St Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia and is the cultural capital. It is home to the largest art museum in the world and is a fascinating city to visit. There is only a small handful of countries that is allowed to enter St Petersburg Visa Free and obtaining a Visa into Russia can be a tedious process. Fortunately, there are exceptions that allows you to enter St Petersburg Visa Free for up to 72 hours.
The best way is to travel by ferry from Helsinki or Tallinn on services run by St. Peter Line. Technically, this is still classified as a cruise and you will require to book a city bus tour through St. Peter Line before you can disembark. Fortunately, the city bus tour is only a shuttle that runs from the Vasilevskiy Island to the city center and you can get off whenever you want.
You will be able to move around St Petersburg freely during the 72 hour period and book any hotel or apartment accommodation. This option is highly recommended for independent travelers who wants to have freedom of doing activities on their own.
If you travel to St Petersburg on a cruise ship, you are allowed to stay up to 72 hours Visa Free. However you are require to sleep on the cruise ship and can only disembark if you participate in authorized tours organized by cruise companies. This is the way we chose to enter St Petersburg visa free. However there are issues which I will cover below.
We chose to enter St Petersburg via an 8 days/7 nights Spanish Baltic sea cruise. This was because we secured a good deal on Vacations To Go. The cruise was only USD $700 including tips. We had a window view room, the food was all included and we had a drink package of unlimited alcohol. Winny and I never been on a cruise ship before and we thought it would be a great way to tour the countries on the Baltic Sea.
Visiting St Petersburg via a cruise ship is perfect for people who usually join tours to see a city. There are a huge variety of tours which we could sign up on to tour St Petersburg on our cruise ship. However these tours are extremely expensive and are not worth the price. Especially we are travelling on a backpacker’s budget. We didn’t want to join any cruise tours but we had to join one to enter St Petersburg Visa Free.
In the end we signed up for the cheapest tour (33 Euros Each) which offered a lot of free time to explore St Petersburg on our own. The tour which we signed up for both days, offered 1-2 hours of tour on the bus and at least 4.5 hours of free time. Unfortunately, the tour companies running these tours did not stick to the original plan. We were only given 2 hours of free time on the first day and 3.5 hours on the second day. As a result we missed out on many places which we wanted to see such as entering the Hermitage. We did cover most of the important sight seeing locations in St Petersburg.
For independent travelers and backpackers, I highly recommend entering St Petersburg Visa Free via ferry from Helsinki or Tallinn. Because this is the only way which will give you flexibility over 72hr period in St Petersburg. Although we did enjoy our 8 days’ worth of cruise ship travel, we felt that we traded it with valuable time in St Petersburg.