This mammoth 3 days in St Petersburg itinerary (and city guide in general) has taken me ages to write up. But it’s been so worth it to share all of my recommendations on what to do, see and eat in this gorgeous Russian city. Having spent an incredible 2 weeks in Russia this year and absolutely LOVING it, I’m now ready to convince everyone I know that they have to go.
I actually spent nearly a week in St Petersburg after visiting Moscow, but only had a solid 3 days of full-on itinerary blocked in. The rest of the time, we winged it and found extra things as we went. So although you could cram all of this into 3 days and whiz through the city using it, you could also spread it out over longer. St Petersburg involves a lot of walking and you might want a few ‘rest days’.
Oh and I’m also writing up a whopping guide to travel in Russia generally. It’s going to feature everything from how to get a Russian visa, to general food and drink tips, to safety stuff. So I’ll link that here when it’s done too.
Anyway, enough waffle from me. Get your glass of vodka and get reading 3 days in St Petersburg itinerary and city guide…
3 days in St Petersburg itinerary: day 1
Getting your bearings around Nevsky Prospekt
So it’s day 1 and you’re up and out and ready to explore. Please note that I’m not including breakfast places in this because if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to sort that in your hotel or buy stuff to eat in your apartment.
The obvious place to start getting your bearings in St Petersburg is the bustling heart of the city, Nevsky Prospekt. It’s the main street, with loads going on and the inevitable accompanying crowds. If you’re not a fan of touristy areas, don’t let the hordes put you off. It’s worth seeing and the rest of the city isn’t as manic at all, so you only have to put up with it for this part. There are so many gorgeous buildings around the centre. One of my favourites was the bright pink Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace at Anichkov Bridge, so keep an eye out for that.
You’ll also notice plenty of shops and department stores around here. Regular readers will know that I adore shopping but I wouldn’t recommend looking in any of them here. It’s all expensive and anything affordable is just what you could get at home or anywhere so is a waste of time, like Zara.
Generally, I’d say to set aside an hour to take in the sights and sounds of the Nevsky Prospekt area on foot. You’ll naturally cover more of it during your time in St Petersburg, too. The best way to really get into the city is to do the following…
Ah, the instant regret of a boat tour in any major city. You’re feeling nice and warm, enjoying wearing a t-shirt and then decide it’s a good idea to go out onto freezing cold open water to experience a gale-force wind that you had no idea existed… But it’s a fact that a boat tour is a really nice way of understanding the layout and main sights of a city, especially one as big as St Petersburg, where you couldn’t easily cover it on foot in a short trip.
I massively recommend the English-language boat tour we found called Anglo Tourismo. Strangely, this was one thing we’d not researched beforehand and ended up picking it then and there based on a quick check online. You can buy tickets at the booth on Anichkov Bridge for about 1,200 rubles.
It was excellent, and I wasn’t even that cold. Sort of. Definitely a good thing to do on your first day, and if you only have 2 or 3 days in St Petersburg, you’re going to see lots of the city from a beautiful perspective without wasting too much time getting about.
Lunch: Eliseyev Emporium
After your boat tour, it’ll no doubt be time for lunch. It’s only a short walk to Eliseyev Emporium, the most unique experience I had in St Petersburg.
It’s a sort of café meets food hall within an Art Nouveau building (1902/3) on Nevsky Prospekt, with a very distinctive facade and all sorts of madness going on in the window displays. There are lots of animated characters playing in a band in the window, which means you get people stood outside watching. They’re not usually queuing to get in, so don’t be deterred.
Inside, you’re met with a sort of tsar-ist opulence. There are deli counters selling all sorts of bakery goods, chocolates, meats, cheeses and wines, all set against the usual Russian amount of gold. Everything is dipped in gold! It’s so extra. I love it. Imagine a Russian version of Harrod’s but a million times more exciting. Oh and featuring a giant pineapple-like palm tree as a centrepiece with tables set around it. Of course.
If it’s your first visit to Russia or you just want to fully get into the experience, go for traditional herring and potatoes with vodka. Once you’ve had lunch, it’s also a good place to pick up presents for home because there are lots of small tinned goods and mini vodkas that will fit nicely into your luggage.
