Q. I am visiting St. Petersburg on a cruise ship. Do I need a visa?
A. Yes. Nearly 70 percent of all tourists to St. Petersburg arrive by ship, and they all need visas.
Q. Can I sightsee on my own?
A. Yes, but only if you have a tourist visa, and unless you applied before leaving home, you likely do not. Moreover, sightseeing in St. Petersburg without a guide is not advised for a number of reasons. If you don’t speak the language, for example, you’ll have a difficult time getting to where you want to go — and back.
Q. How do I apply for a tourist visa?
A. You can download the necessary forms and instructions at www.russianembassy.org/consulat/contact.htm
Q. What’s the best way to sightsee?
A. Book a private tour with your cruise line. It will cost you more, but you’ll be able to cover a lot more ground. Plus, you’ll move through museums, such as the Hermitage, much more quickly than large groups.
Q. Where does my ship dock?
A. Small ships typically dock on the Neva River near the Hermitage and Nevsky Prospect. Large ships dock at the industrial commercial port, 15 minutes from the city center and not at all attractive. In 2008, two new cruise complexes are slated to open closer to the city center for large cruise ships.
Q. What souvenirs do you recommend?
A. During the past few decades the number of St. Petersburg shops, supermarkets and commercial centers increased dramatically. Shops tend to gravitate to Nevsky Prospect, including Gostiny Dvor, a department store; and Passage, across the street from Gostiny Dvor. Typical Russian souvenirs: Russian dolls, china, red and black caviar, and amber. Be sure not to miss Eliseyevski Magazin, the city’s best known grocery store, named after its founder and first owner, who delivered to the Russian Tsar’s Court. In St. Petersburg, artifacts from the Soviet-era may be purchased, but be advised that special permits are required for taking authentic artifacts out of the country.
Q. I want to return to St. Petersburg in the winter. Can you recommend hotels?
A. Yes, Grand Hotel Europe and Eliseev Palace Hotel. For something more quaint, try Alexander House. The boutique hotel is owned and operated by Alexander Zhukov, a former journalist for Associated Press and other news services. Zhukov’s 16-room hotel is a 15-minute walk from Nevsky Prospect. The hotel features spacious rooms (with large baths), a beautiful outdoor garden for dining or drinks, and a cozy dining room, where on the night we walked in, a fire was blazing in the stone fireplace.