St. Petersburg is known as the cultural capital of Russia. While the city is only just 315 years old, the amount of history per square meter is astounding. Choosing what to see in 3 days in St Petersburg Russia is no easy task! The number of art museums, monuments, performances, and festivals can simply be overwhelming. The size of the city and the distances you’ll have to cover might come as a surprise as well. It is a true megapolis: a vibrant, alive 24-hours a day kind of city. After all, St. Petersburg has more than 5 million residents!
That is why I recommend spending at least a week in St Petersburg which would allow you to get a better idea of the city, combine relaxing pastimes with intensive cultural activities, enjoy the local foodie scene and explore some of the best day trips from St. Petersburg.
But in case you’re doing a cruise throughout the Baltics and have a 72-hour visit permit (that’s how long you’re allowed to visit the city without a Russian visa), or if you’re stopping by on your way to Moscow, this guide will help you to get the most out of your short visit. I’ve taken into account the most common hours of arrival (you disembark the ship around 9:00 AM) and departure (6:00 PM). P.S.: if you’re headed to Moscow, take a look at my list of unusual things to do in Moscow.
NB: I was born in St. Petersburg and lived there until my recent move to Amsterdam. I know the city pretty well given its size and all my tips and insiders are based on personal knowledge 🙂 With that said, since it’s my hometown, I didn’t take any landmark pictures lately which is why in this post I used only stock photos that tell the story of my favorite city in the best possible way. Ok, let’s go!
Here are the contents of today's post:
- 1 Getting to St Petersburg Russia city center
- 2 What To Do In St. Petersburg Russia When You’re Short On Time
- 3 Day one in St Petersburg: Walking tour of the center’s highlights
- 3.1 Explore the St. Petersburg Metro stations
- 3.2 Walk the length of Nevsky from Vosstaniya Square
- 3.3 Hop on a canals tour on Griboedova Embankment
- 3.4 Go book shopping in the Singer House
- 3.5 Admire the colorful cupolas of the Church of the Savior on Blood
- 3.6 Spot the Gogol monument on Malaya Konushennaya
- 3.7 Visit the stunning Kazan Cathedral
- 3.8 Circle the Admiralty on your way to the Palace embankment
- 3.9 See the Bronze Horseman statue of Tzar Peter I facing the Neva river
- 3.10 Walk to St. Isaac’s Cathedral and climb to the top of the collonade
- 4 Day 2 in St Petersburg: Your Cultural Experience
- 5 Day 3 in St Petersburg: Get to know the city’s history
Getting to St Petersburg Russia city center
Yay, your 3 days in St Petersburg have started! But how the hell do you get to the city center? Depending on your point of arrival, I’ve laid out the most comfortable and effective options, which also includes public transportation (although buses are a great ordeal for tourists).
How to get to St. Petersburg city center from Pulkovo airport
Getting from the airport to the city center by public transport is a bit of a hassle. There is no intercity train yet, which means that you’ll have to take a bus or a commercial bus from the airport to Moskovskaya metro station, at the bottom of the blue metro line.
From there, you will have to buy a metro ticket which is currently 40 rubles. Additional charges might apply depending on your luggage. The fastest option to get to Moskovskaya is to take the commercial bus K39. That would take 15 to 20 minutes. The price is 40 rubles and the buses leave every 5 minutes from 07:00 to 23:30. The commute to the city center would take an hour at the very least.
Taxi is the best option if you value convenience and speed. Especially since taxi fares in St Petersburg are a great deal lower than Europe.
When booking a Taxovichkof cab online, you will pay 780 rubles to get to Nevsky Prospekt metro station from Pulkovo 1. That is around 12 dollars but since the exchange rate fluctuates all the time, you might have to do your due diligence.
Yandex Taxi will cost only 541 rubles. Avoid costly charges by downloading the app instead of booking a cab at the airport. They always charge triple the usual cost. And please remember that the quotes might depend on the time of day so it might be a bit more expensive than stated here.
How to get to the city center from St Petersburg cruise port
Unlike the picture above, most cruise liners arrive at Passenger Port Marine Facade, located at 1 Bereg Nevskoy gubi V.O. If you want to get to the city center by public transport, take the №158 bus to Primorskaya station which leaves every 30 minutes from the bus stop at Terminal 1, pier 7.