Walk off your lunch by heading out of the city via the Summer Palace and Gardens. If you don’t want to walk, get the metro to Gostiny Dvor station, cross Nevsky Prospekt and head up Sadovaya Ulitsa until you get to St. Michael’s Castle. One of the two entrances is just behind the castle, across the canal.
The Summer Garden was especially gorgeous when I was there, featuring lots of amazing floral archways designed for people to pose in front of for photographs. Classic Russia – everyone is always posing for a photo. I never feel daft there getting pictures for the blog!
There are loads of fountains here too, if you’re into them. The actual Summer Palace is pretty modest by Russian standards (wait until you see the normal palaces further down this blog post…). It’s a Dutch-inspired two-storey house really, but pretty nonetheless. It was completed in 1714 and Peter the Great moved in with his fam. It’s now a museum, featuring some of their furniture and clothes and that. We didn’t go in because it was such a hot day that I didn’t want to waste the sunshine by being inside, but I imagine it’d be worth popping in if you wanted.
Peter and Paul Fortress
After wandering through the gardens, head to the Peter and Paul Fortress. It’s a 20-minute walk over the bridge, or the nearest metro station to the fortress is Gorkovskaya and you can get there from Nevskiy Prospekt on line 2, then walk to the fortress from Gorkovskaya. The whole thing should take about 25 mins.
Inside the fortress, the main spectacle is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, which is made of lovely yellow brickwork and set in a big courtyard. There are plenty of other buildings too and a museum, but the best things are just walking around taking it all in and the view looking across the water to the ‘mainland’.
If you want to stop for a drink and cake at the fortress, I’d recommend Korushka. It could easily be an awful touristy rip off given its location, but it’s actually lovely.
Hare today, gone tomorrow
To enter the Peter and Paul Fortress, you walk across Ioannovsky Bridge. You’ll see a log sticking out of the water with a little bronze sculpture of a hare on it. The island that the fortress is on is known as Hare Island, hence this little guy cropping up a lot there.
Before humans came along and plonked a massive fortress on it, the island was mostly a swamp and home to lots of hares minding their own business. Legend has it that during a particularly bad flood, a hare was afraid of drowning and leaped into Peter the Great’s boot (he of Summer Palace fame). The hare was then saved, and the island got its name. But they still destroyed the hares’ home by building all over it because humans. ANYWAY. The hare sculpture in the water has a tradition attached to it. You have to try to throw a coin onto the top of the log the hare stands on. If the coin lands on it and doesn’t roll off, your wish will be granted!
Evening meal and drinks in New Holland Island
It’s easiest to get a Yandex taxi to New Holland if you’re tired, but the nearest metro is Admiralteyskaya if you’ve got the energy left for a 30-minute walk.
Anyway. Hello, another island. But a lot different and more modern than the Hare Island.
New Holland Island was human-made in the 1700s as a naval port, but it now looks like an image you’d expect to find in the dictionary under ‘hipster redevelopment’. Although it’s obviously meant to be like Holland, it felt just like being in Scandinavia and had a big Copenhagen vibe to it, which I obviously loved as that’s my favourite city ever.
There’s a circular courtyard full of eateries and bars, canals, outdoor seating, a communal herb garden (of course!), a little boating lake, and some gorgeous independent shops. Have I mentioned yet how good the fashion is in Russia? I think I banged on about it quite a lot in my Moscow posts. There’s also lots of stuff going on like theatre productions and gigs on a pavilion, and seasonal things as well. As I’m writing this (months after my summer visit), there’s apparently an ice rink in the gardens there.
By the time you’ve mooched round the shops and grounds of New Holland, you’ll probably be ready for a feed. I really loved Pho N Roll, for Vietnamese street food. If you’re there in summer, take your scran to the outdoor seats for a good people-watching opportunity. Because everyone is so well dressed in Russia, the whole place is just made for a good people-watch. Then after eating, I highly recommend a frolic and photo opportunity in the herb garden…
3 days in St Petersburg itinerary: day 2
Day trip: Tsarskoye Selo and the very extra Catherine Palace
Day 2 and it’s day trip out time. Brace yourself for this one. It’s a biggie, in every sense.
