Tag Archives: St Petersburg

What to see in St Petersburg and the best St Petersburg attractions.

10 Things to Do in St Petersburg, Russia

St Petersburg might be the “second city” of Russia after Moscow, but many would argue (myself included) that it’s the most beautiful one. Like pretty much all of Russia, it has a tumultuous history, and through its iterations as Petrograd and Leningrad it has seen many changes, despite being a relatively young city, founded in 1703. It’s full of culture and history and has a particularly western edge to it – if you’re not sure about visiting Russia, then St Petersburg is probably the best place to start. Here is a list of ten things to do in St Petersburg, in the most recent of our Europe city guides.

The Hermitage in the Winter Palace

For me, this is by far the most impressive art museum in the world. The Hermitage is one of those places which you visit not just for the art collection but for the building and location itself as well. With some three million items in its collection (not all on display at once, obviously – despite its size!) even the locals who visit regularly will probably never see them all. Spread across several connected buildings of the Winter Palace, the architecture and decor is impressive enough even without seeing some of the world’s most famous paintings – artists like Rembrandt, Da Vinci and Michaelangelo are just the tip of the iceberg.

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Ballroom in the Hermitage by Amanda Kendle

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

This is my second favourite church in the world – after Moscow’s incredible St Basil’s Cathedral. The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (some guidebooks refer to it as the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, just to confuse us) is colourful in a more sedate way, and has a lovely canal-side location. Make sure you go inside because its interior is covered with masses of incredible mosaics – you have to slip covers over your shoes so as not to damage the ones on the floor!

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Ceiling of Church of Saviour on Spilled Blood by Amanda Kendle

Peter & Paul Fortress

The Peter and Paul Fortress was the first building to be constructed after being founded by Peter the Great. There are various museums and buildings on the fortress site including the St Petersburg City History Museum and the whole area is a real hive of tourist activity – but still worth a look!

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View to the Peter & Paul Fortress by Amanda Kendle

St Isaac’s Cathedral

St Petersburg is fairly rich in cathedrals and churches but there really are several that are worth your while to look at, and St Isaac’s Cathedral is one of them. As well as its impressive architecture, for me the best part is that you can climb to the top and get fantastic views over St Petersburg. It’s not a particularly tall building but there are well over 300 steps so be prepared – but the effort is worth it because the views over the city are really lovely – you do get the impression that St Petersburg is a much greener city than Moscow.

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View to the Hermitage from St Isaac’s Cathedral by Amanda Kendle

Kazan Cathedral

The last must-see cathedral or church on my St Petersburg list is the Kazan Cathedral. With its very central location on the main street of St Petersburg, Nevsky Prospekt, it is on my list because you will definitely see it, unless you close your eyes as you walk around the city! It’s a gorgeous neoclassical building and is superbly decorated inside and is basically just well worth a peek.

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Kazan Cathedral by Amanda Kendle

Leningrad Zoo

Surprisingly, the Leningrad Zoo decided not to change its name back to St Petersburg when the rest of the city did in 1991. It’s an impressive place and one of the oldest and largest zoos in the world with some 400 different species of animals (some of whom, I often imagine, must really shiver through a St Petersburg winter!). It is part of Alexander Park, not that far from the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Dostoyevsky Museum

As an avid reader, one of my favourite experiences in St Petersburg was visiting the Dostoyevsky Museum. There are numerous tributes and memorials to various Russian writers across the city but the Dostoyevsky Museum, housed in a flat where Dostoyevsky once lived (and, importantly, wrote), is really well set up and gives an interesting insight into the life of a writer. It includes all kinds of artefacts from his life, right down to handwritten notes from his children, and pages from his manuscripts complete with doodling and corrections.

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A Dostoyevsky draft by Amanda Kendle

The Summer Garden

Home to the Summer Palace (don’t get excited – it’s a lot less impressive than the Winter Palace!), the Summer Garden is the oldest park in St Petersburg. Fortunately the gardens are far more substantial than the palace and the park also includes a large collection of park sculptures, including some gorgeous ones of famous Russian writers. It’s also very green and a delightful place for a stroll or perhaps a picnic lunch. If you’re tired after walking around the park, you can book a taxi in St Petersburg to get back to your hotel.

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Summer Garden by Amanda Kendle

Neva River Cruise

The Neva River meanders its way through the city centre of St Petersburg, along with various canals, and the river in fact splits the city in half – quite literally at times early in the morning (around 1am to 5am), because bridges are drawn up for boat traffic and you can get stuck on one side of the city. During the day there are many companies offering river cruises to tourists, and although the cruise ticket hawkers might seem pushy it’s worth finding a decent deal and taking a cruise, because you can see so much of St Petersburg from the water. Typically you’ll pass by the Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress and the Cruiser Aurora, and hopefully along the canal past the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, and it’s a relaxing way to see the city from a different angle.

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View from a Neva cruise by Amanda Kendle

Cruiser Aurora

You might pass by the Cruiser Aurora on a river trip or stop by to tour the ship itself, and it’s an important part of St Petersburg history. Anyone with a smattering of Russian history knowledge will recognise at as the ship which sparked the October Revolution by firing on the Winter Palace, and it is now moored as a museum in the Neva River.

