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orangedluv

St Petersburg on our own?

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We are planning to get a visa and explore St Petersburg on own within the 2 days we are docked in Russia. We think doing so will take more advantage of our time compared to being in a time-limited tour. Has anyone tried doing that and how was the difficulty in commuting on your own considering the language barrier? If you could send some tips please, thank you so much!

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Good luck to you.  I admire your willingness to try this.  We almost always do ports on our own, but St. Pete was one of the few ports I was not comfortable trying to do it without a tour.  I'd love to hear how it all works out for you.

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Have you priced out a private tour for just your family?   That worked very well for us.  You’d completely control the itinerary and minimize time lost in transit or other delays.  Ironically since our 3 year old was free on our tour, the private tour cost less for us than 3 visas would have cost.  

 

There are are people on these boards who have greatly enjoyed traveling independently to St. Petersburg.  The risk is that it isn’t one of the easier cities to navigate, and I’d hate to lose time there since there’s so much to see.  

 

The only advice id have is that some museum lines are only for large tour groups.  Our tour guide was able to take our group of 3 right past all of the lines. We didn’t expect this and lined up at the first museum.  Hopefully they’d let your party through Also without waiting.  Best of luck to you.  

Edited by kitkat343

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It can be done, but I personally wouldn't feel comfortable with it.  You also need to mail your passport to Russia many months in advance to get your Visa I believe and it might cost as much as a tour anyways.  

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I am from asia and we have a Russian embassy in my city so getting a visa wont be a problem. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 

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1 minute ago, Cali girl said:

It can be done, but I personally wouldn't feel comfortable with it.  You also need to mail your passport to Russia many months in advance to get your Visa I believe and it might cost as much as a tour anyways.  

I am from asia and we have a Russian embassy in my city so getting a visa wont be a problem. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

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23 minutes ago, kitkat343 said:

Have you priced out a private tour for just your family?   That worked very well for us.  You’d completely control the itinerary and minimize time lost in transit or other delays.  Ironically since our 3 year old was free on our tour, the private tour cost less for us than 3 visas would have cost.  

 

There are are people on these boards who have greatly enjoyed traveling independently to St. Petersburg.  The risk is that it isn’t one of the easier cities to navigate, and I’d hate to lose time there since there’s so much to see.  

 

The only advice id have is that some museum lines are only for large tour groups.  Our tour guide was able to take our group of 3 right past all of the lines. We didn’t expect this and lined up at the first museum.  Hopefully they’d let your party through Also without waiting.  Best of luck to you.  

Do you remember what tour company you hired? Thanks for all your help! :)

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Just now, Grant2000 said:

If you take a tour provided by your cruise company, you won't need to obtain your own visitor's visa.  Although this might be a little more expensive than entering Russia on your own, it'll be more convenient and less stressful.

 

https://cruiseports.ca/baltic/st-petersburg-russia.html

 

Tours for me are too restricted and really limits one's exploration so I wouldprefer not to which is why Im looking for advice on traveling around on own! Thanks for your advice tho

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You most definitely do not need to mail your passports to Russia 🙂

 

As to DIY vs. private tours, if the idea is to cram as many highlights as you humanly can, local tour companies are really hard to beat - their itineraries, logistics, and timings are honed to perfection.

As to independence factor - in a true "private tour" situation you should be almost just as free to do whatever you want as in DIY, you just have one extra person with you at all times. In that sense, having a guide that is not only knowledgeable but also compatible with you on a personal level is crucial if you are to enjoy your experience. There are many individual guides on Viator to choose from, just read the reviews (which, like any reviews, are best taken with a grain of salt), communicate with several, and make sure the one you choose can provide the "blanket visa" (a misnomer, basically they must be affiliated with an accredited company for you to enjoy the visa waiver).

 

All things considered, I would probably go with a tour as a first-time cruise visitor just to get a taste of the city,  and then, if you like it, get a visa and return for an in-depth exploration later.

 

IMG-d92df2b382c4af30b140b83b0a9e30e8-V.jpg

Edited by napoxoguk

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I'd suggest taking a look at the Tripadvisor St Petersburg forum; as you're probably seeing, most cruisers take a tour to take advantage of the blanket visa rule.  TripAdvisor tends to have more land travelers who are probably more likely to see the city on their own.

 

Good luck!  I strongly considered doing the same but eventually decided on a private tour as we're already doing the other ports on our own.

