All information in this article is current as of the posting date, but subject to change at any time due to Russian regulations.
Russia’s storied history, grandiose architecture–and if we’re being honest, the vodka–make it a fascinating country to visit, which is why many people have a trip to Moscow’s Red Square or St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum on their bucket list. Unfortunately, residents of most countries require a visa, which can sometimes be a time consuming and expensive process. Fortunately there’s one way around it: travel to Russia on a cruise.
A visa-free entry program is in place for those docking in St. Petersburg as part of an itinerary with a licensed operator, such as Viking Cruises’ Viking Homelands tour (they also have a longer Russia-only cruise, called Waterways of the Tsars). It allows passengers to visit the country for up to 72 hours without a visa, provided they stay onboard overnight. Another important stipulation is that if you want to get off the ship to explore, you can only do so by booking a tour through your cruise ship or a Russian company licensed by the government.
Once you disembark the ship, you’ll go through immigration at the port to get your passport stamped, and officials will also ask for proof that you’re a passenger on the ship (show them your key card) as well as the tickets for your tour. Depending on how many people are disembarking at once the process can take up to 45 minutes, so be sure to factor that in to ensure you make it through in time.
You’re also required to stay with your tour company, so don’t get any ideas about breaking away to explore on your own. If the idea of being at the mercy of a tightly-controlled excursion isn’t your idea of a good way to see the city, then there’s one other option: book a private tour with an accredited driver who can take you anywhere you want.
Most cruise ships dock in the port overnight, so you’ll get a couple of days to visit St. Petersburg. To make the most of your time, book a two-day tour that takes in highlights such as Catherine Palace, the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood, the Hermitage, Peterhof Palace and a city tour. Most cruise ships offer this package, as do independent operators such as Alla Tours or TJ Travel.
- If you want to get a Russian visa so you can explore on your own, you cannot apply for one in Russia and must secure one before leaving home.
- Visitors are required to depart and return to the port with the tour (there are checkpoints), so you cannot try to make it back to the ship on your own.
- The visa-free entry program only applies to passengers in St. Petersburg. If your cruise continues through Russia as Viking’s Waterways of the Tsars itinerary does, you are required to obtain a Russian visa in advance.
How passport holders from Canada can get a Russian visa
How passport holders from the United States can get a Russian visa
A list of countries whose residents don’t require a Russian visa
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