Once you arrive, you will have to take the metro to your final destination. It is only 2 stops away from Nevsky Prospekt (click HERE for the latest subway map). Keep in mind, however, that it can be very overwhelming to do that with luggage and you might be better off calling a taxi as the city center is really close after all.
I recommend the following taxi services aside from the mandatory Uber:
- Taxovichkof: has a website as well as an app and offers a 30% discount when booking online. The prices are quite cheap: a trip from the cruise port to Nevsky Prospekt would cost you 380 rubles when booking online. That is a little more than 5 dollars.
- Yandex Taxi: you might have heard about Yandex from the famous Uber Russia merger. The taxi service also has apps for Android and iPhone, and a ride would cost you only 293 rubles which is around 4,5 dollars.
What To Do In St. Petersburg Russia When You’re Short On Time
Day one in St Petersburg: Walking tour of the center’s highlights
Explore the St. Petersburg Metro stations
Start your 3 days in St Petersburg by making your way to Ploshad Vosstaniya metro station which is at the heart of the city. This is an important place in the city center: the Moskovsky train station and two big shopping malls are located at this huge intersection. Since the Square has great metro connections, take advantage of that to discover the beauty of St. Petersburg’s web of underground stations.
The metro station is part of the Red-colored line and connects to the Mayakovskaya station which is part of the Green line. You can easily get here from Primorskaya metro station which is only 3 stops away. Take the underground passage to explore Mayakovskaya as well. The station was named in memory of the famous Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. The decor lives and breathes Mayakovsky with its red tile mosaic walls and poet’s portraits.
Here’s a fun bit of trivia: the Mayakovskaya station has double pressure-sealed doors like many of the stations on the green line. That is done because the metro is dug deep below the ground level. The line passes underneath the Neva river so the tunnels and stations are protected against any possibility of floods this way. That means that the trains always stop at precisely the same position so that the doors of the cabins align with the station doors.
Walk the length of Nevsky from Vosstaniya Square
Ploshad Vosstaniya or Uprising Square is a busy intersection of Ligovsky avenue and Nevsky avenue. Since many of the main attractions are located on the other end of Nevsky, this is a perfect chance to get to know the main street of St. Petersburg, admire the architecture and take in the sights.
You might need to get used to the great Russian distances as you still have 3 days in St Petersburg and a lot of walking ahead of you. The walk from Vosstaniya to the Palace Square will take 35 minutes of distraction-less walking. But it’s totally worth it to pay attention and admire the surroundings, even if it does stretch your walk. Just remember not to stop in the middle of the street as there is a lot of pedestrian traffic on Nevsky.
Face away from the busy Vosstaniya square in the direction of Nevsky and start your walk. On your way, you will see many noteworthy buildings. With a little background information on each of them, I hope you enjoy this self-paced tour along Nevsky Prospekt.
Cross the Fontanka river by the Anichkov Bridge
Once you approach the Fontanka river, you will recognize it by the beautiful sculptures adorning the Anichkov bridge. Long ago this spot used to mark the entrance into the city. There used to be a toll booth with border guards. They collected an entrance fee from all those who wished to get into the city.
The famous sculptures depicting the taming of horses by Peter Clodt were added later in the 19th century. The works of the sculptor were so coveted that duplicates of the statues were gifted to Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV and were placed at the Royal Palace Lustgarten Terrace in Berlin. The king of Cicily Ferdinand II, among others, got a set too.
Admire the pink Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace at Anichkov Bridge
The beautiful palace that you see in the photo above was built in 1848 for a family of Dukes. Russia’s best balls were given in this stunning property. Tsar Alexander III and his wife Maria Fyodorovna were particularly fond of those gatherings. Many things have changed through Russia’s turbulent history. A cultural center is now based in the Palace but the ballrooms are often used to host chamber music concerts and theatricals.
Visit Empress Catherine The Great’s monument in front of Alexandrinsky Theatre
Catherine The Great is arguably one of the most well-known Russian monarchs, on par with Peter The Great. Clearly, greatness is especially memorable (did you get my great pun?). This beautiful monument depicts the Empress and the most influential personages of the time. It is located on the side of Nevsky Prospekt in front of Alexandrinsky Theatre, one of St. Petersburg’s biggest theatres.
