15 Places you must visit in St Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is one of the modern cities of Russia, as well as its cultural capital. Built from nothing by westward-looking Peter the Great, St Petersburg was from its inception to be a display of imperial Russia’s growing status in the world. Fine-tuned by Peter’s successors, who employed a host of European architects to add fabulous palaces and cathedrals to the city’s layout, St Petersburg grew to be the Romanovs’ showcase capital and Russia’s first great, modern city, a status it has retained despite the capital moving back to Moscow following the revolution. Despite all that history has thrown at it, St Petersburg still feels every bit the imperial capital, a city largely frozen in time.
The list of interesting places in St Petersburg is almost endless. However we picked up 15 places that, on our believe, absolutely must be in your trip plan. be sure to get in touch with us should you need any help and support completing your Russian visa.
1. Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage Museum is a museum of art and culture. It is most popular visitor attraction and a must-see for all first-time travelers to the city. One of the largest and oldest museums in the world, it was founded in 1754 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items (the numismatic collection accounts for about one third of them) including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors. Apart from them, the Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya and the eastern wing of the General Staff Building are also part of the museum. The museum has several exhibition centres abroad.
As much as you see in the museum, there’s about 20 times more in its vaults, part of which you can visit at the Hermitage Storage Facility. Other branches of the museum include the east wing of the General Staff Building (home to the Hermitage’s amazing collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works), the Menshikov Palace on Vasilyevsky Island, and the Imperial Porcelain factory in the south of the city.
National Geographic has placed The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia on the 4th position in its World Famous Museums and Galleries Top 10.
2. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
It is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city. It is the largest orthodox basilica and the fourth largest (by the volume under the cupola) cathedral in the world. It is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great, who had been born on the feast day of that saint.
The church on St Isaac’s Square was ordered by Tsar Alexander I, to replace an earlier structure, and was the fifth consecutive church standing at this place.
The cathedral took 40 years to construct.To secure the construction, the cathedral’s foundation was strengthened by driving 25,000 piles into the fenland of Saint Petersburg. Innovative methods were created to erect the giant columns of the portico. The construction costs of the cathedral totaled an incredible sum of 1 000 000 gold rubles.
The neoclassical exterior expresses the traditional Russian-Byzantine formula of a Greek-cross ground plan with a large central dome and four subsidiary domes. It is similar to Andrea Palladio’s Villa La Rotonda, with a full dome on a high drum substituted for the Villa’s low central saucer dome. The design of the cathedral in general and the dome in particular later influenced the design of the United States Capitol dome, Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki.
The exterior is faced with gray and pink stone, and features a total of 112 red granite columns with Corinthian capitals, each hewn and erected as a single block: 48 at ground level, 24 on the rotunda of the uppermost dome, 8 on each of four side domes, and 2 framing each of four windows. The rotunda is encircled by a walkway accessible to tourists. 24 statues stand on the roof, and another 24 on top of the rotunda.
3. Church of the Saviour on Blood
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg. Other names include the Church on Spilled Blood , the Temple of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ
This church was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in March 1881.The church was built between 1883 and 1907. The construction was funded by the imperial family.
Both the interior and exterior of the church is decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics, designed and created by the most prominent Russian artists of the day V.M. Vasnetsov, M.V. Nesterov and M.A. Vrubel.
The church was closed for services in the 1930s, when the Bolsheviks went on an offensive against religion and destroyed churches all over the country. Following decades of abuse and neglect during the Soviet era, painstaking restoration began in the 1970s and took 27 years to be completed. It remained closed and under restoration for over 60 years and was finally re-opened in 1997 in all its dazzling former glory. The view of the church from Nevsky Prospekt is absolutely breathtaking.
4. Peter and Paul Fortress
The first structure to be built in St. Petersburg, and thus the birthplace of the city, it never served its intended defensive function. Instead it has had a rich, hugely varied, and sometimes sinister history as a military base, a home of government departments, the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, the site of groundbreaking scientific experiments, and a forbidding jail that held some of Russia’s most prominent political prisoners.
The fortress contains several notable buildings clustered around the Peter and Paul Cathedral (1712-1733), which has a 122.5 m (402 ft) bell-tower (the tallest in the city centre) and a gilded angel-topped cupola.
The cathedral is the burial place of all Russian tsars from Peter I to Alexander III, with the exception of Peter II and Ivan VI. The remains of Nicholas II and his family and entourage were re-interred there, in the side chapel of St. Catherine, on July 17, 1998, the 80th anniversary of their deaths. Toward the end of 2006, the remains of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna were brought from Roskilde Cathedral outside Copenhagen and reinterred next to her husband, Alexander III.
