Peter And Paul Fortress: Must-Sees And Hidden Gems

Saint Petersburg must-see places: Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress is the heart of Saint Petersburg. This is the place where the story of the city begins. Nowadays, the fortress is a large museum that includes Peter and Paul Cathedral, Trubetskoy Bastion prison and a number of architectural landmarks.

Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg, Russia: travel guide to must-see places and hidden gems. Travel tips from a local • See more than tourists usually see!

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If you visit Saint Petersburg for the first time, Peter and Paul Fortress should be among the first places to see in your list. Isn’t it logical to start exploring a city by its oldest part? Situated on an island, it is also one of the most picturesque city’s landmarks.

At present, Peter and Paul Fortress is a complex of museums. Peter and Paul Cathedral, the burial place of Russian Emperors, attracts thousands of tourists each year. But why not step out of the beaten track and explore the fortress with closer attention?

Peter and Paul Fortress, as well as the rest historical centre of Saint Petersburg, is a part of UNESCO World Heritage list.


HISTORY OF PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS

On the 27th of May 1703, Russian Emperor Peter I founded a fortress at one of the islands in the delta of the river Neva. It was Peter and Paul Fortress. The future capital of the Russian Empire was born.

Each year we celebrate the City Day on May 27. As usual, the celebration lasts for two days and includes multiple concerts, festivals, and fireworks.

Peter and Paul Fortress sits on Hare Island (Zayachy Island in Russian). The island is not large, and the fortress occupies almost the whole of it. Surprisingly, the fortress has never known any battle!

Time was passing by. More and more various buildings appeared inside the fortress. New bastions and curtain walls that connected the bastions, casemates, and ravelins raised at Hare Island. Some of them were later rebuilt, others remained unchanged until our time.

Nowadays, Peter and Paul Fortress is a historical complex that includes more than ten museums. The famous Peter and Paul Cathedral, the burial place of Russian Emperors, is one of the most known among them.

Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg, Russia
Peter and Paul Fortress in autumn

For this post, I have chosen photos of Peter and Paul Fortress that I have taken during different seasons. It is believed that the best time to visit Saint Petersburg is summer. Indeed, summer is the most comfortable time for travelling. Nevertheless, Peter and Paul Fortress looks magnificent whenever you see it. It is hard for me to say what is more impressive: golden foliage in autumn, frozen Neva in winter or long violet sunsets during summer white nights.


THE MAIN SIGHTS OF PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS

Petrovsky Gate at Peter and Paul Fortress
Petrovsky Gate, the main entrance to Peter and Paul Fortress

Petrovsky Gate

Peter’s Gate (or Petrovsky Gate) is the main entrance to Peter and Paul Fortress.

The gate was built in 1703 in honour of the liberation of Russian lands from the Swedes in the Northern War. For a long time, the gate served as the only entrance to the fortress.

The name of the gate “Petrovsky” (“Peter’s”) is associated with Peter I. In fact, the name was given in honour of the Apostle Saint Peter.

The front facade of the Petrovsky Gate is richly decorated with sculptures, bas-reliefs, and stucco. Above the arch of the Petrovsky Gates, you will see the coat of arms of the Russian state — a double-headed eagle with a large imperial crown.

Monument to Peter the Great at Peter and Paul Fortress
Monument to Peter the Great by sculptor Mikhail Shemyakin

Monument to Peter the Great

Visitors to the fortress are attracted by an unusual monument to Peter I, created by the famous sculptor Mikhail Shemyakin. The sovereign sits on an armchair. His face is serious and brooding, his fingers are tense. Peter looks like he is pondering a new project. 

The monument appeared in Peter and Paul Fortress in 1991. Though some people find the sculpture ugly and claim to remove it, the monument has already become an important part of the fortress.

Peter and Paul Cathedral, one of the symbols of Saint Petersburg
Peter and Paul Cathedral, one of the symbols of Saint Petersburg

Peter and Paul Cathedral

The most known edifice of Peter and Paul Fortress is Peter and Paul Cathedral. Its slim gilded spire is a landmark of Saint Petersburg. The cathedral was the burial place of Russian Emperors during the 18-20 centuries. The tomb of the founder of Saint Petersburg — Peter the Great — is also inside of Peter and Paul Cathedral. Even nowadays, people still bring flowers to that sacred place.

The cathedral was erected in 1712 – 1733 upon the project of the Swiss architect Domenico Trezzini.

The angel atop the spire of the cathedral has become one of the symbols of Saint Petersburg. It is one of the angel-guardians of the city.

Grand Ducal burial chapel, the burial place of the members of the Romanov Imperial family
Grand Ducal burial chapel, the burial place of the members of the Romanov Imperial family

Grand Ducal burial chapel

Next to Peter and Paul Cathedral, you will find another chapel with the tombs of the Romanov — the Grand Ducal burial chapel. It is the last home for the members of the Imperial family. Besides, there is an informative exhibition about the burial process: rare photos, utensils, and decorations.

Peter and Paul Cathedral and the chapel are beautiful, but gloomy places. After visiting them, you will probably want to sit quietly at the square and listen to the carillon from the bell tower of the cathedral.

The Boathouse at Peter and Paul Fortress
The Boathouse at sunset

Boathouse

If you go to the square in front of the cathedral, you will find a yellow-and-white pavilion. It is the Boathouse. The pavilion shelters a boat “Saint Nicholas” that belonged to Peter the Great.

The boat is often called “grandfather of the Russian fleet”. It played an important role in teaching navigation to Peter the Great. When Peter was young, he learnt to sail on this boat at the lakes and rivers around Moscow. This is when Peter’s passion for seas and ships was born.

