Most travellers arrive in St Petersburg at Pulkovo International Airport, 23km south of the city. This terminal building, which opened in 2014, and is confusingly still referred to as Terminal 1, handles all domestic and international flights and is St Petersburg's only airport.
Marshrutka & Bus
For those on a budget, marshrutka (minibus) K39 shuttles you from outside the terminal building to the nearest metro station, Moskovskaya (R35, every five minutes, from 7am to 11.30pm). The bus terminates at the Moskovskaya metro station, so you don’t need to worry about where to get off, and you can connect to the rest of the city from there.
There's also bus 39 (R40, every 15 minutes, from 5.30am to 1.30am) that runs the same route over longer hours, but trundles along somewhat more slowly.
Taking a taxi from the airport to the city centre has never been easier or safer. Leave the terminal building and outside you'll find an official taxi dispatcher who will ask you for your destination's address, indicate which taxi to go to and write you a price on a slip of official paper that you can then give to your driver. Prices vary, but expect to pay between R800 and R1000 to reach the centre, depending on where exactly you’re headed. Drivers usually won’t speak much English, so just hand over the money on arrival – you don’t need to tip. It's also possible to book a trip into the city via a taxi app for around R700.
Visiting St Petersburg by ferry or as part of a cruise is an increasingly popular choice, as arriving this way automatically entitles you to enter Russia visa-free for up to 72 hours. This allows you to see St Petersburg without the visa headache and to combine it with other cities in the Baltic.
In order to benefit from the 72-hour visa-free travel rule, you simply have to arrive in St Petersburg by boat at one of the multiple ferry terminals, and have booked a tour with a licensed operator. You can either sleep on your boat, or pay for a hotel, but note that you are also obliged to leave St Petersburg by sea.
If you're on a cruise to St Petersburg, your operator will normally have arrangements in place with a local travel agency, whose tour you will be sold hard. Many cruise-ship passengers have reported being told that visitors need a Russian visa if they do not take the tour sold by the cruise ship. This is in fact not true at all, and any company offering shore excursions is sufficient to avoid the necessity of getting a visa.
If you're arriving by ferry then St Peter Line offers a 'tour package', which is really just a bus-transfer service into the city centre for €25 per person. These hourly buses run between the Sea Port and St Isaac's Cathedral, though you can get off at two other stops on Vasilyevsky Island too. There's no guided-tour element, so once you get off the bus, you're free to roam around the city as you please.
It's often both cheaper and a far better experience if you opt out of the cruise-sold excursions, as they rarely offer the best way to spend your brief time in the city. To make the most of things, and to avoid being in an enormous group, consider booking a private tour from one of these shore excursion specialists:
DenRus This long-established shore excursion operator offers a number of different tours angled specifically towards cruise passengers. Tours can often be adapted to visitor needs and guides are well trained, experienced and speak good English.
Red October Operating for 15 years, this experienced tour agency specialises in one- to three-day shore excursions for cruise-ship passengers, including tailor-made programs for private groups.
Ports of Arrival
There are a number of places where cruise ships arrive in St Petersburg, while all ferries from elsewhere in the Baltic arrive at the Sea Port on Vasilyevsky Island. Anyone on a river cruise from Moscow will arrive at the River Passenger Terminal in the south of the city, which is a short walk away from the Proletarskaya metro station (Line 3). Upon leaving the metro turn right onto pr Obukhovskoy Oborony and it’s five minutes up the road.
- Marine Facade Terminal
The Marine Facade Terminal at the far end of Vasilyevsky Island is a relatively new facility. It’s not in the city centre, but all shore excursion operators have buses or cars for their passengers, and the journey to the Hermitage can be done in 30 minutes. The nearest metro station is Primorskaya, from where it’s just two stops to Gostiny Dvor (Line 3) in the Historic Heart, but it's a good 30-minute walk away and you'd be advised to arrange a taxi. Head down the main road from the Marine Facade, then once you’ve crossed Nalichnaya ul, take Novosmolenskaya nab and you’ll reach the station.
For taxis, an official dispatch stand is in the arrivals area, with fixed rates to various places around town. You’ll be given a slip of paper with the price you need to pay the driver: prices average from R200 to R400 depending on where in the centre you want to go.
- Sea Port
If you’re arriving by ferry from Stockholm, Tallinn or Helsinki then you’ll disembark at the Sea Port in the southern corner of Vasilyevsky Island. It’s not served by the metro, so your easiest way into the city centre is to take a taxi. Drivers wait outside the terminal or you can order a taxi by phone app; prices average from R200 to R400 depending on where in the centre you want to go.
An alternative option is to take bus 7 (R40) from the main road outside. The bus should have pl Vosstaniya (Пл Восстания) written on it, and it goes all the way down Sredny pr, crosses the Neva at the Hermitage and then goes down Nevsky pr to pl Vosstaniya.
St Peter Line offers a €25 'tour package' bus service that shuttles passengers to St Isaac's Cathedral and back again every hour.
- Other Ports
There are three other docks where cruise ships sometimes arrive in St Petersburg. Smaller cruise ships usually dock on either the English Embankment Passenger Terminal or the Lieutenant Schmidt Passenger Terminal. Neither terminal has much in the way of facilities, but both are centrally located and you’re within easy walking distance of the sights in the Historic Heart.
One far less attractive possibility is docking at the St Petersburg Sea Port, which is the main commercial and industrial port in the city. It’s on Gutuyevsky Island and a long way from anything. It’s technically possible to walk out of the port to the Narvskaya metro station, but reckon on a 30-minute walk through a fairly miserable industrial area. If you decide to walk, head up Obvodny Canal and then turn right onto Staropetrogovsky pr and you’ll see Narvskaya metro station on pl Stachek.