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I have been to Russia 2x and both times I needed a visa for my travels over there. Neither of these on a cruise ship. I will also add that while I don't speak Russian, I do have a year of college Russian behind me and can "read some". "Some" meaning little.

 

I honestly - would suggest that you book a private tour for your family and use their expertise to get around the city and to get into tourism sites quickly. I would not venture out out your own. Some sites are far between (Catherine's Palace and Peterhof) and lines at some of the places are very long. By having a tour guide with you, they can prevent you from spending hours in lines to get into these places. Two days in St. Petersburg is barely scraping the surface as far as things to do. If you do it on  your own, you will probably only see a fraction of what the other tours see.

Edited by Coral

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+1 to Coral’s excellent advice.

 

I predict that if you try to experience St.Petersburg on your own as a first-time visitor, what you will “experience” is long lines, missed attractions and a lot of frustration. 

 

Not all guided tours are the same.  We don’t enjoy guided tours either, but the non-ship group tours in St. Petersburg (Alla, SPB, TJ Travel, etc)  are limited to a manageable 16 people.  And if you are willing to spend more money, you can do an actual private tour. 

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Also be aware that those with ship's tours will be first through Russian immigration then everyone else.  So you might be waiting to exit the ship and wasting even more time before you can get out and explore on your own.

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Also bear in mind that some major sights are outside the city, requiring you to have a means of transport to get there. I am particularly thinking of Catherine’s Palace and Peterhof.

 

We had an excellent two day tour with SPB Tours.

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I went last summer, and at every major site, the lines for the regular public (tourists not with a tour company) were extremely long.  

The ship also said anyone not with a ship tour or a tour company would disembark last.  

We spoke to ship employees who went independently to explore, and travel from the port to the city was apparently not very convenient.  

So those factors could cut into exploration time.

Having said that, I went on a tour, and part of it was taking a Metro ride, and the subway system looked very easy to navigate.  Maybe because it was the World Cup, there were quite a few independent travellers around.

 

Edited by blakejared

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The top private tours (Alla, TJ etc.) have the tour logistics worked out perfectly.  Our guide said that we saw in 2 days what a normal tourist would see in 7 days DIY.   After experiencing the tour I believe her. 

 

With many of the private tours they have private entrance privileges - you will save hours of wait time!   A couple examples 1) we were dropped off with our guide and walked right into tour Catherine's Palace.  On our way out we saw the normal line full of people the last in line were at the 3 hours wait mark.  We were picked up right away and off to the next sight.  2) We took a Hydrofoil to Peterhof, only 15 minutes wait for the starting of the fountains show, after the tour of Peterhof the van was right there to pick us up and then we were off to the next stop. 

 

Our 2 days tour was USD 240 (Cruise Critic rate) which includes the cost of the Russian visa, 2 lunches, van, driver + guide for 2 full days.  So minus the visa fee the guided tour is just a little over $10 per hour.  Worth every penny IMHO.  I am sure you can DIY and save some $, have more flexibility in spending more time at places vs. a walk through.  What you will miss is the efficiency of a tour with a local as well as the non stop commentary throughout the tours.  We love doing DIY tours.  For the rest of our Baltic cruise we did most of the ports with details DIY tour plans.  I think St. Petersburg and Cuba are two cruise destinations that is best done with Private Guides.

 

Laurence

Edited by ebslcc

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On 10/25/2018 at 6:27 AM, orangedluv said:

We are planning to get a visa and explore St Petersburg on own within the 2 days we are docked in Russia. We think doing so will take more advantage of our time compared to being in a time-limited tour. Has anyone tried doing that and how was the difficulty in commuting on your own considering the language barrier? If you could send some tips please, thank you so much!

I have been to St. Petersburg multiple times and have no issues whatsoever getting around on my own. The metro is not difficult to use and if one has a good map, navigating the historic city center is, imho, easy. I am now on my second 3 year visa and usually spend upwards of 2-3 weeks at a time in Russia.

With that said, on my very first trip to St. Petersburg, we arrived via cruise ship without tourist visas. We booked our 2 day Grand Tour with Alla Tours - it was the best decision to maximize our limited time in the city. I agree with previous posters that a private tour is the way to go if you wish to see as much as possible during your limited stay. My advice would be to hire one of the excellent local tour companies.

If you are staying longer than 2-3 days or simply want to wander around on your own, snap some photos, experience some local cuisine & visit a few sights, I heartily recommend DIY. It is definitely not difficult to get around St. Petersburg.

