St Petersburg itinerary: 4 days in St Petersburg
4 days in St Petersburg may sound like a lot of time to make a nice St Petersburg itinerary. But let me be honest. There are so many things to see and do in St Petersburg that 4 days is actually not that much.
The Venice of the north is full of excellent museums, extravagant palaces, classical architecture, beautiful canals, ancient churches and elegant gardens. Though St Petersburg is mostly shaped by its time as the capital of imperial Russia, there are some traces of its Soviet history as well.
In the end, St Petersburg has something for everyone. This 4 day St Petersburg itinerary includes St Petersburg top attractions and is a balance between indoor and outdoor activities. It will help you to make the most out of your time.
My St Petersburg itinerary
I actually had more than a week in St Petersburg and it was my third visit. I know that many of you probably aren’t that lucky to have this amount of time available. However, I believe that 4 days in St Petersburg is the minimum amount of time you need.
You might find lots of St Petersburg itineraries online for less than 4 days. However, this means you either have to rush things or miss out on some of the city’s top attractions.
This 4 day St Petersburg itinerary includes the most beautiful and important sights. If you have more time though, I can recommend my St Petersburg travel guide for inspiration.
How to spend 4 days in St Petersburg
Day 1 Self guided walking tour of St Petersburg
On your first day in St Petersburg I can recommend my own self guided free walking tour of St Petersburg. It goes along the Nevsky prospekt all the way to the Hermitage, Vasiliyevski island and the Peter and Paul fortress. This walking tour will be a great introduction to St Petersburg and takes in some of the most beautiful areas of the city with a number of top attractions.
It will be a long day and it would be impossible to visit all the museums and churches you come across on your way. You will have to make some choices. Below I give some recommendations.
Alexander Nevsky monastery
The walking tour starts at the Alexander Nevsky monastery. This is one of the oldest monasteries in St Petersburg. It was built by Peter the Great who thought it was the place where prince Alexander Nevski won a battle against the swedes. Even though this was not the case, it remains a very sacred place for the locals. The cemetery grounds include famous Russian people like Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky.
If you are interested in the second World war you can make a quick stop at ploshchad vosstaniya to see the Leningrad hero city obelisk. Otherwise I suggest you take the metro from the Alexander Nevski monastery straight to Mayakovskaya metro station and walk from there to the beautiful Anichkov bridge. This is the oldest bridge across the Fontanka river with two impressive horse sculptures on each side.
Near the Anichkov bridge is the Faberge museum in the Shuvalov palace. This small museum is well worth a visit for its lavish rooms and excellent Faberge jewellery art collection. Faberge had a unique style that was rich in decorations and intricate details. The Romanovs were so impressed by his work that they appointed him to be their imperial jeweller.
Most famous are the elaborate Fabergé eggs that Faberge made each year to present to the Tsars during easter. The museum has 9 of them along with other items made for the Romanovs such as clocks, tea sets, silverware etc.
After the Fabergé museum you will pass by several interesting buildings on the Nevsky prospekt such as the 18th century trading arcade of Gostiny dvor, the Art nouveau Eliseyev food hall, the Catherine Park and the Singer building with its large bookstore.
One of the main attractions is the large Kazan cathedral. It is dedicated to our lady of Kazan, one of the most sacred icons in the Russian orthodox church. The design was inspired by the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and meant to impress people with its size. The interior is like a big hall with columns on each side. Look closely and you will see there are numerous sculptures as well as icon paintings to look at. It is one of the few churches in St Petersburg that is free to enter.
Church of the savior on the spilled blood
From the Kazan cathedral it is a small detour away from the Nevski prospekt to see the church of the savior on the spilled blood. It was built in the early 20th century on the location where Tsar Alexander the Second was killed in 1888. It is worth visiting inside for the lavish decorations containing paintings and mosaics with scenes from the bible.
To reach Vasiliyevski island you will pass by the Admiralty and Hermitage. Today you will enjoy its beauty from the outside. The Hermitage is one of the largest museums in this world and you will need a full day to explore its large art collection in the lavish rooms of the winter palace, the former residential palace of the Romanov Tsars.
You will visit the Hermitage on the second day of this St Petersburg itinerary. For now, I suggest you enjoy the beautiful views on the winter palace and the Neva as you cross the palace bridge and stroll along the Strelka of Vasilievsky island. Although the original walking tour ends at the Peter and Paul fortress I recommend you end your day at Vasilievsky island to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Neva river.
Vasiliyevski island is one of the oldest parts of St Petersburg. Peter the Great initially wanted this to be the center of his new capital and build several important buildings here such as the state university and the stock market. His successors found it more practical to stay on the mainland and didn’t develop the island further, but it remains a historically important part of the city.
Lunch tip: Pelmeniya (dumpling restaurant near the Fabergé museum) or Shtolle (savoury and sweet pastries near Admiralty on the Nevski prospekt)
Dinner tip: Market place (self service buffet restaurant at Vasiliyevski island)
Day 2 Hermitage & St Isaac cathedral
On the second day of your St Petersburg itinerary get up early for your visit to the Hermitage museum.
The hermitage has one of the largest art exhibitions in the world with over 3 million items collected by the Romanovs and other noble families over almost 3 centuries. Most of the collection was from Catherine the Great. During her life, she acquired over 4,000 paintings, 38,000 books, 10,000 gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and a natural history collection filling two galleries.
