What to see in Saint Petersburg, Russia
The historic center of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments are UNESCO world heritage so definitely worth your while.
- The Hermitage Museum/The Winter Palaceis Saint Petersburg’s prime attraction, a massive palace-museum showing the highlights of a collection of over 3,000,000 pieces spanning the globe. The Hermitage is truly one of the world’s great museums, with an imposing setting displaying priceless works by Rembrandt, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and more. Getting a tour guide is recommended; they can charge as much as $100, but the additional information they impart can be well worth the price, and they can readily take you directly to the items you want to see.
Entrance is free on the first Thursday of every month. Large bags aren’t allowed in the museum, and a massive cloakroom downstairs (no charge, as usual in Russia) exists to assist with jackets and bags. A ticket allowing photography costs. Some rooms and all temporary exhibits prohibit all kinds of photography.
You can buy tickets on-line, and have a confirmation emailed to you. It is currently slightly more expensive than a local ticket as they charge in dollars at an old exchange rate, you just walk straight to the front of the queue. Hand your booking confirmation and passport to information desk. She will get the ticket office to check your details and issue the tickets.
The museum has a cafe and large shop near the entrance, and numerous small shops throughout the galleries. Audio guides are available in English, and most signs in the gallery are in English and Russian. Guide books are available for around RUB300.
- Russian Museum, Inzhenernaya Ul. 10AM to 6PM daily ex. Tuesday. An extensive collection of Russian paintings and sculpture. People who are disappointed that the Hermitage is mainly western European art love this museum, since most of the artists are relatively unknown to non-Russians. The main building, the Mikhailovskiy Palacehouses the main exhibits, and the Russian Museum also oversees the permanent and temporary exhibits at the Stroganov Palace, Marble Palace and Mikhailovskiy Castle. Tickets to each can be purchased separately or as a universal pass.
- Peter and Paul Fortress. You can go in for free, but to enter the church and exhibitions you need tickets. You can get a combo ticket for everything, or you can just enter the church. Other than the church, which is where the all of the Romanov Czars of Russia from Peter the Great (bar two or three) are buried, the other things on the island aren’t terribly impressive, so it might be worth it to just see the church. Note that if you buy a combo ticket for everything, you still need to have a ‘special ticket’ for a lot of exhibitions within the fortress! No tickets on Wednedsdays and maybe not Monday either
- The Admiralty, North end of Nevsky Prospekt (Next to the Hermitage). Not open to visitors, but worth seeing from the outside.
- The bridges on the Neva. Open 2 times per night to allow boats to pass.
- Museum of Artillery, Combat Engineers and Signal Troops. Housed in old Arsenal fortress-like building near the Peter and Paul Fortress and surrounded by moat. HUGE collection of weapons from the beginning of history until the present, including an extensive collection of Soviet weaponry from WW2 and the Cold War. Tanks, ballistic missiles, Katuscha trucks, countless Kalashnikovs. Personal note: Absolutely awesome. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays and the last Thursday of the month.
- Ethnographic Museum, (Next to the Russian Museum Mikhailovskiy Palace). An interesting and educational display of the traditions and costumes of various ethnic groups found in the lands of the former Russian Empire.
- Alexander Nevskiy Monastery. Located at the Eastern end of Nevskiy Prospekt next to the River Neva. The site also has the Tikhvin Cemeterywhich houses the tombs of some of the world’s most famous composers; Tschaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Borodin, and also the author Fyodor Dostoevsky, along with many other famous Russian figures.
- Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, Canal Griboedova. A traditional style Russian church built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The interior is elaborately decorated with over 6000sqm of mosaics. Photography without a tripod and extra lighting permitted for free.
- Our-Lady-of-Kazan Cathedral. Impressive neoclassical exterior, richly decorated interior. Includes the tomb of Gen. Kutuzov, hero of the war of 1812. Free entry.
- Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Isaac’s Square, 4. 11am to 7pm daily ex. Wed. Located near to the Admiralty. It was built in 1818 and is a major attraction in the city. It is the third highest cupola cathedral in the world. There are night time visits, too, and the view from the colonnade (observation deck) is one of the best views of the city, for those who are willing to climb 400 steps. Also, see Yusupov Palace including the exhibition devoted to Rasputin assassination
- Peter the Great’s Cabin. Peter the Great’s men built the small wooden cabin in a matter of days for him when he planned the city and it has been preserved in a small brick building in the district Petrogradskaya. It is located close to the Cruiser Aurora on Petrovskaya Naberzhnaya.
- Narva Triumphal Arch (Narvskie Vorota), prospect Stachek 1. You have just come out of Narvskaya metro station, and here it is! The arch was built to meet and greet Russian soldiers who came home having defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. It is made of bricks and plated with cooper. The chariot reined by Pheme is running atop. Many tourists and citizens misbelieve that the arch is monolithic. Nope, it’s inhabited! You might have seen a lot of arches in your life. But you’ve hardly been within any. You come to the left door, enter the arch and buy a ticket (RUB100). Then you climb a very high spiral ladder which pierces the pier (not for those who are prone to dizziness!). Eventually, you are in the crown of the arch. Here, at a height of 15 meters above the ground, a small exhibition hall is. Usually they exhibit something related to wars and battles Russia and USSR participated in. In August 2015 they were exhibiting things and photos telling about World War I.
- Loft Project ETAGI, Ligovsky prospekt, 74. Culture centre located in five-storey former bakery building with several exhibition spaces (combined surface around 5000 square metres). Contemporary art exhibitions, concerts, events (flea markets). Parts of Etagi loft are two art galleries, four exhibitions spaces, a cafe (with great interior and outside terrace), a hostel and a bookshop.
- Kirov’s museum, Kamennoostrovskiy prospect 26. Daily: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesdays: closed. A good museum is never just a set of items. It speaks to people and answers their questions. This museum will answer these ones: How did Soviet people live in the 1930s? What did their flats look like? What beds did they sleep on? What bathrooms did they go to? Where did they keep their food? What pens did they write with? How did Soviet people regard “luxury”? What sweets did Soviet children want their parents to buy them?The museum is the flat of Sergey Kirov who was the mayor of Leningrad in 1927-1934. But it isn’t about Kirov only. It’s about the epoch he lived in. It was the time between the World Wars when Joseph Stalin headed the USSR.
- Jangseung spirits. 15 guardian spirits came from Korea and gathered in the southwest corner of Park Sosnovka (the intersection of prospect Toreza and Svetlanovsky prospect). It’s believed that these 4-meter-high wooden spirits radiate positive energy and frighten demons away. Hurry up! Humid climate and vandals have destroyed 12 poles of the 15!
- Andreyevsky Cathedral, 6 line V.O., 11. Perhaps the most beautiful religious building on the island, built in 1780. The main cupola is framed by three narrow towers, and is topped by a two-tiered bellower. The gilt, three-layered iconostasis inside is an impressive 17 meters tall.
- Church of the Assumption of Mary, Naberezhye Leitenanta Schmidta, 27. This five domed church was built in 1897. In 1935, as happened to many churches in Russia, it was converted by the Soviets into a warehouse, but in 1993 it was reopened for services. The ongoing careful renovations began in 1996.
- Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art, No 2, 29th line, Vasilyevsky Island. 10am-10pm, Tuesday closed. Erarta is Russia’s largest private museum of contemporary art (with a total floor area of 12,000 sq m and over 2,800 works in its permanent collection). Every year, Erarta stages more than 40 temporary exhibitions alternately focusing on painting, sculpture, video art, fashion and design. The museum offers some unique experiences such as its signature U-Space immersive installations. The building features a café (3rd floor), a restaurant, and Erarta Home Stores offering gifts, books, prints, interior décor items, and more.
