The cheapest way to experience St. Petersburg is by taking a ferry from Scandinavia. By using St. Peterline you can access Russia for 72 hours without having to obtain a visa. Depending on your nationality, this will save you around $100, plus you also don’t have to spent any time applying for a visa, as it is granted on arrival. We decided to stay two days, as we also wanted to see a Russian ballet.
While the ferry tickets are not super cheap (we paid around $170 for the simplest accommodation), and you pretty much pay for everything else on the ferry, it is cheaper and easier than applying for a visa. After catching an early dinner, we departed at 7pm from Helsinki. The check-in on Princess Maria was quite easy, and your boarding card also acted as room key. We had heard that the food options on board were of terrible quality, however we found that there are some options on board. While it definitely isn’t the best meal you’ll ever eat, it was decent enough and surprisingly way cheaper then we thought.
Once boarded we picked up the schedule of activities and were surprised to learn that, while there was no free Wi-Fi (five! dollars per hour), there were some scheduled performances, some good house music playing from the Skybar, and a 2-for-1 happy hour at the Columbus Bar. We spent most our time roaming around the boat as the rooms have a particular smell that can get annoying after a while. As we left at 7pm, we managed to fill our time exploring the ship, having some pretty good and cheap (five dollar) cocktails and listening to music and evening tanning on the top-deck lounge chairs. The evening performances were also quite entertaining.
Afterwards, it was off to bed and before we knew it, we had arrived in St. Petersburg. After passing through security, and taking a quick 20-minute shuttle to the city, we arrived at St. Isaac’s Square. We immediately walked to our hostel, located only five minutes from the drop-off point, where we left our bags before exploring the city. First up was boarding a shuttle to Peterhof.
The ferry ride to Peterhof takes about 40 minutes. Peterhof served as a summer escape for the country leaders, and is also a place for important events. In addition to paying around 10$ for the shuttle, you are charged another 10$ to enter the park once there. The main palace is really beautiful and the fountains can’t be missed. The lines to go inside the palace are incredibly long, but the infamous view from the fountains can also be seen without paying the additional fees to go inside. Instead, we decided to stroll through the many parks and fountains. After a couple hours of walking around, we headed back to the city.
On the way back, the boat passed many highlights of St. Petersburg, including Peter and Paul Fortress and Hermitage. Once off the boat, we took a closer look of the Hermitage and Palace Square, which are quite grand. We then walked to the prominent Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, its colors and shape definitely made it a unique sight. Lastly, we explored the area around the Nevsky Prospect main street, which was filled with stores and people. In one of the side streets, we decided to get some traditional Russian dinner at Masha and the Bear.
Our last stop in St. Petersburg was at the Anichkov Palace. We had wanted to see the Swan Lake at the renowned Mariinsky Theatre, however as tickets were completely sold out, we opted for the Carnival Concert Hall at Anichkov Palace. While more touristy, it was cheaper (around 30–70$, depending on the seat) and still quite good. In short, for the Mariinsky Theatre, it is best to buy tickets well in advance. We found our last minute tickets on the Russian Ballet website.
On our second and last day we slept in as the ballet went on until 10:30pm. In the afternoon, it was time to get back to the very via the same 20-minute shuttle. This time, we boarded Princess Anastasia. This ferry is a bit bigger than Princess Maria, however has pretty much the same setting and idea behind it. We decided to finish off our Russian excursion by enjoying another happy hour with another glass of Russian standard.
We, Mark & Herta, are currently backpacking through Europe, and eventually planning to settle in London. Beyond that? The possibilities are endless.Read Mark & Herta’s full story.