There are so many Incredible Things To Do in St Petersburg it is hard to know where to start! With Palaces, Churches, Fortresses and Museums, you’ll be enthralled by the beauty of the former Imperial Capital of Russia that was home to Tsars, Empresses and Aristocracy. And to help you get the most from your visit we’ve pulled together all the amazing things to do, sights to see and places to visit in St Petersburg to get you off on the right foot!
Table of Contents
- 1 Incredible Things To Do in St Petersburg
- 1.1 Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood
- 1.2 The State Hermitage Museum
- 1.3 Peter & Paul Fortress
- 1.4 Yusupov Palace (aka. Moika Palace)
- 1.5 Take a Canal Cruise along the Neva River
- 1.6 Peterhof Palace & Gardens
- 1.7 Palace Embankment
- 1.8 St Issac’s Cathedral
- 1.9 Nevsky Prospect
- 1.10 Faberge Museum
- 1.11 Russian Cruiser Aurora
- 1.12 Catherine Palace
- 1.13 Palace Square
- 1.14 Tour St Petersburg’s Metro System
- 1.15 Alexandrinsky Theater
Incredible Things To Do in St Petersburg
Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood
Built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (also known as the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ) was commissioned to celebrate the notable reforms he had been instrumental in enacting following the defeat of Russia in the Crimean War. The most notable of which was the emancipation of serfs which put an end of the slavery of Russia’s peasants. It took 24 years to construct opening in 1907; was closed following looting and Soviet vandalism in 1932 (after which it was used as a garbage dump, temporary morgue and for vegetable storage!) Restoration of the mosaic filled church took 27 years and it was reopened to the public in August 1997. Today it’s bright, multicolored onion domes that perpetuate the Russian Orthodox style are an instantly recognized symbol of St Petersburg and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. As the premier attraction in the city, crowds are to be expected. Grab your Skip The Line Ticket here before you go.
The State Hermitage Museum
Housed in 5 monstrous riverfront buildings, including the incredible Baroque Winter Palace, the State Hermitage Museum is the second largest museum in the world and was established in 1764 when Catherine The Great acquired a large quantity of art from a German trader. There are currently over 3 million pieces of art housed within it’s walls and it would take 9 years to see everything if you were to stand and appreciate each piece for 1 minute(!) Head on over to our Photo Tour of the Hermitage to take a look inside right now – without having the leave your laptop!
Peter & Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul Fortress, founded by Peter the Great, was the first structure to be constructed in St Petersburg and is considered to be the birthplace of the city. Built to be a defensive Citadel, it never served it’s intended purpose but has had an interesting history all the same. It has been a military base, is the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, the site of groundbreaking scientific experiments, a home for government departments and a jail that has held some of Russia’s most prominent political prisoners. Today it is part of the St Petersburg Museum of History with the Peter and Paul Cathedral being one of the biggest tourist draws in the star shaped site, along with the Nevsky Curtain Wall complete with neoclassical gates; the Monument to Peter the Great (which has some ‘interesting’ dimensions); The Grand-Ducal Burial Vault (which is the resting place of the Romanov family); the Neva Gate (the gate through which traitors were led through to the execution site) and the Naryshkin Bastion where the fortress’s flagpole flying the fortress flag is located and from where the 12pm cannon is fired daily (it’s very loud, even when you are expecting it!)
Yusupov Palace (aka. Moika Palace)
Yusupov Palace, located on the banks of the Moika River (and hence why it is sometimes referred to as the Moika Palace) was home to the monumentally wealthy Yusopov Family, and is most famous as the basement where Grigori Rasputin was murdered on 16 December 1916. The Palace has maintained it’s original aristocratic interior (one of only a few buildings in St Petersburg to do so) – including a full-production Palace Theater that is a third of the size of a traditional theater, perfect for intimate private performances; and a recreation in wax of how the assassination of Rasputin happened (according to the autobiography of Prince Felix Yusopov published following his exile to Crimea and passage to Paris.) Visits to this display are not included as standard but are part of the museums guided tours.
Take a Canal Cruise along the Neva River
St Petersburg is best viewed from a variety of angles, and the view from the Neva River is extra special. It is one of the top things to do in St Petersburg and gives you a greater appreciation for the sheer scale of the Baroque and neoclassical styled buildings which line the city and along it’s Amsterdam-style canals and waterways. We recommend you Pre-Book Your Canal Cruise and avoid having to barter for your trip on the banks of the river.
