If you are looking for a European experience without breaking the bank, Russia is the place to be. Capturing the best of Central and Western Europe, the country is known for its cobbled streets, onion-domed churches, kebabs and momos (surprising, isn’t it?). On a recent family trip with my husband, 3 and 1/2 year old daughter and 7-month son, we wisely divided our four-day trip to Russia into two days in St. Petersburg and two days in Moscow.
Things to Do in St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg felt like the quintessential European city, with beautiful squares, churches, the palace gardens and pigeons to feed. Since it was a birthday treat, we splurged and stayed at the Hermitage Palace Hotel, a truly luxurious experience.
The first day as we walked across to the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, we bumped into a couple from India, who were also travelling with their two kids, wondering what to do in the city. Here’s what all there is to do in St. Petersburg when travelling with kids:
Walk to the Church of the Saviour on Spilled blood: It’s a 3.4 kms walk from the Hermitage Palace Hotel, and with the 7-month old in the baby carrier, the 3 and a 1/2 year old in the pram, the endless photo stops, snack and drink breaks, and chasing pigeons, it can easily take about 40 minutes. En route you cross the lovely Anichkov Bridge, Nevsky Prospekt shopping area, and Skver Park (ideal for a break and pigeon chase). The Church looks like it’s straight out of the movie Aladdin. The onion domes and wall murals inside take your breath away.
Pick up a Matryoshka Doll: The traditional Russian doll, which is a set of five to six nesting dolls, provides hours of entertainment for the toddlers, while you take a break. Bargain hard at the roadside stalls.
Lunch at Yat: This in my opinion is the most kid-friendly place to dine at. It has a play area where you can leave the kids to enjoy themselves as you sip on wine. My older one also enjoyed watching and feeding the resident rabbits.
Play Time at the Open Gardens: Eat ice cream at the Palace Square outside the Hermitage Museum and visit the Admiralteyskiy play area. It has a number of swings and sand pits that the kids will love. There is a family swing where you can sit and relax.
Take the Night Train From St Petersburg to Moscow: The kids loved the whole experience, as did we! The rocking of the train meant a good night’s sleep, even with the 7-month old! The train was well equipped (exceeding our very own first class compartments). Unfortunately, it leaves at midnight, so disrupts the jet lagged body *sigh*
Here’s what you can do if travelling without kids:
Enjoy the White Night Parties and Concerts: It’s during the White Nights that the city is forever in a festive state of mind. There is something or the other happening every night. You can opt for the night cruise around the Neva river and enjoy views of the Peter & Paul Fortress and the Hermitage, as well as watch the opening of the bridges to let the larger boats pass. Alternately, you could go on a walking tour of the river. Do pick up some cocktails-on- the-go!
Visit the Hermitage Museum: It is second only to the Louvre. The place is really big, but if you are short on time, you can walk by the windows to see most of the important pieces without getting lost. Don’t miss the “Hermitage Rembrandts”, the “Hermitage Matisses” and the Jordan Staircase in the Winter Palace.
Things to Do in Moscow
After spending two fabulous days in St. Petersburg, our next stop was Moscow. The city impresses you with its sheer size. The imposing, grand old buildings and the wide roads are hard to ignore. Here’s what all you can do in Moscow when travelling with kids:
Spend a Few Hours in Kremlin: On top of our list was the Kremlin, which takes a few hours to explore. This massive complex in the heart of the city is the official residence of the President of the Russia Federation and has four palaces and four cathedrals. There is no food/drink available inside, so I’d suggest you carry snacks for the kids.
Admire Art Displayed on the Streets: There are lovely paintings hung by the side of the roads. Stop to admire these beautiful pieces of art. You will also find amateur artists doing personal portraits.
Visit the St Basil’s Cathedral: Undoubtedly the most fantastic structure in Moscow, the Cathedral is practically the symbol of Russia. It also makes a great photo op!
Take the kids to the Fallen Monument Park: The kids enjoyed the park which houses the statues of Soviet heroes. For kids, there are many other art structures like the statue of Pinocchio and a huge pirate ship structure visible in the distance. There is also a water fountain at the entrance where kids can play around on a hot day (don’t forget to pack a swimsuit for the kids).
Check out the Beautiful Metro Stations: Our last effort was to take the metro with the kids and see the famous stations- there are ten of them. We loved the Ploshchad Revolutsii Station (touch the dog statue for good luck!). It turned out to be quite an effort as the metro is outright *pram hostile*. There are many stairs, few escalators and no elevators. The people, though, are friendly and helped us carry the pram up and down mostly. Still, it was quite a pain.
Here’s what you can do if travelling without kids:
Visit the Museums: Moscow has a rich heritage and history, all nicely captured in its museums. The must-visit ones are Tsarytsino Open-Air History and Architectural Museum and Kolomenskoye Historical and Architectural Museum and Reserve.
Attend a Ballet Performance at the Bolshoi Theatre: Russia is home of the Ballet dance and to watch a performance here is a moving experience. If ballet is not your thing, you can watch the famous Russian Circus. My suggestion: Aquamarine, The Dancing Fountains Circus is brilliant.
The four days left us wanting more. 2018 is when Russia will host the FIFA World Cup, and there’s no better time to plan another trip here. Perhaps, then we can do the legendary Trans-Siberian railway...
Marketer by day and blogger by night, Pooja is probably the only travel blogger who goes to exotic destinations with toddlers in tow. She was brave enough to take a 3 month old to Mexico, Cuba and US West Coast all in one trip, and hasn’t stopped since. The family has been to over 50 countries so far. Of these, about 20 have been with their two kids. Pooja also has a personal blog where she shares all her travel stories: https://backpackingmama.wordpress.com/