My wish was to visit Russia in winter. Many travellers choose their time of travel to Russia in summer as winter here is famously cold and difficult for the foreigner. But what is Russia without the snow and the beautiful fur hoods?! Saint Petersburg is especially beautiful under the snow. One is sure, Russian winter tests you, make you realize how weak and not prepared you are for the uncommon weather conditions.
Saint Petersburg is a popular tourist destination. I didn’t realize that until my feet almost froze on the queue in front of the Hermitage ticket office. It was -18 C that day. The real winter just started 2-3 days ago and we were enough lucky to see the city with its white coat.
There are too many museums, amazing palaces, beautiful churches and other attractions to be seen in Saint Petersburg. The best way to see the real face of the city is to spend more time here, especially as a “slow traveler”. The visas for Russia can be between 1 and 3 months so you can have plenty of time to discover the Russian lifestyle and the Russian culture.
In terms of best season to visit Saint Petersburg, local people say that people who come in winter wish to see the city also in summer and the opposite is valid too. It is true. When you are walking on the snowy streets, decorated for the upcoming Orthodox Christmas and all people around you are wearing with fur coats and fur hats, you inevitably start wondering how the place looks like in summer. It was at the park in Catherine’s Palace and then at the Church of Spilled Blood when I wished to see Saint Petersburg and its surroundings in summer too.
All these words are to say that no matter in which season you decide to visit the city, it will be always beautiful and different. It is always worth it. Because there are too much beauty and so many cultural treasures that at any given moment will discover Saint Petersburg in a different way. I hope one day to be back in Peter’s city and to see it blooming and warm during the summer.
The highlights of this trip were various and unexpected. Let me start with the cold. Cold here is a real challenge if you are coming from the warmer country and you are not used to minus temperatures. Yesterday the temperature during the day was between -10 and -14 and when I told the old cloakroom man at the restaurant “It is cold today.”, he answered with a smile: “Cold? No, it is not cold today. Cold is -30C”. What else I could say unless smile in return and think how weak I am in comparison with these people. In the following posts, I will share with you my female travel tips for surviving the Russian winter.
A trip to Russia in winter tastes you, makes you choose the challenge instead of the easy, relaxing beach vacation. It is good from time to time to challenge yourself in order to see a destination in its most authentic picture. You just have to have a good parka, to have a few layers of clothes and very good boots; and a lot of vitamins.
The best place to visit in Saint Petersburg in the winter season is Tsarskoe Selo, or also called Pushkin. Place of special interest here is the Catherine Palace. Why is that? Because it is enough large to allow larger flows of visitors and you will not need to wait hours at front of the ticket offices as it is often with the museums in the city. Tsarskoe Selo is 25 km away from Saint Petersburg and was the favourite summer residence of Catherine II. The rooms are decorated with gold, the palace is in Rococo style and there are some quite unique furniture pieces. Outside, the park is huge, the alleys are symmetrically arranged and despite that, in winter there is no greenery and flowers, on a beautiful sunny day makes you wish to walk around for hours. The frozen pond is a walkway to the Turkish bath at the end of the garden. And the specially constructed for Catherine Roman therms are part of a complex with a gallery for walks in Greek style.
The Palace Square is the heart of Saint Petersburg. Right in the middle of it is the Alexander Column and without it, the visitor can get lost in the immense free space bordered by Hermitage and the huge arch of the General Staff Building. As sun rays, from the Palace Square, are starting channels and streets, some of them with the notorious names like Millionaire’s Street. The entire place around is full of palaces of the previous Russian nobles and if you follow the channels will reach the Russian Museum and its art exhibitions and the Church of the Spilled Blood. The palace square looks surrealistic under the snow with hundreds of people walking around and it is difficult to say who is local and who is a just tourist. Even the foreigners dress like Russians – it is their only way to survive in the cold.
The Hermitage is the most famous museum in Russia. This is both good and bad. Good because the art collections of Hermitage are world-renowned and contain some unique pieces of Picasso, Matisse, and Gauguin. It is bad because it is difficult to get a ticket and you need to wait a long time in the queue at the ticket office. As I have said before, in -18 C this is not a preferable option. During our first day in Saint Petersburg, we waited at Hermitage ticket kiosks for around one hour. A the end we gave up because even after buying our tickets we would wait again because the access is limited due to the big number of visitors. So, there are tours every 30 or so minutes. We couldn’t stand the cold and decided to go another day. As it came out, we didn’t have this opportunity because the museum is closed on Monday. As I say in such a situation, this is an opportunity to come again, in summer of course.
Saint Isaac’s Square is a beautiful place to walk in the evening. The covered with snow park is behind the St. Isaac’s Cathedral which is impressive building with covered with a gold dome and it can be seen from all over the city. Inside the interior of the church can be only described with the word “colossal”. The dome is so high and the elements of artwork on its walls so impressive that a person feels like a Lilliputian. The cathedral is named to be one of the largest in the world but its style is nowhere near the bright Orthodox style cathedrals. Not one of my favourite but definitely a place to be visited!
The last day of our trip we were looking for Church of Spilled Blood or also known as the Resurrection of Our Saviour. On the way, walking on the back street, I saw a name: Jamie Oliver. What? Jamie’s in Russia?! Impossible! Well, it came out that it is possible. At Jamie’s Italian, we had a wonderful lunch with dishes based on the traditional Italian food but reinvented by Jamie Oliver. It was good to change from the typical Russian dishes that I enjoy very much but needed a bit change. Try Jamie’s Italian Burger, it costs 790 rubles and it is not only looking enticing but also is mouth-melting. Another Jamie’s was opened in Moscow recently. You can find it at 2 Ohotny Riad.
However, if you want to stick to traditional Russian food and experiences, my recommendation is to plan a Russian afternoon tea time at Severyanin. The afternoon tea is served ONLY on Sundays and costs 300 rubles. It includes tea from samovar and meat pies and sweet cakes as much as you can drink and eat. The best bonus of this experience is the atmosphere. Very much visited by local people, especially big families – from the grandparents to the youngest children, Severyanin is one place where you can mix with the people of St. Petersburg and have a nice time in peaceful place in a beautiful classic environment.
The Church of the Spilled Blood is the most beautiful, impressive and very Russian church in Saint Petersburg. Richly decorated outside, with much larger and smaller domes in a shape of onions, painted in different colours, this church is a concurrent of the popular St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow but I will say that there is nothing to compare here. Probably the most distinguished details of this church are the 144 coat of arms represented as mosaics on the bell tower. They represent the provinces of the Russian Empire. Every detail on this church needs attention. Once again, a visitor will be amazed by the fine art that Russians implement in all their architecture and traditional works.
One of the best things everyone visiting Saint Petersburg in winter can do, despite or because of the cold, is to walk on the embankments of Neva River at night. This walks gives you perspective to the numerous bridges, all of them decorated for the holidays. Only walking along the river you can understand the size and the importance of this river for the city but also for the Russian Empire in the past. At this moment, in early January, the water is frozen and the whole river bed looks like a huge snow desert. But in spite of the snow desert, the life on both sides of the river is bubbling and you may feel it as nowhere else – lively and flourishing.
Have you been to a place that challenged you and made you fall in love at the same time?