As you can imagine, the Hermitage is the main draw for tourists in St. Petersburg. Long lines can be off-putting and crowded rooms can tire you up quicker than you would want it. So I decided to put together a few suggestions on how to make your visit to the Hermitage a little less stressful and much more enjoyable. Knowledge is power, right?
Since I travel independently most of the time, I'm of course biased against belonging to a group. But I also really don't think a live guide is all that necessary as long as you have a good book. There is also an option to rent an audio guide once you get through the turnstiles.
Being a part of a tour group means you have less control of what you see and how fast/slow you move through the rooms. It also means you are always moving with a crowd.
If you are not a Russian passport holder, not a child, a student, nor a senior, you would have to buy a regular adult ticket. This could be easily done at one of the ticket machines in a little yard in front of the entrance using your credit card. Some people see lines to the ticket office and get confused about what to do: whether to stand in line or use a machine. The truth is there is no difference where you buy a ticket. Machine is preferable of course since it allows you to skip the line.
The line is there for people looking for a discounted admission - seniors, students, parents with kids, special social groups (like WWII veterans) - or for those who don't have credit cards (which is the majority of Russians).
If you fall under a discount category and decide to wait in line, the trick here is to come early. The ticket office opens at 11 am, and Russian tourists will be there at least 30 minutes before to get in line. So should you.
1. Come first thing in the morning so you can be ahead of the tour groups.
2. Bring water and snacks, so you don't have to go all the way back to the ground floor to one of the cafes. The place is massive and distances are significant.
3. Start with residential rooms and not the museum section because they are more fun.
4. There is no air conditioning in the palace. Best case scenario there would be stand-alone fans and open windows. You can't really do anything to prepare for that, but I thought you should know anyway.
5. The visit will take you 4-6 hours depending on your speed and personal preferences. So don't plan anything else for that day. Technically, you can still make it to Church on Spilled Blood or Isaac Cathedral, but ideally you will just take it easy for the rest of the day.
Enjoy your day at the Hermitage! I have no doubt you will find it interesting.