The Top 8 Things to do in St Petersburg in 2 Days

I’ve had this blog post on my to-do list ever since I got back from my epic Scandinavian cruise. St Petersburg was the second stop on our 10-day cruise, and the only place where we docked overnight. This meant I was able to spend a full 2 days in St Petersburg, which was just enough time to see all of the city highlights. Luckily we booked on to an organised 2-day city tour with a  private guide, who was able to whisk us around the city by minivan and ensure we saw as much as possible. If you’re visiting St Petersburg on a cruise, doing an organised tour is the only option. However, if you’re visiting as part of a wider trip and have an official visa, you can plan your own tour using this handy blog post. Here are the top things to do in St Petersburg.

Things to do in St Petersburg | River Cruise | The Travelista

My Personal Thoughts on Russia and St Petersburg

Before sharing the best things to do in St Petersburg, I want to give you my very honest opinion of the city. I was only in there for 2 short days, which really isn’t enough time to truly get under the skin of a country. But in the short time I was there, I felt that the local Russians were very cold towards tourists and foreigners.

Perhaps its because of their current and previous political turmoil, but everything seemed extremely serious, and nobody seemed to want to share their honest opinion about what it was like to live in Russia (even our guide). It was almost as if they had been told to trust nobody. The paranoia about Russian spies is real. From the moment I walked up to the very stern and strict immigration officers, it was like I should feel lucky for being allowed into the country, rather than feeling welcome. I don’t want to put you off visiting this amazing city, but I want you to know that the people really are not what sells this destination. The Russian culture is very serious and reserved (Russian children are taught in school never to smile, as smiling makes you look stupid). If you’re coming from a more liberal or open country, you may find this to be a bit of a culture shock at first. But St Petersburg is a beautiful city with a complex and intriguing history. Despite everything I have mentioned, if you ever get the opportunity to visit St Petersburg, grab it with open arms and embrace all that is special about this enigmatic city.

Things to do in St Petersburg | River Cruise

Things to do in St Petersburg

The Best Things to do in St Petersburg in 2 Days

1. The Hermitage Museum

The Hermitage Museum is easily the No.1 museum to visit in St Petersburg, and an absolute must for culture vultures (many people say its the Russian equivalent of The Louvre in Paris). The size and scale of the museum is vast and is located in the opulent Winter Palace of Catherine the Great. There are over 3 million pieces of art within the museum, but marvelling at the grand palace rooms (where no expense has been spared) was my favourite part of the Hermitage museum

Top Tip: The museum can get incredibly busy, but a small handful of visitors can access the museum before official opening hours, meaning you won’t have to battle any of the crowds. This is what we did as part of our organised tour and massively enhanced our experience. I’d highly recommend it.

Things to do in St Petersburg | Hermitage Museum Exterior

Things to do in St Petersburg | Hermitage Museum

Things to do in St Petersburg | Hermitage Museum The Travelista

Things to do in St Petersburg | Hermitage Museum

2. Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress is another historical and incredibly significant point of interest in St Petersburg. Located right on the banks of the Neva river, the fortress became Russia’s Tower of London and a place for imprisoning political prisoners. Everyday at 12pm a canon is fired in the fortress which attracts a daily crowd. Be sure to step inside the Peter and Paul Cathedral too.

3. Visit the Yusupov Palace and Rasputins Cellar

I found our visit to the Yusupov Palace absolutely fascinating, mainly because we got to see inside Rasputin’s cellar. Rasputin is one of the most controversial personalities in Russian history and its here you can learn about his remarkable story in the place where his mysterious assassination happened. Life-like wax figures bring the story to life and the Yusupov Palace is like a smaller (but equally opulent) version of the Winter Palace at The Hermitage Museum. Be sure to check out the miniature theatre. 

Things to do in St Petersburg | Yusupov Palace

Things to do in St Petersburg | Yusupov Palace

4. Watch the Russian Ballet perform at the Alexandrinsky Theatre

Our visit to see the Russian Ballet perform Swan Lake was without a doubt, the highlight of my time in St Petersburg. It felt like one of the most epic things I have ever ticked off my bucket list. I’ve loved ballet, dance and theatre ever since I was young so it felt like a real pinch-me moment. The Russian Ballet has residency in the Alexandrinsky Theatre, which is the oldest professional theatre in Russia. The theatre itself is a thing of beauty, enhanced by the incredible production on stage. If theatre and ballet is your thing, this is one of the most unforgettable things to do in St Petersburg.

5. Take an excursion to Peterhof Grand Palace

You need to allow at least half a day to visit Peterhof Palace, but it could easily be a full-day experience. Located about 45 minutes from centre St Petersburg, Peterhof Palace is a magnificent country palace built for Peter the Great in 1714-1725. It was severely damaged during WWII, but it has been carefully restored to its former glory. After exploring the house, don’t miss the stunning gardens and the solid gold fountain statues. As the palace gets so busy, it did feel as if we were being rushed through the rooms by the sour-faced palace guides.

