We’d flown into St Petersburg from Beijing the day before – a comfortable flight via Moscow got us into town about midday and we’d spent a lazy afternoon within a few hundred metres of the Cronwell Hotel, first at the Two Sticks restaurant for a very cheap Russian/Asian fusion meal, then later at the CAT Café for a heavier Georgian feast. A relaxed first day meant we were ready for the long cold walk ahead.
St Petersburg walking tour
Our guide met us in the lobby of our hotel, just off Nevsky Prospect, and introduced herself as Olga. It was February and she was ready for the Russian winter, wearing a long fur-lined coat and traditional Ushanka furry hat with earflaps.
We were wearing two coats apiece and our most grippy shoes to deal with the icy pavements.
From the gallery it was a short loop to see a selection of tiny hidden metal statues – two cats and the Chizhik-Pyzhik, a tiny statue of a pigeon. Traditionally passers-by throw coins to the pigeon for good luck, which are then fished out by a tramp with a magnet. Unfortunately for him most of the coins froze instantly into the snow below.
Saviour of the Spilled Blood
Saviour of the Spilled Blood is the most ornate cathedral from the outside. The inside is good but not breath taking. There’s a small fee to enter with a camera – if funds are short I’d suggest saving the cash for St Isaacs.
St Isaacs Cathedral
Set slightly away from Nevsky Prospect, St Isaacs has the most impressive interior of all the cathedrals we saw that day. Its walls and ceilings are full of ornate paintings and mosaics. The weight of the extravagant decoration wasn’t takien into account during the planning of the building and is causing it to slowly sink.
St Krazzny Cathedral
Back on Nevsky Prospect we entered the Singer Café. It’s a well-stocked bookshop (also known as ‘The House of Books’) with an expensive café. The tea was nothing special but the view explained the price – it’s directly opposite St Krazzny cathedral.On the inside St Krazzny is huge – it’s worth seeking out the architects models on the ground floor to get an appreciation of the scale.
Looking at cathedrals in the cold is hungry work so we stopped at the Elisseeff Emporium, which is a very ornate food hall, to pick up some macaroons before eating lunch at the considerably less fancy Tepemok chain restaurant. Tepemok serves up cheap and filling savoury pancakes. It’s busy and noisy, but satisfying.
After lunch our guide took us past the Hermitage art museum to the Neva Embankment. This is the iconic view of the river that runs through St Petersburg.Also looking over the view is the Peter The Great Monument
Crossing the Neva river from the West to the East the bridge ends at Admiralty, where a spire dominates the skyline.
St Petersburg Tips
Before planning your days out check whether the cathedrals are open – they each close on different weekdays. We went on a Saturday which meant everything was open, but a lot more people about.
The food and drink on Nevsky Prospect is generally overpriced, but quite decent. Head a block or two away from the main road and prices drop considerably. One chain that was very good value was called Two Sticks – a three course meal was 350 roubles.
If you go in winter, unsurprisingly it’s really cold! Dress as warm as you can though – most large museums will have cloak rooms to drop off your coat/hat/scarf/gloves/second coat.