Queues are long at the more popular sites (Hermitage, Catherine Palace, etc.) and, as has already been mentioned, some venues are located a distance from the city (ex: Peterhof, Catherine Palace).

If you are determined to DIY, feel free to email me & I will be happy to help. 

 

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On a cruise, a private tour is definitely the best option. If it is a real private tour, and not "small group", you can be quite flexible. If you want to stay somewhere longer than scheduled, it is usually doable. And I agree that it saves you heaps of time, as you don't have to figure out your way, navigate, line up, look for things etc.

I went there a couple of years ago with my family and did a private tour which we all loved. We are going back next summer, and I'm going to arrange a private tour again and see what was left behind the first time.

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I would not say that flexibility means just skipping something from the itinerary. We saw everything we wanted, and were never rushed or pressed. I loved the personality of the tour, as our guide was quite responsive to our interests, and this is what I call flexibility, too. However, I agree that small group tours can be also enjoyable and a good value for money. To me, I don't regret a single dollar I paid, we had a fantastic experience!

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we toured SP on our own. I would say DO IT. It is not as scary as ones on the board would have you think. Just plan well.Do some research as to what you want to see and do it . you will have no time restrictions, you will need to start early and you will be out late.  You can take breaks where and when you like. you can go into a cafe and and have a pastry and coffee. You will get the local vib of the community and yes people do speak english and they will help you find your way. It was concerning to start but jump in and enjoy! You will realize getting off the ship is not as difficult as read here, the lines at the ports to clear customs are not any worse than any airport , in fact I do not think we waited more than 5 minutes and we cleared customs in 15 ( the agents do not smile and are very serious)  We had NO problems! People on this board can not speak of what seeing this city is on foot, just as I can not say what it is like to see this city from a tour bus. Having a tour guide in the Hermitage would have been nice but not having to be there at any particular time was better.  we wondered the streets, waterways, bridges , churches ,  and parks of SP!   We are a family of 7 ( 2 reasonably fit adults, 3 teenagers and 2 10 year olds)  It was a bit confusing to get oriented to the city, the port is away from city center. Only a short bus ride ( the stop is literally right outside the port door!) and then a meto stop or two, it is in tour books.  When we got off the ship we came across other independent travelers and also so ship staff taking a day off this was comforting and helpful the first day but not needed the second. ( have small change for bus is needed to start, in our case they took 1 US dollar each I think the guy just pocketed this after that we had rubles )   SP is quit big be ready.  There is excellent subway/ meto lines, it is easy to navigate and quite simple to use (I think we could use a card to purchase tix at a window from an agent)  The stations  ARE spectacular. we got on and off at several just to see the platforms and artwork.  The bus stop is just outside the terminal and just outside the metro station ( familiarize yourself with what the meto sign looks like and bus sign and you will not have a concern.)   We do not speak Russian but had a map in English , i think in the trains  the map is both Russian and English. If you are half way seasoned with respect to travel you can do this. We did not go to the catherine museum or peterof , too far out . We did see the tour company walk thru of the museums, we did see several very beautiful sub way stops , we toured the Hermitage museum late in the day with no line to get tickets, ( in fact we thought we were in the wrong place because there was not a long line)  and a museum not any more crowded than any other museum I have been in. We used a online guide to direct us thru the museum ( it is huge and we did get a bit lost in it's vastness but that is not a complaint we stumbled across things / rooms the tour did not mention. We exited on a side of the museum we did not expect and got to see part of SP we did not realize. we easily got back on course and continued our literary. .  . We walked A LOT but we also saw A LOT.  one would miss details on a drive by. we bargained a great deal on a canal cruise that ended up being a private tour. I am sure having someone tell you about the sites is way more convenient but a good tour book has the same info! you just have to read it yourself. GO FOR IT ! IT IS NOT THAT SCARY! 

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you can get access to these "side entrances" if you buy your tickets in advance ( on line) these seem to be pre purchase doors. you will see this if you do research and get tickets online your ticket will direct you to a door that is sometimes away from the main entry.   i recall a lot of attractions had "side entrances" for pre purchased ticket holders.   