St Petersburg’s main bus station, Avtovokzal, has bus connections to cities all over western Russia, including Veliky Novgorod, but most travellers won’t use it. If you do happen to arrive here, it’s a short walk along the canal to the metro station Obvodny Kanal (Line 5).
Lux Express runs buses from both Avtovokzal and from outside the Baltic Station (Baltiysky vokzal). Its buses run to Tallinn (from R1950, seven daily, seven hours), Rīga (from R2275, four daily, 11 hours) and Helsinki (from R1650, three daily, 7½ hours).
Ecolines runs daily buses from the Vitebsk Station to Tallinn (R1210, five daily, seven hours), Rīga (R2240, four daily, 11 hours), Minsk (R2130, three daily, 14 hours), Prague (R6130, two to three daily, 36 to 38 hours) and Berlin (R6840, two to three daily, 34 hours).
Transgold runs door-to-door marshrutky (minibuses) to and from Helsinki and other destinations in Finland from R1300.
Other Bus Arrivals
There are several other places where various bus services from Helsinki arrive. These include marshrutky from Helsinki, which stop on pl Vosstaniya, right opposite the Ploshchad Vosstaniya metro station.
Car & Motorcycle
The most convenient border crossing from Estonia when driving to St Petersburg is Narva. You can avoid queues by booking a time slot for your crossing from (but not into) Estonia for a small fee at www.estonianborder.eu.
Heading to the city from Finland, highways cross the Finnish border posts of Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa (Brusnichnoe and Torfyanovka, respectively, on the Russian side).
Trains from Helsinki arrive at the Finland Station (Finlyandsky vokzal). From here you can connect to anywhere in the city by metro from the Ploshchad Lenina station (Line 1) on the square outside the station.
Some trains from the Leningradskaya Oblast and those from Helsinki to Moscow stop en route in St Petersburg at the Ladoga Station (Ladozhsky vokzal). It’s served by the Ladozhskaya metro station (Line 4).
If you’re arriving from Moscow, you’ll come to the Moscow Station (Moskovsky vokzal), in the centre of the city. There are two metro stations close by: pl Vosstaniya (Line 1) and Mayakovskaya (Line 3). To get here (you can enter both stations through one building) turn left outside the main entrance to the Moscow Station, and the exit is in one side of the building on Ligovsky pr.
Buying Tickets in St Petersburg
You’ll most likely have your onward travel tickets when you arrive in St Petersburg, but if not it’s easy to purchase tickets for boat, bus, train and plane travel. First of all, try online – you can buy train tickets (www.rzd.ru), bus tickets (www.luxexpress.eu) and, of course, airline tickets via websites.
Buying train tickets in person can be done at any train station (even at a different terminus from where your train departs), although waiting time can be long if you buy them at a counter. Far quicker are the new ticket machines, which all work in English and where you can usually pay with either cash or credit card. Another option is the centrally located Train Tickets Centre, where there are also ticket machines, which makes waiting in line unnecessary.
You can buy ferry tickets for nearly all boats at the Ferry Centre, a short walk from the Moscow Station. Alternatively, it’s possible to buy ferry tickets in the Sea Port at the far-flung end of Vasilyevsky Island, as well as online through the ferry companies themselves.
If time is tight, then nearly all travel agencies can organise onward travel tickets for you, although of course there’s usually a markup on the cost and a delivery fee.
Travelling to Moscow
Many visitors to St Petersburg combine their trip here with one to Moscow. Russia's two largest cities are superbly well connected to each other, with flights leaving at least every hour, Sapsan express trains during the day, slower overnight trains you can sleep on, and even slower boats.
The following airlines fly direct from Pulkovo Airport in St Petersburg to three different Moscow airports. Book in advance and you can get tickets as cheap as R2750 one-way, although normally prices are between R4000 and R7000.
Aeroflot (www.aeroflot.ru) Flies around 20 times a day to Sheremetyevo Airport.
Rossiya Airlines (www.rossiya-airlines.com) Flies to Vnukovo Airport and operates 11 flights per day between the two cities.
S7 Airlines (www.s7.ru) Operates 11 flights per day between St Petersburg and Domodedovo Airport.
UTair (www.utair.ru) Operates four daily flights between St Petersburg and Vnukovo Airport.
Ural Airlines (www.uralairlines.com) Offers two daily flights to Domodedovo Airport.
Boats from Moscow and elsewhere within Russia arrive at the River Passenger Terminal, which is a short walk away from the Proletarskaya metro station. Leaving the metro, turn right onto pr Obukhovskoy Oborony and it’s five minutes up the road.
All trains to Moscow from St Petersburg depart from the Moscow Station. Take your pick from the overnight sleeper trains or the super-fast Sapsan day trains. All train tickets can be bought online at www.rzd.ru, or from the machines at any station in St Petersburg.
There are about 10 overnight trains travelling between St Petersburg and Moscow. Most depart between 10pm and 1am, arriving in the capital the following morning between 6am and 8am. On the more comfortable firmenny trains, such as the Red Arrow (Красная стрела) or Grand Express (ГРАНД ЭКСПРЕСС) a de-luxe sleeping carriage is between R12,800 and R16,400, 1st-class compartment (two-person cabin) around R16,300, while a 2nd-class kupe (four-person cabin) is R2800. Less fancy trains offer 3rd-class platzkartny (dorm-style sleeping carriages) for R1570 and even sitting-only carriages for R890.
If in a sleeping carriage you may have to pay a small amount extra for bed linen, although with some tickets this – and breakfast – is included.
These high-speed trains travel at 200km/h to reach Moscow in around four hours. There are six to eight daily departures. Comfortable 2nd-class seats start at R1300, while super-spacious 1st-class seats run from R5000.