Best Shore Excursions in St Petersburg for Visa-free Cruise Passengers

Can I Visit Russia without a Visa?

Yes, you can if you meet certain conditions:

"In accordance with the decision of the Government of the Russian Federation, cruise and ferry passengers may stay in the territory of the Russian Federation for 72 hours without visa if they arrive in Saint-Petersburg on board a vessel as part of a tour group."

You can visit St Petersburg visa-free if you arrive in the city by ferry or by a cruise ship.  

This gives you 72 hours to stay in town. The 72-hour period begins from the moment of crossing border control.

Per the legislation of the Russian Federation (RF Government Resolution № 397, May 7/ 2009) to be eligible for the visa-free entry as a cruise ship passenger you must meet the following conditions:

  • arrive and leave by the same ship
  • have a passport valid for 6 months from the date of entry
  • book a tour & hold a tour voucher (one for each person) confirming service arranged by the Russian licensed tour company or a liner’s tour ticket arranged by your cruise operator
  • return to the ship in the evening & spend the night(s) on the ship
  • stay for less than 72 hours

Most cruises and ferries arrive in Saint Petersburg from Helsinki, Finland.  The Baltic Sea cruises typically stop in Saint Petersburg for 2 nights.

The cruise ships will dock at the Vasilievsky Island, about 15 minutes away by car from the city center.

You will need a voucher provided by an authorized tour operator to show to immigration.  See options below.

Will a Cruise Line Arrange Tours?

Yes, a ferry or a cruise company will offer you organize transfers from the docks to the St Petersburg city center or try to sell you shore excursions that pick you up from the pier.  

According to many cruise passengers, the prices of cruise line tours are higher than those you can organize yourself.

 

Can I Book My Own Shore Excursion?

Cruise line passengers can arrange their tours with authorized tour companies in St Petersburg independently without overpaying for the cruise line tours.  

Some tourists I spoke to said that the cruise excursions were at least 50% more expensive.  Compare prices before booking. 

You will need a voucher to show at passport control. The companies will pick you up  at the port and return you to the cruise ship after the day of touring.

Please ask how many people will be on your tour.  Most tours are done by a minivan with seven passengers or a small bus.  Private tours are also available. 

I do not recommend coach bus tours with 50+ people.  Saint Petersburg can become crowded in the high season. Itineraries are usually very intense, so you don’t want to waste time.

 

How to Book a Shore Excursion in St Petersburg

The easiest way is to find a Visa-Free Shore Excursion is through aggregators like TripAdvisor/Viator or GetYourGuide.  

They advertise tours, collect reviews and offer 24-hour cancellation policy, which is very convenient.

 

What is a Typical St Petersburg Shore Excursion Itinerary?

1-day St Petersburg Shore Excursion

Top attractions included in a 1-day tour are usually some of the following: the Hermitage, Peterhof, the Catherine Palace, or  the Church of Savior on the Spilled Blood.
 

2-day or 3-day St Petersburg Shore Excursion

If you do an additional day or 2, the itinerary will also include the Fortress of Peter and Paul, a boat tour along the river and canals, a visit to the Faberge Museum, a metro Tour, and the St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
 

There are visa-free shore excursions from St Petersburg to Moscow that last 12-14 hours.

I would advise you to pick a private or a small group tour and to stay away from the coach bus tour with 50+ people.  

You may want to clarify whether the tour includes entrance tickets for the attractions, or just a photo stop.  

The shore excursions would generally include a stop at a Russian cuisine restaurant for lunch. Tours would normally return you to the cruise ship around 5 pm. 

You will be expected to walk quite a lot.  Good walking shoes are essential.  

Please note, that most of these tours are not wheelchair accessible. 

What to Pack on a Shore Excursion in St Petersburg?

  • Passport and travel voucher
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Camera
  • Raincoat or umbrella (or sunglasses and hat)
  • Snacks and water
  • Cash to buy souvenirs
  • Essential medications
Keep an eye on your belongings at all times.  Pickpockets are there.
Saint Petersburg native and Travel Blogger