St Petersburg is often called the cultural capital of Russia. Indeed, the city is home to 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!
Check the list of amusing things to do in St Petersburg.
- ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
- 1. Wander in the historical centre of St Petersburg
- 2. Explore the landmarks of St Petersburg on a hop-on / hop-off bus
- 3. Take a sightseeing boat tour on rivers & channels
- 4. Watch the drawbridges being raised
- 5. Wander along Griboedov Canal
- 6. Fall in love with famous Russian ballet
- 7. Look at St Petersburg from the colonnade of St Isaac’s Cathedral
- 8. Explore St Petersburg in miniature
- 9. Tour metro stations
- 10. Stroll along Nevsky Prospect at night
- OFF-THE-BEATEN TRACK THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
- 11. Explore a hidden mosaic yard
- 12. Watch the sunset in Sevkabel Port
- 13. Find out how to build a swimming pool inside of a church
- 14. Walk under one of the bridges
- 15. Look at the highest skyscraper in Europe
- 16. Wander on the beach of Peter And Paul Fortress
- 17. Meet a ghost in Mikhailovsky Castle
- 18. Check out Gazprom Arena Stadium
- 19. Gaze at Art Nouveau railway station
- FUN THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
- 20. Meet ancient Egyptian Sphinxes
- 21. Make a wish with Atlants
- 22. Listen to street musicians at Palace Square
- 23. Snap your perfect photos from the Spit of Vasilievsky Island
- 24. Count St Petersburg’s lions
- 25. View the city from a rooftop terrace
- 26. Chill out at New Holland Island
- 27. Hang out at the main bar street of St Petersburg
- TASTY THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
- THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG: SHOP FOR SOUVENIRS AND GIFTS
- THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG: TRAVEL TIPS
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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!
ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
Wander in the historical centre of St Petersburg
Start exploring St Petersburg by wandering in the historical centre of the city. There you will find the most-known attractions as the Winter Palace, Palace Square, Nevsky Prospect, Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St Isaac’s Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress, the Summer Garden, the Bronze Horseman — and hundreds of other places to see.
The centre of St Petersburg is a museum under the open sky. The concentration of historical monuments is so high that the whole city centre is included in UNESCO World Heritage List.
Explore the landmarks of St Petersburg on a hop-on / hop-off bus
I would suggest exploring St Petersburg on foot. But it’s true that sometimes walking outside in St Petersburg can be challenging.
Try touring St Petersburg on a hop-on-hop-off bus. Red double-deckers invite you to discover the main sights of the city. Buses follow 2 itineraries and stop by the most known St Petersburg’s landmarks: St Isaac’s Cathedral, Palace Square, Peter and Paul Fortress, the Cruiser Aurora, and others.
Buy a ticket that will give you one or two-day access to hop-on/hop-off buses. You can ride the bus as much as you like, and hop on and hop off the bus wherever you want!
On the entry to the bus, passengers receive earphones. Thus, they can listen to the stories about St Petersburg’s sights. The audio guide is available in different foreign languages (including Chinese, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish).
Take a sightseeing boat tour on rivers & channels
Among all things to do in St Petersburg — a boat tour on rivers and channels is a must. Dozens of rivers and channels cross the city. This is why 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.
Pay attention: boat tours are available only from April to October. In November, navigation season ends because of the weather conditions (rivers get frozen).
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!
The drawbridges are symbols of St Petersburg.
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 under them.
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.
Wander along Griboedov Canal
Griboyedov Canal is one of the canals in the central part of St Petersburg. As for me, it is one of the best places to take Petersburg-style photos.
Start your journey from Nevsky Prospect and head toward the famous Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. Make a stop at one of the bridges and take a photo. Pay attention to the building on the embankment, especially to the Singer House. Grab some souvenirs at the stalls and listen to local musicians who perform outside.
Wave passengers passing by on boats. Do not miss the Russian Museum. Take a latte in one of the cosy cafés. Enjoy your life!
Fall in love with famous Russian ballet
The 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 Mariinksy or the Hermitage Theatre and enjoy the beauty of the dance.
The ballet shows begin at 7-8 p.m. However, always come to the theatre in advance. Thus, you will have time to take some photos in the gorgeous theatres’ interiors.
Remember that it is better to book tickets in advance!
Look at St Petersburg from the colonnade of St Isaac’s Cathedral
St Isaac’s Cathedral is an impressive church that is also a museum. Like all Russian Orthodox Churches, St Isaac’s Cathedral is lavishly decorated. I am sure that you will be interested to see this historical building.
But St Isaac’s Cathedral has one more advantage — a rooftop colonnade with a picturesque view of St Petersburg.
From the height of 43 meters, you will see the Neva River, St Isaac’s and Palace Squares, the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, Peter and Paul Fortress, and other famous sights.
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.
Explore St Petersburg in miniature
There’s a small square in Alexandrovsky Park with miniature replicas of St Petersburg landmarks. You’ll find Kazan Cathedral, Rostral Columns, the Winter Palace, Mikhailovsky Castle, and many other local sights. I have to mention that those are very detailed copies of the real buildings.
