Getting from your ship to the city isn't easy or inexpensive, however. If money is not a factor, book an excursion through your cruise line. Although these tend to cost a lot (we've seen rates for eight-hour tours approach $800 per couple), there are three advantages to such tours: 1) They are fully escorted; 2) They provide all transportation from and back to the ship; and 3) No Russian visa is required.
Leaving the Port of St. Petersburg Without a Tour
Don't even think about this unless you have a Russian tourist visa, which you must obtain from a Russian embassy or consulate before you leave the country. It also may not come easy. At this writing, the cost of a Russian visa -- regardless of how short your visit may be -- is in excess of $100. There is also the frustration of dealing with the embassy. For example, phones go unanswered and staff email addresses are not provided to inquire about the status of a visa application.
Let's assume you've obtained a visa. You will also need an authorized tourist confirmation and voucher from the hotel you plan to visit. Better hotels that serve foreigners can easily handle this and provide the proper documentation. Carry it, along with your passport holding your new Russian visa, with you.
Now comes the hard part: Getting from the ship to the front gate of the port. Forget everything you know about disembarking from a ship in a sunny port and walking out onto welcoming streets. Not in St. Petersburg.
Cruise ships dock at the furthest end of the Sea Commercial port (address: 5 Mezhevoy Canal Str.). It is a vast, dirty, working port where the main activity is handling large industrial deliveries. It is not set up to transport individuals from cruise ships. In fact, there is no scheduled transportation to take individual passengers from where the ship berths (at the farthest end of the port) to the front gate, a distance of approximately two miles.
Leaving Your Ship
There are three ways to reach the front gate of the port from your ship:
1. Walk. If you're up for a hike down a dusty paved road, dodging trucks and inhaling thick diesel fumes, go for it. There are no facilities along the ugly, industrial, blighted way, there's no place to sit, and there's no shade from the sun. It is unlikely that any of workers you encounter will speak English. And if you are wearing new clothes or expensive jewelry, you will feel very out of place.
2. Take the Workers' Bus. This old school bus runs a loop from the far end of the port to the gate. Its arrivals and departure times, despite a posted schedule, are irregular. As the bus is not set up to take commercial passengers and there are no provisions for making change, there is no set fare. If you have a ruble, give it to the driver and that should assure your safe passage to the front gate.
3. Take a Taxi. Only certain taxis that have paid for an official pass are permitted to carry passengers inside the port. The regulation of these cabs is less than stringent, and the cars are not metered. Basically, you need to find a cab (there are likely to be more parked outside the gate, when you're ready to return, than where the ship is docked).
When you do locate a cab, the driver may or may not speak English. What he will speak is the language of money. Ten (dollars or Euros) is the going rate; we paid dollars for a ride in one direction, Euros in the other.
You may be surprised by the condition of the taxis. They may be old and dirty with broken springs in the back seat. But you will be so relieved to be delivered back to the ship or up to the gate, that ride will feel like a magic carpet.