Other structures inside the fortress include the still functioning mint building, the Trubetskoy Bastion with its grim prison cells, and the city museum. According to a centuries-old tradition, a cannon is fired each noon from the Naryshkin Bastion. Annual celebrations of the city day (May 27) are normally centered on the island where the city was born.
The fortress walls overlook sandy beaches that have become among the most popular in St. Petersburg. In summer, the beach is often overcrowded, especially when a major sand festival takes place on the shore.
5. Palace Square
Palace Square is connecting Nevsky Prospekt with Palace Bridge leading to Vasilievsky Island, is the central city square of St Petersburg and of the former Russian Empire. Many significant events took place there, including the Bloody Sunday massacre and parts of the October Revolution of 1917.
The earliest and most celebrated building on the square, the baroque white-and-azure Winter Palace (as re-built between 1754 and 1762) of the Russian tsars, gives the square its name. Although the adjacent buildings are designed in the Neoclassical style, they perfectly match the palace in their scale, rhythm, and monumentality. The opposite, southern side of the square was designed in the shape of an arc by George von Velten in the late 18th century. These plans came to fruition half a century later, when Alexander I of Russia (reigned 1801-1825) envisaged the square as a vast monument to the 1812-1814 Russian victories over Napoleon and commissioned Carlo Rossi to design the bow-shaped Empire-style Building of the General Staff (1819-29), which centres on a double triumphal arch crowned with a Roman quadriga.
In the centre of the square stands the Alexander Column (1830-34). This red granite column (the tallest of its kind in the world) is 47.5 metres high and weighs some 500 tons. It is set so well that it requires no attachment to the base.
The eastern side of the square comprises Alessandro Brullo’s building of the Guards Corps Headquarters (1837-43). The western side, however, opens towards Admiralty Square, thus making the Palace Square a vital part of the grand suite of St Petersburg squares.
6. Nevsky Prospect
Nevsky Prospekt is St. Petersburg’s main avenue and one of the best-known streets in Russia. Cutting through the historical center of the city, it runs from the Admiralty to the Moscow Railway Station and then, after a slight kink, to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. In the very first days of St. Petersburg it was simply the beginning of the road to the ancient city of Novgorod, but it quickly became adorned with beautiful buildings, squares and bridges and became the very center of the bustling, rapidly growing city.
The chief sights include the Rastrelliesque Stroganov Palace, the huge neoclassical Kazan Cathedral, the Art Nouveau Bookhouse, Elisseeff Emporium, half a dozen 18th-century churches, a monument to Catherine the Great, an enormous 18th-century shopping mall, a mid-19th-century department store, the Russian National Library, the Anichkov Bridge with its horse statues, and the Singer House.
Nevsky Prospekt is also the city’s central shopping street and the hub of the city’s entertainment and nightlife.
7. Peterhof Palace
One of St. Petersburg’s most famous and popular visitor attractions, the palace and park at Peterhof are often referred to as “the Russian Versailles”, although many visitors conclude that the comparison does a disservice to the grandeur and scope of this majestic estate.
Versailles was, however, the inspiration for Peter the Great’s desire to build an imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city and, after an aborted attempt at Strelna, Peterhof – which means “Peter’s Court” in German – became the site for the Tsar’s Monplaisir Palace, and then of the original Grand Palace. The estate was equally popular with Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and greatly extended the park and the famous system of fountains, including the truly spectacular Grand Cascade.
The palace-ensemble along with the city center is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The dominant natural feature of Peterhof is a sixteen-metre-high bluff lying less than a hundred metres from the shore. The so-called Lower Gardens, at 1.02 km² comprising the better part of Peterhof’s land area, are confined between this bluff and the shore, stretching east and west for roughly 200 metres. The majority of Peterhof’s fountains are contained here, as are several small palaces and outbuildings. East of the Lower Gardens lies the Alexandria Park with 19th-century Gothic Revival structures such as the Kapella.
Atop the bluff, near the middle of the Lower Gardens, stands the Grand Palace. Behind (south) of it are the comparatively small Upper Gardens . Upon the bluff’s face below the Palace is the Grand Cascade. This and the Grand Palace are the centrepiece of the entire complex. At its foot begins the Sea Channel, one of the most extensive waterworks of the Baroque period, which bisects the Lower Gardens.
The Grand Cascade is modelled on one constructed for Louis XIV at his Château de Marly, which is likewise memorialised in one of the park’s outbuildings.
