My sister (from Australia) and I (from the US) are nearing the end of 5 perfect days in St. Petersburg. (We are in our 60's.) Winter is the best time of year to travel with no lines, no crowds, and with very picturesque snow gently falling when we toured Peterhof, Tsarskoe Selo, and Pavlovsk out in the surrounding countryside!
We made reservations at Casa Leto, a private hotel. They in turn provided us with the invitation we needed to obtain our visas. We could not ask for a more perfect place to stay! There are only 5 guest rooms. We feel like we are staying in a very fine home. The rooms are spacious, the bathroom is marble with a heated floor. The ceiling are high, there are comfortable chairs, more mirrors than we need, and comfortable beds with firm mattresses. The room also has a binder that is quite comprehensive with information about the sights, restaurants, etc.
We have the use of the kitchen during the day and snacks of nuts and dried fruit are always out. There is a stocked bar and an honor system book to write in the amount of liquor you use. The Hermitage and its envisons plus excellent restaurants within walking distance.
There is also a laptop in the dining/common area for guest use and that is what I'm typing on at the moment. Bathrobes and slippers are also provided. (We have been known to pad around in them from guestroom to kitchen to make some tea!)
On our first day in St. Petersburg, we walked from our hotel to the Hermitage and spent the day there on our own in the areas that interested us the most.
We had two excellent dinners on our own as well: the first night at Kilikia (26/40 Gorokhovaya UI), and the second night at 1913 (13/2 Voznesensky Prospect). On both nights we went early (5:00-6:00 p.m. and were the only patrons).
In advance we made arrangements for a private tour guide/car/driver with Tatyana Churikova. She has an excellent website: http://www.tour-stpetersburg.com and that plus our DK Eyewitness Travel St. Petersburg guidebook helped us create a list of what we wanted to see. We requested two intensive days and she made a few appropriate suggestions.
Tatyana is VERY knowledgeable, speaks excellent English, and was very accommodating. Our advance arrangements with her included having her driver pick us up at the train station (from Helsinki) and taking us to our hotel (Casa Leto, which will be described separately in the hotel review section). On the way to the hotel, the driver received a call from Tatyana, handed us the cell phone, and she greeted us and checked to see if all was well or if we had any questions or needed assistance. What a thoughtful gesture!
On our first touring day, a Saturday, we drove out to the suburbs to see the palaces there, pausing for lunch at our request at the very picturesque (especially with gentle snow falling!) Podvorye Restaurant where I had the most wonderful mushroom/onion/olive soup and meat dumplings. (Tatyana and the driver ate separately upstairs). (We realize this place would be very different in summer filled with toursts brought in by bus.)
On the second touring day with Tatyana, we visited the main sites in the city, stopping for lunch at Stolle for soup. In the late afternoon after touring we stopped at another Stolle (there are 6 locations) and bought meat pies (pirogi) to warm up in the microwave at our hotel, Casa Leto, in the evening for supper. These are sooooo delicious!
All in all, the combination of Tatyana, an excellent guide, and Casa Leto, an excellent small hotel, have made our visit to St. Petersburg very memorable!