Indulge in the gorgeous Eliseevy Merchants’ Shop
On the other side of Nevsky opposite the Catherine The Great monument you will pass the remarkable building of the Eliseyev Emporium. It is a beautiful example of Art Nouveau architecture. The architect Baranovsky added many elegant touches such as the sculptures of Science, Commerce, Industry, and Arts on the facade.
The Emporium was built for the merchants Eliseevy and nowadays houses both the store and the well-loved Theatre of Comedy. Peek into the vitrines and go inside to discover the gastronomical delights of Eliseevy Merchant’s shop. The new owners have meticulously recreated the original 20th-century ambiance interior according to the recovered recordings and photographs. I will be the first to admit that the store is overpriced but it’s still a joy to look around. From the gilded ceilings to the stained-glass windows, the interior is impeccable. And the bakery and delicatessen will definitely make you drool!
Explore the Gostiny Dvor
Gostiny Dvor is a Russian alternative to the French Passage, a way of trading replicated in many cities. The beautiful yellow building on the photo above is the Gostiny Dvor which holds many different shops and stalls under a big united gallery. The building actually has many sides, and the more expensive shops would be on the Nevsky side, while the cheaper ones would be located on the opposite end.
Hop on a canals tour on Griboedova Embankment
Canals are a big part of St. Petersburg’s charm. Tsar Peter the First wanted to create a modern European city out of bog and swamp, and he succeeded, as high as the cost was. There’s nothing nicer than a boat tour through the city center. There are boat tours starting all around the city center, with one of the more popular departure spots at Griboedova embankment, and the other one on Admiralteyskaya embankment, 2. You will recognize it by the Lion statues on either side of the staircase.
The tour usually takes an hour and you can choose between the hop on, hop off boats that allow you to explore other areas, or follow today’s itinerary and return to Griboedova embankment to discover the most important landmarks.
Go book shopping in the Singer House
This beautiful building is also known as Dom Knigi (House of Books). The historical building was designed by Pavel Suzor and built for the Russian office of the Singer Sewing Company. The building has been home to the House of Books ever since 1938. This is your chance to get souvenirs and enjoy the unparalleled views from the cafe on the 2nd floor. The windows lead directly onto the Kazansky Cathedral!
Admire the colorful cupolas of the Church of the Savior on Blood
This beautiful Russian Orthodox church, known as ‘Spas Na Krovi‘ is one of St. Petersburg’s most well-known jewels. It was built on the very spot of the successful attempt on Tsar Alexander II’s life. At first, a small wooden chapel marked the stones upon which the Tsar died. It was later rebuilt into this magnificent Church.
Consider broadening your horizons by going inside and learning more about the iconography or just admire the beautiful structure for what it is.
Opening hours: Mon-Tue, Thu-Sun 10:30 – 18:00, from 27.04 to 30.09 there are evening tours from 18:00 to 22:30
Spot the Gogol monument on Malaya Konushennaya
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Meet Gogol, one of the greatest Ukranian authors whose works we study in school! ?He wrote very eerie dark tales of monsters and my favorite is a tale of a smith Vakula who rides the devil to impress Oksana, a girl who denied him. If he gets her the shoes off the Tsarina’s feet she promises to have him. It is a very cool story! If you’re not from Russia, Ukraine & other countries could you tell me whether you’ve heard of Gogol? ? What do you study in school? ?
Nikolay Gogol is part of the mandatory literature curriculum in Russia. His short stories are full of whimsy, folklore motif, and deep observations on the nature of humankind. Gogol actually lived in St. Petersburg and drew inspiration from his life to write his series of St. Petersburg novels. Many of them are performed on the stage of the city’s theatres.
Visit the stunning Kazan Cathedral
Kazan Cathedral is another architectural marvel that you will be hard-pressed to avoid. The majestic collonade opens up before Nevsky Prospekt, imitating the grand architecture of cathedrals in Rome. The cathedral was built by architect A.N. Voronikhin in honor of the miraculous icon of Mother of God from Kazan which was acquired in 1579. The interior of the cathedral is as marvelous as the building itself so be sure to go in.
On either side of the collonade, you will find two monuments to two great Russian commanders: Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly and Mikhail Kutuzov.