I think Tsarskoye Selo is probably the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen and definitely the best palace ever. Soz Versailles and Schönbrunn, but you’ve got nothing on this bad boy.
I liked it much better than St Petersburg’s other palace, Peterhof (see further down this post). So if you’re debating between the two, this one gets my vote, for what it’s worth.
Getting to Tsarskoye Selo
Take the suburban train from Vitebsk Station to Pushkin Station, which takes about 30 mins. You can then walk (it’s a bit of a trek) or get the bus, either 371 or 382, to the park gates.
At the time of writing (but do check), the interior of the palace is closed on Tuesdays and the last Monday of each month. We went on a Tuesday because I’m not that into interiors (although obviously Catherine’s gaff is bound to be spectacular and features a whole room of amber) and the weather was great so we wanted to be outside. This meant that it was a LOT quieter than it would be on a day when the palace itself is open.
As you can see from the photos, it wasn’t crowded at all and that’s what I’m all about.
A bit about the palace
Tsarskoye Selo is actually the name of the town the palace is in but a lot of people seem to call the palace it too. To confuse matters further, the town is also known as Pushkin.
The palace itself is actually called Catherine Palace, after Catherine I of Russia, who obviously had amazing bougie taste in Rococo architecture and an addiction to painting everything gold. I definitely approve.
I don’t know if it was helped by the 28-degree heat and sunshine, but when we entered the palace grounds and saw this beast, I was pure flabbergasted. Just look at it! I knew it was going to be blue (and obvs wore a blue maxi dress to blend in) but not that blue. And all the gold! Incredible scenes.
“Oh hi, come in! Yeah, we’ve had a bit of work done on the porch. Just a lick of paint really.”
The grounds of the Catherine Palace (and lunch)
Having taken roughly 721 photos of the palace itself, we headed into its huge grounds (1,400 acres). As much as I loved the palace building itself, the grounds are absolutely stunning. There are various buildings in them like a pavilion and a boathouse, all in the matching blue and gold design. Then there’s a gorgeous big lake you can walk around, before entering into pinewoods and meadows with streams flowing through them.
All the meadowland in the grounds was really the highlight for me. It felt like we’d entered another world, some kind of fairytale idyll. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good if it had been full of people, which is another thumbs-up for coming on a Tuesday.
We spent hours walking through the grounds, only breaking it up by popping into the on-site café for lunch, which was inside a boathouse on the edge of a lake. It was called the Admiralty Restaurant (linking to TripAdvisor there as it doesn’t seem to have its own website).
Viewing Tsarskoye Selo from a rooftop vodka bar
After spending pretty much the entire day walking (30,000 steps!) round the palace grounds, I was crippled by my sandals and in need of a sit.
We stumbled across this bar, which also happened to be hosting a wedding downstairs. Tempting as it was to do a Busted and crash that, we instead went to the rooftop bar. It was in a sort of little tower and you could see for miles from the top. I can’t find the name of it (Google just lists ‘Vodka bar’!) but if you want to find it, it’s here. I highly recommend it for the views, if not the vodka. Soz Russia, I just can’t enjoy it on its own, as much as I tried…
After forcing down some vodka, admiring the view, and completely ruining my hair in the wind up there, it was time to limp back to the train station and head back into the centre.
Evening meal: back on the brilliant Georgian cuisine
After completely falling in love with Georgian food in Moscow the week before, I’d researched a few Georgian places to have it again in St Petersburg. By far my favourite was Kakha Bar, which was right by where we were staying.
Before I went to Russia, I’d heard loads about the Russian’s deep-rooted love affair with Georgian cuisine. Georgian food involves loads of veggie/vegan options, including delicious dips/hummus and all sorts of creations involving aubergines, so I was very excited about this. It lived up to expectations both in Moscow and in St Petersburg. It’s also some of the most beautiful food ever in terms of presentation, especially at Kakha Bar.
