As I have already told you: make the most of your Erasmus in Bergen to travel in Norway but also to neighbouring countries. Especially if you have a light schedule, I was able to explore many destinations thanks to a cruise between Stockholm (Sweden) – Helsinki (Finland) and Saint-Petersburg (Russia). To this day, this trip remains one of my best holiday memory!
What exactly is it about?
It was during my trip to Tromsø that I heard about this famous cruise that allows you to visit St Petersburg for 3 days without a visa for about 300€ (accommodation costs, English-speaking Russian guide and sea transport between Stockholm and Russia included). All of it for 6 days.
I was a little sceptical, at first. I immediately thought of the scam because we could only pay by cash (once arrived in Russia). On top of that, the booking is made by sending a Facebook message to one of the organisers…
However, by digging deeper, reviewing the slightest testimonials, and questioning their authors with two other friends who were also interested in that good deal, we ended up embarking on this adventure that happened to be very real. All the explanations.
Did you say visiting Russia without a visa?
Yes, it’s possible to enter Russian territory for a maximum duration of 72 hours only by the sea with your passport.
Open Your Russia took the opportunity to offer this experience from Sweden or Finland. And even Tallinn (Estonian capital), in another formula (which we regret not having chosen) for about 30-40€ more.
If you are less than 12 on this trip, you will be placed with another group to complete the number. With this group, you will share a guide and hostel in Russia but also the cruise cabins.
Please note that there are 4 beds in the ship cabins you will be assigned to. So, if you are less than 4 or more, you will probably have to share your cabin with one or more other people of the 12-person group. You can still manage with each other if it doesn’t suit you.
From the moment you enter the boat in Stockholm, you only have to worry about food and public transport in Helsinki (for your stopover) and in St Petersburg where prices are meagre.
You will be accompanied by a guide who will show you around the city and spend the day and evenings with you according to a defined and flexible schedule. His presence is very comforting because many Russians don’t speak English.
You have the choice between several dates from the end of March to August. We have chosen to make this trip from March 29 to April 4, 2018. The weather has also favoured us: bright sunshine and blue skies every day in St. Petersburg, which is quite rare during this period, explained our guide.
Please note that this trip is not only for students. We met two nice Indians guys who work in the Netherlands, on this trip with us.
72 hours in St. Petersburg
Saint-Petersburg is a large city with about 5 million inhabitants. Your days will be busy because you won’t have time to see everything.
The Russian border control is quite long and made us lose an entire morning (arrival at 9 am, controlled at 2 pm with a lot of people behind). So be sure to prepare to get out of the ship first to avoid waiting hours and losing part of your day’s schedule.
Here is a list (not exhaustive) of the main places you’ll visit:
- Saint Isaac Cathedral (4-5€ with your student card): It is the first monument you will visit. Built in the first half of the 19th century, it is one of the largest domed cathedrals in the world. On the roof, you will have a superb panoramical view over the city.
- Hermitage Museum (free with your student card): A must-see! It is the second largest Art and Culture Museum in the world. You will have a whole afternoon to visit it.
- Kazanskiy Cathedral : Orthodox Cathedral located in the city centre.
- Catherine Palace : the beautiful palace of the Empress Elisabeth who wanted to make it the most impressive in the world. It is located in Pushkin, 25 km away from St Petersburg.
- Church on the Spilled Blood (3-4€) : A magnificent church typical of Russian Orthodox architecture, another must-see from inside and out!
- Peter & Paul Fortress (free) : unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit it but from the outside, the building looks very impressive!
- Military museum (free) : a nice visit with an unexpected show at the end (cannon fire)!
Your days will be interrupted by meals in restaurants (where prices are very low) in St Petersburg but also with walks inside the city.
The evenings were generally summed up by a group choice in a nice place where the guide accompanied us.
We were all really surprised by the low prices in restaurans. We were able to eat our lunches and dinners at really rock-bottom prices. (3 to 6€ maximum) so we really enjoyed our meals! You can try many cuisines such as Uzbek specialities that I really appreciated!
The Russian currency is the ruble and
1€ ≈ 75 RUB
We were satisfied with the hostel where we stayed, the staff was really very welcoming and helpful and the place very cosy. It was located in the city centre, which made it much easier for us to get around.
We were placed in 4-person rooms. There were about 5 of them, with a capacity varying between 4 and 8 people. Several showers were available. However, if you come up last, you will probably no longer shower with hot water (It happened to me and with the low temperature, it’s really not the best way to end the day…)
In the end, we loved our stay and our guide who made it much easier for us in our daily life there. We laughed a lot with him! On the way back, he offered us sweets and cakes as well as a personalized gift with our name in Russian written on it
2 days or more in Stockholm
I advise you to come a few days in advance or to leave a few days after your return from your cruise in Stockholm because it is a city that deserves to be fully visited. Really beautiful by day and by night, we also had the chance to enjoy sunny days during almost all of our discontinuous visit to the capital.
Here is a list of some interesting sites to visit:
- Vasa Museum (15€)
- The famous City hall
- The Fjällgatan and Skinnarviksberget viewpoints
- The Royal Palace and its view from the bridge
- A tour of Djurgården Island or another
- The Army museum
A detailed article on Stockholm will soon be available on the website.
2 half-days in Helsinki
You will have the opportunity to spend two half-days in Helsinki and unfortunately, it will not be possible for you to stretch this time because you will have to catch the boat at a specific time to reach Stockholm on your return or St Petersburg on your way there.
Here is a list of some interesting sites to visitt:
- Suomenlinna, The Sea Fortress: a small island listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site that can be reached by ferry. Really beautiful, we had the chance to visit it on a sunny day, so let’s say we all literally fell in love with it!
- Senate Square
- Helsinki Cathedral
- St. John’s Lutheran Church
- National Museum of Finland
Finally, I recommend this cruise with a 3-day visit to Russia. The various stopovers will allow you to enjoy unique environments that are conducive to discovering a new culture. Whether you are a student or not, this is a good deal with good memories guaranteed!
N.B: For information, this article is not sponsored. All pictures are mine.
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Sources : my own experience, Open your russia.