I would say, stay a minimum of 3 days in Saint Petersburg.
Cultural visits and entertainment options are so abundant here. Saint Petersburg is a big city. Leave yourself time to move around and to visit the main landmarks stress-free.
For a more relaxed stay, stay in Saint Petersburg for 4 or 5 days. You will have time to enjoy the city and visit some non-touristy spots.
In case you only have a weekend or if you are on a three-day visa tour, I have put together a 2-day itinerary and a 3-day itinerary. They are both doable, but may be quite intense.
Keep in mind, there are days early in the week, when the main landmarks of Saint Petersburg are closed. You are safe on the weekends, as most attractions are open Thursday through Sunday.
Take these days off into consideration when planning your trips:
- The Hermitage, Kunstkamera: Mondays
- The Catherine Palace: Tuesdays
- The St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood – Wednesdays. The colonnade of St. Isaac’s is open every day
- The Pavlovsk Palace: Fridays and the first Monday of each month
What Are the Must-do Things in St Petersburg?
- The Hermitage Museum (the Winter Palace)
- The Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo
- The Peter and Paul Fortress
- The Kazansky Cathedral
- The St. Isaac’s Cathedral (with great view on the city from the colonnade)
- Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood (especially, the interior)
- The Mariinsky Theater
- The Peterhof fountains (mid-May to mid-September)
- Drawbridges (April to November)
- Cultural spaces – Novaya Gollandia (the New Holland)
- Boat Tour (April/May to October)
- Nevsky Prospect
- The Metro Tour
- The Roof Tour
Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood mosaic.
2-day Saint Petersburg Itinerary
Walk Nevsky prospect from the Moskovsky Train Station to the St. Isaac’s Cathedral to get a feel of the city vibe. On your way, among other things, you will see the Kazansky Cathedral and the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood.
The Kazansky Cathedral is an Orthodox church dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan. Built in the early 19th century if features impressive architecture and numerous icons and works of art.
The Kazansky Cathedral is generally open to the public (no charge), however photo and filming are not allowed inside.
The Church of Savior on the Spilled Blood is just a bit off Nevsky prospect on the banks of the Griboedov Channel. You will recognize it by exuberantly decorated five onion-domes which remind the domes of the St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. The jewel of the church is its mosaic interior. With a total area of over 23,000 square feet, it is one of the largest mosaics in Europe.
Today, the church is a museum. Tickets are sold in the box office in front of the church or booked online for a specific time slot. Tickets cost 350 rubles ($4-5). Wednesday is a day off.
Walk over to the St. Isaac’s Cathedral and climb the colonnade. For 200 rubles ($3)you will to see one of the best views of Saint Petersburg. Buy tickets online or in the box office.
Please note that you would like to visit inside of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral, you will need separate tickets from the colonnade. The Cathedral is closed on Wednesdays, while access to the colonnade is open every day.
Both at the Church on the Spilled Blood and the St. Isaac Cathedral you will need to exchange your electronic vouchers that you got online for an entrance ticket at the box office or at the ticketing machines.
After lunch, visit the Hermitage. The Museum is open from noon to 9 pm. You can buy tickets for the specific time slots online or in the box office. For some reason, the English version of the ticketing website is not working properly at this time. If that is the case, switch to the Russian version, Google translate it and book tickets there. I hope they will fix it soon.
If you cannot find tickets for the Hermitage on the official site, you can always go for one of the skip-the-line tours with a local English-speaking guide.
Depending on how much time you want to spend in the museum and how tired you are, you may still have time for a night boat tour.
Viewing the drawbridges from a boat is an unforgettable experience and is highly recommended. The drawbridges rise after 1 am. You can also view the drawbridges from embankments.
Tip: make sure that your hotel is on the same side of the Neva river where your river cruise will drop you off. Otherwise, be ready for an expensive taxi ride or a long night of fun at a local bar.
I recommend to head to the Catherine Palace in the morning. The opening hours are from 10 am to 6 pm. The Catherine Palace is closed on Tuesdays, while the Catherine park is open every day.
If you find yourself in St. Petersburg on a Tuesday, it is still worth going to Tsarskoe Selo, as the Catherine park is quite nice and atmospheric. You will at least see the Catherine Palace from the outside. It is gorgeous.
Here is my article on How to Visit Tsarskoe Selo which may be helpful.
The webcam for the Catherine Palace entrance (line) can be viewed here.
If you only spend half a day in Tsarskoe selo, you can get back to the centre and spend a relaxing afternoon at a the New Holland cultural space with bars, restaurants and cafes.
Alternatively, spend some time shopping at the Gostinyi Dvor and taste some pyshki.
Go to Mariinsky Theater performance or another show or concert in the evening.
3-day Saint Petersburg Itinerary
For the third day, choose a tour of Saint Petersburg Metro with a guide. It is possible to do a self-guided-tour too for only a metro fare, however the tours with the guide give you many interesting facts about the metro and take you to the most beautiful stations.
The Peter and Paul fortress is a cool place to visit during any season. Walk by the beach to see Dvortsovaya Embankment. Here, you can visit the cathedral with the tombstones of many Russian tsars.
Everyday a noon a shot is fired from a cannon at the Naryshkin Bastion, a custom appeared in 1865.
I have heard incredible things about the Saint Petersburg roof tour. For this tour, you definitely need a guide to show you around. You can find a guide outside the Singer book store which is opposite the Kazansky Cathedral.
I have found this roof tour that can be booked online.
In the summer, you may as well do the Peterhof fountains on Day 3. The visit will take you at least 5 hours. Buy tickets online or at the box office.
The fountains usually open in the middle of May an shut down around mid-September. Both the opening and closing date are marked by a show.
Off-season, you may visit the Peterhof park and the palace.