Where: Alexandrovsky Park near Gorkovskaya Metro Station
Tour metro stations
St Petersburg metro is recognized as one of the most beautiful in the world. Some stations look like underground palaces. They are decorated with marble, mosaics, paintings, and sculptures.
To take a ride on the metro should obligatory be among your things to do in St Petersburg.
Take a ride on the Red Line of the metro. In my opinion, the Red line stations are the most interesting to see.
Travel tip: 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.
Stroll along Nevsky Prospect at night
Nevsky Prospect is the central street 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 on 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 are plenty of comfy places for chilling out.
OFF-THE-BEATEN TRACK THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
Explore a hidden mosaic yard
The mosaic yard is a small yard that hides from inattentive passers-by. 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 me of the creations of the prominent Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí.
Where: 2, Chaykovskiy Street
Watch the sunset in 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, coffee houses, 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 of 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 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 that turned into kommunalka. There are churches that turned into warehouses.
Unfortunately, the Lutheran Church of St Peter and Paul (also called Petrikirche) was not considered 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.
Where: 22-24, Nevsky Prospect
Walk under one of the bridges
While in St Petersburg, you’ll certainly cross the bridges multiple times. However, you can walk UNDER one of the bridges without taking a boat. Tempting?
Then head to Liteiny Bridge. There’s a walking path under it. Seen from below, the massive construction of the bridge is impressive.
Look at the highest skyscraper in Europe
Lakhta Center is a brand-new skyscraper in St Petersburg. The tallest in Europe, by the way — 462 m! 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.
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.
Meet a ghost in 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 two hundred years ago. 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.
Check out Gazprom Arena 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, Gazprom Arena Stadium on Krestovsky Island. The project of the stadium was made by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, and it’s called “The Spaceship”.
If you like football, you have certainly seen Gazprom Arena on TV. In 2018, Gazprom Arena hosted the FIFA World Cup matches. In 2021 — UEFA Euro 2020 matches.
The stadium sits in a large park on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. It is one the prettiest contemporary districts of St Petersburg.
Gaze at 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.
FUN THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
Meet ancient Egyptian Sphinxes
Yes, Egypt is not the only country to have 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 19th 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.
Where: University Embankment, St Petersburg
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 Palace 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.
“Just married” couples often 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 wizards, and they make all the wishes come true.
Listen to street musicians at Palace Square
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.
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 the Stock Exchange, for example.
The edge of Vasilievsky Island is a good spot for picturaesque shots. If you go down, close to the Neva River, 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 Neva is covered with ice, this landscape is a wonder.
Count St Petersburg’s lions
St Petersburg is full of lions. I mean, full of sculpture lions and not real wild animals. Ordinary and fabulous winged lions “live” in different parts of the city. They embellish bridges, guard 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 photo hunting. Let’s see how many lions you’ll meet!
View the city from a rooftop terrace
Wandering in the centre of the city, visit the loft Etazhi. This is a former baker industry plant that is now a place for small hipster shops and cafés.
Grab something nice from local cafés (like freshly made shaverma), add to this a mulled wine or a cold tea (depending on weather) and climb to the rooftop terrace.
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.
Where: 74, Ligovsky Prospect
Chill out at New Holland Island
New Holland Island in St. Petersburg is among the coolest shopping districts in the world.
The story of the island begins in the 18th century, when Emperor Peter the Great founded there one of the shipyards. At present, there are no more ships in New Holland. Times changed – so did the island. Nowadays, it is a good-looking cultural district full of shops, restaurants, exhibitions, concerts and open-air events. It is one of the most instagrammable places in St Petersburg.
Hang out at the main bar street of St Petersburg
Planning to hang out all night long? Head to Rubinstein Street. Unofficially, the street is considered the main restaurant and bar street of St Petersburg. Drink and food lovers, you should put this street on your bucket list.
TASTY THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG
Pamper your inner gourmet in the Eliseyev Emporium
Eliseyev Emporium is a gorgeous grocery store on Nevsky Prospect. First, pay attention to the building. It’s a remarkable 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!
Taste cheese made by local 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 Alexander Nevsky Lavra (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.
Where: Alexander Nevsky Lavra (Monastery)
Go for lunch to Vasileostrovsky Market
When you’re hungry but can’t decide on what exactly you would like to eat, head to 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.
Where: 16, Bolshoy Prospect of Vasilievsky Island
A 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 legendary 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 it, I swear!
Where: 25, Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street.
Join borsch and cabbage pie cooking class and dinner
Did you hear about borsch, a must-try dish in Russia? Of course, you did.
Together with local inhabitants Elena and her husband you will learn how to bake cabbage pies and cook borsch. The cooking class ends in the most pleasurable way — trying your self-made pies and borsch in a friendly Russian-family atmosphere.
THINGS TO DO IN ST PETERSBURG: SHOP FOR SOUVENIRS AND GIFTS
Shop for wearable art made by 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.
Go book shopping to the Singer House
UPD from 2022: Singer House is temporarily closed
Singer House is the name of the multi-storey bookshop in the historical centre of St Petersburg. 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 postcards and 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 of Kazan Cathedral and Nevsky Prospect.
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.
Where: metro station Udelnaya
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 at 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!