- Exchange Building(Naval Museum), Birzhevaya Square, 4. 11AM-6PM Tu-Su. The Exchange Building, which houses the Naval Museum, is the centerpiece of the Strelka ensemble. It was built in 1816 in the neoclassical style. The Naval Museum, one of the largest in the world, contains historical displays of the Russian navy from its founding to the present day, including weaponry, models of ships, and even some original mastheads. Extensive World War II display, and also (not directly related to Naval history) a diorama box of the storming of the Winter Palace.
- Ivan Kruzenshtern Statue, Across from Naberezhye Leitenanta Schmidta, 17. A statue of Admiral Ivan Kruzenshtern, was built in 1870 in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the renowned Admiral’s death.
- Kunstkamera(Room of Curiosities), Universitatskaya Embankment 3. 11AM-6PM Tu-Su, closed every last Tuesday of the month. This museum is primarily famous for its one-room freak show collection of 300 year-old deformed fetuses in formaldehyde (of which you are not allowed to take pictures). The rest of the museum consists of trinkets from various world cultures (over one million exhibits). It’s of interest mainly as it is the oldest state museum in Russia, established by Peter the Great in 1704—consequently it has a very dated feel.
- Menshikov Palace, Universitatskaya Embankment 15. 10:30AM-5:30PM Tu-Su. Operated by the Hermitage, this museum displays some art and an exhibition on life in the early 18th century, in a palace built for the first governor of St. Petersburg, and before him Peter the Great. The Baroque palace was built in 1721, and was one of the first grand stone constructions of the city. Look especially for the grand staircase, and the Walnut, Naval, and Chinese rooms. Note: you will be given and required to wear special woolen “slippers” over your street shoes as to not damage the flooring.
- Mikhail Lomonosov Statue, Mendeleevskaya St. A statue of the famous 18th century Russian Renaissance man himself, famous for his contributions to mathematics, literature, painting, natural science, chemistry, physics, mineralogy, history, philology, and art.
- Mining Institute Museum, 21st line V.O., 2. By appointment for group tours only. One of the largest and oldest geological museums in the world, containing more than 230 thousand items, collected from more than 80 countries. Even if you don’t make it inside on a tour, it’s worth passing by to admire it’s imposing 1811 Imperial-style facade.
- Narodovolets (the People’s Will) Submarine D-2, Shkipersky protok 10. W-Su 11AM-5:15PM. A small museum aboard a WWII submarine, dedicated to the actions of the submarine throughout the war (run by the Naval Museum).
- Naval Institute, Naberezhye Leitenanta Schmidta, 17. The oldest naval academy in Russia, founded by Peter the Great in 1701. Some of its most famous graduates include Ivan Kruzenshtern, Rimsky-Korsakov, and many others. The building was completely rebuilt in 1798.
- Rostral Columns. The first monuments you’ll immediately notice on the Strelka, the Rostral Columns are yet another symbol of the city. Constructed in 1810, the columns are each adorned with six rostra(traditionally, the prows of captured ships), symbolizing the might of the Russian Baltic Fleet. At the base of the columns you’ll see sculptures representing the great rivers of European Russia, the Volga, Dnieper, Neva, and Volkhov. In addition to their decorative purpose, the columns also served as lighthouses, and to this day the gas flames are lit on holidays.
- Rumyantsevsky Park and Obelisk, between the 1st and 2nd lines along Universitetskaya naberezhye. The big obelisk in the center of the park was moved here from Mars Field in honor of Count Peter Rumyantsev’s victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1791. On the southern end, look for two statues of the famous Russian painters Repin and Surikov.
- Russian Academy of the Arts, Universitetskaya naberezhye, 17. Russia’s largest center for advanced study in the arts, founded by Lomonosov and Shuvalov, and was until the 20th century the only school of its kind in Russia. The impressive neoclassical building was built in 1788.