Tsar Nicholas the first opened the Hermitage as a museum to show parts of the collection to the public. It is so huge that only a small percentage is on permanent display. This includes the egyptian and classical antiquities and paintings from all over Europe covering different time periods and various styles.
The rooms of the Hermitage are just as impressive as the collection. The Winter palace was the official residence of the Tsars until the Russian revolution. The Bolsheviks looted the place and left a lot of damage. However, it soon opened as a state museum and some of the rooms such as the malachite room, the dining room, the library, the throne room and the big hall were renovated back into its original state.
St Isaac cathedral
The Hermitage will take you most of your day. In the afternoon, if you still have time, you can visit the St Isaac cathedral that is just around the corner of the Hermitage.
The St Isaac cathedral is the biggest cathedral in St Petersburg. It was built by Tsar Alexander the first and dedicated to Saint Isaac, the patron saint of Peter the Great. Because of the unstable soil, the construction took over 40 years.
In Soviet times the church became a museum of the history of religion and atheism. It has remained a museum ever since, nowadays mostly showcasing its lavish interior and golden dome with angels.
Dinner: Pkhali Khinkali (Georgian restaurant near St Isaac cathedral) or Stolovaya no1 (cheap Russian food between Hermitage and St Isaac cathedral)
Insider tip: The Hermitage has free entrance on each third thursday of the month. It will be very busy, but a great way to save money if you are on a budget.
Day 3 St Petersburg metro tour & Peter and Paul fortress
On the third day of this St Petersburg itinerary we start with another free self guided tour of the St Petersburg metro.
St Petersburg metro
Above the ground, the city is all about the 18th and 19th century nobility,, but below the ground you still find traces of its Sovuet history. The St Petersburg metro might not be as famous as the one in Moscow, but some of its stations are just as beautiful.
The St Petersburg metro was built with the same Soviet ideology that they were to be the palaces of the people. Therefore you will find lofty ceilings, lots of marble and communist symbols and grand statues. According to the Guardian, Avtovo is among the top 12 most beautiful metro stations in the world.
The Peter and Paul Fortress
End your St Petersburg metro tour at Gorkovskaya metro station. From here you can walk to the Peter and Paul fortress. This is where the history of the city began. The citadel was the first thing to be built by Peter the Great to protect his new capital against attacks from the Swedes. It was later notorious for its prison. First it was used by the Romanovs for political prisoners and later by the Bolsheviks.
Lunch: Teremok (best Russian blini pancakes, there is a teremok street food stall near the entrance to the Peter and Paul fortress)
Dinner: Koryushka (a bit upmarket cafe near the Peter and Paul fortress with great views on the neva river and the winter palace)
Day 4 Visit one of the palaces outside of St Petersburg & Marinsky theatre
On the 4th day of this St Petersburg itinerary you can visit one of the palaces outside of St Petersburg. You have to choose between Peterhof & Oranienbaum or Tsarskoe selo or Pavlovsk. A difficult choice.
Peterhof & Oranienbaum
Peterhof & Ornanienbaum are very close to each other so this would allow you to visit two palaces. The gardens of Oranienbaum are particularly impressive in winter, but the palace is average, contrary to the extravagant Peterhof palace.
Inspired by Versailles in France, Peterhof is all about showing off the Romanov’s wealth and power at that time.The main palace with its impressive cascade full of fountains and statues is the main attraction, but it’s a large complex that has much more to offer. In its large lower and upper gardens are several pavilions, smaller palaces and a church.
Because the gardens at both palaces are a big part of the palace grounds they are a good choice when the weather is good. Don’t think winter is a bad time. Especially then, the gardens offer winter wonderland sceneries.
At Tsarskoe selo the focus is more on the palace itself and the lavish rooms than on the gardens. This is a great choice if the weather isn’t too great. You could easily spend a couple of hours exploring the opulent and beautifully decorated rooms of the Catherine palace.
Pavlovsk isn’t as extravagant and famous as Peterhof or Tsarskoe Selo, but it is my personal favourite palace near St Petersburg. It was a gift from Catherine the Great to her first son Paul. With his good taste in fine arts he developed a simple, but beautiful and elegant palace surrounded by a large park with ponds, lakes and forests.
End your 4 day St Petersburg itinerary with a night out at the Mariinsky theatre. This 19th century theatre where people like Tchaikovski once had their premiere still offers excellent ballet and opera performances.
When to visit St Petersburg
St Petersburg is often considered to be a summer city that is famous for its white nights. In reality, St Petersburg is a year round destination. Even winter with its cold weather and gloomy dark days can be very rewarding. In fact, it’s a magical time with its winter wonderland sceneries and frozen Neva.
With so many museums, palaces and churches there is enough to keep you busy indoors if the weather is not in your favour. If it is, there is also plenty to do outside to enjoy a nice sunny day in St Petersburg.
Where to stay in St Petersburg
Hostel 1703 is a great hostel in the center of St Petersburg with female only and male only dormitories
Whisper Hostel is a new budget hostel with great dormitories including female only and male only if you prefer. A bit further from the center than hostel 1703, but it is close to a metro station.
Like hostel is a good hostel near the Mariinsky theatre and Nikolski cathedral. It has both private rooms and dormitories.
Pension Marlen has excellent private rooms for very reasonable prices, especially considering its central location near the Mikhailovski gardens.
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