Opening Hours: 07:00 – 18:00, tours are available from 11:30 to 18:00.
Eat crumpets Soviet-style in St. Petersburg’s trademark cafe
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This little cafe on Bolshaya Konyushennaya street, 25 is well-known and loved by tourists and locals alike. The spirit and service is very reminiscent of Soviet times. It’s Russian name is “Пышечная” which means a place serving doughnuts or crumpets. And that’s the only thing it serves! Aside from the crumpets generously sprinkled with sugar powder, you can get coffee straight out of the boiler or tea.
Don’t expect anything fancy, no cappuccino or macchiato, or the like. But do expect amazing prices: 14 rubles for a crumpet and 30 rubles for a cup of coffee. For more ideas check out my unusual things to do in St Petersburg Russia guide.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 09:00 – 20:00, Sat-Sun 10:00 – 20:00.
If you only have one day in St Petersburg, head over to Palace Square, otherwise head straight to the Admiralty. You will have plenty of time for Hermitage and the square tomorrow!
Circle the Admiralty on your way to the Palace embankment
The beautiful Admiralty with its golden spire was originally built as a shipyard but now it houses a naval academy. Explore the garden in front of the building facing Nevsky, then circle around to get to the beautiful Admiralty embankment. Head left from there, past the berth at the Palace bridge. You will pass the Tsar-Plotnik monument for Peter the Great, commemorating his skill as a carpenter. A practical and knowledgeable man, Peter wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and the city thanked him with many monuments, such as the famous Bronze Horseman, which is our next stop.
See the Bronze Horseman statue of Tzar Peter I facing the Neva river
The Bronze Horseman was erected in Tsar Peter’s honor by Catherine The Great. The beautiful stone at the base of the statue was so heavy that it had to be transported during winter! Only that way the frozen ground could bear its weight. The sailors actually had to sink the ship that transported the stone in order to manipulate it to the shore.
The monument got its name from a poem by Alexander Pushkin called ‘The Bronze Horseman’ and the name stuck. Now Tsar Peter is watching over the city with his hand raised forward.
Walk to St. Isaac’s Cathedral and climb to the top of the collonade
Wrap up your first day in St. Petersburg by climbing to the beautiful collonade of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. This is truly is the best place to take in the sights of the city. It gives you a perfect view of the city from every angle: from the views of the Neva River to the Isaakievsky square with its monument to Tsar Nikolay I. You get the best views of the city from here. Amazing, isn’t it?
Opening hours: 10:30 – 18:00 and the Evening collonade opening hours extended till 22:30 from May to end of September| Entry prices HERE and special prices apply for the evening hours
Day 2 in St Petersburg: Your Cultural Experience
Since you’ve only got 3 days in St Petersburg, the programme has to be intense or otherwise, you will miss out on a lot of amazing things. While this day’s programme may seem relaxed, it provides the best balance between culture, relaxation, and discovery and allows you to rest your feet. Get ready to hit St. Petersburg’s world-famous Hermitage museum, followed by a laid-back afternoon on the Neva, an evening at the Mariinsky Theatre and staying up till the early morning hours to watch the bridges open up from the water.
Take in the size of the Palace Square in front of the Hermitage
You haven’t been in St. Petersburg if you haven’t stood before the Hermitage museum on Dvortsovaya and seen the famous Alexander Column. Made from the single heaviest granite monolith in the world, it soars 47,5 meters into the air. The column was finished in 1934 and stands proudly to this day as the symbol of St. Petersburg.
Spend the day enjoying the enormous Hermitage museum
Leaving the city without seeing the inside of the Hermitage? Unthinkable! The Hermitage has really long queues but you can avoid them by either purchasing a ticket on the website or using the machines in the courtyard. Another way to skip the queues altogether is to book a tour that takes care of the entry for you.
The Hermitage collection is so vast that even St. Petersburg citizens haven’t seen it in its entirety. You can expect to spend anywhere from 2 to 5 hours in the museum: taking in the remarkable collection will definitely tire you out. Decide in advance which part of the museum interests you most of all. To avoid overwhelm and get a bit of background on the paintings and art, consider one of the available tours.
