Greetings, Internet Stranger! Are you looking for the best St Petersburg itinerary? During our last outing in St. Petersburg, we learned all about Peter the Great and how he created St. Petersburg to be his own little Paris-on-the-Neva. But of course, if you’re going to build your own Paris, you need your own Versailles to go with it. The tsars more than kept up with the French kings when it came to palace building.
I’m pretty sure even Louis XIV would give them “deux thumbs up!” Peter the Great’s manor is certainly a must-see, but I think the Catherine Palace is the more architecturally interesting, so we’ll be heading to the latter today. (No points for guessing which Tsarina lived in the Catherine Palace). Let’s go! Time and czars wait for nobody!
St Petersburg Itinerary
Where to Stay?
St. Petersburg is one of the most expensive cities in Russia. So if you’re spending at least 24 hours in your St. Petersburg itinerary, and you’re on a budget, but you still want to stay in the city center, your options are limited. That’s why I was glad to find the Nevskaya Classika Hotel. It was right near the Hermitage Museum, so the location was perfect. My room was clean, affordable, and convenient!
St Petersburg Itinerary
What to Pack?
The weather in Russia is unpredictable, and it definitely rained several times during time in St P. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds blowing over the Neva River.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them on a stroll about Peter the Great’s city without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or British plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
St Petersburg Itinerary
Morning: The Catherine Palace
Catherine the Great’s erstwhile abode is located in Pushkin, which is 25 km south of St. Petersburg. Sometimes people will say that it’s located in Tsarskoye Selo, which just means Tsar’s Village. I got there by going to the minibuses at Moskovskaya Ploshchad, right next to Lenin Square. This is convenient because Lenin Square contains the first of our…
Approximately top 5: catherine palace
1) Lenin Statue
If you are more a Communist than a Tsarist, then don’t miss the giant statue of Lenin located in the conveniently named Lenin Square. You need to wait by this square to catch the bus to the Catherine Palace, so you can’t miss it!
There’s also a pretty convenient public toilet in Lenin Square in case you are in need while waiting for the bus. It costs less than 50 American cents to get in. (I know some very literal commentator is going to ask if they take American money. No. You need rubles.)
You can take buses K-286, K-287, K-299, K-342 to get to the Catherine Palace (aka Pushkin). The buses that go to Pushkin will either have signs that say Pushkin or Catherine Palace in the front window. Worse comes to worse, just ask the driver “Pushkin?” and he will either say “Da” or “Nyet”. It will probably be too hard to negotiate fare with the driver, so I suggest just giving him a 500 Ruble bill and he will give you the correct change.
2) explore the catherine palace park
You can buy your ticket to the palace at an admission booth outside the park. The ticket includes admission to the gorgeous park around the palace. Your ticket will also have a timed entrance to the palace on it, but don’t worry! You will have a lovely time admiring the beautiful architecture of the buildings in the park while you wait to go in the palace. (I do recommend getting an early start to this day, to avoid the crowds.)
Calling the area around the Catherine Palace a park is the understatement of the century. I’ve never been to any park with architecture this grand. Some of the buildings have a Middle Eastern feel…
Whereas some of them have a more Asian vibe.
There’s even a tower for you to climb that will give you breathtaking views of Catherine the Great’s grounds.
It’s as if Catherine wanted to create the impression that she was Empress of the world and not just Empress of Russia by bringing in architectural styles from all over the world.
The Catherine Palace park doesn’t just have fancy building. You will also love it here if you enjoy communing with nature. My favorite part was the lovely views of the water…
And there is greenery everywhere. Really, what more could a little Tsar wish for?
I wonder how long it took to create this entire complex. In one sense it seems like a waste of time and energy that could be better spent on feeding the poor. It’s no wonder the Russian Revolution happened. On the other hand, maybe it’s good for a Tsar to have a hobby and building gardens seems like a harmless one. Much better than oppressing peasants or encouraging pogroms.
3) tour the palace interior
Once it is time for your ticket to activate, get ready for the highlight of the trip! Now you are finally allowed to tread the same hallways that Catherine herself trod. (Tsars! They’re just like us!) You can enjoy a gold-plated grand hall…
another gold-plated dining room…
be made uncomfortable by racist statues…
or admire a room with walls made out of porcelain.
Really the architectural delights of the Catherine Palace are unlimited.
The one room in the palace you can’t photograph is the world famous Amber Room. Yes, that is a room that is almost entirely made of amber. Sadly, the one there now is a replica because the Nazis stole the original and it has never been found. Damn you, Nazis! If there’s any group of people who can make the tsars seem sympathetic, it’s you. And who steals an entire room anyway?
