St Petersburg is splendour incarnate. There is nothing else like it in the Baltic or indeed the world. A tour of its baroque centre is a journey through Russian history.
But first you must get there. The city centre is on the broad but shallow River Neva, not on the Gulf of Finland. It seemed like a good place for shipping when St Petersburg was founded three hundred years ago, but no one then imagined the size of modern vessels.
|St Petersburg cruise berths 2012|
|Schedule of calls at the Marine Facade passenger port|
|Others moor on the River Neva..|
This is why most cruise ships, and certainly all the large ones, moor at the "Marine Facade" passenger port at the sea end of Basil Island (in Russian Vasilyevskiy). It is six kilometers (3½ miles) from the city centre.
The passenger port has its own fairway. It is part of an ambitious programme to give St Petersburg a modern face on the sea and will one day have its own high-speed road connection. At present it is still a good half-hour drive from the centre, longer if traffic is bad.
Smaller cruise ships can sail into the mouth of the River Neva, although not past the first bridge. They berth on the Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment on the north bank, or the English Embankment on the south. You'll have a great view of the city centre because you'll be surrounded by it.
The Marine Facade passenger port is a fine modern terminal but there's nothing to see nearby. You'll want to get away from it as soon as possible. It is quite a distance from the nearest metro railway station, but this hardly matters because most visitors have a bus waiting for them.
To be able to leave the ship, cruise passengers without a visa must have a pre-arranged tour with an authorised operator. A guide is a good investment in any case, to help get around the fearsome queues at the main sights in summer.
The stylish way into town from the passenger port is to prebook a waterbus. There are great views and you'll also avoid the likely frustration of sitting in one of the city's famous traffic jams.