- Research Museum of the Academy of the Arts. W-Su 11AM-6PM. A huge collection of drawings, prints, paintings of both Russian and Western artists, as well as casts and sculptures, all on display across three floors of the Academy. The models of great Petersburg architecture, of the Smolny Monastery, St Isaac’s Cathedral, Mikhailovsky Castle, etc., are especially worth seeking out.
- Theban Sphinxes, (across the road from the Academy of the Arts). You wouldn’t expect it, but these two granite sphinxes are three thousand years older than the city itself! They were excavated in 1820 in the temple of Amenhotep III near Thebes. Upon seeing them, the Russian writer and diplomat Muravyev wrote to the Tsar, and convinced him to purchase the statues for display in Petersburg. They were installed in 1834. Oddly enough, sphinxes seem to be popular in the city – there are another six made by Russian sculptors lurking about.
- The Twelve Colleges, Universitetskaya naberezhye, 7/9. One of Domeniko Trezini’s many neoclassical buildings in Petersburg built in 1742. The ensemble is comprised of twelve identical, connected, three-story buildings. The main facade faces Mendeleevskaya St, rather than the Neva, because at the time of construction, there was a canal in place of the street, across from which was the main market on the island. Today the ensemble houses the Geological and Agricultural departments, as well as Admissions.
- Zoological Museum, Universitetskaya naberezhye, 1. 11AM-6PM daily. A wild lesson in taxidermy, the museum contains over 17 million species, stuffed, mounted, and fossilized (although due to constraints of finitude, the building “only” displays some 500 thousand). The collection began at the Kunstkammer, and grew into its enormous state under the later Imperial period. You won’t have to look hard, but look for the complete blue whale skeleton, as well as the world’s only stuffed mammoth.
Churches and Temples
If you have seen the top tourist destinations but still have enough time, turn off the tourist highway and see some more churches and temples scattered throughout St. Petersburg. Many of them do have something unique to show!
- Church of the Holy Trinity, prospect Obukhovskoy oborony, 235. Old Russian prince had a farm… And he wanted his village to have a church. He decided that it would resemble two Russian Easter dishes – kulich and paskha. The idea made the church outstanding before it was built. Then the prince found the architect who would bake the dishes. The Easter table is laid just across from Proletarskaya metro station. The church is round and yellow like a well-baked pie. It departs from the tradition (most Russian orthodox churches are cross-shaped). The bell tower isn’t a tower at all. It’s a pyramid plated with metal. The church is well-lit. The architect used windows and walls to direct sunbeams and then let them play inside. On clear days icons, candlesticks and chandeliers seem to be floating in the air! Ironically, along with the church, wherefrom people send messages to God, the architect built the Main post office of St. Petersburg, wherefrom people send messages to each other. The latter made him famous. The ways of God are inscrutable!
- Politechnical University Church of the Intercession, Politekhnicheskaya ulitsa, 29. Technical university. What can sound more secular? The church breaks the stereotype. It was drawn by the teacher who taught drawing in the university. Initially, the church was to be a part of the library. The scientists even invented an iron curtain(long before it turned into a metaphor) to split the altar from the reading room. Then it was decided to attach the church to the university hostel as a separate building. God and students became neighbours. The church mishappened to be opened on the brink of World War I and everything which followed it. That’s why it was frescoed only in the mid-’90s. But it saved the church from being ordinary. It’s a rarest place where one can see the Last Judgement Scene frescoed in modern times. God is painted as a large and mighty hand. The Scales of Justice are weighing human souls. The sinners are being dragged to hell by the demons. In hell they are turning into the silhouettes. But some of them are being pardoned. God’s mercy is painted as the spring which is cooling hell. Four kingdoms Babylon, Macedonia, Persia and Rome are painted as a square above hell to make visitors google, why. In the corridor God is painted neither as God the Father, nor as God the Son but as the Dove (God the Holy Spirit). It’s also a rarest case in Russia!