I was so glad this place was very close to our apartment… with the ridiculous quantity of food and having crippled myself walking 30,000 steps in sandals, I was in no state to venture far afterwards.
3 days in St Petersburg itinerary: day 3
Grand Maket Russia: the best model railway in the world
Even if you think you have zero interest in model railways, this should impress you.
Grand Maket is Russia’s answer to Germany’s Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, all 800 m² of it. Miniatur Wunderland is Germany’s most popular tourist attraction and famous around the world as being the best model railway ever. When we went, I was very impressed with it. But I have to say, St Petersburg outdid it with Grand Maket. The attention to detail was better, the crowd control was better (no hordes of screaming kids pushing in) and it had far more amusing little scenes in it that really appealed to me.
How to visit Grand Maket model railway
Tickets cost 480 rubles, and the ticket office is open from 10.00 to 19.30. It’s out of the way but easy to get to by taking the metro to station Moskovskiye Vorota, then walking. You can easily spend an hour or more there.
Whereas Miniatur Wunderland focuses on different European cities, Grand Maket covers Russia’s vast and varied terrain. All of Russia’s time zones are included, as well as all the major cities. Like I said further up, it has way more amusing little scenes. I’ve included some of them below.
There was a funeral, a woman kicking her husband out of their apartment and chucking his clothing out of the window, the tourist boat tour as mentioned in this post further up full of people taking pictures, lots of car accidents, a tree surgeon cutting the branch off he’s sitting on (labelled simply ‘idiot’ and comes from a famous Russian proverb ‘do not saw the branch you’re sitting on’!), and best of all, Putin riding a bear naked through the Russian wilderness. These are just a few of them, but there are loads more I didn’t manage to capture on camera.
It’s honestly so so good. There are plenty of buttons you can press as you go round, which set off things like discos in clubs, fire engines squirting water onto blazing buildings, and a steam train pumping out real smoke that you could actually smell!
The light goes from day, to evening, to night, to morning again at around 15-minute intervals, so you get to see different things depending on the ‘time’. I could have spent all day there.
I particularly loved the apartment blocks against the glass so you could see inside them and all the decor and what the people were up to. It reminded me of Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge books only with humans instead of mice. I appreciate this is a niche reference that will alienate 99% of my readership. You’re welcome.
Lunch: a Soviet-style experience in a ‘stolovaya’
If you’ve not already done a stolovaya in Russia, now’s your chance. Stolovaya #1 is my stolovaya of choice in St Petersburg. You can get to it from Grand Maket by taking the metro from Tsvetochnaya to Nevsky Prospekt and then a short walk.
Stolovayas are self-service canteens that are popular with Russians and tourists alike. They’re ridiculously cheap, the food is simple but delicious and I couldn’t believe what a good quality sizeable meal you can get for around £4.
Also, they’re an important part of Soviet history so it’s interesting to still be able to visit them. They started in the 1920s as a new programme of public catering facilities. Today, despite McDonalds and the like being everywhere, locals still flock to stolovayas.
Point at what you want or load it into your own tray as you go around. No botched attempts at Russian required! I highly recommend finding some traditional Russian brioche pies. I became dangerously obsessed with those during our trip, as all my skinny jeans will attest too. If you’re only doing 2 or 3 days in St Petersburg, I recommend at least one of these a day…
Time for the big daddy: the state Hermitage
Now, there are two options here:
- If your trip to St Petersburg includes being there on a Wednesday/Friday, you’re in luck. The Hermitage is open late on those days (or it is at the time of writing – do check!) so you have the option to do it in the evening until 21.00. Evenings are apparently a bit quieter. But also, because it’s all indoors, it’s a good use of an evening when it may be darker and colder outside. So if you can do the late-opening option, I’d save your last afternoon to do some shopping and then do the Hermitage later on. Side note: My shopping centre of choice in St Petersburg is this one: it’s easy to get to and it has a massive branch of Reserved, which I adore and we only have online in the UK. More on shopping in Russia in my Moscow post.
- If your trip doesn’t include being there on a Wednesday/Friday, 100% use your last afternoon to do the Hermitage and do something else in the evening after it (my suggestion would be drinking craft beer).
