St Petersburg is often called the cultural capital of Russia. Indeed, the city is a home for hundreds of museums and historical sights. However, it doesn’t mean visitors have to spend all their time doing only “cultural” and “educational” tours. Oh, no!
Today we step off the beaten tracks and discover the most interesting things to do in St Petersburg.
35 fun activities
for making your journey more fascinating!
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In this list of things to do in St Petersburg, we put aside visiting popular museums and attractions. Instead, we’ll walk along the embankments, taste delicious food and photo hunt.
This list will help you to diversify your activities while you’re in St Petersburg: for instance, to eat out where locals eat and to shop for wearable souvenirs.
Let’s go wander!
Take A Boat Tour On The Rivers & Canals
Among all things to do in St Petersburg — a boat tour on rivers and canals is a must. Due to multiple rivers crossing the city, St Petersburg is often called the Venice of the North.
Thus, after wandering on solid ground, jump on a boat, relax and just watch palaces, bridges, monuments slowly passing by. Boat tours are available during the daytime and at night. A tour lasts 1-1.5 hours and gives you the opportunity to explore the historical centre of the city in a comfortable way.
Book a boat tour in St Petersburg for your next trip.
Pay attention: boat tours are available from April to October. In November navigation season ends because of the weather conditions (rivers are frozen).
Explore St Petersburg On A Hop-On / Hop-Off Bus
Red double-deckers invite you to discover the main sights of St Petersburg. This is a hop-on/hop-off tour of the city. This means that you buy a bus ticket valid for 2 days. For this period, you get access to 2 itineraries with 22 stops — you can ride the bus as much as you like, and make stops wherever you want! Buses stop by the most known St Petersburg’s landmarks: St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Palace Square, Peter and Paul Fortress, the Cruiser Aurora, and many others.
On the entry to the bus, passengers receive earphones. Thus, they can listen to the stories about St Petersburg’s sights. Audioguide is available in different foreign languages (including Chinese, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish).
One more important notice about hop-on / hop-off buses: this is one of the most comfortable ways to explore the main sights of the city. St Petersburg is known for its changeable unpredictable weather. With hop-on / hop-off buses you don’t depend on the weather: in the case of sudden rain, you can just stay on the bus and still make stunning photos from the top floor.
Book 2-day tour of St Petersburg on a hop-on/hop-off bus Pay attention: kids, students, and seniors get discounts!
Watch Famous Russian Ballet
Russian ballet school is known all over the world. So don’t miss the chance to watch ballet while you’re in St Petersburg. Book tickets to the Mariinksy or the Hermitage Theatre and enjoy the beauty of the dance. Ballet shows begin at 7-8 p.m. However, I always come to the theatre in advance: thus, I have time to take some photos in the gorgeous interiors.
You can opt for one of the classical ballets like ‘The Nutcracker, ‘Swan Lake’ or ‘Sleeping Beauty’. For something new and unusual, go to the Mariinsky Theatre, for instance. Apart from classical ballets, performances in the Mariinsky Theatre will introduce you to the world of contemporary dance.
Book tickets for classical Russian ballet in St Petersburg. Remember that is better to book tickets in advance!
Snap Your Perfect Photos
From The Spit Of Vasilievsky Island
The Spit of Vasilievsky Island is a must-see place in St Petersburg. There are many sights such as Rostral Columns and Stock Exchange, for example.
The edge of the Vasilievsky Island is a good spot for the most picturesque shots. If you go down, close to the Neva, you’ll admire the perfect view of the never calm river, lavish Winter Palace, shining spires of Peter and Paul Fortress, and endless granite embankments. Even in winter, when the Neva is covered with ice, this landscape is a wonder.
Meet Ancient Egyptian Sphinxes
Yes, Egypt is not the only country to see Sphinxes.
You can also meet two Sphinxes if you visit St Petersburg. Those wonderful creatures are ~3500 years old and come from Egypt. Initially, they stood in the courtyard of the temple of the pharaoh Amenhotep III in Thebes, on the west bank of the Nile.
