‘What places to visit in St Petersburg?’ — is probably the first question that comes to your mind when you start planning your visit to the Northern capital of Russia. In this post, we explore St Petersburg’s must-see places. Those are iconic sights, and your tour of the city will be incomplete without visiting them. This is a perfect guide for first-time travellers and for those who plan to spent a couple of days in St Petersburg.
- TOP PLACES TO VISIT IN ST PETERSBURG
- WHAT TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
- PLACES TO VISIT IN THE SUBURBS OF SAINT PETERSBURG
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St Petersburg is a very popular travel destination. This is not surprising if you take into account that St Petersburg has a huge number of sights included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The peak tourist season lasts from May to October. If you travel during this time, think of booking accommodations and tours in advance.
I live in St Petersburg and spend a lot of time exploring local interesting places. This is why I could easily make a list of 50 local must-sees.
However, I realise that most tourists spend only 3-4 days in St Petersburg. Thus, I control myself and restrict the list of TOP places to visit in St Petersburg to 12 landmarks. Those are the symbols of the city. And if you have visited them, you will be able to say that you have seen the best of the best.
At the end of the post, you will also find a list of things to do in St Petersburg — don’t skip it!
Now let’s get straight to the beautiful places to visit in St Petersburg!
TOP PLACES TO VISIT IN ST PETERSBURG
Palace Square is the main square of St Petersburg. The square is surrounded by gorgeous Winter Palace and General Staff Building. Another city’s symbol — Alexander Column — stands in the centre of the square.
Palace square is never empty: students, tourists, street musicians, and locals like to come there. Moreover, during summer, the square often hosts open-air concerts, competitions, and other events.
Peter And Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul Fortress is the birthplace of St Petersburg. This is where Russian Emperor Peter the Great started to build the city. It happened not so long ago — in 1703. As you see, St Petersburg is quite young.
The fortress is situated on the Hears Island. The fortress houses a lot of places to see. For instance, don’t skip Peter and Paul Cathedral. You’ll easily recognise it by a tall gilded spire with an angel on its top. During centuries Peter and Paul Cathedral was the tallest building in St Petersburg — 122,5 meters.
Peter and Paul Cathedral is the burial places of Russian Emperors. I advise you to visit the Cathedral to admire its splendid interiors.
While visiting Peter and Paul Fortress, don’t miss the chance to see the most impressive view of the city. Head to the Neva Gate and walk along the walls outside the fortress. You’ll probably feel like you’re standing on a seashore because the Neva River is very large.
• RELATED POST: Peter and Paul Fortress: Must-See Places and Hidden Gems
Saint Petersburg Drawbridges
St Petersburg is often called the Venice of the North. This name is certainly due to multiple rivers and canals crossing the city. And where there are rivers, there are bridges.
Bridges are symbols of St Petersburg. And the most known bridges are undoubtedly drawbridges.
When to watch the bridges being raised?
This spectacular show takes place every night from May to November. If you want to watch the show, come to the Palace Embankment at around 1 a.m. From this point, you’ll see 2 drawbridges: Palace Bridge and Trinity Bridge.
Another option is to take a night boat tour. It lasts about 2 hours, and passengers can watch the bridges from a very close distance and even pass under them!
The white nights are a symbol of St Petersburg. This summer period is considered the most popular among tourists. Every year, millions of people come to see the natural phenomenon and admire the beauties of St Petersburg.
White nights are a northern phenomenon. During this period, the sun goes down over the horizon for such a short time that nights are not completely dark. Evening twilight smoothly turns into morning.
For instance, at the end of June, the sun sets at almost 10 p.m. and already rises at 3 a.m. The shortest night is the night between the 21st and the 22nd of June.
Officially, white nights in St. Petersburg begin on the 11th of June and end on the 2nd of July. However, days are already much longer than usual from the middle of May until the middle of August. Thus, personally, I consider those 3 months as the period of white nights.
White nights come every year on the same dates, regardless of the year.
The Hermitage Museum is the 2nd largest museum in the world. Undoubtedly, this is N.1 Russian museum: due to its splendour and richest art collections. Collections of the Hermitage are so rich that you will need a few years (!!!) to see them all.
The Hermitage Museum occupies the gorgeous building of the Winter Palace, a former palace of Russian emperors. Thus, you’ll not even see paintings and sculptures, but also majestic interiors of the palace.
I often say that getting lost in the centre of St. Petersburg is quite difficult. There are famous landmarks practically on every step. They are easy to find on maps.
However, there’s a place where you’ll be surely lost! This place is the Hermitage Museum. Huge, it resembles an amazing labyrinth full of pieces of art. You don’t know where you are, but what you see around you is absolutely stunning.
Having a map of the museum will not help, believe me.
