Two years ago whilst in Helsinki we didn't realise how close St Petersburg was, so set about including it on our next trip. We looked at the visa free option , offered by St Peter line, out of Helsinki, however decided that we should have a bit more time so elected to go through the hoops of obtaining visas for four days( how I now wish I'd opted for five days).
In early May we caught the St Peter line ferry from Helsinki to St. P, a pleasant enough overnight trip. The only hitch coming at border control in St. P, when we were not given immigration arrival document on departure from Helsinki( maybe I should have been a little more aware). We joined the lines and finally shuffled up to the border control booth to be told we needed the arrival document( they finally found two), and were gruffly sent to that queue right over there( the far one), where again we shuffled forward, and this time entered easily.
Having no transport organised, took a "taxi" to the city. My thought was do these guys carry any sort of insurance. Anyway being a tourist guess we paid too much for the fare- you grit your teeth and pay- at least we got to our hotel safely.
The remainder of our first day was spent walking from our hotel, located just off Nevsky Prospekt, around to Church of the Saviour, then across the Neva to a visit to Peter and Paul Fortress( lunch was a cob of corn from a little stall), around the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island, then back across the Neva, past the Hermitage and then to the hotel. A fair walk given the body is mid sixty, yet the knees are only two. Would I have been better off with a guide?- possibly as the history would be explained, however I'd become adept at viewing the ceiling with the left eye and listening to the adjacent English speaking guide with the right ear. That night we attended the ballet, having bought our tickets on line( all in Russian, yet scanned in ok) at the Mariinsky 11 Theatre- a truly magnificent theatre, and saw Carmen suite, and Le Carnivalle.
Day 2 saw us hire a guide- Andrey Vereschagin- a very knowledgable and accommodating guide, one who I would recommend to others. We wanted to go outside St.P and see some of the coutryside, and eventually settled on Gatchina Palace and the Priory Palace, travelling by metro, and bus. This was a full day excursion for us, and one that is etched in the memory.
Day 3( we're now juggling opening times for museums), saw us walk down Nevsky Pkt, to Dymskaya ul, where we booked an English afternoon tour of St Catherine Palace, with Eclectica. This was very easily done. To kill some time we sent a couple of hours walking through the Gostiny Dvor shopping centre. We didn't really know what to expect, however it's quite a complex. Mind you some of the shop assistants look as disinterested as those at home.
Despite the overcast showery afternoon the visit to St Catherines Palace was well worth the effort.
Day 4 saw us wander down to the "Bronze Horseman" statue, then a visit to St. Isaac's cathedral, and then over to the Hermitage. We easily purchased our tickets from the ticket machines located just inside the main entrance( watch those in front of you to see how it's done), thus avoiding the queue at the main entrance, and spent an enjoyable few hours wandering. An audio guide would have been helpful, however did a bit of listening. That afternoon we also took a canal tour, leaving from the Moika embankment, which as luck would have it had an multi lingual commentary, and fortunately blankets to keep you warm.
Day 5 saw us catch the early morning Allegro train back to Helsinki. No photos of the train allowed at the station.
Safety- did not feel unsafe at all
Food- my wife is a vegetarian, and this did not pose too many problems
Regrets- not staying the extra day