4) Lunch at Khochu Kharcho
When you return to Lenin Square by bus, you’re going to want a late lunch and a cold drink. Fortunately, both are available at a Georgian restaurant off Lenin Square called Khochu Kharcho. My favorite non-alcoholic beverage in Russia was fancy lemonade. I saw this available at quite a few restaurants. You can get anything from fruit to tarragon put inside your lemony goodness.
I was so excited when I heard that it is easy to get good Georgian food in St. Petersburg because I love fried green tomatoes. But it turns out that Georgian food in St. Petersburg is actually from a small country in Eurasia. When you go here, you must order the khachapuri, which is warm bread filled with moist cheese. It’s like a Cheese Lovers Pizza only actually delicious.
I also recommend Khochu Kharcho because the staff is welcoming and they have an English menu. I feel the need to say that because the waiter tripped over my purse and didn’t even get mad at me.
St Petersburg Itinerary
Afternoon: Alexander Nevsky Cemetery
We’re all figuratively acquainted with the great Russian writers like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy or Russian composers like Tchaikovsky. But would you like to make their acquaintance for real? You can if you visit the cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. It costs 300 Rubles to enter, but I think it’s more than worth it to get to say hello to old friends like Dostoevsky…
Or to say hello to new ones like composer Alexander Borodin…
or the art critic Vladimir Stasov, who definitely has the coolest gravestone I’ve ever seen.
Fair warning! You can say hello as many times as you like, but I don’t think any of your new friends are going to answer back!
If you have time after seeing the cemetery, don’t miss Alexander Nevsky Larva, which is the oldest monastery in St. Petersburg. It is still a working monastery so be warned that you might not be able to enter when you want if a service is in session.
As I arrived, there was a procession exiting the building–I think perhaps a funeral of some sort of important person because people were wearing very fancy black clothes and crying a lot. I didn’t try to enter at this point because my mother taught me that it’s not nice to crash a funeral.
24 hour TIP
There are a few rules of etiquette to observe when visiting a working Orthodox church. If you are a woman, you must cover your head before entering. Don’t worry because they sell pretty head scarves outside the monastery for about 250 Rubles and they make a nice souvenir. Also, don’t take pictures unless you’re sure it’s allowed.
St Petersburg Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Kvartirka Soviet Cafe
Now that you’ve learned all about the Russians, it’s time to dine like one! Take the metro a couple of stops back to the Nevsky Prospekt station and you will be at Kvartirka Soviet Cafe. This is a place where you can get tasty and affordable traditional Russian food. (Also there is an English menu.)
I started with a pot of tea which came with these tasty little crunchy baked bagels called sushki. You’re supposed to dip them in the hot tea before eating them because they are quite hard, like a breadstick.
Next I ordered shchi, which is a pungent sour cabbage soup that comes with its own fun bread hat. If you like sauerkraut, pickles, or stabbing a bread hat with a fork until steam comes out, you will love shchi.
My main course was draniki, which are freshly fried potato pancakes with a side of sour cream. As a half-Irish, half-Jewish person, there is literally nothing tastier to me than a potato pancake. They are the perfect comfort food. These were good because they were fresh but not greasy or oily.
Once you are done, spend the rest of the evening strolling around Nevsky Prospekt. The shops will be closed, but there are usually street performers playing music, so you can enjoy a free show even if you don’t understand the words.
Further Reading: St Petersburg Itinerary!
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in St Petersburg? Let me help you out with some further reading! For other suggestions for things to do, I like Lonely Planet’s guide to St Petersburg. The book is divided into chapters according to neighborhood, which makes it easy to use for planning purposes.
Russians are VERY proud of their classic literature, so you’ll be popular if you’re at least a little familiar. But maybe you won’t have time for all of War and Peace. Still, you can impress any Russians you meet by reading one of Tolstoy’s poignant novellas, The Death of Ivan Ilych.
Or you can try some of Chekov’s gorgeous (and occasionally funny) short stories. There’s a reason some people call him the greatest short story writer who ever lived! Plus I guarantee they’re not as long as War and Peace. They’re called short stories for a reason!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in St. Petersburg. If you’d like to try another 24 hours in St. Petersburg itinerary, try here. If you want to try a St Petersburg itinerary with the Russian Museum, click here. If you’d like to spend a St Petersburg itinerary with the Hermitage museum, click here.