Thursday, January 2, 2020

Traveling to Saint Petersburg with a Russian E-visa

Traveling to Russia has always been a bucket list item for us. There are so many things to explore: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Trans-Siberian railway line, and the list goes on. I guess the fact that we don't hear so much about Russia in the western media also gives it an air of mysticism.

Saint Petersburg, here I come :)

One of the main deterrents to Russian travel is of course the difficulty in obtaining a Russian Visa, which impacts not only Indians, but (for a change) citizens of western countries as well. So it was welcome news for travelers when the Russian govt. recently decided to grant E-visas to citizens of 54 countries.

Russia E-visa


You can find all the E-visa application details on the official website here.

The details are clearly outlined on the website - some points to note:
  • The E-visa is only valid for specific regions of Russia, e.g. the St. Petersburg E-visa is only valid for St. Petersburg, and you won't be able to travel to Moscow with it.
  • The region specific nature of the E-visa also impacts your entry point in Russia. You will need to fly in to Saint Petersburg Pulkovo airport directly. Note that the E-visa is not valid for train entry points yet.
  • The E-visa is only valid for 8 days.
  • You can only apply 18-days in advance before your travel date, and although the website says that the maximum processing time is 4 days - we got ours in 2 days.
The application process itself is quite straightforward. You do not need to provide any supporting documents, like tickets, hotel booking, insurance, etc.; however it is always recommended to carry them with you when you finally reach the immigration desk.

As the E-visa scheme is quite new (introduced in Oct 2019), we had our apprehensions reg. if the airlines and the immigration officials themselves would be aware of it. We are happy to report that we did not have any issues in this regard. The only observation would be that the emigration check seemed to be almost as detailed as the immigration check, with the officer asking for all types of documents even for the destination country. So please keep sufficient time in hand even during your return trip for airport formalities. Overall, the E-visa scheme seemed to be working very well, and hopefully the Russian authorities will expand it to other regions soon.

Saint Petersburg

Coming to the city itself, the first impression that comes to mind is its sheer grandeur and opulence wherever you look.

Magical Saint Petersburg

The good thing about St. Petersburg is that most of the touristic sights are within walking distance of each other, e.g. St. Isaac's Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, Kunstkamera, Winter Palace, Hermitage Museum, Nevsky Prospekt; are all within a 2km radius of each other. The only exception is the Summer Palace which is a bit far and you will need to arrange some type of transportation to reach there.

St. Isaac's Cathedral and Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood


We stayed at the Four Seasons hotel in Saint Petersburg, which is right across the St. Isaac's Cathedral with stunning views of the Cathedral. Make sure that you book a balcony room with a view of the Cathedral to make the most to it. 

the imposing St. Isaac's Cathedral at night

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood with its colorful domes is simply amazing (below pic) and can be considered as one of the most Instagram friendly structures in Russia :), so this an must visit on your trip to Saint Petersburg.

The interiors of both churches is simply amazing and definitely worth the US$ 8 that you will need to pay as entrance fees.

An additional attraction of St. Isaac's Cathedral (separate ticket) is that you can also climb to the top to take some amazing ariel shots of the city.

Saint Petersburg, the city protected by Angels


Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum


The Hermitage Museum is one of the main museums in Russia, with a collection rivaling other famous museums such as the Louvre in Paris. A 1-2 day trip is usually recommended to cover the whole museum, however any amount of time that you are able to spend here will not be a disappointment. The good thing about the museum is that it is located within the Winter Palace, so you can visit both attractions in one shot.

Green on blue - the colorful Winter Palace

Nevsky Prospect

Nevsky Prospect is the main shopping street in St. Petersburg. There are shops of all flavors - from  flea markets to exclusive brands. As such, it is always crowded, and was esp. so during our visit, as we visited during the festive end of the year period. While the streets were very nicely decorated with lights, beware of pickpockets as this is a very real threat on the streets - by personal experience, my own mobile phone was stolen from my jacket pocket during the trip - so please take this seriously and take necessary precautions. 

We had the opportunity to sample two Indian restaurants during our trip:
We can recommend both, with a slight preference for Tandoor - although it is a bit on the expensive (fine dining) side.