Baltic cruises are becoming increasingly popular and many cruise lines choose to make a stop at the port of St. Petersburg. It is a city that you cannot miss. You are required to get off the ship 🙂 In this article, I’ll explain in detail how to organize your visit to St. Petersburg if you arrive in the city on a cruise ship: visa, customs formalities, travel, itineraries and organized guided tours.
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In this article I’ll explain how to organize a visit to St. Petersburg if you travel to the city on a cruise and I’ll answer some very frequent questions that travelers ask me:
- Visa: How can I visit St. Petersburg for 72 hours without a visa? When is the best time to visit the city with a tourist visa?
- Documents: What documents do I need to complete the immigration and customs process at the port terminal?
- Travel: How do I get from the port of St. Petersburg to the city center?
- Sightseeing: What is there to see in St. Petersburg during the time that my cruise ship is at the port?
2. VISA: Do I need a visa to visit St. Petersburg if I go there on a cruise?
If you arrive in St. Petersburg on a cruise, the first thing you should know is that you can tour the city in two ways:
- Without a visa, for 72 hours (visa free) although there are restrictions on what you can do, as I explain below
- With a tourist visa and no type of restriction.
Next, I’ll explain the difference between one option and the other, as well as the advantages and disadvantages so you can choose the one that suits you best. I wouldn’t say that there is a better or worse option, but that it will depend on each individual’s preferences and personal circumstances.
Option 1. Visiting St. Petersburg for 72 hours without a visa (visa-free)
If you arrive in St. Petersburg by air or by land (train, bus or car) you will need to obtain a visa beforehand; however, cruise passengers arriving at Russian ports can visit the city for a period of up to 72 hours without needing a visa.
Keep in mind, however, that you must comply with some regulations:
- First, you have to see the city in a guided tour licensed by the Russian authorities, which will be with you at all times during your visit to the city. This means that from the moment you leave the ship in the morning (usually about 8) until the moment you return to it (around 5 – 6 pm), you will have to follow the arranged schedule and you will not have the opportunity to visit the city on your own.
- Second, you must spend the night on the ship.
- Third, this regulation applies if you arrive at any of the following ports: Petersburg, Anadyr, Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, Korsakov, Novorossiysk, Murmansk, Sevastopol, Sochi, Vladivostok, Vyborg and Zarubino.
To do this visa-free tour you have two options
- Purchase the guided tour offered by your cruise, which is usually quite expensive.
- Purchase one of the guided tours offered by many other local authorized companies through GetYourGuide and they are not that expensive. For example:
- You do not need visa processing, which takes time and money.
- You are not free to visit the city on your own
- You cannot visit the city at night
- You have to purchase a guided tour, which can be more expensive than obtaining a tourist visa
Special case. A special case is if you arrive in St. Petersburg by ferry. While cruise ships are ships to entertain passengers, and a cruise lasts for 1 or 2 weeks, ferries, on the other hand, are used to only transport passengers (or cargo) from one point to another. There are two cases in which you can enter Russia on a ferry for 72 hours without a visa:
- If you travel by ferry from Helsinki, Tallinn or Stockholm (with a stop in Helsinki) to St. Petersburg with the Peter Line company you can enter St. Petersburg without a visa for a maximum 72 hours. In this case you will also have to book a guided tour, but unlike cruise passengers who must stay overnight on the ship if they want go into the city without a visa, St. Peter Line passengers have to book a hotel or apartment. during their stay.
- In addition to St. Peter Line, it is also possible to go into St. Petersburg or Vyborg without a visa by traveling from Lappeenranta with the Finnish company Saimaa Travel and purchasing some of their guided tours.
Option 2. Visiting St. Petersburg with a tourist visa
If you want to have the freedom to visit the city on your own, then it’s worth it to apply for a tourist visa before taking the cruise.
Since guided tours without a visa are usually expensive, obtaining a tourist visa can be even cheaper. In addition, getting a tourist visa is not complicated. For this you will need an invitation (or visa support), which you can get in 5 minutes through a local tour operator, as I explain in this article, since cruise ships do not issue letters of invitation.
- You can tour the city freely, without being tied to any guided tour.
- You can enjoy the city at night, highly recommended during the White Nights season, or take the high-speed Sapsan train on your own to get to Moscow in 4 hours and tour the Russian capital.
- The visit may even be cheaper.
- You have to get the visa a few weeks before your trip, which will take time and money.
Special cases. Some special cases in which it is necessary to obtain a visa are the following:
- If you arrive in St. Petersburg on a cruise but want to leave Russia by plane, train or other mode of transportation, then you need a visa.
- If you take a river cruise between Moscow and St. Petersburg, you also need to obtain a tourist visa.
