Departing the ship, you pass through immigration, before accessing the passenger terminal. Having read and heard of potential delays, we departed the ship well before our Alla Tours meeting time. However, this was one of the shortest and smoothest transits through immigration we have ever experienced. The Russian officials had every booth open, resulting in very short queues. We had 1 couple ahead of us, so within 5 minutes of departing the ship, we were in the passenger terminal, where we met the Alla Tours representatives.
An excellent start to 2 very busy days in St Petersburg, which I will cover in 4 posts.
Alla Tours had 20 passengers from our ship sign up for the 2-day Grand Tour. Unlike ship’s tours, that can include up to 50 people in a single bus, Alla provided 2 comfortable mini-buses, each with a guide and driver for our group of 20. The 2-day Grand Tour schedule included:
- Day # 1
- City drive along Neva River, with photo stops
- Subway ride
- Kazan Cathedral
- Heritage Museum at the Winter Palace (early entry)
- Church of the Spilled Blood
- St Issac’s Cathedral
- Yusupov Palace ( Gregory Rasputin)
- Return to ship
- Day # 2
- City drive – Palace Square, Russian Museum
- Canal cruise
- St Peter and Paul Fortress
- Catherine Palace
- Peterhof Palace
- Hydrofoil ride
- Return to ship
We were assigned to Elenna, who spoke exceptional English. While she works as a tour guide in summer, for the remainder of the year she is a Professor of English Language at St Petersburg University. She was a wealth of knowledge, as she talked almost continuously on the first day.
Cruise Terminal Grounds & Adjacent Apartments
Located on Vasilyevsky Island, the cruise terminal is adjacent to lands being developed with huge, high rise apartments. From the cruise terminal we drove about 4 miles through the mostly residential areas of the island, before reaching the Neva River.
Our first stop on University Embankment was at the St Petersburg State Academic Institute of Art, which has 2 sphinxes across the road and provides great views of English Embankment across the river.
St Petersburg State Academic Institute of Art
Estimated to be about 3,500 years old, the Sphinxes were purchased from Egypt in the 1830’s. The quay was constructed in 1834 to display the sphinxes, which weigh about 23 tons each.
Judi at Sphinxes Quay with St Issac’s Cathedral in background
A small selection of my photographs taken at Sphinx Quay.
Click on any photo to view a larger image
Returning to our bus, we continued along the river embankment, stopping at the Spit for Vasilievsky Island at the Rostral Columns. This spot is across the river from Winter Palace and Peter and Paul Fortress.
Tsar’s Winter Palace, now the Hermitage Museum
Peter and Paul Fortress & Cathedral
One of the Rostral Columns at Old Stock Exchange Building
Departing the columns, we crossed the river for the short drive to the Sportivnaya Metro Station, where we boarded the subway for the trip to Admiralteyskaya Station.
St Petersburg Metro
Entering Sportivnaya Metro Station
As the following photographs show, the subway system is much grander than similar systems in London, New York and Glasgow. Due to local river delta geology, it is the deepest subway system in the world, with Admiralteyskaya Station being over 280 feet below ground.
The subway journey was only 1 station, but the entire journey took about 1/2 hour. We recently travelled extensively on the London Tube, which we consider an excellent system, but St Petersburg, is simply stunning compared to London.
Driving along Nevsky Ave crossing Moyka River, one of many rivers & canals
Our driver picked us up just outside the station for the short hop down St Petersburg’s longest street – Nevsky Avenue, to Kazan Cathedral.
Nevsky Ave at 3 miles is St Petersburg’s longest street
Inspired by the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, it was constructed between 1801 and 1811, as the main Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The very impressive external colonnade, gardens and fountain were an impressive segue to a stunning interior.
Kazan Cathedral, gardens and fountain
No photography is permitted inside the cathedral, but I found a photo online.
Inside Kazan Cathedral – michael creasy
Departing the Cathedral, we took the short drive back along Nevsky Ave to the Winter Palace (State Hermitage Museum). General admission starts at Noon, but timed early admission tickets are available for tour groups. Armed with 09:45 tickets, we literally departed the bus and walked straight into the museum.
Winter Palace – State Hermitage Museum
From 1732 to 1917, the Winter Palace was home to the Russian Monarchs, but today the restored Palace is home to the State Hermitage Museum. One of the 5 largest art museums in the world, it comprises some of the finest art collections, containing about 3,000,000 exhibits.
Just cleared security looking at the Grand Staircase
We spent about 3 hours in the museum, with our guide Elenna providing a continuous commentary on both the palace and artwork. To be honest, while it was most impressive, we were somewhat overwhelmed, as it was way too much opulence and extensive artwork for such a short visit. To see the entire museum and do it justice would take many, many days, not a few hours.
Enjoy a very small sampling of the hundreds of photos I took in the museum.
Click on any photo to view a larger image
On arrival, the crowds were very reasonable, but once general admission opened it was extremely busy. Therefore, the early admission with a guided tour was an excellent perk.
After almost 3 hours of continuous walking, we headed to Feodor Dostoevsky Restaurant for an excellent lunch.
Next post – post lunch tour of St Issac’s Cathedral, Church of Spilled Blood and Yusupov Palace.