Why did I decide to visit SPb in the winter?
This short blog is about my winter trip to St. Petersburg in February 2018 where I spent 4 days there. Prior to this trip, I visited St. Petersburg in September 2017 for the first time and I instantly fell in love with the city; I got addicted to it so I decided to visit it again in February, 2018.
St. Petersburg is the Russia’s gateway to Europe, the cultural capital of Russia, it is definitely the most beautiful city in Russia and one of the prettiest cities in the world. It is the city of charm; the city of art, the city of beauty, the city of Tsars, and the city of gorgeous architecture. Peter the great built the city in 1703 (no surprise why it carries his name).
It is my favourite city and I can’t get enough of it. Visiting St. Petersburg brought to me a lot of happiness and I have beautiful memories and great friends there. The city will always have a special place in my heart.
This blog is just a short summary of the winter visit to the city. There will be another blog about my summer trip in St. Petersburg where you will be able to view more information about sightseeings, things to do, places to visit, cost, etc…
The good news is; citizens of a total of 53 countries (including EU citizens) can now apply for eVisa to visit St. Petersrbug and it will be valid for a duration of 8 days to visit SPb and Leningrad region. For more information about visa, click Here.
The bad news is; citizens of Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom are not included in the new e-Visa system. This is terrible and frustrating. Passport holders of these countries have to apply for a visa prior to heading anywhere in Russia, which means, you have to fill an application, get an invitation letter online click here , personal photo, and pay fees. Russian visa is not a complicated visa to get but it can be costly and time consuming. I applied for the visa in VFS Global visa application centre in Toronto; took about 2 weeks and costed me around 100 USD. Note that I have just checked and found out that they no longer process Russian visas anymore. If you want to apply for a Russian visa in Canada, check the Russia visa centre website here
I was living in Toronto, Canada when I had this trip to St. Petersburg. I needed to visit my parents in Kuwait so I managed to find a great deal on expedia and booked the following itinerary; Toronto – London – St. Petersburg; St. Petersburg – London – Kuwait; Kuwait – London – Toronto.
I must admit that it was hectic but I was very excited about visiting St. Petersburg again. I flew with British Airways; 1st leg from Toronto to London was a very comfortable flight in a brand-new B787 dreamliner but the flight from London to St. Petersburg which took around 3 hours was a bit strange as there was no service during the flight (not even a cup of coffee).
St. Petersburg in a winter night
I arrived at the hotel 5th corner where I spent 4 nights. It’s the same hotel where I stayed in my previous trip to St. Petersburg. It’s very clean, tidy, practical, and in a great location so it was perfect for me. I checked-in and had a quick nap before getting ready to go out. I must admit that it’s challenging to fly from Canada or USA to Europe or Middle East for a few days only as flights are long and jet-lag can easily drive you crazy (I was jet-lagged the whole time in St. Petersburg). However, I decided to focus on one thing only; to utilize the short time I have there to the maximum and to have as much fun as possible as such an opportunity to escape work and to travel doesn’t come very often, especially when I was in Canada.
I got ready to go out to see a very close person to me who lives in St. Petersburg; it was freezing cold, canals were frozen, it was silent, and I even felt more cold because I was exhausted after the long flight. We went to a beautiful area called New Holland which is a historical artificial triangular island dated from the 18th century. There are many nice coffee shops, bars and restaurants there. There is also a beautiful outdoor skating rink during the winter. We ended up having Georgian food and Russian tea.
Catharina’s Palace is a winter fairy tale
I believe I was lucky in this trip as snow was white and pure; there was no dirt or slush and sidewalks were clean and easily accessible. I had no problem roaming around the city in such a weather; the temperature was around -10 but it didn’t feel extremely cold.
I had plans to visit Catharina’s Palace which is located in Pushkin, it’s about 40 minutes drive from the city centre of St. Petersburg. Before heading there, I had a quick yet a delicious breakfast in a Russian bakery.
I was visiting Catherina’s Palace for the first time as I didn’t have time to visit it in my previous trip. Catharina’s Palace is the summer residence of Russian Tsars. Although it was a weekday and it was in the middle of the winter, there was a long queue outside the palace. I remember paying something around 10 USD for the ticket. The palace is absolutely gorgeous and the highlight of the trip was the Amber Room which before its loss in WWII, was considered an 8th wonder of the world. The room was reconstructed by Russia and Germany and took about 24 years to finish the reconstruction of it, can you imagine? It’s a marvellous place. Sadly, it’s not allowed to take pictures of Amber Room so I am unable to post any here but if you want to read about it, click here
The area surrounding the palace was all white so it looked like a winter fairy tale and I am so lucky to capture such moments while being there in that time of the year.
After the palace tour, I bought a Russian fur hat (Ushanka) and it worked great in the cold weather.
Winter Palace in the middle of the winter
Winter Palace was the official resident of Russian Tsars 1732 to 1917. Today it is a landmark of the city of St. Petersburg and it houses one of the greatest museums in the world, the Hermitage Museum.
I get a special energy every time I visit this place. However, being there in the winter was a unique experience. It’s that special connection with Russia during winter months as no nation on the planet earth embraces winter the way Russian people do.
When I stood there, I felt the deep connection with the Imperial Russia, with the unique Russian soul and with the turbulent Russian history. So many changes happened here; empires vanished and new leaders came to power. Even the name of the city changed from St. Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad and finally back to its original name St. Petersburg. Locals today simply call it Piter.
It was short and sweet
It was a quick visit to the cultural capital of Russia and my favourite city in the entire world. I was happy to discover another side of the city which is the winter side. The temperature was between -5 and -20 during my stay there so it was cold, even for someone who lived in Canada for many years like me, it still felt cold but with some help of Russian tea, it was bearable and I still managed to enjoy it. The snow was pure and beautiful and the atmosphere was friendly and hospitable and that brought a lot of peace to my heart.
I think it’s not a bad idea to visit St. Petersburg in the winter but it depends what kind of weather will be waiting for you in your visit. In my visit, it was cold but it was clear and sunny so I was able to enjoy the beauty of snow colour. Streets were clean as there was no rain mixed with snow or mud so I didn’t have any problem while walking around. I was walking for at least 4 hours everyday.
St. Petersburg is definitely more affordable than cities in Western Europe or North America but it’s not that cheap. In fact, some restaurants and cafes have exactly same prices as in my city Toronto. However, public transportation and taxis are cheap. You can use a very convenient and reliable taxi App (Yandex) and it deducts from credit card so you don’t have to worry about carrying cash. I recommend staying in Airbnb as I had great experiences staying in apartments there in my next visits. However, in this visit I stayed in a nice hotel and it was perfect.
Russia is a developed country, it actually keeps on impressing me every time I visit it. I saw people paying with their cell phones in Russia before I saw that in Canada!! You rarely need to use any cash in St. Petersburg as cards are accepted everywhere.
I walked on a frozen river, I consumed huge amounts of Russian tea, I met some great people, I discovered more of the deep Russian soul, and I reconnected with my favourite city. It was a short and sweet.
Take a look at the rest of the photos below and …Enjoy 🙂