Peterhof Palace & Gardens
A must-see St Petersburg attraction (although approx 30km outside of the city itself), this Grand Palace was designed to be the centerpiece of Peter the Great’s “Russian Versaille” – and is as grand and opulent in every way. Visitors to the Palace are allowed to walk a designated route through the open rooms as part of a guided tour which are ‘guarded’ by Babushkas (literal translation: Grandma but in reality they are rather pushy women who ‘shuffle’ you through the exhibits at an alarming rate!) – which can become tiresome quickly with no photography allowed; but visitors are able to wander through the gardens at their leisure. Set in 200 acres there are over 500 statues and 144 fountains for visitors to enjoy (which are only operational during the summer months) with the main cascade switched on to classical music each day at 11am from early May until the weather gets too cold.
The Dvortsovaya (Palace) Embankment is a street along the Neva River in Central Saint Petersburg which contains the complex of the Hermitage Museum buildings (including the Winter Palace and other Museum buildings). It’s free to wander along, but it’s best viewed from the River.
St Issac’s Cathedral
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral (Russian: Isaakievskiy Sobor) in Saint Petersburg is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city. It is the largest orthodox basilica and the 4th largest cathedral in the world with space for 14,000 standing worshipers inside. The interior is decorated with paintings, mosaics, and sculptures with a combination of marble, semiprecious stones, gilding and boasts and incredible 400kg of Gold! Climbing the 300 steps up to the gilded Dome takes visitors 43m high and offers a stunning panoramic view over St Petersburg.
I highly recommend a guided tour of St Issac’s (and the Church of Spilled Blood) – their is a recommended route to take in viewing the mosaics and paintings, and to get the full effect it is best to experience the Cathedral with an expert with in-depth knowledge.
Stretching 42km, Nevsky Prospect is the main street of St Petersburg. It was planned by Peter the Great to link two important landmarks – the Admiralty (naval headquarters and shipbuilding yard) and St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra (a high ranking monastery.) The name Prospect was also imposed by Peter the Great – who had a love of foreign words – and is based on ‘perspective’ and ‘prospective’ which he hoped his city would be, i.e a prosperous city with many perspectives. Today it is the main thoroughfare through the city and is home to shopping, nightlife, cafes and restaurants.
The Fabergé Museum in the Shuvalov Palace is home to the world’s largest collection of works by Carl Faberge and was founded to preserve, study, and promote Russia’s cultural heritage. The museum’s collection includes nine of the famous Imperial Easter Eggs which are regarded not only as the finest jeweled works of art, but also unique historical artifacts.
Russian Cruiser Aurora
Built in 1900, the Russian Cruiser Aurora saw active service in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and played a key role in the Bolshevik Revolution when she fired a blank shot into the Winter Palace on the night of the Revolution in October 1917 which gave the signal to the rebellious workers, soldiers and sailors of the city to storm the palace. She is now preserved as a museum ship and is moored on the banks of the Neva. It is free to enter the museum, although for an additional fee you can also gain entry to the engine room, simply ask one of the attendants on the ship. It is one of the best things to do in St Petersburg and the best bit is that it’s free!
Located 30km south of St. Petersburg in the town of Tsarskoye Selo lies the magnificent Rococo-styled Catherine Palace, which was the former summer residence of the Tsars. Originally a modest palace built by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine I, it was turned into the grandiose structure it is today by their daughter Empress Elizabeth two years after her fathers death. Over 100kg of Gold was used throughout it’s 1km-in-circumference white and blue facade in it’s re-construction, and it’s interior is no less grand with the Amber Room – a chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors – one of the most spectacular you will ever see.
Considered to be Petersburg’s most famous public space, and had been the setting of major events in Russia’s history and modern day events such as New Year’s, Victory Day, Scarlet Sails, and other White Nights celebrations. The Winter Palace was constructed on the square between 1754 and 1762 and opposite, the 580-meter semicircular facade of the General Staff Building was built between 1819 and 1829 at the request of Catherine the Great to provide a worthy architectural counterpoint to the Winter Palace. At the center of the vast space between them lies the Alexander column which was raised after the Russian victory in the war with Napoleon’s France.
Tour St Petersburg’s Metro System
To mirror the incredible buildings above the ground in St Petersburg, the underground is filled with magnificent mosaics, sculptures and structures. It’s one of the most spectacular metro systems in the world and well worth a 2 hour Guided Metro Tour around the system to take you to all the amazing stations. A real must do things to do in St Petersburg.
Opened in 1832, the Alexandrinsky Theater was built for the Imperial troupe of Petersburg and was where many of the stage masterpieces of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov received their premieres. Today it is home to the Opera and Ballet which has launched the careers of several artists formerly of the Imperial Ballet School (known today as the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet). The company continue to perform the classics to this day, with Swan Lake remaining a crowd favorite. Click here to see if Swan Lake is being performed when you visit.
So there you have it – hopefully we’ve given you enough travel inspiration & travel tips to help you plan your trip to Saint Petersburg, and shown you the top things to do in St Petersburg whilst you are there! Don’t forget to let me know your own highlights once you’re back!
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