My first impressions of St Petersburg were the crumbling soviet era apartment buildings near the port. We arrived by ship, and had a guided tour take us straight to Peterhof Palace and gardens. The sun was shining down on the glittering gold of the palace as we entered the grounds. It was a warm day, and Peterhof was rammed with tourists, of course.
The inside of the palace is just as decadent as you’d expect – it’s always a bit overwhelming walking through palaces because of how much ostentatious gold and china is on display. If you’re into that thing, sure, but it’s not really for me. The gardens provide a nice escape – they’re big enough to walk through freely without it feeling overrun with tourists, and there are beautiful and creative fountains.
From Peterhof we went straight into the city centre of St Petersburg to take a river cruise. St Petersburg sits on lowlands, with artificially elevated islands. The city is divided by rivers and embankments, and full of beautiful historic palaces and buildings. So many palaces! Every second building was a palace. The river cruise is an ideal way to see the city. We drank Russian sparkling wine and ate Russian chocolate as our guide talked us through the sites.
Something amusing that happened – every bridge we went under, the same young local boy would be standing on the bridge waving at us. The cruise took about an hour, so this boy ran for over an hour, chasing our boat and waving from the bank or the bridges we passed under. He received quite a few tips at the end for his effort.
The next day we visited the Hermitage – the largest and oldest museum in the world. The Hermitage was founded by a woman, Catherine the Great, who initially just wanted to keep her collection of art all to herself. Another fun fact – the Hermitage has a collection of up to 60 cats that live on the grounds! Wish I’d seen some of them! But we did see some horses…
We then walked along Nevsky Prospekt, the main street of St Petersburg. We went for a coffee and cake at the Singer House, a multi-story bookstore (the dream!) with a cafe with a nice of view of the cathedral across the street.
We wandered along the river to the church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, which is a ridiculous name for that colourful mosaic and marble church you’ll have seen from pictures of St Petersburg.
Because we didn’t have a visa to visit Russia we needed to be “on a tour” in order to get entry into the country, which meant our itinerary felt very touristy. I’d have liked to explore the St Petersburg underground – which is apparently decadent, with chandeliers and mosaic tiles in the stations. But I still really enjoyed my time there and I’m inspired to travel more of Russia!