Impressive, immense, magnificent… These words are no exaggeration when one thinks about St. Petersburg, the Russian capital of culture, the Venice of the North, the city of canals… I think I could continue like this forever 🙂 First time in St. Petersburg? Lucky you, you have the opportunity to discover this unbelievably beautiful city!
I have been to St. Petersburg twice, and, lucky me, it rained and was cloudy and cold both times. Well, I have to admit there was sunshine as well, but not that much 🙂 And despite the weather, my visits to St. Petersburg were fantastic! To help everyone not to miss anything important in the city I compiled a list of things to do and places to see during your first journey to St. Petersburg.
1. The Hermitage
Of course, the Hermitage is the first thing that comes to mind when St. Petersburg is mentioned. The museum is a showcase of the lavish life of the royal family, and is an absolute must. Former residence of Russian emperors, the Hermitage has exhibits to satisfy all tastes: collections of paintings, furniture, chamber interiors, archaeological artifacts, enough to get lost there for 5 hours, and even more.
Personally I got trapped for several hours on the first floor only – it holds artifacts from the ancient world. When I got to the second floor, I understood that I would need at least a day to really see the Hermitage!
2. The Aurora cruiser
The cruiser did not have a long battle life, during its young years it was more known for spending time in reparation docks than fighting for the cause. But the ship is remembered for the role it played in the rising of the Bolsheviks: its crew joined the rebellion, and the gunshot signaled the siege of the Winter Palace (which is now part of the Hermitage museum), starting the October Revolution. I guess you won’t find a more important symbol of the revolution than Aurora, so now it is the right place to find out about the October events, the history of the Russian fleet, and the role of the cruiser in the history of the country.
3. St. Isaac’s Cathedral
This is the place to keep saying ‘WOW!’. The cathedral is amazing in every sense: mosaics, paintings, sculptures, and malachite and lazuli columns. Your breath will be taken away when you enter the building and see the high ceilings, and amazingly beautiful interior. Honestly, I have no words to explain what I felt when I entered the cathedral: it is more than impressive!
It is the fourth largest cathedral in the world; during the Soviet times it was a museum, and it still keeps its status, but religious ceremonies are held there every day so I would suggest to be respectful because the church is not closed during the services.
4. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
If you ask me what is the one place you should definitely see in St. Petersburg I would say without hesitation that it is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. I still remember how awestruck I was when I first entered it: the mosaics are everywhere! This church has magnificent interiors: according to some estimations there are about 7500 square meters of mosaics on the walls. It was erected on the very place where the Russian Emperor Alexander II, named Tsar-Liberator, was wounded in an attempt to assassinate him. The church had some really difficult times: under the Soviet rule it was a warehouse, at the time of the siege of Leningrad it served as a mortuary, and it is a museum nowadays.
5. The Peter and Paul Fortress
The fortress was built to protect the city, and in addition to this noble function it served as a prison for high-ranking or political criminals. If you are curious enough you can visit the Trubetskoy Bastion to see the cells where the famous inmates were locked. Have you heard about Leon Trotsky, the Soviet politician, or Maxim Gorky, the Soviet writer? They spent some time in the bastion.
Now the fortress houses lots of museums, but it is the Museum of Space Exploration and Rocket Technology that gets the biggest attention. Anyway, the heart of the fortress is the Peter and Paul Cathedral where the remains of the royal family are kept, including those of Nicholas II, his wife and children.
6. The Kunstkamera
If you have ever heard about Kunstkamera before, then you might think it is a dubious place to visit: after all, there are not so many people who enjoy looking at skulls, fetuses or parts of the body in jars. These are the most ‘spectacular’ exhibits of the museum, and it is no wonder that Kunstkamera became associated with its ‘curiosities’. These ‘curiosities’ overshadowed the huge collection of ethnographic and cultural objects from all over the world which present much more interest. Actually, the official name of Kunstkamera is the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography.
7. The Kazan Cathedral
The Kazan Cathedral is one of the biggest churches in St. Petersburg. It was built just before the Patriotic War of 1812, and one of the most famous field marshals of Russia Mikhail Kutuzov is buried there. The cathedral is the place where the French military flags and the keys of the fortresses taken by the Russian are kept. The most striking feature of the Kazan cathedral are the columns: the half circle of them outside and 56 inside. Trust me, the sight is quite spectacular.
Of course, you will need more than one day to visit these places, but if that’s not enough for your willing heart, I added posts with long lists of things to do in St. Petersburg.
More on St Petersburg:
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