Saint Petersburg – the city founded along the Neva River by Peter The Great. The location of the city means that it is strategically closer to Europe when compared to Moscow. It is for this reason that the city feels a lot more European than Russia.
Since its foundation in 1703, a lot has happened in Russia’s second-largest city. Firstly, it was known by two different names; Petrograd and Leningrad. Secondly, it was the main residence of the Russian Tsar’s from 1703 to 1917. Thirdly, it was once under siege by the Nazi’s for two and a half years. This city has a deep history. As such, it has a wealth of attractions for tourists to visit. So read on, for our Top Things to do in Saint Petersburg.
The Hermitage Museum, General Staff Building and Palace Square
The Hermitage Museum is one of the most famous museums in the world. Its location, in the stunning Winter Palace, is reason enough to visit this place. That’s without mentioning the outrageous art collection that is on show. The Palace was the ‘Winter’ residence of the Russian Tsar’s and has the decadence and opulence in its decoration to prove it. Come here for the architecture and stay for the art!
The General Staff Building is located directly opposite to the Hermitage Museum. This building also plays host to a massive art collection. In this instance it is more modern then the kind you will find in the Hermitage, however.
To find out more information on what to do and see in the Hermitage and General Staff Building check out our comprehensive guide.
The Palace Square is the main square in Saint Petersburg. The Hermitage Museum and General Staff Building lie on both sides of the square. Right in the middle stands the huge Alexander column. This statue, of Alexander I, commemorates his leadership in defeating Napoleon in the 1800s.
Stroll down Nevsky Prospekt
Nevsky Prospekt is the main street in Saint Petersburg. There are shopping, tourist attractions, and plenty of dining options all along this bustling street.
Just off Nevsky Prospekt, you will find the Hermitage and the Winter Palace. Walking away from here you can spot some other great tourist attractions like the Kazan Cathedral and the Savior on Spilled Blood church. The latter is a small stroll off Nevsky Prospekt, but you will get a great view of it and the canals on the way down.
Also, be sure to look out for the Singer Building. This building has the status of an official historical building in Russia – and it’s really picturesque and different from any of the surrounding buildings.
Strolling along Nevsky Prospekt is all about window shopping and dining too. There are plenty of options for both but our recommendation for food is MarketPlace. This is self-service, but the options change daily and it’s delicious, and of course, budget-friendly!
Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood
Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is the postcard church you see when you think about Saint Petersburg. Located just of Nevsky Prospekt, this former Russian Orthodox church now serves primarily as a museum.
It is stunning from the outside. It intentionally resembles St. Basil’s Cathedral – and the mosaics on the outside are captivating.
Of course, the church was built here to mark the location of the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. He was assassinated after passing a number of reforms that freed serfs (essentially slaves) from their masters in Russia.
The inside of the church is nearly as fascinating as the outside, and inside you can see the exact location of the assassination. Of course, being a former Orthodox church, the decoration is amazing. There are religious mosaics from top to bottom and is reason alone to pay this place a visit.
Admission to the inside of the museum is 250 rubles (€2.80). If you want to skip the queues you can buy tickets in advance online at https://isaak.ticketnet.ru/en/.
Kazan Cathedral is located along Nevsky Prospekt, right across the road from the Singer Building. Unlike the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, however, Kazan Cathedral is still a functioning church.
The Cathedral bears a striking resemblance to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – you can’t miss it, its pretty impressive! Admission is free due to the Cathedral still acting under religious status. Just remember that there is a strict no photography rule inside the church. Women should cover their heads inside, and tourists should follow all the rules outlined.
It is definitely worth visiting from a cultural point of view. The Kazan Cathedral contains one of the most venerated icons in the Orthodox Church, and so it is always full of worshippers.
Bronze Horseman Statue
This is Saint Petersburg’s most iconic statue. The Bronze Horseman, also known as Peter The Great. Catherine the Great commissioned the statue of Peter sitting triumphantly on his horse in 1782. Indeed the side of the statue says ‘Catherine the Second to Peter the First, 1782’. Make sure to get a snap of this iconic statue!
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
Another Cathedral – St. Isaac’s is located close to the Bronze Horseman. The Cathedral was once the biggest in Russia (now behind Christ the Savior in Moscow) and its dome dominates the skyline in the city. Once a functioning church, St. Isaac’s now serves mainly as a museum.
The interior of the Cathedral is beautiful with icons and precious stones aplenty. Look out for the malachite columns and iconstasis that it surrounds.
Probably the highlight of the Cathedral is the colonnade, however. It gives you a 360-degree view of Saint Petersburg, after a steep climb up the many stairs. Look out for the Lakhta Center building rising up – this is Europe’s tallest building. There are also some great views of the Hermitage and the river.
The entrance to the Cathedral is 250 Rubles (€2.80), while the Colonnade is an extra 150 Rubles (€1.70).
Catherine the Great Monument
This statue is a must for fans of the famous Russian Tsar Catherine the Great. The monument is a sign of the affection that the people had towards their royal leader. It also has some historical significance. The monument shows Catherine surrounded by some of the more famous male presences in her life; Politicians, Poets, and Military Men, and most famously of all Grigory Potemkin.
There is a small square near Anichkob Bridge where the Monument can be found.
The Faberge Museum contains the world’s greatest collection of Faberge eggs. What are Faberge Eggs? Faberge Eggs were jeweled eggs created by Peter Carl Faberge in the House of Faberge, Saint Petersburg.