Things to do in St Petersburg | Peterhof Palace

Things to do in St Petersburg | Peterhof Palace Gardens

6. Go on a Rivers and Canals Boat Cruise

After a morning at Peterhof Palace, we had enough time to stop for lunch and get back into St Petersburg for a 1 hour river cruise. Similar to Venice, a labyrinth of canals and waterways weave through St Petersburg, and are all connected to the central Neva River. This makes a river cruise the perfect way to explore the city from a different perspective (whilst resting tired feet). You’ll pass under picturesque bridges, mosey down canals and cruise down the Neva River.

Things to do in St Petersburg | River Cruise

Things to do in St Petersburg | River Cruise

Things to do in St Petersburg | River Cruise

7. Visit the iconic Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is possibly the most iconic sight in St Petersburg thanks to its colourful Russian Orthodox domes and spires. The church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, giving it its slightly morbid name. The church is an architectural wonder, inspired by St Basil Cathedral in Moscow.

Top Tip: Due to the high concentration of tourists, the area surrounding the church is rife with pickpockets. I definitely saw a few dodgy characters hanging around whilst there, so be extra vigilant round here and don’t have valuables on display.

Things to do in St Petersburg | Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood exterior

Things to do in St Petersburg | Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood | Ceiling and Murals

8. Marvel at St Issac’s Cathedral

Finally, be sure to fit in a quick trip to St Issac’s Cathedral. The gold domes of the cathedral can be seen from all over the city centre, and this impressive 19th-century structure really is a work of art. Inside you’ll find incredible marble carving and three rows of mosaic icons surrounding the Royal Gate.

Things to do in St Petersburg | St Issacs Cathedral

Things to do in St Petersburg | St Issacs Cathedral

Thats my pick of the best things to do in St Petersburg in 2 days. If you’ve got longer to spend in the city, you’ll be able to enjoy everything listed at more of a leisurely pace. St Petersburg is a fascinating city and I felt really privileged to be able to see it.

What do you think of this round up of the best things to do in St Petersburg? Is Russia a country you’ve thought of visiting? Are you currently planning your own trip to St Petersburg? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below. Jess x

Things to do in St Petersburg | Hermitage Museum

My trip 2 day tour of St Petersburg was part of a Scandinavian Cruise with Princess Cruises. All photos and views are my own.

Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.


  • This is a good list of things to do in St. Petersburg, Jess. The metro stations are also worth visiting. I agree, it’s a very beautiful city. However, I had a completely different experience with the people. I found them to be very friendly and helpful. Their sense of humour is dark, very much like the Northern Irish so I guess that’s how we connected so well. They were keen to practice their English so I had great conversations with them about life in Russia plus their thoughts on the political scene. Nobody smiles but a smile is not a prerequisite for friendliness or helpfulness. They take their security seriously but this meant I felt safe. I travelled to Russia solo.

  • An awesome guideline with photography. Through I visited the place last year but now thinking about making a new tour there soon and, this post really influence me a lot, Thanks.

    • Thank you so much Jeff 🙂 Glad you are now inspired to return to St Petersburg! Did you visit Rasputin’s cellar? That was one of my favourite parts. There is so much to see there. Happy travels 🙂

  • Hi Jess, you’ve captured very beautiful photos of St Petersburg! I hope to visit early next year for a long weekend kind of getaway. This is so informative, thank you for sharing your tips! ❤️

    Kriselle x

    • Thank you Kriselle! That’s so nice to head. I hope you get to visit next year and can follow some of my tips 🙂 Happy travels x

  • I loved St. Petersburg too although I did freeze off what little tit I had when I went last year haha. Agree that the church of spilled blood was amazing – it was my highlight. Looks like you had a great time,

    • Thanks Jet, glad you also enjoyed St Petersburg! It was still very cold in May (glad I brought my puffa coat) but the sun did come out on the second day to warm things up. The spilled blood church is magnificent! Shame it was under scaffolding when we were there so I couldn’t get a great photo. x

  • joyce doty

    What month were you in St. Petersburg? It looks very cold from your clothing! We are going at the end of September of this year.

    • Hi Joyce. I visited St Petersburg in early May. It was quite chilly and definitely coat-wearing weather. It may be a bit warmer in September but I’m not sure! 🙂

  • Karen Hutzcal

    Your Russia trip was so amazing! Getting to see those lovely historical museums that the famous leaders lived in was a very magical read. I just spent the last 6.5 hours looking through stuff in the garage. Lots of cardboard/plastic for recycling and so far 4 medium garbage bags. I’m having a peach cooler drink now with feet up!

    • Thanks for your comment Karen! It was a very magical place to visit. Glad to hear you’re a recycler! It’s something I am passionate about. Enjoy putting your feet up.

  • So interesting to hear what the people are like, I always think that makes such a difference when visiting somewhere. Swan Lake must have been amazing to watch.

    • Thanks Laura. Yes, it was definitely a bit of a culture shock, compared to a lot of Europe which is so much more open and liberal and friendly. Swan Lake was definitely the highlight! x

  • I’ve wanted to visit St Petersburg for as long as I can remember, especially for the ballet as I’m such a huge fan. This is a wonderful review and I’ll be referring to it when I finally get it booked!

    • Thanks Bejal! Oh you’d absolutely love seeing the Russian Ballet perform in St Petersburg. I mean, if that isn’t a bucket list tick then I don’t know what is! Hope you manage to see St Petersburg one day <3 x

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