The Yusupov Palace is a unique museum in St Petersburg. This is one of the rare noble mansions where the main apartments, halls of the art gallery, and splendid home theatre have survived after disastrous XXth century revolutions and wars.
The Yusupovs were one of the richest clans in Russia. They can afford to buy and collect the best art pieces: furniture, paintings, sculptures, jewellery. Have you ever seen a room where walls are painted with gold? In the Yusupov Palace, you will see one!
The Yusupov Palace is also known as a place of the most famous crime of the XXth century — the murder of Grigory Rasputin. Before you visit the Yusupov Palace, I advise you to read the memoirs of Felix Yusupov. He is known as one of the participants of the murder of Rasputin. Moreover, he writes a lot about his aristocratic life in St Petersburg and Europe.
I highly recommend visiting the Yusupov Palace within a guided tour. Otherwise, you will not completely understand and appreciate the opulence of the place.
The Russian Museum in St Petersburg is one of the best art museums in Russia. The Museum owns the largest collection of Russian art in the world.
The collection of the Russian Museum includes more than 410 000 items: paintings, graphic art, sculpture, numismatics, decorative and applied and folk art, as well as archival materials.
Thus, if you want to explore Russian art, the Russian Museum is a must-see in St Petersburg. For instance, you will discover ancient icons by Andrey Rublev, amazing landscapes by Ivan Shishkin and Arkhip Kuindzhi, world-famous paintings by Kazimir Malevitch, Mikhail Vrubel, Ilya Repin, and many-many other masterpieces.
Besides, the Russian Museum exhibits Dymkovo toys, Khokhloma, Gzhel, wood and bone carving, lace weaving, and embroidery — handcrafts that Russia is famous for.
In addition, the Russian Museum always organizes temporary exhibitions dedicated to particular artists or historical periods.
The Fabergé Museum opened not so long ago — in 2013 — and immediately became one of the most popular places to visit in St Petersburg. The museum hosts a great collection of the world-famous Fabergé eggs.
Fabergé eggs are the epitome of luxury. Made of diamonds, gold, gemstones, they are astonishingly elaborated works of art.
If you visit St Petersburg, I highly recommend seeing the exceptional luxury of the Fabergé Museum exhibits. I swear this visit will change your notion of opulence!
I have to add that the name of Carl Fabergé is mostly associated with Fabergé eggs. However, his workshops produced a variety of other objects. For instance, the Faberge Museum in St.Petersburg has a unique collection of personal belongings of the Imperial family and the exquisite collection of items in authentic Russian style.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the largest Orthodox church of St. Petersburg, Russia. Besides, the Cathedral has multiple legends associated with it.
Here’s one of them:
The construction of St. Isaac’s Cathedral took 40 (!!!) years. There were even rumours that Auguste Montferrand, the main architect, was deliberately delaying the completion of the building. Allegedly some fortune teller predicted that he would die as soon as he finished the construction of the cathedral. It was really so or not, but Montferrand really died shortly after the construction of the temple.
According to rumours, he could not survive the royal disgrace. Some people drew the attention of Emperor Alexander II that Auguste Montferrand incorporated his portrait to the decoration of the Cathedral. He would have put his portrait among the paintings of saints. The emperor was very angry! During the consecration of the cathedral, he ignored Auguste Montferrand and didn’t even give him a hand. Montferrand felt so humiliated that after the ceremony he felt ill, went home and died a month later.
Don’t miss the chance to see the lavish interiors of St Isaac’s Cathedral. Every square centimetre of the walls and ceiling is decorated with gold, painting, mosaics, and stained glass.
This cathedral blows out my mind every single time I see it.
Church Of The Savior On The Spilled Blood
Walking around the Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg, every tourist definitely pays attention to the colourful Russian-style church. Indeed, red-brick walls with mosaics and multicolour domes are easily noticeable among rather strict classical buildings.
I suppose that the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood is one of the most recognisable places to visit in St Petersburg. I’m sure that if you post a photo of the church on your Instagram, you’ll get 10x more likes than usual! 🙂
Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood is built on the place where one of the Russian Emperors — Alexander II — was mortally wounded in 1881. This fact explains the name of the church — ‘Savior on the Spilled Blood’.
Knowing the sad history of the church, you’ll probably think that the church is a dark place of memory and sorrow. But in reality, as soon as we enter the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, we find ourselves surrounded by bright colours of precious stones and unique light mosaics.
Walls and ceilings are entirely decorated with amazing mosaics. Those splendid mosaics are the pride of the church.
The majestic Kazan Cathedral is a gem of Saint Petersburg, Russia. Its impressive colonnade consisting of 96 columns attracts the attention of all those who walk around Nevsky Prospect. The Cathedral was built in honour of the miraculous icon of Our Lady Of Kazan, one of the most venerated icons of Orthodox Church.