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1 hour ago, charlie murphy said:

we toured SP on our own. I would say DO IT. It is not as scary as ones on the board would have you think. Just plan well.Do some research as to what you want to see and do it . you will have no time restrictions, you will need to start early and you will be out late.  You can take breaks where and when you like. you can go into a cafe and and have a pastry and coffee. You will get the local vib of the community and yes people do speak english and they will help you find your way. It was concerning to start but jump in and enjoy! You will realize getting off the ship is not as difficult as read here, the lines at the ports to clear customs are not any worse than any airport , in fact I do not think we waited more than 5 minutes and we cleared customs in 15 ( the agents do not smile and are very serious)  We had NO problems! People on this board can not speak of what seeing this city is on foot, just as I can not say what it is like to see this city from a tour bus. Having a tour guide in the Hermitage would have been nice but not having to be there at any particular time was better.  we wondered the streets, waterways, bridges , churches ,  and parks of SP!   We are a family of 7 ( 2 reasonably fit adults, 3 teenagers and 2 10 year olds)  It was a bit confusing to get oriented to the city, the port is away from city center. Only a short bus ride ( the stop is literally right outside the port door!) and then a meto stop or two, it is in tour books.  When we got off the ship we came across other independent travelers and also so ship staff taking a day off this was comforting and helpful the first day but not needed the second. ( have small change for bus is needed to start, in our case they took 1 US dollar each I think the guy just pocketed this after that we had rubles )   SP is quit big be ready.  There is excellent subway/ meto lines, it is easy to navigate and quite simple to use (I think we could use a card to purchase tix at a window from an agent)  The stations  ARE spectacular. we got on and off at several just to see the platforms and artwork.  The bus stop is just outside the terminal and just outside the metro station ( familiarize yourself with what the meto sign looks like and bus sign and you will not have a concern.)   We do not speak Russian but had a map in English , i think in the trains  the map is both Russian and English. If you are half way seasoned with respect to travel you can do this. We did not go to the catherine museum or peterof , too far out . We did see the tour company walk thru of the museums, we did see several very beautiful sub way stops , we toured the Hermitage museum late in the day with no line to get tickets, ( in fact we thought we were in the wrong place because there was not a long line)  and a museum not any more crowded than any other museum I have been in. We used a online guide to direct us thru the museum ( it is huge and we did get a bit lost in it's vastness but that is not a complaint we stumbled across things / rooms the tour did not mention. We exited on a side of the museum we did not expect and got to see part of SP we did not realize. we easily got back on course and continued our literary. .  . We walked A LOT but we also saw A LOT.  one would miss details on a drive by. we bargained a great deal on a canal cruise that ended up being a private tour. I am sure having someone tell you about the sites is way more convenient but a good tour book has the same info! you just have to read it yourself. GO FOR IT ! IT IS NOT THAT SCARY! 

What a great experience! Thanks for sharing!
Just wanted to add that with our private tour we also had the chance to stop at cafes for coffee when we wanted, or just at random places for photos. The tours are not that strict and fixed, as one may think. It is just thinking a little bit ahead and planning what you want to see in advance.

You just confirm what I heard from our agent that the better time to go to the Hermitage is in the afternoon. At first I thought of the early admission, but they said it is packed with the huge tour groups in the morning...

We would probably not make it to Peterhoff or Catherine's Palace without an organized tour. It is really quite a distance, and I heard about the difficulties with getting tickets. I am glad we saw them, they were both gorgeous, but that's only my personal experience.

Seems like almost everyone loves St Petersburg no matter what way they choose to explore it 🙂

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6 hours ago, Lagerta said:

You will realize getting off the ship is not as difficult as read here, the lines at the ports to clear customs are not any worse than any airport , in fact I do not think we waited more than 5 minutes and we cleared customs in 15 ( the agents do not smile and are very serious) 

Ship tours are allowed to disembark the ship before any independent tour groups or visa holders. This change was instituted during the last cruise season. Depending on how big your ship, how many ships in port & month of arrival, disembarkation can now take upwards of 2 hours! How fortunate for you in that you were able to disembark is such a timely manner.

Yes, the immigration agents do not smile - this is true of the agents at Pulkovo (airport) and the cruise terminal.

IMHO, a huge benefit of securing your own visa is the ability to stay in the city in the evening - great places to eat & shopping is open until 10 pm. Additionally, the Hermitage is open until 10 pm on Wednesday & Friday (closes at 6 pm the rest of the week & closed on Monday).

Edited by dogs4fun

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7 hours ago, charlie murphy said:

you can get access to these "side entrances" if you buy your tickets in advance ( on line) these seem to be pre purchase doors. you will see this if you do research and get tickets online your ticket will direct you to a door that is sometimes away from the main entry.   i recall a lot of attractions had "side entrances" for pre purchased ticket holders.   

 

Sorry, my error - removed.

Edited by dogs4fun

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