In the XIXth century, the Sphinxes were bought by Russian diplomats and transferred to St Petersburg. Each statue weighs 23 tons, is 5.24 m long and 4.50 m high.
Since 1834, they embellish the Quay with Sphinxes in the centre of the city.
There are many urban legends about these sphinxes. For instance, some say that at sunset the expression of sphinxes faces changes. And that during this time sphinxes can reveal important secrets of the treasures of the pharaohs.
Location: University Embankment, St Petersburg
Watch The Drawbridges Being Raised
St Petersburg is the city of rivers and bridges. You can find all kinds of them throughout the city. In general, St Petersburg has 93 rivers and 800 bridges! Now you understand why the city is also called the Venice of the North 😉
As usual, the bridges in St Petersburg are beautifully decorated. But the most known ones are undoubtedly drawbridges. At night, they raise their “wings” to let the ships pass. The drawbridges are symbols of St Petersburg.
This spectacular show attracts tourists and locals. The most known bridges are the Palace Bridge, the Trinity Bridge, and the Liteiny Bridge. They are all situated in the centre of the city.
You can watch the drawbridges being raised from one of the embankments. Besides, many companies offer night boat tours so that we could watch the bridges closely.
You can see the drawbridges being raised every night from April to October.
Try Russian Dishes In Mein Herz Restaurant
Thought the name of the restaurant is German, the cuisine will allow you to discover the taste of Russian dishes.
The restaurant is situated in the centre of the city but it’s a quiet cosy place inside a busy area. Besides, Mein Herz is interesting because of its interiors: massive wooden cupboards, porcelain, paintings, ancient window shutters.
Address: 15, University Embankment
Pamper Your Inner Gourmet In The Eliseyev Emporium
Eliseyev Emporium is a gorgeous grocery store on the Nevsky Prospect. First, pay attention to the building. It’s a stunning example of Art Nouveau architecture.
Then unleash your inner gourmet and go for some fancy cakes, marzipan apples, tender nougat, and chocolate candies. Don’t forget to buy some tasty souvenirs for your friends!
Wander Along Griboedov Canal
Griboyedov Canal is one of the multiple St Petersburg canals. But, as for me, it’s the most picturesque. Moreover, when you leave the crowded area near the Nevsky Prospect, you’ll calmly walk along the almost empty embankment.
Start your journey from the famous Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, walk along the Russian Museum, Kazan Cathedral and Singer House.
Whisper your wish to the gryphons of the Bank Bridge (it seems that those mythical creatures can make dreams come true).
Wave passengers passing by on boats. Find out intricately decorated buildings. Take a latte in one of the cosy cafes. Enjoy your life!
Watch The Sunset In The Sevkabel Port
Sevkabel Port is not St Petersburg which is usually seen on travel photos. No palaces, no luxury, no monuments. Like most big cities, St Petersburg has multiple faces. And Sevkabel Port is one of them.
Sevkabel Port is a former industrial area turned into one of the most hipster places in the city. Nowadays these warehouses and factory sites host local designer markets, street-food restaurants, coffeehouses, fests, and even a skating rink right by the sea.
As Sevkabel Port is situated on the shore of the Finland Gulf, visitors also enjoy breathtaking views on the port, ships, and bridges.
In general, this place is a good choice for real adventurers who want to spend a couple of hours out of the usual touristy sights.
Find Out How To Build A Swimming Pool
Inside Of A Church
It’s one of the weirdest things to do in St Petersburg, I admit 🙂
The destiny of many buildings in St Petersburg is amazing. There are palaces which turned into kommunalka. There are churches which turned into warehouses.
Unfortunately, Lutheran Church of St Peter and Paul (also called Petrikirche) was not considered as an important historical monument during the Soviet Era. That’s why it was rebuilt into a swimming pool. The pool has been functioning for several decades.