There are believed to have been 69 eggs created in total, of which the most famous are the 52 eggs which were created for the Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II. The eggs served the purpose of easter presents for their wives and mothers.
The museum contains almost 4,000 pieces of art and jewelry, many of which stem from the last Russian Tsarist family. However, the undoubted highlight of the museum is the 9 Faberge Eggs. The eggs were purchased for almost $100 million.
The Faberge Museum is located in the Shuvalov Palace close to the Fontanka River. The entrance fee is 450 Rubles (€5).
Peter and Paul Fortress
The Peter and Paul Fortress marks the location of Saint Petersburg’s foundation. It was here on the smallest island in the city, Zayachy Island, that Peter the Great began building the fortress in 1703.
The fortress is quite literally that, a citadel with various museum sites and buildings to be found in its interior. The most famous building in the citadel is, of course, the Peter and Paul Cathedral. It is conspicuous by its 40-meter high golden spire that can be seen way before you are even close to it.
The highlight of the Cathedral is that it houses the tombs of the Russians Tsars from Peter the Great onwards. This means, for history buffs and Royal lovers, you can see the tombs of Peter himself, Catherine The Great, and Alexander I amongst others. Also here are the last Romanov family, Nicholas II and his family who were brutally killed and buried in Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks. Their bodies were taken to the Cathedral after the fall of the Soviet Union.
There are numerous other places of interest to visit in the fortress, but we chose just to visit the Cathedral. You could go to the prison, which housed numerous famous political prisoners (such as Trotsky). There are also museums ranging from Cosmonauts to the history of money!
We enjoyed the views of the island fortress and of the Hermitage when walking back to central Saint Petersburg – especially with the frozen river in wintertime. Admission to the Cathedral is 350 Rubles (€4), the other attractions cost extra.
Saint Petersburg Mosque
Situated close to the Peter and Paul Fortress is the stunning Saint Petersburg Mosque. With a capacity of 5,000 worshippers, the Mosque was built to resemble the Gur-e-Amir in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Try and check prayer times before coming so that you get to see the inside. Unfortunately, Friday prayers had just begun when we arrived so we were not allowed inside, but it is supposed to be amazing inside also.
Museum of Political History of Russia
We couldn’t not go to this museum when in Saint Petersburg. Russia is possibly one of the most fascinating countries when it comes to political history. The idea behind the museum is to detail the history of the politics of the country right up to the present day.
As you would expect, the museum is a monster! We probably would have needed all day just to see everything in it, but sadly didn’t have that much time on our hands. The first couple of exhibitions highlight the changes from Tsarist Russia to the Revolution and all the reforms that took place during the Soviet Union. You can then see the transformation from when the Iron Curtain fell and the Soviet Union was disbanded. It really is a fascinating visit and worth a few hours to educate yourself. Admission is 200 Rubles (€2.20) with a recommended audio guide costing an extra 100 Rubles (€1.10).
Museum of Leningrad Blockade
This is a pretty interesting museum that details the experience of the city during the siege. The Nazis managed to blockade Leningrad for 872 days, with an estimated 1 million people dying at that time.
The museum details the steps leading up to the blockade and the aftermath. It also details the horrific experiences and conditions the people had to live through. Nearly 2 and half years under siege, with no way of imports coming into the city – a terrible time which showed the bravery of the locals.
Admission cost 300 Rubles (€3.30). You will only find English on the touchscreens. There are no audioguides available. We can imagine if it was quite busy that it would be tough to access the information.
Saint Petersburg Metro Tour
Saint Petersburg’s metro is famous for being one of the deepest in the world, but it also got some of the prettiest stations. We put together our own DIY Metro Tour to show you the absolute best stations in Saint Petersburg.
Catherine Palace was the summer residence of the Tsars and is one of Saint Petersburg’s most visited attractions. Its got lavish interiors and stunning gardens. So check out our DIY guide, which tells you how to visit the Palace without a tour and what to look out for when you get there.
Other Things to Do
Our time was limited in Saint Petersburg as we only had 4 days. In fact, I am quite impressed with how much we did manage to get done. However, there are a LOT more attractions to be seen in the city that we just didn’t get to. Some of this was time constraints and others were just because of the time of year and the winter weather we had. So if you have more time in Saint Petersburg and are looking for extra stuff to do, check out the list below:
- Kuntskamera – wacky museum created by Peter the Great – includes items like heads in jars!
- Peterhof Palace – the ‘other’ palace – said to be very similar to Versailles and has fantastic gardens and water fountains. Recommended for summertime only.
- White Nights/Bridge Openings – another summertime only activity – due to its location the city sometimes has nights with no darkness. As a result, during these nights you can check out the opening and closing of the bridges!
- Mariinsky Theatre – a famous theatre where you can watch ballet or opera
- Canal Tour – cruise down the canals and rivers of Saint Petersburg. As you can tell from our photos, this is not a wintertime activity!
- Aurora Cruiser – a museum ship that played an important role in the Russian Revolution.
- Peter the Great Cabin – a small wooden cabin that was the first residence of Peter the Great’s in Saint Petersburg
- Smolny Convent – one of the most beautiful churches in Saint Petersburg
- Yusupov Palace – Rasputin was famously murdered in this palace. Check ahead for tour times, they were quite unusual which ruled out our intended visit.