- If you miss your cruise ship, then you will need a visa to be able to leave Russia by some alternative means of transportation. Keep in mind that the Russian authorities can take up to 20 days to approve an exit visa, during which time you will have to deal with the costs.
Finally, keep in mind that if your passport is lost or stolen while you are visiting St. Petersburg, you will not be allowed to return to your ship until you get a new passport through your country’s Embassy or Consulate, so be very careful not to lose your passport.
3. ARRIVING BY SHIP: What cruise ships visit St. Petersburg (and at what port do they arrive)
The cruise ships that visit Saint Petersburg, do so mainly by sea, coming from other European port cities (Amsterdam, Stockholm, Bergen, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Tallinn, Skagen, etc.). However, there are also river cruises that make the journey between Moscow and St. Petersburg on the Volga River.
Arriving by sea
The most usual way is to arrive in St. Petersburg on a cruise. At present, more than 600,000 passengers come to visit St. Petersburg on a cruise ship, mainly Germans (25% of the total), Americans (19%) and British (10%).
The main cruise lines that visit St. Petersburg are: Carnival Corporation & plc (43.2%), Royal Caribbean (16%), Norwegian Cruise Line (8.7%) and MSC Cruises (10.8%)
When your cruise ship is approaching St. Petersburg, the first thing that will catch your attention will be the Lakhta Center, a skyscraper 87 storeys and 462 meters high, which is currently the tallest building in Europe (and the 13th highest in the world). It is the headquarters of the Russian energy company, Gazprom.
Here is a list of all the companies and cruise ships arriving in Saint Petersburg in 2019
- AIDA Cruises (Germany). Ships: AIDAcara, AIDAdiva, AIDAmar, AIDAprima, AIDAluna.
- MSC Cruises (Italy-Switzerland). Ships: MSC Meraviglia, MSC Poesia.
- Costa Cruises (Italiy). Ships: Costa Magica, Costa Pacifica.
- Norwegian Cruise Line (USA). Ships: Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Spirit.
- P&O Cruises (UK). Ships: Arcadia, Aurora, Azura.
- Olsen Cruise Lines (Norway). Ships: Balmoral.
- Royal Caribbean (Norway). Ships: Brilliance of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, Explorer ot the Seas.
- Celebrity Cruises (Greece). Ships: Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Reflection.
- Cruise & Maritime Voyages (UK). Ships: Columbus, Magellan, Vasco da Gama.
- Marella Cruises – TUI UK (UK). Ships: Marella Explorer, Mein Schiff 1 NEW, Mein Schiff 3, Mein Schiff 4.
- Ocean Cruises (USA). Ships: Marina.
- Holland Amercia Line (USA). Ships: Nieuw Statendam, Rotterdam,
- Cunard Line (USA). Ships: Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth.
- Princess Cuises (USA). Ships: Regal Princess, Sapphire Princess, Pacific Princess.
- Saga Cruises (UK). Ships: Saga Sapphire.
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises (USA). Ships: Seven Seas Explorer.
- Viking Ocean Cruises (Switzerland). Ships: Viking Jupiter, Viking Sky, Viking Sun, Viking Sea.
- Pullmantur (Spain). Ships: Zenith.
- Disney Cruise Line (USA). Ships: Disney Magic.
- Seabourn Cruise Line (USA). Ships: Seabourn Ovation.
- Hapag-Lloyd Cruises (Germany). Ships: Europa 2.
All these cruise ships arrive at “Marine Façade”, the maritime passenger terminal of St. Petersburg located in the western part of Vasilievsky Island:
Here is a map of the passenger port of St. Petersburg, which, as you can see, has 4 terminals and 7 docks for mooring ships:
However, the St. Peter Line ferries from Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn, as well as the Saimaa Travel company’s ships from Lappeenranta to St. Petersburg or Vyborg, dock at the terminal located in Ploshchad’ Morskoy Slavy:
Arriving by river
There are also more and more tourists who take river cruises on the Volga River from Moscow to St. Petersburg, visiting places like Uglich, Yaroslavl, Goritsy, Kizhi Island or Mandrogui en route, and sailing on Lakes Onega and Ladoga before reaching the Neva River in St. Petersburg.
In this case, you are most likely to travel on a ship of one of these companies:
- Vodohod Russian River Cruises (Russia). Ships: Mustai Katim, Mstislav Rostropovich, Sankt-Peterburg, Kronshtadt, Nizhny Novgorod, Nikolay Chernishevsky, Lev Tolstoy, Konstantin Fedin, Zosima Shashkov, Russ, Georgy Chicherin.
- Volga Dream River Cruise (Russia). Ships: MS Volga Dream.
- Uniworld River Cruise (USA). Ships: River Victoria.
