A trip to Russia would not be complete without visiting its crowning jewel and cultural capital – St. Petersburg! This majestic city was the Russian Empire’s imperial capital for over 200 years and it is jam-packed with history, culture, art and many museums.
The city was built during the time of Peter the Great and was constructed in the image of European cities at the time. St. Petersburg’s numerous romantic canals have also earned its name as the “Venice of the North”. Visiting the city in the winter or the summer will differ greatly with the winter offering you a truly northern experience and the summer allowing you to experience the famous white nights.
Below is a list of 10 things to do and a list of St. Petersburg attractions to see while visiting.
Visit the Hermitage
No list of things to do in St. Petersburg would be complete without mentioning the Hermitage. The Hermitage is one of the oldest, largest and most famous art museums in the world and also one of the best. Located in the Winter Palace of Catherine, the museum contains over 1500 rooms and over three million items ranging from artifacts from Ancient Egypt to 20th century Europe. Only a small amount of the Hermitage’s total collection is actually on permanent display, a large portion of items are kept in the vast storage spaces.
The collections of artwork range from Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Vincent Van Gough, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet amongst other famous names. This museum deserves at least a full day so that you can soak up everything and even then it might be worth it to plan ahead of time and concentrate on visiting the collections that you’re most interested in. The museum is so vast that it has been said that if you'd spend one minute looking at every object in the museum, you'd be there for six years!
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Located on the Griboyedov channel, the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is arguably one of St.Peterburg’s most iconic sights with its fairytale-like towers and 7500 square meters of colorful mosaics covering the church's ceilings and walls. Interestingly enough though, the church itself is only 100 years old. It was built by Alexander III as a memorial for his father who was assassinated at the same spot in 1881.
Grand Peterhof Place
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was inspired by Versaille and built by Tsar Peter the Great in the 18th century. The palace itself is located some forty minutes outside of St. Peterburg and boasts a complex of lavish palaces, gardens, fountains, and parks. At the center of the grounds, you'll find the Grand Palace which was used as the main summer residence by the Russian emperors. Nowadays, the Grand Palace is open to the public as a museum.
Catherine Palace and Park
Located some 25 km outside of St.Petersburg, the lavish Catherine’s palace is definitely worth a visit. The palace was built in the 18th century as a way for Catherine the Great to escape the busy city life. Its Amber Room is world-famous due to the fact that its artwork was stolen in 1941 by the Germans.
See a show at the Mariinsky Theatre
Russia is world-renowned for its ballet, theatre, and opera productions. The Mariinsky Theatre is one of Russia’s bests and seeing a performance there is definitely worth it. The theatre opened in 1860 and has hosted some of Russian’s most famous performers like Anna Pavlova, Vatslav Nizhinsky, and many others.
Take a boat trip along the canals
As the “Venice of the North”, St. Petersburg has a network of over 300 kilometers of canals and over 800 bridges. The canals are all man-made and were intended to serve as a way to cross the city easily. Taking a boat along the canals is a great way to relax your feet and see a different side of St. Petersburg. It’s definitely worth mentioning that the canal cruises only run during the summer since during the winter the canals are covered with ice.
Walk along the Nevsky Prospect
St. Peterburg’s most famous shopping street offers something for everyone. The 4.5 km avenue contains a myriad of shops, churches, hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. The avenue is at the center of St. Peterburg's social and commercial activities. Even if you’re not looking to do some shopping, the avenue is definitely still worth visiting since it is home to some of the most beautiful buildings in St. Petersburg. Some of the main things to do that can be found on this street include the Kazan Cathedral, Catherine the Great monument, the Art Nouveau bookhouse, and the Russsian National Library.
Watch the Drawbridges at nights
St. Petersburg was originally designed to be a port city and a naval base. Still today, there are many ships that sail down the Neva River today. One of the city’s most famous bridges is the Palace Bridge. Seeing it being drawn at night with all the lights on provides an iconic view of St. Peterburg. You can even take a special tour to see all of the bridges being drawn in full glory.
Visit Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in the world and one of the top sights to visit in St Petersburg. Built in with a Neoclassical and Byzantine-inspired architectural style, the cathedral has the capacity to hold 14 000 people.
Check out Peter and Paul's Fortress
Peter and Paul's Fortress is an important landmark for the city. It marks the very spot where St. Petersburg was founded in 1703. The bell tower in the cathedral is the highest building in St. Petersburg to this day. Many of the Russian Tsars are also buried below the fortress and the fortress itself played a major role in the Russian revolution.
If you visit Peter and Paul's fortress then it's also worth it to walk along the walls which will provide a lovely view of the city. Plan at least half a day for visiting this landmark.