Have lunch in the heart of the city
St. Petersburg has no shortage of amazing restaurants and cafes for every budget. You will have no problems choosing a restaurant but remember that making a reservation is best as people in St. Petersburg love eating out. If you’re looking for budget eats, try Teremok which is a Russian fast-food chain serving blini or Stolovaya №1 which is a typical “serve yourself” bistro chain with a bit of a Soviet vibe, at least where it comes to service.
Where to eat in St Petersburg, Russia:
Here are three options to satisfy your hunger:
Phali Hinkali: Deliciously affordable Georgian and Russian food
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Georgian food is very popular in St. Petersburg and many authentic restaurants serve all the classic dishes, with Georgian chefs at the helm. Check out Phali Hinkali for a blend of Georgian and the classic Russian cuisine. When choosing Georgian, go for the pickled assortments, satsivi, dolma with lamb, and at least one khachapuri pie! Many of the dishes include nut-based sauces so if you are allergic, please check with the staff to make sure you’re safe.
Classic Russian dishes include mayonnaise-based salads such as Olivier, the famous beet and herring Vinaigrette, pancakes with caviar, and warm soups such as Borscht and my personal favorite: Solyanka. This is a really cool sour soup filled with the weirdest ingredients: sausages together with olives, lemon and pickles, and of course, sour cream. Mmm. I’m drooling already. Please try it before you judge though!
Address: Bolshaya Morskaya street, 27
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu 09:00 – 00:00, Fri-Sat 09:00 – 01:00, Sun 09:00 – 00
Make a reservation: +7 (812) 950-05-35
Terrassa: European cuisine with a fantastic terrace view over the Kazan Cathedral
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Every outgoing inhabitant of St. Petersburg has probably visited Terrassa at least once, and I’m no exception. The views really demand a visit! The main feature of the restaurant, its terrace, faces onto the side of the Kazan Cathedral and offers a great perspective on the famous Nevsky Prospekt. While it’s not the cheapest dining experience, the prices per dish vary between 7 and even 50 dollars (the latter being for a Marbled beef medallion and some of the more luxurious seafood dishes).
The menu’s variety ensures that you will find something to your tastes even if you don’t want to stretch your budget too much. With that said, if you’d love a luxury experience, well, you’re going to get it! It’s somewhat amusing how one restaurant can accommodate completely different tastes! If you’re surprised at the menu’s scope, don’t be as it’s quite the norm with Russian restaurants. Some restaurants offer a menu in three different volumes, with seasonal specials and a variety of dishes from Russian, European and Asian cuisines. Anything to keep the customer happy!
Price range: $$ | Menu
Address: Kazanskaya street, 3а
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 11:00 – 01:00 Sat-Sun 12:00 – 01:00
Make a reservation: +7 (812) 640-16-16 (this number is for all of the Ginza Project restaurants so please specify that you want to book terrassa)
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Literary Cafe: Dine like the famous Russian poets of old
While I wouldn’t call this a tourist trap, this restaurant definitely delivers on the image of classic Russian dining in spades. The Literary Cafe is located in a historical building that previously held the famous Wolf and Beranger Confectionery which was popular with the St. Petersburg’s intellectuals scene.
The menu unites Russian classics such as the okroshka soup with European-inspired salads and other dishes. In the evening hours from 19:00 to 23:00 the Literary Cafe offers live music. Overall, the ambiance and the menu complete the feeling of traveling back in time, to that fateful day when Russia’s most famous poet Alexander Pushkin stopped by to meet his second before his ill-fated duel with d’Anthès.
Price range: $$ | Menu
Address: Nevsky Avenue, 18
Opening Hours: Sun-Thu 11:00 – 23:00, Fri-Sat 11:00 – 01:00
Make a reservation: +7 812 312-60-57
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Attend a ballet at Mariinsky Theatre
There’s nothing quite like spending the evening watching Swan Lake in Mariinsky Theatre. While you have to book the tickets in advance, this experience will allow you to understand precisely why St. Petersburg is hailed the ‘culture capital of Russia’. We like to dress up for theatre which is why I would recommend to ditch the jeans and casual and wear something that will make you feel fancy enough for the golden decor of the stunning Mariinsky theatre.
