Our guides, Sasha and Anastasia were excellent. This was an "exclusive" 2-day tour. I believe I can recommend going with the Exclusive-type of tour since we seemed to be able to "jump the line" at a number of very popular sites. I would definitely NOT recommend trying to tour these many sites on your own. The cues, at the various sites (especially the Hermitage) were often inhumanly long!
- Catherine Palace. Awesome. Make sure to view the photos of the Palace after the Nazis to get a full appreciation of site, and of the huge level of dedication applied to restore it. Also, tour the grounds. The gardens are beautifully manicured and there are several outbuildings that are notable.
- Peterhof Palace—Wow! Chances are, you've never seen anything like it. The dozens of gravity-fed fountains are spectacular—including some whimsical "trick" fountains. Well worth the long stroll through the extensive grounds.
- Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral—Notable because many royals' tombs are there. Well worth a stop. We didn't really see much related to the fort itself.
- Yusupov Palace—another amazing venue! While the obligatory story of Rasputin's murder (at that palace) is fascinating, the rest of the Palace is breathtaking. Most of all, the private theater. While you don't want to miss this site, make sure to get there immediately when it opens because to view the basement locations related to the murder the crush of visitors has to be funneled-down to fit, slowly! through a narrow, serpentine back staircase. We waited a very long time and we were one of the first three tour groups in the place!
- Church of the Savior/Spiilled Blood—one of the most vivid of this city's bonanza of spectacular venues. Don't miss it!
- The Heritage Museum—you've heard it. It's huge. It's immensely popular. Your approach to your tour/visit should be based on whether you want to view the content of the museum (most of which, like the Egyptian pavilion, you can see in any major city) or to view the endlessly-astonishing rooms and Russian-only artifacts. I recommend the latter. In this, you'll want an expert tour guide who can navigate the seas of other visitors and single-out the most remarkable rooms and artifacts. Don't miss the Pheasant Clock and the explanatory video that plays on the screens next to it. Unbelievable.
- Lunches—Our 2-day tour included lunch on both days. On the first day, for Catherine Palace and more, we had a lunch at a nondescript second-floor restaurant for an example of Russian food. Not really a positive experience. The neighborhood was run-down (with examples of the great many deteriorating Soviet-era concrete apartment buildings) and a small, plain military depot next door. The food was not appetizing and it was clear that this was not a choice of our guides—and you could see why. However, on our second day, in the city, we stopped at a well-known restaurant right in the city center, on the river for a wonderful beef stroganoff meal that was a much more welcome example of Russian cooking.
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