To know more about the sad story of this mysterious building, read this post about the Lutheran Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
Address: 22-24, Nevsky Prospect
Shop For Wearable Art From Local Designers
If you’re looking for nice souvenirs from Russia, I’d advise visiting local designer markets. They take place 1-2 times a month in different locations.
These are markets where independent designers and craftsmen sell peculiar jewellery, knitted hats, and scarves, handmade bags and purses. You’ll certainly find some unique earrings, T-shirts or hoodies. To tell the truth, I rarely leave such a market with no purchase.
Here’s a detailed post about markets in St Petersburg.
Climb To The Colonnade Of St. Isaac’s Cathedral
The view from the colonnade is the most stunning view on the historical part of St Petersburg. From the height of 43 meters, the Neva, St Isaac’s and Palace Squares, Admiralty, Winter Palace, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, Peter and Paul Fortress, and other famous sights look just excellent!
Pay attention: there’s no elevator in St Isaac’s Cathedral. You’ll have to deal with more than 200 stairs to go up to the colonnade. But if you climb, you’ll be generously rewarded.
View The City From A Rooftop Terraсe
Wandering in the centre of the city, visit the loft Etazhi. This is a former baker industry plant which is now a place for small hipster shops and cafes.
Grab something nice from local cafes (like freshly made shaverma), add to this a mulled wine of a cold tea (depending on weather) and climb to the rooftop terraсe.
This is a place where you can admire St Petersburg from above. Pay attention to the geometry of the buildings of this area: the labyrinth of walls and yards looks very complicated. Besides, you’ll notice the domes of the churches and even the Lakhta Сentre, the highest skyscraper in Europe.
Address: 74, Ligovsky Prospect
Go Book Shopping In The Singer House
Singer House is the name of the multistorey bookstore in St Petersburg’s historical centre. Go there if you want to buy books about St Petersburg and guidebooks. They are available in many foreign languages. Moreover, Singer House offers a variety of cool postcards and pretty souvenirs: mugs, bags, calendars, notebooks, etc.
Hush-hush! There’s a cool coffee shop on the 1st floor of the store. Its main feature is the charming view on the Kazan Cathedral and Nevsky Prospect.
Listen To Street Musicians On The Palace Square
The Palace Square is the main square of St Petersburg. It attracts tourists but locals like to visit it too.
Local musicians often come to Palace Square to perform for this diverse audience. These are not official concerts and there’s no concert schedule. But if you’re passing by and noticing someone playing the guitar, make a stop and enjoy the music.
Walk Under One Of The Bridges
While in St Petersburg, you’ll certainly cross the bridges multiple times. However, you can pass UNDER one of the bridges without taking a boat. Tempting?
Then head to the Liteiny Bridge. There’s a walking path under it. Seen from below, the massive construction of the bridge is impressive.
Make A Wish With Atlants
Do you know who holds up the sky? In St Petersburg, this mission is entrusted to Atlants, 10 granite sculptures at the entrance to the New Hermitage (a museum next to the main building of the Hermitage).
If you are on Dvortsovaya Square, head to Millionnaya Street to meet those perfectly shaped guys. Each of them is 5 meters high. Made of stone. Young, handsome and strong.
As usual, “just married” couples come to Atlants and ask for a happy marriage and pretty kids.
If you are not married yet, you can also make a wish while touching the big toe of one of the Atlant’s feet… It seems the Atlants like their role of local magicians and make all the wishes come true.
Look At The Highest Skyscraper In Europe
Lakhta Center is the brand new skyscraper in St Petersburg. The tallest in Europe, by the way — 462m! This grey spire is visible from many parts of the city.
The skyscraper is not yet open for visitors but taking a photo of his new landmark is possible.
Tour Metro Stations
To take a ride on the metro should obligatory be among your things to do in St Petersburg.
St Petersburg metro is recognized as one of the most beautiful in the world. Indeed, some stations look like underground palace halls. They are decorated with marble, mosaics, paintings, and sculptures.
