Saint Petersburg, Russia
Hire your own English-speaking guide • Research hotels • Arrange airport transportation • Order tickets
I'm Ed Ryder, the founder of this service. Back in June 2000 I ventured to Saint Petersburg for the first time as part of a 5 week West Chester University Russian language study group. It was actually my first trip outside of North America. What I saw in Russia's cultural capital stunned and amazed me. Quite simply, I was blown away with St. Petersburg's beautiful architecture, lavish museums and ornate palaces. An eccentric guide that a friend had referred was absolutely the key to me having an incredible time. I saw so much and did so much in the first four days. Meanwhile, my fellow students remained hesitant to leave the dormitory. They sat around playing cards and squandering their time. Only by the fourth day did they begin to explore the city on their own. The difference between my experience and their experience was huge! And I owed it all to my guide.
I made a lot of Russian friends that summer. And it led to this service being launched in early 2002. Thanks to my good friend Tanya, we developed a pool of very well-qualified, fluent English licensed guides. Over time, certain guides proved themselves over and over again with extremely satisfied customers. Other key people (Lena & Sasha) were added to manage the day to day operations and to ensure the delivery of service remains at a very high level. I loved hearing the feedback from customers when they returned home from their trip. It was not uncommon to be told their Saint Petersburg trip was among the very best they had experienced in their lifetime.
If you are considering a visit to Saint Petersburg, then you have found an excellent resource to make your visit the best it can be.
UPDATE: I got out of the business in 2010, but my good friend Sasha continues to use this website. He is very highly regarded by "Tours By Locals" and I can say from knowing him for so long that Sasha is rock solid dependable. And very customer focused.
His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
What we do...
1. Email consultations. Tells us about your travel ideas, and we'll give you our suggestions and recommendations. There are a lot of details to go over. That's why we prefer to consult by email - to be certain all of the important points are covered.
2. Meet & greet at the airport or train station. We'll have one of our superstar guides and a driver waiting just for you. Right away, you'll have an instant friend there to take care of you and show you around. Everything is so much easier and so much more comfortable when you have a local person whose sole purpose is to help you have the best possible time in their city.
3. Day One activities. Planes often arrive in the late afternoon. Your guide will accompany you to the hotel, let you get settled in, then take you to a good place to exchange currency (so you can buy things). Next, the guide will help you to get bottled water (if your hotel has not provided it) and any snacks you might like to have for your room. And at the same time a neighborhood orientation begins. Your guide will point out the good places to eat (big selection!), and strategy will be reviewed for the coming days. Perhaps you would like to have dinner with your guide? The cultural education can continue over the meal. Maybe a canal cruise might be the thing to do after dinner? Or a nice stroll down the city's main street - Nevsky Prospect?
Whatever you want to do, it's all up to you. With us, you hire your guide by the day*. We don't have packages or strict itineraries. Whether to stay longer at a destination, skip it, or add a new activity - it is all up to you! Your guide will make suggestions, but you are really the boss.
4. Drivers arranged. It is possible to use public transportation from the airport to your hotel, but if this is your first visit to Russia, or if you have anything other than small luggage, we don't recommend this. We'll be glad to arrange a driver for you.
Many things in Saint Petersburg can be seen by walking or using public transportation. Whether to have a regular driver depends upon the level of comfort you wish to have and if you can handle a lot of walking or not.
We use a pool of independent drivers who meet our high standards to transport our customers.
5. Tickets pre-ordered. We can make your visit go even smoother by purchasing your admission tickets/train tickets in advance.
6. Emergency assistance. Our customers get an emergency contact number they can call at any time if something should happen while their guide is not with them. This number goes directly to a Saint Petersburg-based manager.
Hotels in Saint Petersburg...
We're the experts with Saint Petersburg hotels. I visited over 130 hotels. Lena visited about 40 others. Back when we first started our service, the hotel infrastructure was not too good. There were a lot of crappy, soviet-style hotels with lazy, indifferent staff and dated, musky rooms with few "western standard" places to stay. This has all changed though. Since 2003, when Saint Petersburg held its very big 300 year birthday celebration, many, many new hotels have opened and there exists a wide selection of good hotels to choose from now.
1. Visas. Plan ahead. You need to get a Russian visa. This involves first getting an invitation, then applying and submitting your passport to a Russian consulate or embassy. To be safe, allow a minimum of 4 weeks for getting your visa. And be sure your passport is valid for more than 6 months, or you risk not getting approved.
2. Currency. Bring like-new US dollars or euros. This means no rips, creases or unoriginal markings. Bills that aren't perfect or very close to perfect are worth LESS in Russia and might not be exchangeable at all. We recommend you order new money from your bank. Bank machines can also be used to get currency. Inform your bank of your intention to make withdrawals in Russia or else they might automatically freeze your account out of fraud concerns. And don't rely exclusively on one card. We do not recommend bringing travelers checks due to the difficulty of cashing them. Plus the charge to cash them is ordinarily three percent.
3. Drink and brush your teeth only with bottled water. A parasite could be in the water. Your guide can help you to purchase bottled water. It is widely available.
4. Do not purchase antiques. It's trouble. For example, if you buy a World War 2 medal and get caught with it at the border, they will probably arrest you on the spot. Art is another area of concern. Special documentation is needed to export art. And leave your GPS device at home.
5. Heavily consider the advantages of hiring your own guide. You see more and do more with your own guide. It's safer, more comfortable, and your precious Saint Petersburg time is used more efficiently. Your guide can whisk you from place to place in a way you never could on you own.
We all understand how important your visit is and how this may be your once-in-a-lifetime visit. To make it the best it can be, we recommend you stay for 5 to 9 days so you will be able to see all of the important things in a relaxed way while getting acquainted with the pace of life in Saint Petersburg. This is a vibrant, dynamic city with so much to see and do. And there is ALL KINDS of evening entertainment every night, as well as plenty of great places to eat (in all price ranges) and lots of interesting shopping.
How to begin...
Tell Sasha about your travel ideas and he will offer his suggestions. He strives to respond to all inquiries within 24 hours.
Email Sasha at: email@example.com
He is fluent in English - Russian. And Sasha has a great deal of knowledge and expertise that he gladly shares. You can view our web video below here:
Other worthwhile links:
Assisting travelers in
2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012,
2013, 2014, 2015 and now 2016!
June 3, 2009... a recent happy customer wrote:
My husband and I recently returned from a wonderful
and most interesting two week vacation in
Russia. During our trip, we visited St. Petersburg where we
had the delightful experience of having Elena Ulko as a tour guide.
It was obvious before we even left our home state of California in
the United States, that Elena would be responsive to our interests
and needs. With great patience and efficiency we corresponded 20
times! This ongoing communication was not only to work out the
business aspects and our itinerary, but included her answering my
many queries about travel in Russia, what to bring, wear, and so
many other thing one might ask when going to a country where they
are unfamiliar with the language and customs. With kindness, an
upbeat attitude, and an understanding of what it is like to travel
aboard (from her own personal experiences), she was there to
reassure and make the trip a positive experience.
©Copyright 2009 Russian Guide Network, Inc.