To tell the truth, it was incredibly difficult to narrow all amazing attractions to only TOP 10 Saint Petersburg must-see places. The historic centre of Saint Petersburg was recognized as UNESCO heritage for its architectural patrimony. I mean, not only some buildings, museums or squares — the WHOLE historic centre!
How To Use The TOP 10 Saint Petersburg Must-See Places
All the Saint Petersburg must-see places listed below are situated in the historic core of the city. If you have only one day in Saint Petersburg, you can see them all — from the outside. In case your trip to Saint Petersburg lasts longer, just include visiting museums (like the Hermitage Museum and Saint Isaac’s Cathedral) to your list.
Why I Have Chosen These Sights?
First, because these are the most famous, iconic places. Many buildings have become symbols of the city. To come to Saint Petersburg and not to have a look at the Peter and Paul Fortress is like to come to Paris and not to see the Eiffel Tower.
The 2nd reason is that these places are accessible and open in every time of year (the only exception is the Summer Garden: in winter fountains there don’t function). If you doubt what season to choose for visiting Russia, check the post The Best Time To Visit Russia.
Now let’s go wander and see what Saint Petersburg has to offer to avid travellers:
1. Peter And Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul Fortress is the heart of the city. It’s the original citadel founded by Russian emperor Peter the Great in 1703. While inside the fortress, pay attention to the Peter and Paul Cathedral, oldest cathedral in Saint Petersburg. Its elegant belfry with shining golden spire is a symbol of Saint Petersburg. The cathedral houses the remains of the members of imperial Romanov dynasty, from Peter the Great to Nicholas II.
Interesting fact: if you need to check your watch accuracy, remember that the clock of the Peter and Paul belfry is the most reliable clock in Saint Petersburg.
2. Trinity Bridge
Art Nouveau decorations turn the Trinity Bridge into of the most beautiful and recognizable bridges of the city: cast iron gratings with artistic casting, fancy lanterns, granite pylons… It’s a perfect photo stop place as the view from the bridge is truly breathtaking: the wild beauty of the Neva river, the Spit of Vassiliyevsky Island, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Winter Palace, the Admiralty are exposed in their better way.
The Trinity Bridge is a drawbridge so if you walk at ~ 1 a.m. on one of the embankments, you will see one of the huge spans open. Don’t miss this amazing performance!
3. Summer Garden
The oldest city garden designed by Peters the Great, the founder of Saint Petersburg. Fountains, Italian statues, pavilions pond with swans make the Summer Garden a pleasant place for an afternoon walk. But the main must-see of the Garden is legendary railing from the side of the Neva River. The elegant cast-iron grille is suspended between 36 granite columns crowned with urns and vases. Rather strict, the railing was recognized as the most beautiful garden railing of the world. Don’t miss it!
They say that in 1920-ies American businessmen wanted to obtain the famous cast-iron railing of the Summer Garden. The price was exorbitant: businessmen proposed to exchange the railing for… 100 (!!!) trains! Despite the difficult economic situation in Russia in that period, their offer was refused. And the elegant railing is still embellishing the Summer Garden in Saint Petersburg.
4. Church Of The Saviour On The Spilled Blood
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main attractions in Saint Petersburg. It’s built in the place where Russian Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded.
Lavish decor of the church leaves nobody indifferent. The walls and ceilings inside the church are covered with intricately detailed mosaics.
5. Kazan Cathedral
Kazan Cathedral is the main Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Petersburg. It’s dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan, one of the most venerated icons in Russia and the patroness of the Romanov royal family.
Cathedrals history is closely related to the Patriotic War of 1812.
Built at the beginning of the XIX century, Kazan Cathedral became a symbol of the Russian victory over Napoleon. Keys to 17 cities and 8 fortresses captured during the war are now displayed in the cathedral’s sacristy. The victorious Russian Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov is buried there, too.
During the Soviet period, the cathedral was transformed into the museum of the history of atheism and religion. In 1996 it was given back to the Orthodox Church and since then is functioning as a church.
6. Nevsky Prospect
The main thoroughfare of Saint Petersburg. It houses a huge quantity of palaces, mansions, churches, shops, restaurants, hotels, gardens… Busy during daytime as well as at night. The history of Nevsky prospect and all its inhabitants is so rich that I could have written a whole book about it. Instead, take my advice: while walking there, look upstairs! This is how you would appreciate the real architectural beauty of the place.
7. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, one of the find-me-on-every-postcard Saint Petersburg must-see places. Incontournable, as the French say.
You can just walk around it and admire granite columns, statues, elaborated doors and shining dome. Or enter the Cathedral — and enjoy lavish interiors: granite, marble, lapis lazuli, malachite, mosaics, gold… Or climb up to the colonnade, right under the dome, and take pictures of the historical centre of Saint Petersburg from the height of the bird’s flight.
8. Bronze Horseman
Bronze Horseman is a monument to Russian Emperor Peter the Great, the founder of Saint Petersburg. The equestrian statue of the Emperor stands on a giant Thunder Stone, the largest stone ever moved by humans. This statue is a kind of talisman. Local legends say that while the Bronze Horseman stands in the middle of the city, enemy forces will never be able to conquer Saint Petersburg.
9. Palace Square And Hermitage Museum
Palace Square is the central square and one of the prime must-see places in Saint Petersburg. Baroque Winter Palace, classic General Staff building, empire Alexander Column — despite the fact that all these constructions were built in different periods and have different styles, the architectural ensemble of the Palace Square is incredibly harmonious. This is why this square is a favourite spot not only for city guests but for locals too. When the weather is warm, street musicians often perform popular songs on the square. And what can be more romantic than white nights, live music and one the most beautiful squares in the world mixed all in one?
Winter Palace is the world-famous Hermitage museum. Its collections are so diverse and rich, that we find there everything from Egyptian mummies to Japanese art and Russian Royal family jewels… Plan at least half a day, if want to see some of these treasures.
10. Spit Of Vassiliyevsky Island
Spit (in Russian — Strelka) of Vassiliyevsky Island is a charming place. You can reach it from the Palace Square by crossing the Palace Bridge. The Spit offers a marvellous view on the Neva river, the Hermitage and the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Rostral Columns and Stock Exchange building are another must-see places in Saint Petersburg.
For all those who love dancing, free dance lessons take place every summer evening near both Rostral Columns. Don’t even hesitate to join this lovely open-air party!
These are the main Saint Petersburg must-see places, especially for first-time visitors. If you manage to see them all and still can’t get enough — I highly advise to take a boat trip on rivers and channels and to have a look at the city from the water. Boat trip itineraries differ a bit, but whatever you choose I am sure it will be a fascinating unforgettable distraction.
By the way, do you know Saint Petersburg is often called the Venice of the North? This name is certainly due to numerous local bodies of water, islands and bridges.
Pay attention! Check the map and you will notice that you can build a city itinerary by visiting all these places in the exact order as they are listed. Start from the Gorkovskaya metro station and finish on the Vassiliyevsky Island. I prevent: it’s a really long itinerary — really long, hardly doable in one single day. But you will see the best of the best.
Check the Guide to royal palaces in St. Petersburg suburbs to know more about world-known attractions in Russia
I hope this guide will be helpful for all guest of our beautiful city. If you have already seen some of these places, which you liked the most? And what other attractions would you include to this list?