- Viking River Cruise (Switzerland). Ships: Viking Akun, Viking Helgi, Viking Ingvar, Viking Truvor, Viking Rurik.
River cruises have a port on the Neva River for passengers arriving in the city from the Volga River. It is located at the south-eastern end of St. Petersburg at Prospekt Obukhovskoy Oborony:
4. DISEMBARKING FROM THE SHIP: visa, immigration and customs formalities
As soon as you get off the ship, you must go to the passenger terminal for passport, immigration and customs controls. There may be queues, depending on the number of cruises and passengers. After these controls you will arrive at the passenger terminal, where you will find restaurants, shops, ATMs and tourist information.
Going through the entire process of passport, immigration and customs control may take a minimum of 15-30 minutes, depending on the number of cruise passengers passing through the controls at that time.
Step 1. Passport and immigration control
Whether you visit the city without a visa or if you do so with a visa, you must pass through passport and immigration control, for which you will need the following documents:
- If you visit the city without a visa and with an approved tour, you must bring your original passport, a copy of the first page of the passport (containing your photo and your personal data) and a printout of the booking for the approved guided tour (which the authorized agency would have previously sent you by email).
- If you visit the city with a tourist visa, you will only have to carry your passport, to which your visa will be attached.
During the passport control, you must fill out an immigration card, which they would have given you beforehand on the ship, containing your personal data and arrival and departure dates. It is easy to complete. It has two parts, each with identical information. One of them will be kept by the customs officer, while the other one will be given to you so you can keep it (you can keep it in your passport since it is the same size, but be careful not to lose it).
This card must be returned at passport control on the last day, when your cruise is leaving the city. Here’s a sample immigration card:
Information to be filled in:
- Given name
- Patronymic: You can leave this in blank
- Date of birth
- Sex: mark with a cross Male or Female
- Passport: passport number
- Visa number: visa number (it is the “Visa ID” in your passport page)
- Purpose of travel: simply underline the reason for your trip (it can be tourism, business, etc.)
- Name of host person or company: the agency that issued your invitation letter (it comes in the visa itself and also in the invitation letter. For example: Visa Center LLC, HotesPro…)
- Duration of stay: Duration of your stay in Russia with the format Day / Month / Year
- Signature: you must sign the card
- You have to fill the form with a blue pen in capital letters, each in a different square.
- It can be filled in Latin characters, it does not need to be filled in Cyrillic.
- Fill in the two parts (A and B), which are exactly the same. The immigration agent will give you part B, with the seal in which it will appear your day of entry into Russia.
Step 2. Customs control
Once you’ve passed through passport control, you must go through customs control. There are two channels: green, if you have nothing to declare, and red, if you have something to declare. Most normally, you will have to go through the green channel.
Summary of the most important points for passengers arriving on a cruise:
- There is no limit for bringing in foreign currency, but if you take more than 10,000 dollars to Russia (or the equivalent in other currencies), you must declare it at customs.
- If you buy antiques, precious metals or jewelry, then you must make the customs declaration when you return to the ship.
- You cannot leave Russia with more than 250 grams of black sturgeon caviar.
- If you buy a mobile, watch or electronic device, you don’t need to declare it at customs, provided it is for personal use.
Here’s a more detailed summary of the main customs regulations for both entering and leaving Russian territory:
Step 3. Areas with shops and restaurants in the terminal
Once you have passed through the controls listed above , you will reach the terminal area where there are restaurants, cafeterias and shops. The following are worth highlighting:
- You will find a host of duty free souvenir shops, usually with higher prices than the stores you can find around the city.
- You will also see many ATMs in case you need to withdraw money. If you need to withdraw money, it’s better to use the ATMs of Russian banks (for example, Sberbank) and avoid those flashy ATMs with the acronym ATM that charge higher fees.
- You will also find a tourist information center for the city, in case you need a map of the city or to get any kind of tourist information.
Once you have passed through all the controls you can:
- Find, if applicable, your approved tour guide, who will take you on an organized tour of the city.
- Take a bus or taxi to go downtown on your own, as long as you have a tourist visa.
5. TO GET TO THE CITY CENTER: How to go from the passenger terminal to downtown St. Petersburg
The passenger port of St. Petersburg is far from the city center, so you have to take some form of transportation.
If you have purchased an organized tour, your guide will take you by bus to the city center, while if you are travelling on your own, you can get to the city center in two ways: by public transportation or by taxi.
