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Heading to Moscow or Saint Petersburg? Try These Smart Tours

If your schedule is booked solid with meetings, you may find only limited time to explore the majestic architecture, churches, wide streets, and impressive restaurants of these two famous Russian cities. Since getting a visa to Russia for U.S. citizens requires a bit of extra work, many travelers want to maximize their experience when they are in the country to get their money’s worth.

On a recent visit, I found Firebird Tours to be a solid option for making the best of daytime meetings in Moscow before hopping either a high-speed or atmospheric overnight train with sleeping quarters to St. Petersburg. Of course, travelers can do the reverse depending upon their plans.

Transport between the two cities

Using a hotel concierge is always a better option than trying to navigate Russian train stations where not everyone will speak English. To assure you are booking the right ticket, it’s best to seek assistance although some hotel concierges will expect a tip or may work with certain hotel partners. That’s why respected third-party operators are helpful. Rail.Ninja provided an easy-to-navigate website providing plentiful options for traveling between two cities.

Keep in mind that overnight train travel is a regular way of life for many Russians, and while the high-speed option is great, it is more expensive. The longer train has cabins that vary in price depending upon the number of berths; the option for a private cabin with shower is ideal for business travelers should they not wish to be paired with a stranger.

A few things to keep in mind on the train are that linens and towels are provided in the higher category cabins. These also lock from the inside for added security.

Remember that each city has more than one train station, and it is important to allow enough time for notorious city traffic and security checks before boarding the train. Unlike Amtrak, this is not a matter of showing up just before departure and hopping aboard.

How to plan for the day

Firebird Tours and Triptile are two organizations that have a strong reputation for working with Americans for a variety of travel hot spots including Russia. They have excellent English-speaking guides and are known for having access to certain sights or areas that few other large tour operators can provide. Either can plan out a full-day itinerary, or they can provide multiple suggestions that will suit your interests.

In St. Petersburg, I wanted to only spend a few hours at The Hermitage museum since I had visited several times before. While some argue that you need a full day to explore it (or more), many travelers do not have that much time at their disposal. My guide was excellent because she organized fast-pass access to many sights so that I could pack in more during my day.

We visited numerous churches and historical sights (you’d be surprised how much you can pack into one day when someone organizes your route and driver in advance). A highlight for me was taking a boat tour of the various canals of St. Petersburg before stopping at the majestic Four Seasons for a lavish Italian dinner before hopping back aboard the night train.

Where to eat

While at first, Russian food may seem unusual or imposing for first-time visitors, there are some amazing dining options in both of these cities. If you’re looking for panache as well as flavor, consider the Maison Dellos group of restaurants, which is known for several famous eateries (especially in Moscow where it has several including the famous Café Pushkin and the new Matryoshka).

If you only have time for one, Turandotshould be it as it is housed in a former palace. Surprisingly, the menu focused on Asian fusion, which when paired with the setting, makes for a magical experience. Ask to be seated in the main dining room to get the full effect

If you’re lucky enough to visit Moscow during one of its many festival events, you are sure to find even more great food in the streets and parks. Moscow City Days, for example, is a celebration of the city’s birthday and is known for various pavilions around the city center preparing food from former Soviet republics.

Street vendors sell everything from juicy cobs of corn with toppings to roasted walnuts, sausages, and even borscht. Others choose to eat in one of the many luxury hotels around either city because of their reputation for top quality dining.

Most Americans may visit St. Petersburg during a cruise, but there is something magical about visiting either of these cities overnight when their famous architecture is illuminated with pride and grandeur. If you are unsure of exactly how to navigate travel between these two amazing cities, these tips should certainly provide a solid starting point.