St Petersburg was a big dream coming true. For some reason, I have always been fascinated by the Russian language and culture in general, maybe because it’s so different from mine. At the same time, I found that Russia’s culture is very similar to mine in a way, especially for their love for homemade food and dedication to family.
So, Bastien and I started organising this trip and here is the website to use for every nationality’s visa requirement. They are different for each country; French passport holders, for instance, do need to provide flights tickets when applying for a visa, while Italians and British do not. British do normally need a letter of invitation only, which is provided by the hotel you book for a fee of £15-25.
We arrived at our hotel at around 11 pm and we went out to explore to just find this! And I was already in love with old Leningrad..
KLM offers a flight from Edinburgh with stop in Amsterdam; average tickets cost £220 return.
Where to stay?
Comfort Hotel – this hotel ticked all the boxes – extremely helpful staff, perfect location, safe and central, originally decorated. I booked the hotel directly on their website which has an English version and contacted them on various occasions regarding visas’ questions and they were super helpful and quick in replying. We also booked a taxi from and to the airport for a very reasonable fee, directly on their website. The nice young guy who picked us up, also dropped us off three day after and the service was really worth it.
Helpful, polite, calm, genuinely curious to meet people from different countries.
What to do?
A 3-hour tour which gives you the perfect insight on the city and its history. Vladimir, our guide, was a lot of fun and gave a mix of fun facts and history about St Petersburg and Russia which we really enjoyed learning about.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
I love this kind of architecture, which is the Russian traditional one. You will see that many churches and palaces are actually the work of French or Italian architects, who enjoyed work for Peter the Great, whose reign was one of the most prestigious in his times.
Saint Petersburg Mosque
Cross the bridge and enter the Zayachiy Island where you can visit this mosque on your way to the Peter and Paul Fortress. The entrance and the colours are spectacular, sorry for no more pictures but my boyfriend is in them and he doesn’t want to be my model 😉
Peter and Paul Fortress
An interesting place rich of history, the original citadel of St Petersburg is a must-visit. You can also pay a small fee and walk on an elevated wall with spectacular views over the river Nevsky.
Free if you are a student. This museum, although extremely famous, is not as packed as the Vatican Museums in Rome. It was a pleasure to stroll around and I loved to chat to the ladies sat in each room. I say chat, but it was mostly them talking Russian to us and us enjoying a little bit of interaction with a local, even though not understanding a word.
There are many canals in St Petersburg and many people selling boat tours at each bridge; the majority of them are in Russian but there are some in English too. We took one in Russian and still enjoyed the fantastic scenery along the canals.
Where to eat?
A beautifully-decorated restaurant, with reasonable prices and an authentic atmosphere, which brings you back to soviet times. We ordered little pies as a starter (cabbage, onion, and others) and a selection of traditional foods.
This place is definitely touristic but touristy doesn’t always mean bad and this was the perfect combination of both a local and unique experience. The restaurant is set up as the nineteenth century flat of Nikolai Gogol, a Russian writer of Ukrainian origins and the rooms and waiters’ uniforms accordingly designed. It is better to book as the rooms are small and it is a very popular restaurant, understandably.
The food was top-notch and in my ignorant opinion, quite traditional. We ordered blinis with Arctic salmon and an Arctic fish tartare, that is the typical Russian pancakes, which do come from the French influence St Petersburg was under in the previous century. As we notice that people who looked more local than us for sure ordered vodka shots as they sat, we did the same. They were not drinking them as if you were on a stag do, but I could tell it was their culture, as we saw men with their families doing so. Apparently, it is common for Russians to drink vodka throughout the meal, which seemed to me like an amazing idea. Vodka was homemade and came in different flavours so we ordered the horseradish one to try and it was delicious!
Don’t forget to buy a Matryoshka or two or more for your return home 🙂