After the Patriotic War of 1812, Kazan Cathedral in Saint Petersburg became a monument of Russian military glory. This is the burial place of the prominent Russian Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Kazan Cathedral was the tallest temple in the city — 71.6 meters.
During Soviet times, the Cathedral was transformed into the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism. In 1991 the Cathedral was returned to the church.
Gorgeous blue-and-white Smolny Cathedral and surrounding buildings are one of the most impressive St. Petersburg attractions. They’re located a bit off the beaten touristic paths, but definitely worth seeing.
The sumptuous and majestic Smolny Cathedral is a mix of Baroque style and purely Russian elements (like five onion domes). The Convent was intended to be a house for Elizabeth I who decided to become a nun. But instead of becoming a nun, she became Empress. Investigabiles viae Domini! Then Smolny became a school for noble girls — Institute of Noble Maidens. Here noble maidens were taught religion, languages, drawing, dancing and good manners.
After the Revolution of 1917, the Cathedral was considerably damaged and was used as a warehouse. It reopened in 1982 as a concert hall. In 2015 the Cathedral was returned to the Russian Orthodox church.
Nowadays you can enter the cathedral, have a walk in the parks nearby or go up to the belfry and enjoy breathtaking views of the city.
WHAT TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
Now that we have made a list of places to visit in St Petersburg, let’s also discover what to do in St Petersburg! Those activities will certainly make your trip more bright and memorable.
Boat Trip On Rivers And Canals
The main summer distraction in St. Petersburg is surely a boat trip on rivers and canals.
As I mentioned, St Petersburg is often called the Venice of the North. There are no gondolas here but a big variety of ships are available.
Usually, a boat tour on rivers and canals lasts 1-1,5 hours. During this time you can just relax and enjoy beautiful surroundings: aristocracy mansions, lavish gardens, churches, and monuments. If you take a boat tour at night, you’ll also see the famous drawbridges being raised.
Keep in mind that boat tours are not available during winter.
Spend one of your evenings in St Petersburg watching a ballet in one of the famous city’s theatres. I will mention just a few of them: world-known Mariinsky Theatre, Mikhailovsky Theatre, and cosy Hermitage Theater.
Theatres of St Petersburg are a gem of the city. Many theatres were built during the Imperial period and amaze with their architecture.
What ballet to watch? I’d opt for a classical one, for example, ‘Swan Lake’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, or ‘Nutcracker’.
Russian Classical Music Concert In St Petersburg
If you like classical music, I have great news for you! It is possible to enjoy classical Russian masterpieces performed by a live orchestra in one of the most sumptuous palaces of St Petersburg!
The concerts take place in the splendid Vladimirsky Palace on Palace Embankment. The Palace belonged to the brother of Russian Emperor Alexander III — Grand Duke Vladimir.
The interiors of the palace will blow out your mind. Without a doubt, the concert hall of the Vladimirsky Palace is one of the most opulent halls in all of Russia.
City Tour On A Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus
St Petersburg is a big city, and discovering all its treasures could be physically exhausting. This is why I consider a hop-on / hop-off bus tour as a nice opportunity to explore the main places to visit in St Petersburg.
Besides, the weather in St Petersburg is rather capricious: rainy, and windy. And bus tours provide comfortable transportation between the main attractions. You can hop-on a special red doubledecker at on one the stops and hop-off if you want to spend more time in one of the places of interest.
Moreover, during the tour, you will have an audio guide which will tell you many interesting facts about the city.
Russian Dinner In A Traditional St. Petersburg Apartment
I am sure that you’ll try Russian food while travelling in St Petersburg. Most restaurants and cafes offer traditional dishes like borsch, blini, and beef Stroganoff.
But have you ever thought of having dinner with a Russian family, in a traditional Russian apartment?
If it sounds interesting to you, I’m glad to say that it is possible! Some local families invite foreign tourists for a traditional dinner! Moreover, you’ll cook Russian borsh yourself!
I have to add that the host, Elena, speaks English. Thus, not only will you cook together tasty dishes, but also it’ll be easy for you to communicate.
PLACES TO VISIT IN THE SUBURBS OF SAINT PETERSBURG
If you have already googled places to visit in St Petersburg, you’ll probably wonder why I have not mentioned Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo with its Amber Room.
The main reason is that Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo are the whole complexes of museums. You can not visit them quickly. You will need at least 6-7 hours to visit each of them.
Peterhof is famous for its Grand Palace and park with fountains. Tsarskoye Selo is known for Catherine Palace and a park full of ponds, pavilions, sculptures, and monuments.
I will also name lesser known Imperial suburbs of St Petersburg: Pavlovsk, Gatchina, Strelna, and Oranienbaum. As Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo, they all are former residences of Russian Emperors. Each of those cities has multiple splendid palaces and parks.