So, you had some luck in your life and now you are (or will be) in one of the most amazing cities in the world: St Petersburg! I have been to it several times, and I have to admit it is not so easy to forget the streets that are full of history, golden palaces, majestic cathedrals and lovely embankments of Peter’s masterpiece! And this list of things to do and places to see in St Petersburg should be timely for you, if you are there or plan to be.
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But, let’s get to the point 🙂
1. Smolny Cathedral
The construction of the cathedral was started by the famous architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1748, and it took 87 years to build it. According to Rastrelli’s plan, the cathedral should have had one dome, just like the European churches did, but Empress Elizabeth insisted on it having 5 domes as the Orthodox tradition implied. Nowadays it fits about 6,000 people. As many other orthodox churches, Smolny Cathedral was converted into a warehouse when the Bolsheviks took the power.
But the most interesting thing about the cathedral is that it looks very solemn and amazing outside, while its interior is very simple, especially if you compare it to St. Isaac’s Cathedral or the Church on the Spilled Blood. But I think this is exactly what makes it so special!
2. The embankments
If you are in St. Petersburg, then you can’t miss a stroll along the embankments. My advice is to start with the University embankment at the Palace Bridge on Vasilievsky Island side and move towards Blagoveshchenskiy Bridge, cross it and go to Troitskiy Bridge along the Admiralty and Palace embankments. This way you will see the Spit of Vasilievsky Island, the famous Kunstkamera, sphynxes, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Bronze Horseman, the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Summer Garden, the Field of Mars, and… the rest depends on where you want to finish your walk.
Bridges is another sight not to miss in St. Petersburg. First of all, the drawing of the bridges is spectacular, but it happens at night after 1 AM, and I was too lazy to go and watch, but probably you can do it. Secondly, you can get some of the most amazing views of the city from the bridges, particularly Troitskiy and Palace ones.
4. Boat tours
Take a boat tour whenever you can! That’s my advice to everyone, and I try very hard to follow it. Shorter or longer tours are offered in St. Petersburg, so ask before you pay and embark. The tours start at the Palace Embankment in front of the Hermitage, another one is in front of the Bronze Horseman, and the third one is at Kazan Cathedral.
5. Field of Mars and Summer Garden
These two small parks are just in the city center and are probably the most famous in St Petersburg. The eternal flame which commemorates the soldiers who died during wars is on the Field of Mars. The Summer Garden is just a nice place to have a stroll.
6. Fontanka and Moyka rivers
The Fontanka is just one of the rivers St. Petersburg stays on. There are not many famous tourist places here, but if you take a walk along the river you will see some of the most amazing buildings and bridges of the city. Start at St. Michaels’ Castle, and you will see Faberge Museum, Anichkov Bridge, theaters and just fancy buildings.
7. St Nicholas Naval Cathedral
All Russian churches are magnificent, and this one is no exception. As its name suggests, the cathedral is dedicated to the Russian Navy, and I guess the blue color of its exterior – which I love – has something to do with it. But probably that’s not entirely true because the Smolny Cathedral is blue as well. The church was stripped off all its possessions and precious icons and had really tough time during the Soviet Union. But things change and nowadays it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals of the city. And being a naval cathedral it is a place for memorial plates of Navy men who died performing their duty.
8. Singer House
Book lovers, this is a place of you! This is a huge bookshop where you can find everything you want, but almost all the books are in Russian. I love books, and I buy them everywhere I can, but this place is famous for something else. Singer House has a very nice restaurant on the second floor, and in addition to delicious food you can get a magnificent view of Kazan Cathedral from here.
Your visit to St. Petersburg can’t be considered complete if you don’t go to a ballet show. It is a symbol of Russia together with bears and vodka. Of course, the most famous place for ballet is Mariinsky Theater, but tickets need to be bought much in advance, so we went to Mikhailovsky and did not regret it: the show was fantastic!
10. Spit of Vasilievsky island
If you happen to be in the eastern part of Vasiliesvky Island, just take a stroll along the spit. It is a right place to get panoramic views of the Winter Palace and Peter and Paul Fortress. And here you can see the famous Rostral columns that guided the ships.
11. Pedestrian streets
There are several pedestrian streets in St Petersburg, but I have visited the one in Vasilievsky Island: the address is 6 and 7 liniya. It is a street with cafes, restaurants, shops, and a nice long park just in the middle. A perfect place for an afternoon stroll, if you ask me. But please keep in mind that only a part of the street is pedestrian.
12. Sphinx hunting
It might seem strange, but there are lots of sphynxes in St Petersburg, and they are quite far from each other. The most famous ones are on the University Embankment not far from Menshikov Palace. The other four are on the Egyptian Bridge of the Fontanka River. Then there is a pair of them in the inner yard of Stroganov Palace. Happy hunting! 🙂
If you didn’t know it, St Petersburg had been the capital of the Russian Empire for many years, so it is quite natural that all rich and influential people had their mansions in the city. Now you have the opportunity to visit these palaces and see all the lavish interiors that money could buy. If you are interested, you might want to consider going to Menshikov Palace, Marble Palace and Stroganov Palace.
14. St. Michael Castle
This castle was the residence of Paul I and the place of his death. He was assassinated in his own bedroom, and there are rumours that his ghost wanders the palace’s halls at night.
The palace – and it is a palace, it was Paul’s whim to call it ‘a castle’ – was named after Archangel Michael, who was the patron saint of the Romanovs’ house. Anyway, now tourists can enter the palace, for a price, of course. Who knows, maybe, you will see the ghost? 🙂
If you are in love with art, trust me, St Petersburg has lots to offer you here! Start with the Russian Museum that houses collections of famous Russian artists, then go for some jeweled egg-watching to Faberge Museum, and finish with the modern art at Erarta.
If you have heard about the most famous poet in Russia – Alexander Pushkin – you might enjoy a visit to the house where he lived in St Petersburg and spent his last hours after being shot in a duel with a French.
16. Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps
I consider it would be really nice to visit this museum with children: the exhibitions are quite interesting and are tied to the Russian history. This is the place to see everything related to weapons, guns, artillery, and so on.
17. Trinity Cathedral
Trinity Cathedral is one of the most magnificent in St Petersburg. Just have a look at that starry dome!
The cathedral was built between the years 1828-1835, Emperor Nicholas I donated his personal money for the construction. And it was Emperor’s order to decorate the blue dome with stars.
It became the cathedral of Izmailovsky regiment of the Imperial guards, as it was a tradition at those times for each regiment to have their own church. When the Soviets took the power, Trinity Cathedral was converted into a warehouse.
In 2006 during reconstruction its dome fell down after a fire, which meant that cathedral reopened in 2010 only.
Trinity Cathedral is very close to St Nicholas Naval Cathedral, so you can see them both during your walk along the Fontanka River.
18. Day tours
No trip to St Petersburg is complete without a visit to its famous suburbs where tourists can admire magnificent palaces and lovely gardens, which are much more beautiful than Versailles, if you ask me. And you have plenty to choose from: Peterhof, Pushkin, Pavlovsk, Gatchina, Oranienbaum, Strelna.
Kronstadt is another place worth a day visit, but you won’t see palaces here. It is famous for its majestic cathedrals, museums and forts.
If you are still reading this long post, you might be wondering what happened to the Hermitage, St Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Church of Savior on Blood. Don’t worry, everything is covered, they are right here, in my another list 🙂
I will add other places to see in St Petersburg immediately after learning about them 🙂
Well, in any city you travel, you have to stay somewhere 🙂 When I search for accommodation, I always use two options: it is either AirBnB (click here for a discount on your first booking with AirBnB) or Booking.com.
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