Option 1. Public transportation
To get to the city center by public transportation, you have to do it in two steps:
- Bus. At the port, take Bus no. 58 which runs every 30 minutes, and in 10-15 minutes it will take you to the nearest Metro station, Primorskaya (green line number 3). The ticket costs 40 rubles. You can see the schedules at this link. Here’s the route taken by this bus:
- Petersburg Metro. From the Primorskaya Metro station, you can go anywhere in the city. For example, in two stops you will reach the Gostinyy dvor Metro station downtown, next to Nevsky Avenue, a good starting point for touring the city.The Hermitage, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood or St. Isaac’s Cathedral can be reached in 15 minutes on foot. Here’s a map of the St. Petersburg Metro:
Option 2. Taxi
Another more convenient way to get downtown is by taxi, which you can do in two ways:
- You can take the taxi to the exit of the port terminal. If there are many cruises, there may be a queue.
- You can pre-book it through taxi dispatch centers such as KiwiTaxi. In that case your taxi driver will be waiting for you in the terminal with a sign with your name. A trip to the city center can cost about 1,200 rubles. If there are several of you sharing, that’s an option that can be quite economical.
6. VISITING THE CITY: What to see in St. Petersburg in 1 or 2 days
Cruises usually stop in St. Petersburg for 1 or 2 days; some may even stop for 3 days. In any case, it’s a very short period of time to visit a city with so many tourist attractions.
In this article you have an itinerary for visiting St. Petersburg for different numbers of days: What to see and do in St. Petersburg in 1, 2, 3 or 4 days: itineraries. However, I recommend other itineraries below that are more suited to tourists who arrive on a cruise, assuming they have a tourist visa.
Day 1. The must-see attractions of St. Petersburg: from the Fortress to the Hermitage
I would devote the first day to the must-see attractions of St. Petersburg. The first thing you will need is a map of the city center and its transit system. To avoid crowds and queues, it’s best to start the tour from the Peter and Paul Fortress, the city’s original citadel. In the mornings the Hermitage Museum is usually very crowded, especially if there are many cruises, so it is preferable to leave this visit for the afternoon.
I’ve suggested a schedule below with links to more detailed articles explaining what to see at each of the attractions and how to buy tickets and avoid queues:
9:00-11:30 Peter and Paul Fortress
- 9: 00-10:00 am Arrival at the Fortress and tour of the compound (admission to the compound is free)
- 10:00-11:30 am Tour of the Cathedral and the Trubetskoy Bastion Prison (there is an entry fee and tickets must be purchased on the day of the tour because they are not sold online).
- On Wednesdays the museums and exhibitions in the fortress are closed.
12:00-1:30 pm Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
- Closed on Wednesdays
- Tickets may be purchased online or at ticket offices
1:30-2:30 pm Lunch
2:30-5:30 pm Hermitage Museum
- Closes at 6:00 p.m., but is open until 9:00 p.m on Wednesdays and Fridays. Closed on Mondays
- Tickets: I recommend buying them at the vending machines to avoid queues, although you can buy them on the Museum’s official English language website, but at a higher price.
If you stay at a hotel in St. Petersburg and you don’t have to return to your ship, then I would add the following to the schedule:
7:00 pm Mariinsky Opera
- It’s essential to buy tickets in advance on the Opera’s official website.
- If there are no opera performances on the day your cruise arrives or there are no tickets left, a good alternative is to attend a Russian folklore show, such as the one put on by Feel Yourself Russian at the Nikolaevsky Palace.
10:00-11:00 pm Dinner.
11:55 Drawbridges Boat Tour
- The night cruises to see the raising of the city’s drawbridges have become one of its main tourist attractions. You can buy the ticket for a 2-hour tour on GetYourGuide,
Day 2. The suburbs of the city: Peterhof and Catherine Palace
I would use the second day to visit the city suburbs: Peterhof and Catherine Palace.
9:00 am-1:00 pm Peterhof Gardens and Palace
- It is located about 30 kilometers west of St. Petersburg and can be reached by land or by sea.
- I recommend buying the tickets for the Gardens in advance on the official website.
- The Palace is closed on Mondays.
1: 00-2:00 pm Lunch. There is a great selection of restaurants on the way out of Peterhof.
2:00-3:00 pm Transportation from Peterhof to Catherine Palace. It’s best to take a taxi that will get you there in about 45 minutes (there isn’t a good connection to public transportation from Peterhof).
3:30- 5:30 pm Catherine Palace
- I recommend buying tickets for the Palace in advance on the official website.
- The Palace is closed on Tuesdays
If you have only 1 day and you have to return to your ship in the afternoon, then I suggest that you use this itinerary:
- 9:00 am-12:30 pm Peterhof Gardens and Palace
- 12:30 pm-1:00 pm Return to Saint Petersburg by Hydrofoil
- 1:00-2:00 pm Lunch
- 2:00-4:00 pm Hermitage Museum
- 4:30-5:30 pm Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
I hope this article has helped you prepare for your visit to St. Petersburg. Thank you very much for reading. If it has been useful, you can help me by sharing this article on Facebook or Twitter
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