For the sake of this being a flexible itinerary, I’m going to carry on writing as if it’s not a Wednesday/Friday. I hope all this makes sense.
How to visit the Hermitage
Anyway, late-opening options aside, let’s discuss the Hermitage! If you’re wondering about the name, by the way, obviously it’s not home to a hermit. But it was initially given this name because of its exclusivity. In its early days, only very few people were allowed to visit. Now, it’s full of tourists. But don’t let that put you off. It’s one of the best things I saw in Russia.
It’s quite the spectacle and bloody massive. So you’ll need at least 2 hours to tackle even a portion of it. It’s the second-largest museum in the world (after the Louvre), so get your Converse or similar comfy shoes on for this one.
We bought tickets on the door, but you can book online (which is slightly more expensive at 700 rubles per person).
To get there, take the metro to Admiralteyskaya and walk from there. It’s not far at all, which is a good thing because the Hermitage itself involves a lot of trotting to get around its insane amount of rooms.
Much like the Catherine Palace, you’re in for a lot of gold in the Hermitage. And a lot of very impressive ceilings, chandeliers and walls. I don’t even know where to begin describing it. You just have to go. You’ll never see everything in one afternoon/evening, so if you’re particularly interested in something then do a bit of research on the official website before you go and pick up a map at the entrance.
Look out for the giant solid gold peacock clock. There’s a sentence I wasn’t ever expecting to type. It’s a mechanical beast that does a display to show the time, although they don’t seem to have it running, probably to preserve it.
You can do organised tours of the Hermitage, but for once I wouldn’t recommend that. It’s really good to wander it at your own pace. Personally, I can’t stick portraits of old dead kings and whatnot, so whizzed past that kind of stuff to spend more time with the more interesting things like the Malachite room (see photo above with the green thing), the Jordan staircase, and the Pavilion room. The Raphael Loggia (below) was another highlight. There was loads of ancient stuff on the ground floor that we didn’t even contemplate doing. So pick whatever you like and focus on that. It’s all incredibly impressive.
Evening meal: Mickey & Monkeys
I found the gorgeous Mickey & Monkeys place through a recommendation from another travel blogger. I can’t for the life of me remember who it was, so if it was you, THANK YOU. We adored this place. After being absolutely overwhelmed and knackered from traipsing round the Hermitage, we were starving.
The nearest metro stop is Spasskaya.
Mickey & Monkeys does burgers, freakshakes (you know those OTT milkshakes made for Instagram), cocktails, and incredible cakes/desserts. It’s not traditional Russian, but at this point in the trip I’d done a lot of that so was interested in where the hipster locals go. And seemingly, they were all in here. I’ve never seen so many beards and jam jars in one restaurant.
The food was glorious, and really reasonably priced. The decor was equally gorgeous. Exposed brick, a golden fake dinosaur skeleton hanging above the bar, chess-board-style tiled floors, and huge floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto the street outside. Again, perfect for a people watch. They also did a great Aperol Spritz and an even greater lavender eclair, which I deffo didn’t need after seeing off a giant veggie burger. But when on holiday…
Evening drinks: craft beer o’clock
I highly recommend sampling St Petersburg’s craft beer scene at some point during your St Petersburg itinerary. Some of my favourite bars around the city included:
- BeerGeek – nearest metro: Mayakovskaya (This was my favourite. Excellent sours and the staff were great!)
- TopHops – nearest metro: Dostoyevskaya
- BeerHERE – nearest metro: Chkalovskaya
- BottleNeck Beer Authority – nearest metro: Admiralteyskaya.
Russia is such a craft beer destination and I don’t know why this isn’t more well known here in the UK. I don’t think it’ll stay a secret for much longer. Both Moscow and Saint Petersburg have a massively established scene with lots of cool bars and microbreweries you can’t get elsewhere. Really interesting and great for my personal favourite, sours.
And if you have an extra day or want to do another day trip from St Petersburg…
Day trip: Peterhof Summer Palace and Gardens
Peterhof is a stunning palace and estate, but have to admit, I much preferred the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The colour was more striking, the grounds were wilder (can’t get enough of those meadows), and the crowds (because of our tactical timing) were a lot thinner.
