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St. Petersburg, Russia: Jewel of the Baltic

St. Petersburg, Russia, is consistently ranked among the top cruise ports in the world. From the Hermitage Museum and its collection of masterpieces to Catherine’s Palace and the globally recognized Church on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg is a cultural haven.

One day isn’t enough time to explore all that the city has to offer, which is why the ships overnight here. The overnight also allows time to take in a ballet and see the glittering lights that make St. Petersburg sparkle even brighter at night.

With so much to see and do, there’s not enough time to get it all in. But St. Petersburg has something for everyone, whether you like culture, history or cuisine.

Catherine’s Palace & Hermitage
If you want to see some of the most famous sites of the city, the Glories of St. Petersburg tour is a nine-hour adventure that begins outside of the city to the town of Pushkin. The drive will take you through Moscow Prospect then on the Kiev Highway to the Egyptian Gates, the entrance to the Czar’s Village in Pushkin. This town was used as the summer residence of the Royal Family.

Guests visit Catherine’s Palace, which ranks as one of the masterpieces of world architecture. Peter the Great presented the estate to his wife Catherine in 1710. In 1756, Bartelomeo Rastrelli expanded the palace in Baroque style. Its grandiose, white-and-gold façade stretches 978 feet. During World War II, the Palace was damaged severely, but since then it has been beautifully restored. The palace tour takes guests through the series of magnificent rooms, including the famous Great Hall and the Amber Room.

Catherine's Palace.

Catherine’s Palace is an impressive architectural marvel.

The nearby town of Pushkin is named after Alexander Pushkin — Russia’s most celebrated poet. The lyceum where he studied is connected to the palace by an arch.

After lunch, the tours heads back to St. Petersburg for a tour of the Hermitage Museum — the largest art museum in Russia and perhaps the most prestigious museum in the world. The Hermitage Museum occupies the Winter Palace, the winter residence of the Russian Czars, and four other buildings. Its collection of Western European art is second to none, and the nearly 3 million objects contained in the Hermitage are, like the building itself, beautiful and seemingly endless.

The Hermitage houses a collection of works by Monet, Rembrandt, da Vinci and more.

The Hermitage houses a collection of works by Monet, Rembrandt, da Vinci and more.

Guest Gladysindum took the tour and had this to say:

We were the first tour to arrive at Catherine’s palace in the morning and it was just amazing to walk through the large black and gold wrought iron gates with a band playing in front of the palace, and no-one else there, very emotional. Our guide was superb, a walking history book she took us all round the gardens too and the pavilion where we had a rendition from a Russian choir, then into another part of the palace for lunch which was simple but good. The Hermitage was very crowded in the afternoon and hot but we managed to walk straight past the queues and into the building without having to wait and also see quite a lot wandering round on our own. All in all, a very good trip, would love to do it again.

Church on the Spilled Blood
One of the most iconic architectural symbols of St. Petersburg is the Church on the Spilled Blood. Easily recognized by it’s vibrantly colored façade. A unique way to see this site is on the St. Petersburg Waterways & Church on the Spilled Blood tour. View St. Petersburg by boat as you travel along the waterways surrounding the city’s numerous squares, monuments and palaces. Continue by coach to the Church on the Spilled Blood for an inside look at this remarkable building built in 1907 on the spot where the Russian Czar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.

The Church on the Spilled Blood is a recognizable icon of St. Petersburg.

The Church on the Spilled Blood is a recognizable icon of St. Petersburg.

In a strikingly original way, the architect Parland incorporated all the features of old Russian churches, embellishing it in exuberant style with ornate decorations loosely modeled on St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. The result was startling and beautiful. The area covered by mosaics is about 23,000 square feet, believed to be the largest indoor mosaic in the world. The best painters, masters of mosaic stone carving, ceramic and enamel of the 19th and 20th centuries took part in the decoration of the church.

The church belonged to the Ministry of the Court and was open only a few times a year to a narrow circle of high society. After the revolution of 1917, the church was granted to believers and a parish church opened there. During Stalinism, the parish was closed and this magnificent house of worship served as storage for theatrical sets and scenery props. Restoration of the church began in earnest in 1974. It was a painstaking job — some windows were missing, the floor was covered with water, a shell had damaged the roof of the cathedral during the war, and six square yards of mosaic decoration were destroyed. The restorers employed only the same type of materials and technology used when the cathedral was built, including 30 kinds of rare marble and about 100 types of precious stones. In 1997, the Church on the Spilled Blood was re-opened to the public in all its original, extraordinary glory.

This is a two-part tour which starts out in a boat which cruises the Neva river. This is a great way to admire the magnificent buildings and bridges of St Petersburg. Watch those low arches as you go under the bridges, and wave at the people who connect with you as you cruise along. After the waterways tour, you are off to see the Church on Old Spilled Blood. This is definitely one of the most magnificent structures in this city. Even without a headset, the mosaics are so amazing that you will still enjoy the visual even if you cant hear your tour guide. This is a sight not to miss! — Guest Barbs

Live Like a Local
Guests looking for a different view of the city beyond the grand palaces and striking monuments should check out the St. Petersburg Through the Eyes of the Russian People tour goes underground.

While touring palatial St. Petersburg, it is easy to be dazzled by the beauty of its palaces, cathedrals and parks, but the city offers much more than this and one of the most popular tourist attractions is a ride on the Metro (subway). The Metro stations were intended by Stalin to be ‘palaces for the people,’ and many of them are quite grandiose. Thousands of tons of marble, granite and limestone were used to face the walls, and sculptures, mosaics and chandeliers were commissioned from leading artists.

Journalists Lynn and Cele Seldon currently are onboard, and they sent in photos from the tour.

Journalists Lynn and Cele Seldon currently are onboard and they sent in photos of the metro from the tour.

The first line, which opened in 1955, is the most fascinating. Head to a few different subway stations and take a short ride on the train. The Metro ride is an experience in itself and gives a glimpse of the daily life of the people of St. Petersburg. A peek at St. Petersburg’s markets and food stores also provides an intriguing insight into local life. The tour stops at a downtown restaurant specializing in Russian food and hospitality and also is known for homemade vodkas. You will be treated to a vodka sampling together with traditional Russian condiments served to complement this famous Russian drink.

Visiting the markets is a great way to see how the locals live.

Visiting the markets is a great way to see how the locals live.

Excellent tour if you are interested in social aspects of a country. No museums or churches on this tour! We enjoyed every minute of the tour, our guide was well informed and she kept the group together, especially while on the subway. — Guest ALSP

How to Get There
If St. Petersburg is on your bucket list, Holland America Line has an array of cruises to this exciting city. The line features shorter itineraries like the 12-day Baltic Adventure cruise on ms Eurodam that also includes overnights at Copenhagen, Denmark, and Stockholm, Sweden, as well as stops at Kiel and Warnemunde (Berlin), Germany; Tallinn, Estonia; and Helsinki, Finland. If a longer exploration is desired, the 28-day Baltic, Kiel Canal, Irish & Scottish Explorer itinerary on ms Prinsendam visits ports in the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. All shore excursions are available to pre-book so you can plan ahead and enjoy the most out of your leisure time.

Have you been to St. Petersburg? Is it on your bucket list? What did you like most, or what are you looking most forward to seeing? Tell us below!

1 Comment
  • Patricia

    Recently visited St Petersburgh on a tour from a cruise with the Ryndam, our tour guide was excellent, all the buildings , churches palaces were so beautiful , the many bridges and waterways. We went to a beautiful folk concert at night, the costumes were excellent and the venue was outstanding with Russian champagne at interval.

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