Petersburg Free Tour gives you basic information about the city's major sights and Russian history. The tour itself doesn’t require a lot of walking, but you will see the Hermitage, the Admiralty and Nevsky Prospekt. The guides use loudspeakers, so you won't miss anything important. The walk starts daily at 10:45 near the Alexander Column in the center of Palace Square - even in winter time! Booking is recommended, but not required; you can simply show up and look for a guide with the sign.
Be ready to hear information about buildings, monuments and churches you’ll see around you, but also about serfdom, Russian theater, nesting dolls, revolutions, the Siege of Leningrad, Joseph Stalin, Russian salad and Beef-stroganoff. Russians take their country very seriously and can talk about its history for ages. At the end of the tour you'll be able to answer questions like: “Who was the first prisoner of the Peter and Paul Fortress? What is the connection between Peter I and Catherine II?” and so on. So choose Petersburg Free Tour if you skipped all preparations for your Russia trip and would like to get up to speed with everything in just 3 hours!
The guide will provide you with encyclopedic information on “what to see”, give you information about the museums' working days, opening hours and even ticket prices. Some things will be repeated twice for you to remember. Though the tour presents a limited opportunity to talk to the guide (there are usually about 20-40 people in the group), all questions will be answered and advice about the city will be given. Although the tour is called “free”, it is based on tips and the amount is connected to the level of your satisfaction.
Check out www.petersburgfreetour.com for additional information and other tours on offer (prices range from 1,199 to 2,300Rbl).
The Original Walk is one of the oldest city tours for budget-conscious English-speaking travelers. Established in 1996 by Peter Kozyrev (Peterswalk company founder) this tour runs daily from Easter till the middle of October, except May 27. The main idea behind it is that St. Petersburg is much more than a collection of gilded palaces and cathedrals, but a huge metropolis living its own unique life. Tourists can feel like locals – visit food markets, Russian Orthodox churches, New Holland park and walk through the city's famous backstreets and alleyways.
The tour starts near Sennaya Square, described in Dostovevsky’s greatest novel “Crime and Punishment”, and then includes the world famous Mariinsky Theater. Since nowadays the walk is given by 6 different guides of the company, every tour will be distinct, as it depends on the groups' requests, the weather and the guide’s personality. You may stay for a while in the Synagogue, hang out at a roof-top café, discuss Rasputin’s murder near Yusupovsky Palace or even try traditional “nastoika” - homemade infusions.
The excursion usually takes 4 hours but there is always a coffee-break in the middle, so participants are able to relax, chat to each other or have long conversation with their guide about the mysterious Russian soul. Booking is recommended on www.peterswalk.com, as there is a maximum amount of 15 people per tour.
Excursions by city activists
In 2015, social entrepreneur Olga Polyakova created a festival “Open Your Map”. Her main idea was to make excursions for locals told by local guides, so from the very beginning many tours were dedicated to social problems, subcultures and informal places. Nowadays, several tours are available in English because Olga’s team is interested in showing the “alternative side” of St. Petersburg during the 2018 World Cup. Tourists can meet urban activists and learn about Russia’s civil society, street art, LGBT-community, homeless people, political protesters and attend networking events in bars.
Polyakova herself conducts a tour dedicated to creative spaces, such as Pushkinskaya 10 - the oldest art-center where underground artists and musicians squatted in the early 1990's; Loft Project Etagi – 10-year old cultural clusters located in a former bread factory; and several others. She is not a professional tour-guide, but more an expert on contemporary St. Petersburg culture.
This and other excursions can be booked here: www.cupforpeople.spb.ru/en.
City and museum quests
If you would like to explore St. Petersburg in an active way, meet expats, exchange students and locals, check out the English In Action SPb schedule. They organize online quests around museums, such as the Hermitage and the Russian Museum, and walking quests in different city districts. Participants are not obliged to have a deep knowledge about Russian history and culture, they just need some sharpness of mind and a passion for quizzes (but yes, some things can be googled). Intellectual bar hopping is the easiest way to really immerse oneself in local nightlife, discover bars on Rubinstein Street, drink with new friends and learn some history along the way. All competitions are held in small groups of 4-5 people and the teams are formed at the beginning of the event.
Project founder Irina Efros is originally from St. Petersburg, but has also lived in London for a while, where she studied at the University of Westminster. With a passion for cultural exchange, she also offers culinary workshops with special guests from Mexico, Sri Lanka, Finland, Peru, Ethiopia, Iran and India, which include both cooking and conversation. Another format is TeaXcursion – a set of short thematic excursions followed by coffee and tea breaks. One of them is dedicated to the history of merchants in St. Petersburg and finishes at the prominent Eliseevsky grocery store, where participants visit the former owner’s study. All information about upcoming events and prices can be found at www.facebook.com/englishinactionspb/.