In the Boathouse, you will find the exact copy of the boat. If you want to see the original, head to the Naval Museum (5, Ploschad Truda).

In addition to the boat, the Boathouse has a museum’s ticket office and a gift shop.

One of the cells in the prison of Trubetskoy Bastion
One of the cells in the prison of Trubetskoy Bastion

Trubetskoy Bastion Prison

As said above, Peter and Paul Fortress has never taken part in any battle. However, it was a well protected place with limited access. That is why, soon after the construction, Peter and Paul Fortress became the main political prison of the Russian Empire.

The prison had 73 solitary cells with a very strict regime of detention. Nowadays, you can visit solitary cells, punishment cells, a chapel and many other prison premises.

I advise you to visit this unique museum. In Saint Petersburg, there are many art museums, palaces, and parks. But museums-prison are rare in Russia. So do not miss the opportunity to step inside this “Russian Bastille”. The tour will take you about one hour.

The Mint of Saint Petersburg produces coins and medals
The Mint of Saint Petersburg produces coins and medals

Mint

The Mint is one of the oldest industrial enterprises in Saint Petersburg. Three hundred years after the foundation, it still produces coins and medals. We can not visit the Mint, but there is a museum of money in Peter and Paul Fortress. Besides, you can go to the Mint’s shop and buy coins, jewellery and other souvenirs.

Neva Gate, the main entrance to Peter and Paul Fortress from the Neva River
Neva Gate, the main entrance to Peter and Paul Fortress from the Neva River

Neva Gate

The Neva Gate is the main entrance to Peter and Paul Fortress from the Neva River. When the members of the Imperial family arrived at the fortress from the Winter Palace, they entered the fortress via the Neva Gate.

If you have even watched the Naval Parade ceremony, you have seen those gates too: the Russian President starts the parade at the Commandant pier, near the Neva Gate.

Saint Petersburg’s tradition — Midday Cannon Shot
Every day at 12 o’clock, a cannon fires a blank shot from the Naryshkin Bastion of Peter and Paul Fortress. This tradition dates back to the epoch of Peter the Great. At those times, cannon shots announced the beginning and the end of the working day. Cannons also alerted citizens about floods and important events.

View of Saint Petersburg from Hare Island
View of Saint Petersburg from Hare Island

OPENING HOURS AND TICKETS TO PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS

Opening hours of Peter and Paul Fortress

  • Peter and Paul Fortress: 10:00 — 20:00 Entrance to the territory of the fortress is free. No days off.
  • Hare Island (outside the fortress walls): 06:00 — 21:00. The access to the island is free. No days off.

Closest metro station — Gorkovskaya.

Tickets to Peter and Paul Fortress

Ticket offices (to buy tickets to Peter and Paul Cathedral, museum tours and exhibitions) are located in the Ioannovsky Ravelin, at the Boathouse and Trubetskoy Bastion Prison.

  • Peter and Paul Cathedral: 10.00 — 18.00. Wednesday is a day off. Ticket price: 550 Rub.
  • Tour to the belfry of Peter and Paul Cathedral: available from May 1 to September 30. Tours begin at 13.00 and 14.30. Wednesday is a day off. Ticket price: 250 Rub.
  • Trubetskoy Bastion Prison: 10.00 — 18.00. Wednesday is a day off. Ticket price: 250 Rub.
  • Walking tour “Neva Panorama“: 10.30 – 19.00. Ticket price: 350 Rub.  

You can buy tickets at the official site of Peter and Paul Fortress


EXPLORE HARE ISLAND BEYOND PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS

Exit Peter and Paul Fortress through the Neva Gate. You will find yourself on a massive granite pier. There you will also see a two-meter-wide walking path that goes along the walls of the fortress. Follow this route and I promise you will see one of the most majestic views of Saint Petersburg.

View of the frozen Neva River by Peter and Paul Fortress
View of the frozen Neva River around Peter and Paul Fortress

As long as you go around the fortress, you will find a sand beach where, in summer, people gather for small picnics. Some people dare to bathe! I do not advise you to swim in the Neva River, though: the currant is strong, and the water remains cold even in summer.

Then starts an embankment along the western part of Hare Island. Stop there to admire the ensemble of the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island. There is also a good restaurant “Koryushka” (“Koryushka” means “the smelt”. This fish is a speciality of Saint Petersburg). The restaurant is usually full of visitors, even though it is not the cheapest place to eat out. But the view from the windows and the food quality are fair compensations.

At the northern part of Hare Island, there is a lawn that is good for a leisurely walk. In summer, as soon as sun appears in Saint Petersburg, locals go there to sunbathe and relax on green grass.

Peter and Paul Fortress in summer
Peter and Paul Fortress in summer

From May to October 31, you can take an aerial tour of Saint Petersburg by helicopter. The helicopter landing pad is situated at the northern part of Hare Island. It is a unique opportunity to see the historical part of the city from above. A helicopter tour lasts for 10-15 minutes and costs 5000 Rub. It takes place only during daytime.

After making a tour of Hare Island, you will get to your starting point — Ioannovsky Bridge (St John’s Bridge).


A hare near Ioannovsky Bridge
A hare near Ioannovsky Bridge

Urban legend

Do not forget to throw a coin to one of the hares by Ioannovsky Bridge. Local legends say that if your coin remains at the log near the hare, you will, one day or another, come back to Saint Petersburg.


Though Hare Island seems to be small, you can easily spend half a day there. If you have time, I recommend you to come back to Peter and Paul Fortress in the evening and wander along the Neva River, when bridges and palaces on the other bank are highlighted and glow in the dark. I am sure that you will fully understand the magic of Saint Petersburg.

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