Saint Petersburg is often called the “Venice of the North” and “New Amsterdam” because of a network of more than 93 rivers and canals covering city’s territory. Peter the Great (who was obsessed with the idea of transforming Russia into the greatest naval empire in Scandinavia) planned Saint Petersburg as Empire’s naval capital and the biggest port in the North. The canals and rivers also serve as a part of a flood prevention system dissipating ruinous floods. The waterway system plays a vital role in the city life and is used for trade and tourism. Less successfully, the waterways were intended to form a commuter system for citizens.
The chances are that canal cruise offers the most comfortable and accessible way to explore a huge St Petersburg’s downtown. Besides the fact that city’s classical architecture looks just great from the water, you’ll also be able to avoid traffic jams, dust, tiring walking through bustling streets, and will set an eye on all city highlights only within an hour or hour and a half.
Once the navigation season is open (usually, early May) there are several options available for boat trips.
1 Regular canal cruise
There’s a huge variety of companies offering boat tours, but eventually all choices come down to approximately 10 proved routes (several within the city, and others - outside). To secure your plans, you may wish to book a boat trip in advance; however, usually it’s possible to arrange one on a spot - by turning up at one of the moorings (they’re set on the places where the Fontanka River, the Griboedov Canal, or the Moika River cross busy city streets. Also - on the Admiralteyskaya or Dvortsovaya Embankments; or around the Peter and Paul Fortress). Some companies offer trips on a fixed schedule, while others would have a boat waiting to get full. The last option is less fun, unless you’re the last person to board. Most tours have an audio-guide, however, if you want an English one, it’s better to book a tour in advance, or ask if they have an English-language guide prior to purchasing tickets. The average price of the tickets is 500-600 rubles/person for boat tours within the city center. If the tour includes going in the open waters of the Gulf of Finland the cost would go up to 800-1100 rubles/person.
Some companies also offer night drawbridge tours which are quite spectacular. Neva is an important transportation link between the Baltic Sea and the Lake Ladoga. The drawbridges were designed to allow usage of Neva within the city of St Petersburg to large ships. The drawbridges open to a precisely timed schedule, so the ships can pass with a minimum of delay while still allowing the bridges to function as efficiently as possible.
The tours start at about 00-00, and it’s better to book one in advance. Buying on a spot is also possible, but in a high peak season, you might need to wait in a long line.
As it might get a little chilly on the water, it’s better to dress appropriately, even though it’s possible to grab a blanket on board.
2 Hop-on, hop-off cruise
In July a new line of Hop-On, Hop-Off cruise will appear in Saint Petersburg. You’ll be able to get a day ticket and travel within 7 different stops in the city center. All stops are connected to major sightseeing spots. Audio-guides will be available in 8 differents languages. The tickets are to be sold in ticket offices and on-line.
3 Jazz boat
For those who appreciate atmosphere and impressions more than plain historical facts in a dry audioguidish interpretation, there is a special Saint Petersburg water trip - a jazz boat.
Romantic vistas of St Petersburg accompanied by jazz melodies is a recipe for a great evening and really good way to feel the city spirit. The boat “City Blues” (that also has a cafe on board) departs every tuesday, thursday and saturday at 20-00 from the mooring at Universitetskaya embankment, 3. It’s just opposite to Kunstkamera. You can buy the tickets on a spot, or book them in advance, here: http://eng.boattrip.ru/
The price varies from 500 to 800 rubles per person and depends on a place and a day ( the tickets are more expensive during the weekend).
4 Hydrofoils to Peterhof
Those who prefer all-at-once experiences, would find a hydrofoil trip to the famous St Petersburg suburb - Peterhof - incredibly fun and useful! You’ll see Spb from the water, visit famous parks in Peterhof; and it’s all going to be very efficient, since the whole trip would take up only 30 mins. One-way ticket costs 650 rubles; purchasing a round-trip will save 200 rubles. Further price reductions are available if you book your tickets online - it’s going to be 20% cheaper than getting them on the spot. There are also discounts for kids (300 rubles) and students (450 rubles).
The hydrofoil departs from the mooring “Dvortsovaya, 36” every half an hour from 10-00 to 18-00.
There’s a tricky moment though. While coming to Peterhof on the hydrofoil, remember that it would tie up at the moor in the Lower Gardens. That’s why even if you were not planning to visit famous parks with fountains (and paying an entrance fee), you’ll have to do so if you want to make form the moor. The hydrofoils from Peterhof to Saint Petersburg do depart every 30 minutes from 10-30 to 20-00.
You can find more information on hydrofoil trips here:
5 Aquabus - city public transport
Not that many people know that Saint Petersburg has its own water public transport - aquabus. As all other boats, they operate from May to October. Currently only one route/line is open - Primorskaya (starts Arsenalnaya embn., ends Primorskiy prospect). The stops within the city center are Petrogradskaya embn. and Aptekarskaya embn.). The boats depart every ten minutes from 8 in the morning to 19-50. Although aquabus is designed to be a public transport, if you chose it you can definitely get your dose of St Petersburg “water” impressions, check out less-traveled not touristy water-routes and see a real life of the city. Full-price ticket costs 100 rubles, the kids one is half price.