Take a ride on the Red Line of the metro in St Petersburg. This is where the nicest stations are, as for me. Just don’t do it during rush hours (at the beginning and the end of the working hours). Better go exploring subterranean sights in the middle of the day or after 8 p.m.
Taste Locally-Made Cheese From Monks
I have to confess that I am a big cheese-lover. I never get bored of cheese. In particular, I’m interested in food made by small local farmers and artisans.
Do you want to try locally made cheese? Head to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. The monks of the monastery make excellent high-quality gouda, caciotta, ricotta, Belper knolle. You can find it in the shop on the territory of the Monastery. Moreover, there is also a bakery with tasty fresh bread made by monks.
Address: Alexander Nevsky Lavra (Monastery)
Meet A Ghost In The Mikhailovsky Castle
Mikhailovsky Castle is a royal palace in the centre of St Petersburg. It’s a quite mysterious place.
Russian emperor Paul I was murdered there. Since then, the ghost of the poor Emperor roams in the halls of the palace. Nowadays, Mikhailovsky Castle is a museum, and you can visit it. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet the wandering soul of Paul I.
Explore A Hidden Mosaic Yard
Mosaic yard is a small yard which hides from unattentive passersby. Russian artist Vladimir Lubenko and his students turned a usual courtyard into a bright fairytale area. They decorated walls with coloured mosaics and created original bas-reliefs, fountains, and sculptures.
This pop of colour reminds of the creations of the prominent Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.
Address: 2, Chaykovskiy Street
Go For Lunch To The Vasileostrovsky Market
When you’re hungry but can’t decide on what exactly you would like to eat, head to the Vasileostrovsky Market. It houses a food court with all kinds of tasty dishes. Within one single area, visitors can choose among Italian pizza, Mexican burritos, Vietnamese soup pho, Chinese bao buns, and other delicious stuff.
I’d even predict that you’ll come back to Vasileostrovsky Market many times. If not for lunch, then for buying fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, and cheese.
Address: 16, Bolshoy Prospect of the Vasilievsky Island
Shop For Souvenir Coins In St Petersburg Mint
St Petersburg Mint is one of the oldest industrial enterprises of the city. While visiting Peter and Paul Fortress, peek into the Mint’s shop. You’ll find lots of interesting things: unusual coins, gold and silver jewellery, medals, stamps, tokens, etc.
Location: Peter and Paul Fortress
Find Vintage Stuff At Udelnaya Flea Market
The best St Petersburg flea market is undoubtedly Udelnaya Market. This is the right place for hunting for vintage stuff: coins, pins, toys, books, cameras, porcelain, furniture. All those treasures date back to Soviet times and even earlier periods. Don’t hesitate to bargain!
As for the best time for visiting, the most popular days are Saturday and Sunday. Plan your visit for the first half of the day.
Location: metro station Udelnaya
Chill Out In Golitsyn Loft, Former Aristocracy Mansion
Golitsyn Loft is nowadays a creative space full of unconventional coffee shops, bars, and shops. It’s located in a former aristocracy mansion built in the XVIII century. A hundred years ago, it used to be a luxurious mansion. Unfortunately, during the XX century, it was looted and neglected.
Not so long ago the mansion was restored. The restorers opted for a vintage vibe. There are no more sumptuous interiors. But the shabby rooms and staircases are still attractive.
Visit Golitsyn Loft for a glass of wine or a nice cocktail. Go out to the balcony to enjoy the view on the Fontanka River. Then roam in the old rooms and relax in the calming vintage atmosphere.
Address: 20, Fontanka River Embankment
Explore St Petersburg In Miniature
There’s a small square in the Alexandrovsky Park with miniature replicas of St. Petersburg landmarks. You’ll find Kazan Cathedral, Rostral Columns, Winter Palace and many other local sights. I have to mention that those are very detailed copies of the real buildings.