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Cruiser Aurora by archer10

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Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood: St Petersburg’s sedate version of crazy St Basil’s

Church of Saviour on Spilled Blood

I’m a big fan of Moscow’s insane-looking St Basil’s Cathedral, with its colourful domes and irregular shapes. But if it’s a little too crazy for you, then you might prefer the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (also known as the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ) in St Petersburg.

It’s also colourful, and covered with unusual domes, but in a slightly toned down way, and perhaps one more fitting a cathedral. Sitting next to one of St Petersburg’s many canals, the outside is extremely photogenic, and the kind of building you could stare at for hours. Inside it is jam-packed with incredible mosaics, and in fact these are main attraction for going inside these days, as it doesn’t function as a church. You’ll have to put plastic covers over your shoes so you don’t damage the floor, but you won’t have time to actually look at the floor – there are something like 7,000 square metres of mosaics on the walls and ceilings to enjoy.

Church of Saviour on Spilled Blood ceiling

If you asked me which of St Basil’s and the Saviour on Spilled Blood was my favourite church in Russia, I’d be really torn in making a decision – my best recommendation is that you absolutely must visit both, and then decide for yourself.

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Dostoyevsky museum in St Petersburg a must for book-lovers

When I travelled across Russia on the Trans-Siberian I wanted to take some good Russian literature with me, and I eventually decided on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It is set in St Petersburg, and by the time I’d reached this gorgeous city (it took three weeks, with stops, from Vladivostok) I was more than ready to learn more about the author by visiting the Dostoyevsky Memorial Museum, housed in an apartment where the man himself used to live, and write.

For any avid reader, and especially for writers, this museum is a must. Not only does it explain the historical background to the novels of Dostoyevsky, telling much about Russia in the process, but it also shows his life as a writer – drafts he made, the desk where he wrote, and the critical reaction of the time. There’s even a note from his young son asking Papa to bring him some sweets! Pictured here are notes and scribbles Dostoyevsky made when planning his book “The Adolescent”.

Dostoyevsky Museum

The museum is a short walk from the Vladimirskaya / Dostoyevskaya metro stations in St Petersburg, and is closed on Mondays. I rented an audio guide in English and it was well worth it, with lots of interesting anecdotes to go with the various exhibits throughout the flat.

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Views over St Petersburg from St Isaac’s Cathedral

St Isaac's Cathedral

If you’re wandering the main streets of St Petersburg, you won’t be able to miss the city’s largest cathedral: St Isaac’s Cathedral or the Isaakievskiy Sobor. Architecture fans are sure to be impressed; I loved the granite columns, and it’s obvious that it was built with the intention of looking impressive – it was intended to be the most important church of the Russian Empire when it was built in the early nineteenth century.

View from St Isaac's Cathedral

The best way to visit St Isaac’s is to get there early (it opens at 10am in summer and 11am in winter) and climb the 300-odd steps to get up to the balcony around the top dome. Since St Petersburg is not a particularly “tall” city, this is high enough to get spectacular views over the Hermitage buildings along with the rest of the city. If I remember correctly, there was an extra fee for being allowed to take photographs (a common surcharge in Russia) but I was early and sneaky enough to get away with some snaps – but if you’re more honest than me, pay up because you’ll definitely want to take pictures while you’re up there.

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St Petersburg summer highlight – the Summer Garden

Summer Garden

There are many sides to St Petersburg, but many parts are certainly indicative of past good times and a quiet decadence – it’s an interesting contrast to other parts of Russia. One place that is a good sunny afternoon excursion is the Summer Garden, the oldest park in St Petersburg and one of the most beautiful.

Peter the Great is responsible for setting it up back in 1704, and it’s especially famous for the dozens of Italian-made sculptures and statues around the park. It’s also home to the Summer Palace – the other-season option to the Winter Palace, which is now home to the Hermitage galleries.

Summer Palace

The area’s open from 10am to 9pm daily, and I’d recommend a walk around there late in the afternoon of a hot summer day – it’s shady enough to be quite refreshing. Take enough time to check all the statues out if you’re interested in sculpture, because some are incredible.

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Decadence at the Hermitage in St Petersburg

I know some people aren’t really into visiting art galleries when they travel, but I have to say that everyone should make an exception for The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. It’s not only a Russian icon but it’s also a truly breathtaking place to stroll around – whether art interests you or not, even just the buildings that house all the art are fascinating.

Okay, enough of the lyrical adjectives, this is the plain truth: the Hermitage is stuffed full of paintings, sculptures and other works of art and every guide book likes to cite some statistic on how many lifetimes you would need if you wanted to look at the entire collection (there’s a lot more that’s not on display). Whichever period of the history of art you’re attracted to, there’s some representative of it there.

Being this incredible means that every man and his dog wants to visit the Hermitage, so you have to plan your visit well to avoid either paying too much or seeing too little. I’ve been twice and both times have got there early in the morning, about half an hour or so before it opens, and as long as you have a book to read in the queue or a snack to keep you busy, it’s quite tolerable. As for buying tickets, there are several ways to go and they change regularly. At the moment you can buy tickets online for US$17.95, which seems reasonable although locals get in much, much cheaper; having tickets in advance at least means less queuing.

Last time I was there a tour guide was walking up and down the queue giving people the tip that if they were in the first hundred or so people they could pay for the special Jewellery tour and general admission was included – yet weirdly, this made it cheaper. We took her advice and got to see some of the more secret stash of jewels as well as get in cheaper. So keep your ear to the ground if you’re on a tight budget.

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