Seeing the city from above is a must when visiting St. Petersburg. Since the mid 19th century, local law has limited building height, with the exception of churches, to that of the tsar’s Winter Palace (23.5 meters). Today, if you climb onto the roof of any six-storey building in the center, you’ll be able to see the glorious skyline and major architectural gems. But, unfortunately, almost all rooftop tours are illegal and not safe. They are usually conducted by brave and risk-loving young roofers, who exchange their knowledge of the city's roofs for some cash. And the tour can go either way: you may encounter angry residents or homeless people living in the garret or you may have a lot of fun - it’s hard to predict! So we recommend you sign up for the legal roof tour, tried and tested by members of the St. Petersburg government.
It is located just 5 minutes walk from Moskovsky railway station. The building height is about 25 meters, which is equivalent to the 9th floor of a modern house. After signing a document with safety rules, tourists arrive at the MPVO tower (air-raid protection post), which was built during the Second World War. The guide will tell you about the major city sights, the history of the Siege of Leningrad and the importance of MPVO towers. With the help of a spyglass, small details become visible and one can even see residential areas near the newly constructed Zenit Arena stadium, which is about 10 kilometers away. This excursion may not be the most extreme one you'll ever have, but still interesting and reasonably cheap – just 900Rbl. Find out more information about it here: www.panoramicroof.ru/en. Another roof with amazing views is located at the Loft Project Etagi complex (Ligovsky Prospekt 74), but no tour is offered there.
Enjoying the city from the water is another “must do” thing in the "Venice of the North". When Peter the Great founded the city in the early 18th century, he had been inspired by Amsterdam. He wanted all citizens to use private boats and didn’t allow the construction of bridges over the Neva. Today, there are several options of exploring St. Petersburg’s rivers and canals from the 1st of May till the end of September. Because summer here is often unpredictable, all boats have a covered deck; but we'd still recommend bringing warm clothes, raincoats or even a little bottle of vodka to drink secretly if you start to freeze!
Anglotourismo offers day and night cruises, which depart from 3 different locations. Day tours with English speaking guides start in May and tourists can hop on and off the boat at three different stops (the tour’s duration is 1 hour 20 minutes). Night cruises depart at 21:30 and 0:20 from Fontanka Embankment 27, starting from the 1st of June. No stops are included, but passengers will be able to see the famous draw bridges and join the improvized race between dozens of water bikes, yachts and motor boats. Prices range from 900 to 1,300Rbl, check out the timetable at www.anglotourismo.com.
Another 2-hour hop on/hop off boat tour is presented by the City Tour company, which also offers trips on double-decker buses. They have more frequent departures, 4 stops (Kunstkamera, Bronze Horseman, Lomonosov Bridge and St. Nicholas Cathedral), an unlimited amount of "hops" within 24 hours and provide an audio guide in several languages. There are discounts if you choose a combo ticket. Find more information at www.city-cruise.ru/en.
The cheapest and fastest boat tour (just 1 hour and 700Rbl) departs daily from Admiralteyskaya Embankment 10. Audio Guide in 6 Languages offers the tour along the Neva, Fontanka and Moika rivers in Russian, English, French, Italian, Spanish and German. It departs daily at 13:30, 15:00, 17:00 and 18:30.
Booking is recommended via firstname.lastname@example.org or whatsApp +79213838309. Don’t forget that you are not obliged to listen to the recording, you can just relax, put away the headset and enjoy the waves and stunning views.
St. Petersburg is a perfect city for bike rides with its flat terrain, quiet streets and wide embankments, which make up for the lack of bike paths in the city center. Offered by Peterswalk since 2007, Weekend and White Nights bike tours are designed for those who would like to see all the major highlights in just 3.5 hours. All attendants will pass a safety briefing and be given helmets (upon request). The route goes through quiet streets, parks and pedestrian zones, so participants won’t get stuck in traffic jams with cars. The company uses “Shulz” bikes, a local brand that produces compact folding city bikes (they are easy to ride even if the last time you rode a bike was 10 years ago). Bike rental is included in the price of the tour.
During the excursion you will cycle along different neighborhoods of the city, making stops at the Church on the Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Square and the Peter-and-Paul Fortress, where the guide will provide you with all the necessary historical information. Grand panoramic views along the Neva embankments and charming old residential areas are all part of the program as well. Still, many variations are possible, depending on your guide: you may wander in the yards of the Petrograd side or explore hidden corners of Kolomna district. Don’t be afraid to make some requests and discuss the route in the beginning of the excursion. Participants usually stop for a coffee or “small beer” break during the tour (Dutch and German tourists are especially fond of this). A night tour is not complete without watching the giant drawbridges across the Neva open in the middle of the night. Booking is required, as there is a limit on the amount of participants (maximum 15 people).
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