At the centre of the cascade is an artificial grotto with two stories, faced inside and out with hewn brown stone. It currently contains a modest museum of the fountains’ history. One of the exhibits is a table carrying a bowl of (artificial) fruit, a replica of a similar table built under Peter’s direction. The table is rigged with jets of water that soak visitors when they reach for the fruit, a feature from Mannerist gardens that remained popular in Germany. The grotto is connected to the palace above and behind by a hidden corridor.
Perhaps the greatest technological achievement of Peterhof is that all of the fountains operate without the use of pumps. Water is supplied from natural springs and collects in reservoirs in the Upper Gardens. The elevation difference creates the pressure that drives most of the fountains of the Lower Gardens, including the Grand Cascade. The Samson Fountain is supplied by a special aqueduct, over four km in length, drawing water and pressure from a high-elevation source.
The Grand Palace (largest of Peterhof’s palaces) looks truly imposing when seen from the Lower or Upper Gardens, but in fact it is quite narrow and not overly large.
The Grand Palace is not the only historic royal building in Peterhof. The palaces of Monplaisir and Marly, as well as the pavilion known as the ‘Hermitage’, were all raised during the initial construction of Peterhof during the reign of Peter the Great. The Lower Gardens also contain a large greenhouse, and in the Alexandrine Park stands the palace of Nicholas I.
Like the Lower Gardens, the Upper Gardens contain many fountains, distributed among seven broad pools. The landscaping, though, is entirely different; unlike the Lower Gardens (which are strictly geometric), the Upper Gardens are not. While a few of the fountains have curious sculpture, the waterworks themselves are comparatively unimpressive.
8. Kazan Cathedral
This cathedral, which was modelled on St. Peter’s in Rome, is one of the city’s most majestic. It was built from 1801 to 1811 to house the miracle-working Icon Our Lady of Kazan.
The dome is 80-metres high and the colonnade facing Nevsky has 96 columns.
The cathedral’s interior, with its numerous columns, echoes the exterior colonnade and is reminiscent of a palatial hall, being 69 metres in length and 62 metres in height. The interior features numerous sculptures and icons created by the best Russian artists of the day. A wrought-iron grille separating the cathedral from a small square behind it is sometimes cited as one of the finest ever constructed.
The cathedral’s huge bronze doors are one of three copies of the original doors of the Baptistry in Florence, Italy (the other two are at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, United States, and at the Florence Baptistry itself).
Officially known as the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, this was the first museum in Russia, and is one of the oldest in the world. The museum’s founder, Peter the Great, had begun collecting curiosities – stuffed animals, model ships, tools and astronomical instruments. In 1718, The Tsar gave the order for the establishment of a ‘kunstkammer’ (a chamber of art), and himself enriched the collection with exhibits brought back from each of his journeys abroad. The core of the collection is still made up of exhibits collected during Peter’s lifetime, including the anatomical specimens and assorted freaks prepared by the Dutch anatomist Frederick Ruysch.
The Kunstkammer building once also housed the Academy of Sciences, which is why you can also find part of the museum dedicated to Mikhail Lomonosov, the great Russian polymath who was one of its members. The museum has a number of valuable artifacts which chart Lomonosov’s work as a key figure of the Enlightenment, the founder of Moscow University, a scholar with a vast knowledge of different sciences, a historian and a leading poet of the era.
The museum’s archives hold over a million ethnographic, anthropological and archaeological artifacts. The cultures of races from Siberia to Oceania to South America are broadly and colorfully represented. Many of the exhibits were gathered by famous Russian explorers of the 19th century, and the highlight of the exhibition is the collection of the famous traveler Nikolai Miklukho-Maclay.
10. Faberge Museum
Faberge museum is the newest and probably the most anticipated museum in St Petersburg. It is a privately-owned museum which was established by Viktor Vekselberg and his Link of Times foundation in order to repatriate lost cultural valuables to Russia. The museum’s collection contains more than 4,000 works of decorative applied and fine arts, including gold and silver items, paintings, porcelain and bronze. A highlight of the museum’s collection is the group of nine Imperial Easter eggs created by Fabergé for the last two Russian Tsars — Alexander III and Nicolas II. In total, there are fifteen Fabergé eggs in the Blue Room of Shuvalov Palace, as well as a miniature picture frame in the form of a heart — the surprise from the lost Mauve egg of 1897.
11. Russian Cruiser Aurora
Travel back in time by stepping on board the memorial ship Aurora, which played an important role in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The cruiser Aurora was built between 1897 and 1900 by the “New Admiralty” in St. Petersburg and joined Russia’s Baltic fleet in 1903. The ship measures 126.8 meters (418 feet 5 inches) in length, 16.8 meters (55 feet 5 inches) in width and weighs a staggering 7,600 tons. Maintaining a speed of 20 knots (23.3 miles per hour) it can travel independently for up to 1,440 sea miles.