To visit Mariinsky, take a look at the agenda to plan your visit. Make sure to check the Mariinsky Theatre venue as Mariinsky II refers to the modern building. Tickets to some performances sell out well in advance, so planning ahead is your best friend. Classics you might want to keep in mind are Swan Lake ballet, Sadko and Eugene Onegin operas, and others. Please note that the Swan Lake ballet also runs in other notable theatres like the Hermitage theatre or the Alexandrinsky theatre, so check which one you’d like to attend if booking indirectly.
Stay up to watch the opening of the St Petersburg bridges during White Nights
Once the spring season starts and the Neva flows freely again, the bridges are open every night to allow passage to the bigger vessels. But the best moment to enjoy the views is during the White Nights. From 11th of June to 2nd of July the days are so long that it almost doesn’t get dark at all in St Petersburg at nighttime.
Those days are meant for staying up late and enjoying the opening of bridges (your 3 days in St Petersburg wouldn’t be complete without it). The activity is so popular in fact, that there are many people queueing at the Palace embankment to get a good look at the event. It can get quite crowded, so what you can do is watch the bridges open from the other side of the Palace bridge, next to the Kunstkamera. But an even better idea is to take a boat tour that sails directly underneath the bridges during the opening. Prepare for an overload of romantic city views!
Even with the visit to the Mariinsky Theatre, you will have enough time to recharge after the performance. After all, the bridges don’t part until the early morning hours. The Palace bridge opens at 1:10 and Blagoveshensky bridge opens at 1:25 in the morning. Check in with the schedule to see the exact timing for all of the bridges and enjoy your second night in St Petersburg!
Day 3 in St Petersburg: Get to know the city’s history
Visit Mikhailovsky Castle
Take a stroll around Summer Garden
The Summer Garden is famous for its beautiful alleys among fountains and marble statues. The garden was built for Peter The Great and was intended for royal use only. It had to have beautiful fountains to compete with the European imperial residences of the time. Later on, during Tsar Peter’s daughter rule, the general well-dressed public was allowed to visit while the Tsarina was out of town.
Nowadays the gardens are open to everyone. Walk around the leafy alleys and discover the luxurious Summer Garden at your leisure.
From here: Take the 46/49 bus from the bus stop on the corner of Suvorosvskaya Square and ride one stop to get across the bridge. If you have the time you can also walk the distance. From there, head over to the Peter and Paul Fortress, the very place where St. Petersburg was founded.
Peter and Paul Fortress
Crossing the Ioannovskiy bridge onto what once was Hare Island, you will notice a small statue of a hare on the side of the bridge. If the coin you toss will land on the ledge, you’ll be lucky. But don’t dawdle: that’s only the beginning as Peter and Paul Fortress has many nooks and crannies to explore.
Visit the main museum exhibition including the Commandant’s house. It features the lifestyle of the 18th century with authentic furniture and wares. Don’t forget to see the prison quarters where Peter The Great’s son was incarcerated. Pay a visit to the tombs of Russian emperors in the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. And at last, take a stroll down the beach for a beautiful city view over the Neva river.
Rostral Columns at the Spit of Vasilievsky Island
Leave the Fortress from the other side and take a walk across the Exchange bridge to get to the Rostral Columns that you’ve seen from the fortress. This is another notable landmark and such a beautiful location too. You can enjoy the views of the Hermitage and the fortress and also descend to the river.
Explore Kunstkamera cabinet of oddities
Nearby you will see a beautiful blue building that is the Kunstkamera: the first museum of St. Petersburg. Founded by Peter The Great (you can tell how many things happened because of him, right? He was the city’s founder, after all), it has a unique display of curiosities. Peter I was very interested in human deformities. He didn’t believe that deformities were a sign of the devil and wanted to debunk the prejudices by collecting example from all across the world and studying the phenomenon. The museum still holds the objects from his collection, along with the ethnographical department which takes a big part of the museum.
I hope you enjoyed this list of things to do during your 3 days in St Petersburg. Many things had to be left out, such as the Russian Museum, day trips from St Petersburg to Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo, and more… Which is why I hope you consider staying a while longer to discover the city at a much more leisurely pace. But this route should give you a great first impression of St. Petersburg.
That was my 3 days in St Petersburg itinerary for first-timers! Did this list inspire you to visit St Petersburg? Would you see yourself exploring Venice of the North?
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