Location: Alexandrovsky Park
Hang Out At The Restaurant Street
Planning to hang out all night long? Head to Rubinstein Street. Unofficially, the street is considered as the main restaurant street of St Petersburg. Drink and food lovers, you should put this street on your bucket list.
Count St Petersburg’s Lions
St Petersburg is full of lions. I mean, of sculpture lions and not real wild animals. Ordinary and fabulous winged lions “live” in different parts of the city. They embellish bridges, guard the palaces, and hide in the parks. Some say that St Petersburg is a home for about a thousand lions!..
So grab your camera and go for a photo hunting 🙂 Let’s see how many lions you’ll meet!
Stroll Along Nevsky Prospect At Night
Nevsky Prospect in the central avenue of St Petersburg. It’s busy during the daytime as well as at night.
Stroll along Nevsky Prospect at night and feel its magical atmosphere. You’ll be surprised to discover how different the prospect looks in the dark, with millions of street lights. By the way, CNN Travel included Nevsky Prospect to the list of the world’s most beautiful streets!
In case you’re tired, just stop by one of the restaurants, brasseries or bars. There’re plenty of comfy places for chilling out.
Wander On The Beach Of Peter And Paul Fortress
I often come to the beach of Peter and Paul Fortress. I find it beautiful at any time of the year.
In summer it’s a nice place to listen to the sound of the Neva waves. In winter, it turns into a valley of ice and snow. By the way, I’d also recommend visiting the beach when it’s already dark outside. Illuminated bridges and embankments are simply breathtaking.
Check Out The New Cosmic-Style Stadium
St Petersburg is known for its imperial palaces, museums, UNESCO heritage and other historical sights.
But there are other places worth seeing in our city. For example, St Petersburg Stadium on Krestovsky Island. The project of the stadium was made by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, and it’s called “The Spaceship”.
It’s insanely beautiful! The stadium itself and its surroundings.
Just imagine: you exit the Krestovsky Island metro station and you enter a big park. You slowly walk down a wide alley and enjoy the sweet smell of blooming lindens. You pass by fountains and small lakes… and suddenly see a huge spaceship right in front of you!
You pass the gates of the stadium, go up the stairs… and enjoy another breathtaking view: Finland Gulf and cruise liners in the port. Well, it’s better to see once than hear one hundred times!
In 2018 St. Petersburg Stadium hosted the FIFA World Cup matches. And it was a real pleasure to now we’ll host some UEFA Euro 2020 matches, too.
Gaze At The Art Nouveau Railway Station
If you enter Vitebsky Railway Station, you’d probably think you’re in a museum. This is NOT a museum.
Vitebsky railway station is an amazing example of Art Nouveau style. It opened after restoration a few years ago and immediately became a place for excursions and even fashion photo shootings.
You can visit it for free.
Pyshka is a kind of small bagel with a rich layer of sugar powder on it. It’s a local speciality.
The best place to try pyshkas is a small cafe on Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street, 25. This modest cafe is a symbol of St. Petersburg along with royal palaces and world-renowned museums. Pyshechnaya (the name of the cafe) still has a Soviet-style interior with no specific decor. However, people stand in lines on the entry to this magical place.
Pyshkas are usually served hot with a very sweet coffee with milk — this is the authentic way to try this real Russian treat! You won’t regret, I swear!
Things To Do In St Petersburg: Travel Tips
- Opt for comfortable clothes and shoes.
- Book your city tours and tickets to museums in advance (especially if visiting St Petersburg from May to September) — don’t waste precious time waiting in queues.
- Be attentive to your belongings. Don’t let pickpockets spoil your journey.
- Take additional batteries for your camera.
- If you’re lost, don’t hesitate to ask people for help. Not everyone speaks English in St Petersburg. But passersby are usually ready to help.
- Remember that bank cards (Visa, MasterCard) are widely accepted. However, always carry a certain amount of cash (especially if shopping from markets).
I hope this post will be useful for everyone planning a trip to the cultural capital of Russia. Let me know what other fun things you plan to do in St Petersburg!
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