During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 the cruiser took part in the Battle of Tsusima. Amongst the ship’s exhibits visitors can see a portrait of the ship’s captain, who was killed during the battle. The crew used part of the Aurora’s penetrated armor to frame Captain Yegoryev’s photograph.
In 1917, as the main training ship of the Baltic fleet, the Aurora took an active part in the Revolution. On the night of October 25-26 1917, it fired a blank shot at the Winter Palace (then the residence of the Provisional Government), giving the signal to the rebellious workers, soldiers and sailors of the city to storm the palace. That moment triggered a dramatic episode in Russia’s history and was the start of over 70 years of Communist leadership.
The Aurora is now maintained by cadets from the nearby Nakhimov Navy School. There are no charges for admission to the Aurora, but for an extra fee you can tour the engine-room (ask an attendant).
12. Kronstadt Naval Cathedral
The Naval cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kronstadt is a Russian Orthodox cathedral built in 1903-1913 as the main church of the Russian Navy and dedicated to all fallen seamen. The cathedral was closed in 1929, was converted to a cinema, a House of Officers (1939) and a museum of the Navy (1980).
The Russian Orthodox Church reinstalled the cross on the main dome in 2002 and served the first Divine Liturgy in the cathedral in 2005. In 2013, the Patriarch of Russia, with Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev and his spouse attending, conducted the ceremony of grand reconsecration in the now fully restored cathedral.
Kronstadt Naval Cathedral is a unique monument to the history of the Russian fleet.
13. Senate Square
Senate Square, formerly known as Decembrists’ Square in 1925-2008, and Peter’s Square, before 1925, is a city square situated on the left bank of the Bolshaya Neva, in front of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. In 1925 it was renamed Decembrists Square to commemorate the Decembrist Revolt, which took place there in 1825.
Senatskaya Ploshchad emerged in 1704 as one of the first squares in St. Petersburg. In 1710, the wooden St. Isaac’s Church was erected on the shores of the Neva. This is now recognized as the predecessor of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Later, the church was moved to the marshy location where the current St. Isaac’s Cathedral stands. From 1727, Senatskaya Ploshchad became a busy area thanks to the Isaac “floating bridge”, forged every summer from ferries and barges, and replaced in winter by a wooden walkway across the ice. One of very few bridges across the River Neva at the time, it carried huge crowds everyday to and from Vasilevskiy Island.
The square is bounded by the Admiralty building to the east. On the west is the Senate and Synod Building (now headquarters of the Constitutional Court of Russia). The Bronze Horseman monument adorns the square. On July 29, 2008, the square was renamed back to Senate Square.
14. Griboyedov Canal
Griboyedov Canal constructed in 1739 on the basis of the existing river Krivusha. In 1764-90, the canal was deepened, and the banks were reinforced and covered with granite.
Griboyedov Canal starts from the Moyka River near the Field of Mars. It flows into the Fontanka River. Its length is 5 kilometres (3 mi), with a width of 32 metres (105 ft).
Before 1923 it was called Catherine Canal, after the empress Catherine the Great, during whose rule it was deepened. The Communist authorities renamed it after the Russian playwright and diplomat Alexandr Griboyedov.
Often called the Venice of the North, St. Petersburg is situated on forty-two islands, crisscrossed by sixty-eight rivers and canals and spanned by hundreds of bridges. The Griboedov Canal flows through one of the city’s most fascinating historical districts, frequently referred to as Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg. The famous writer Fedor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) lived here in several locations for many years. St. Petersburg became the setting for many of his novels–a romantic backdrop as well as an intriguing presence wrapped in its own myths.
15. Grand Market Russiya
Grand Maket Rossiya is a private museum, a model layout designed on a scale of 1:87 and covers an area of 800 m2 (8,600 sq ft). The museum based around a model of the entire country. Think of a toy train set, where the railroad takes you all over Russia, from the far west to the far east, giving you a glimpse of life across the largest country in the world, compete with accurate daylight according to time zone and changes in season. The model presents an image of everyday life in Russia, realized through models. These everyday situations represent different human activities, such as work, leisure, sports, studying, military service, country life, travel, mass celebrations and even an attempt to escape from prison. Ground transportation is represented by various kinds of cars and trucks, trams, buses, trains, and agricultural, construction and military equipment.
It is the largest model layout in Russia and the second largest in the world (after the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany). The model is located in a two story building built in 1953, in the style of Stalin’s empire. The creator of the project is a Saint Petersburg businessman Sergey Morozov.