who are heading to St Petersburg during World Cup season to see bedsides football. Both flights and accommodation are likely to be pricey during the event but here’s a few suggestions on how to safely avoid the crowds and keep the cost down.
The most popular museum is of course the Hermitage.
The complex which consists of the main museum and the branches: the General Staff Building, the Winter Palace, the Menshikov Palace and the Museum of Imperial Porcelain, will involve queues. Enjoy reduced queuing times by considering the following:
1) avoid visiting on the first Thursday of the month when it’s free entrance, as it will be busy;
2) purchase tickets online – these are more expensive than on the door/day but you can jump the queue on arrival;
3) purchase tickets at the machines just inside the entrance gate, which will have shorter queues than the main ticket office. This also means you can avoid the secund queue inside;
4) head to the Staff Building (opposite) and purchase tickets there, again allowing you to bypass the queue at the main entrance and inside;
5) visit the Staff Building first, in the morning when the main complex is busier and head there later on in the day when it’s supposedly quieter.
It’s worth knowing that no food or drink is permitted inside the museum although purchases can be made in the cafe. It’s possible to purchase tickets separately to enter one of the branches. Note that you are required to store backpacks and other belongings in the cloakrooms.
I would also recommend planning your visit in advance. There’s a useful, albeit complicated, tool on the museum website that helps map out the exhibits you want to see, so you don’t have to backtrack or overlap your footsteps too much. Give it a try under ‘Plan your trip‘ under Explore on the museum site.
A few of the exhibits are closed for renovations currently and most of the items which were on the top floor of the Main Complex have been moved to the General Staff Building. It can be confusing but the maps below are the current ones from the information stand which we could have done with for planning in advance.
Hermitage Museum – Main complex maps:
Hermitage General Staff Building maps:
Tickets for some other museums may be discounted if you book in advance online or take advantage of reduced ticket prices from various partners. You will have to shop around for the best deals.
There is no shortage of cruise companies offering canal and/or river trips. Even the hop on hop off bus company has extended to the water. The weather can be unpredictable but the boats are covered. The transport links are pretty good so I do recommend this as an option for getting around.
If you arrive with no plans or bookings, you can’t miss the ticket touts around town offering deals on the various boats. The choices can be a little overwhelming so another reason to book in advance, online and this will also mean discounts are available. We saved 160 Rubles each by booking with this site a couple of days before.
The most popular are Peterhof Palace and St Catherine’s Palace (Pushkin). Both are a little out of the city centre and will require a full day to properly experience.
Check for discounts, for example City Pass is currently offering a discount on the Hydrofoil to Peterhof.
Peter and Paul Fortress
An important historical location, this is where the original citadel was founded by Peter the Great in 1703.
A gun is fired everyday at noon, but don’t underestimate how loud it is if you’re close by. The changing of the guard takes place every Saturday during the summer season.
Entrance to the complex is free but there are a number of museums, with various exhibits which incur different ticket prices. The cathedral seemed the most popular, with its burial chapel and royal tombs.
There is a Combined ticket option available for a reduced total price. Worth considering if you want to visit more than one of the exhibitions. Check out the website for more.
Probably the most iconic building in the city besides the Hermitage is the Church of the Saviour on Blood. It gets busy so head there early or late if you can. The ticket price of 250 Rubles is very reasonable. I personally really liked inside with the beautiful mosaics from wall to ceiling.
St Isaac’s cathedral offers visitors a 360 degree view of the city from its colonnade, with a separate ticket for the museum (entry inside). Both are worth considering at 400 Rubles each.
No visit to Russia would be complete without enjoying a shot or two of vodka. There are numerous bars and restaurants dedicated to the national drink and even a museum. The latter is a bunch of displays in Russian so do opt for the guided tour in English if you choose to visit, although it’s nothing special; the vodka and snacks were the highlight.
Enjoy vodka and snacks the authentic way in many places around the city. At the high end the Caviar Bar at the Belmont Grand Hotel offers a tasting set paired with caviar. Many restaurants offer a more low-key taster. We opted for the flavoured vodka tasting set at Yat restaurant where they make their own vodka and which I would highly recommend.
Herring, salty lard and pickled cucumbers (gherkins) are typical accompanying snacks, all of which seemed to work the taste buds well. Those that don’t like fish or eggs might struggle to indulge in the full experience.
Check out the up to date In Your Pocket guide for other upcoming events.
Russian entry notes
Visas are required for many visitors to Russia, including UK residents and you need to register with immigration after arrival of there for more than 7 days, although hotels will do this for you.