It sounds like a sophisticated and illegal task, but neither is true. Today I will be writing about how to spend 3 days in St. Petersburg, Russia without a visa. The mayor or whoever is in charge of tourism has made it possible to enter the country via cruise ship without having to go through the hassle of getting a Visa. (It is 100% legal to do this.) I heard some pretty awful stories about the visa process and entering the country. A friend and his family had all their arrangements made to travel Russia for about a month. They arrived at the border with the proper visa and were denied access to the country. I really wanted to go to Russia, so I thought I would give the cruise a try. I know what you are thinking, cruise ship? This must be insanely expensive. It is actually fairly cheap considering you get transport and a place to sleep for 2 nights. The cruise ship is bare bones, meaning it is a normal cruise ship, but with none of the perks (free food, entertainment, etc). Everything costs money on board; even to use the pool area. Luckily, the trip is fairly short and you travel mostly while you are sleeping. The Cruise leaves from Helsinki, Finland which also gives you a great excuse to spend a few days there. You can also board cruises that depart from Stockholm, Sweden or Tallinn, Estonia. Don’t forget to stock up on duty free alcohol on board the cruise (it is cheaper than alcohol in Russia and for sure cheaper than Helsinki)
Here is the breakdown of the itinerary and costs.
Departs Helsinki at 7:00pm Sept 3rd arrive in St. Petersburg at 9:00am Sept 4th
Depart St. Petersburg Sept 6th arrive Helsinki 8:00am Sept 7th
Total cost is 126 Euros or 163 USD (This includes a 2 night stay in a 4 bed shared room and the shuttle ticket which is mandatory and is sort of your “visa” for entering the country) I booked the cruise through http://www.tourdeforce.travel/ and had a great experience with them. There were a few other companies that offer the same booking service, but this was the cheapest option.
The shuttle acts like you are on a tour, but it basically just drops you off in the middle of the city and then takes you back to the cruise ship 3 days later.
Accommodation is up to you once you arrive in Russia. You need to have something pre-booked and get a hotel voucher which you might need to show when getting through customs. They did not ask to see mine, but it’s something you should have just in case. I stayed in a really nice hostel, called Apple hostel which I booked through Hostelworld.com for around $15 a night.
St. Petersburg is an amazing city with so much to do. 3 days and 2 nights are hardly enough time to see everything, but it was still was enough to see a lot of the city. Some of my favorite sights were watching the bridges rise at night to let boats in and out (1am-5am). You can actually get stuck on the wrong side so make sure this doesn’t happen.
My favorite place was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Russia was an incredible experience, but with such a small taste of the country I will definitely be going back another time.