Peterhof is still hugely impressive though, like Versaille with extra fountains. Seriously, the fountains are something else. Apparently there are over 60 of them. Note that they’re only switched on from early May to early October, so it would be a less exciting fountainy experience in other months.
Like the Catherine Palace, Peterhof can take up most of the day. It’s also on the water, so that’s a really nice added bonus, but be aware it’s absolutely FULL of mosquitoes.
How to get to Peterhof
There are a few options but the main two are:
- the train from Baltiskiy Station to Novy Peterhof (45 mins) then walk (about 20 mins) or get a bus (about 10 mins) to the gates
- the hydrofoil from the Hermitage wharf, across the Gulf of Finland, to the jetty (about 30 mins); this option is only available in summer so do check.
We got the train as it was less busy. All the tourists seemed to opt for the seafaring option. Note that the train was kind of like being in an oven in 30-degree heat, so if you’re there in the height of summer do bear that in mind.
And if you’re in St Petersburg in June, aim for White Nights
I’ve tried not to make this St Petersburg itinerary too time-dependent, but I can’t finish it off without mentioning this.
One of the most surreal things about visiting St Petersburg this summer was experiencing the White Nights.
This is the period during summer when the city stays light late into the night, with very white skies. It was about 23.30 in this picture below! White Nights usually runs through mid-June to the beginning of July, but do check because specific start/end dates vary each year. During the period, the city is alive 24 hours a day and museums/restaurants/bars all stay open later, while festivals and gigs go on. If you’re only doing 2 or 3 days in St Petersburg, doing it during White Nights is a proper experience.
The city’s drawbridges get raised in the night, taking boat cruises on the Neva River after 1am. This is a big deal and people flock to watch the bridges go up, but if you’re knackered from walking all day then it’s good just to wander the city’s many canals earlier in the night. There’s a proper hyped-up atmosphere and everyone is in a sort of euphoria, having lost all sense of time.
3 days in St Petersburg itinerary – useful information for your trip
Where to stay in St Petersburg
I can’t recommend where we stayed enough. Grey House is a gorgeous set of apartments on Rubinshteyna. Ours was the red apartment and it had a traditional Russian stove, a huge bed, big en suite and a huge fitted wardrobe for all our rubbish. It was decorated in a sort of modern take on traditional Russian and I LOVED it.
The location couldn’t have been better because it was in a courtyard of apartments set back off Rubinshteyna street, so really quiet, yet the street had all the best bars and places to eat just outside. It’s on the third floor of the apartment block, but there’s a very old lift in full working order for getting luggage up and down.
We had a superior double room because we were feeling extra (about £75 per night) but you can do a normal double for £57 per night. Breakfast can be included but we opted out.
I very rarely rave about places to stay but this one and where we stayed in Moscow were both great, so I was pretty happy with Russian accommodation overall.
How to get around St Petersburg
St Petersburg is famous for its metro system. I wouldn’t say it’s as exciting as Moscow’s if you’ve been there too, but it did the trick and some of the stations are almost as stunning. Each trip is 45 rubles. We got a 5-day pass for our trip, but they do various options, including a 3-day one (which I think was 340 rubles) for if you’re only doing 3 days in St Petersburg.
We also ended up using the trolley buses a bit, which were really handy. A ticket is 40 rubles and you pay as you get on usually.
When to go to St Petersburg
We went in June and it was HOT. I mean, hot. Think 30 degrees in the evening. I actually loved the heat, despite being sick from it one of the days. It wasn’t humid and gross and I got to wear dresses with no tights every day. But if you’re not into fake tanning/shaving your legs every day (it did get a bit much TBH) and would prefer to be slightly less sweaty, I imagine the shoulder seasons would be a nice temperature – May or September maybe.
The biggest draw for going in June is of course White Nights. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that choice, sweat included.
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- 4 days in Moscow, Russia: a city guide and itinerary
- Things to do in St Petersburg, Russia [coming soon]
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