Many people want to visit Saint Petersburg for a couple of days, and it’s very easy to see why. Though just a little over three centuries old, few other cities on earth have such a rich, tempestuous past as the ancient capital of Russia.
And the attractions are legion. Just consider the Hermitage, the Winter Palace, or the stupendous Church of The Spilled Blood, for openers. Saint Petersburg was hugely influenced by the raft of contemporary European capitals that it’s creator, Peter the Great, scoured in search of inspiration for the new capital, his fabled ‘Window On The West’.
The houses and public buildings that throng the edges of the broad, meandering River Neva have grand echoes of Palladian and ancient Greek majesty. The waterside boulevards, lined with plane trees, are so Parisian as to be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. All things considered, it has always been a city that should make for a great European short break.
Except for just one problem…
Russian bureaucracy seems to be as set in stone as Lenin’s mausoleum. Obtaining a visa takes time, travail and expense on such a scale that it has put legions of potential tourists off going there for at least five decades. But now, at long last, there is a way around it.
A Russian ferry company called St. Peter Line has been operating a year round, overnight sailing for a couple of years now, between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg and back. The line has an exemption that allows them to offer visa free round trips- each one including two nights in a Saint Petersburg hotel- from either of these easily reachable Baltic hub ports.
The voyage takes about fifteen hours in either direction, offered on large, comfortable ferries that have more than enough bars, dining and entertainment venues to be considered as an integral part of the overall holiday experience. The emphasis is on Russian ‘hospitality’, something to bear in mind if you are perhaps accustomed to travelling amid levels of luxury equal to the Ritz, or the Savoy. This seems to be one of those quixotic travel experiences where you might well just have to roll with the punches.
That said, this is a unique, year round opportunity to see one of the greatest cities in the world. And it really is worth seeing. The serially adventurous among you can always tie in such a jaunt with a few days in either Stockholm or Helsinki, both marvellous propositions in their own right.
This is a trip I might look at doing myself in 2014. As always, stay tuned.
Also- thanks to intrepid blogger Kalle Id for bringing to my attention another option, also offered by St. Peter Line. This takes the form of a four night, cruise ferry round trip- Pearls Of The Baltic – that allows potential passengers to embark in either Helsinki, Tallinn, Stockholm or, indeed, Saint Petersburg itself.
Kalle is a regular contributor to the excellent Maritimematters website, and is alway swell worth a read.