20 Things to Do in St Petersburg, Russia
St Petersburg, a beautiful city with an epic history. Here we list 20 Things to Do in St Petersburg, Russia.
1. Experience Some of the World’s Greatest Art at the Hermitage Museum
The residence of the Romanov dynasty for almost 300 years, the Hermitage encompasses a grand ensemble of buildings, including the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage and Large Hermitage and is now one of the largest museums in the world.
Housing an immense collection of masterpieces by some of the world’s greatest artists including Michelangelo, Veronese, Giorgione, Rembrandt, Rubens, El Greco, Goya, Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso, the Hermitage is a “must-see” attraction for anyone visiting St Petersburg.
The Winter Palace is the most impressive building within the complex and has been witness to some of Russia’s most momentous historical events, including the storming of the palace by the Bolsheviks during the 1917 Revolution.
2. Visit the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood
Built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated (at 3.30pm on the 13th March 1881), the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood is one of St Peterburg’s main sights.
Both the interior and exterior of the church is decorated with beautifully detailed mosaics, designed by some of Russia’s most important artists, including Vasnetsov, Nesterov and Vrubel.
3. Stroll along Nevsky Prospekt
Singer House, Nevsky Prospekt, St Petersburg
Take in a profusion of architectural styles, from Baroque and magnificent Neo-Classical to striking Style-Moderne (Art-Deco), as you stroll along Nevsky Prospekt, St Peterburg’s main avenue and one of the best-known streets in Russia.
Architectural highlights include Stroganov Palace (a Baroque masterpiece), Kazan Cathedral (Neo-classical building inspired by St Peter’s, Rome) and Singer House* (Style-Moderne).
*Singer House is now St. Petersburg's largest and most famous bookshop, Dom Knigi ("House of the Book").
4. Visit St Isaac’s Cathedral
St Isaac’s is one of the world’s largest cathedrals and its construction is considered a major engineering feat.
Opening in 1858, it was turned into a museum of atheism during the Soviet regime. Officially still a museum it is now filled with 19th-century works of art. Climb the 300 steps to the cathedral's colonnade, and enjoy the magnificent views over the city!
5. Dine at the Literary Café (Nevsky Prospekt)
In the heart of the city, at the corner of Nevsky Avenue and Moika River Embankment, sits the Literary Café. Made famous as the restaurant where Pushkin ate his final meal before his fatal duel, the Literary Cafe embodies the traditions and romanticism of 19th Century St Petersburg.
Today you will find a dining experience that combines a wide variety of Russian dishes and a good selection of wine with an ambiance that harmonises both Russian cuisine and culture.
6. Enjoy an Evening of Opera, Ballet or Classical Music at the Mariinsky Theatre
(Photo rights: Auditorium by Valentin Baranovsky © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre)
For more than two centuries St Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre has been showcasing the performances of some of the world’s greatest artists.
Named Mariinsky after its imperial patroness, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, it was however known throughout most of the Soviet era as the Kirov Theatre, after Sergei Mironovich Kirov, a prominent early Bolshevik leader in the Soviet Union.
This is where such great singers as Fyodor Chaliapin, Ivan Yershov, Medea and Nikolai Figner and Sofia Preobrazhenskaya honed their skills and rose to glory. Ballet dancers reigned supreme on this stage, among them Mathilde Kschessinska, Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureyev
This theatre has witnessed the talents of such brilliant theatre designers as Konstantin Korovin, Alexander Golovin, Alexandre Benois, Simon Virsaladze and Fyodor Fyodorovsky among countless others.
Today, the Mariinsky and its Company of artists from the worlds of opera, ballet and orchestral music, is recognised as one of the world’s pre-eminent classical theatres.
7. Visit Peter and Paul Fortress
Marking the birth of the city, Peter and Paul Fortress was built in 1703 on the orders of Peter the Great.
A “must-see” is the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul, which houses the tombs of the Romanovs.
Infamously, the fortress was used as a prison for political activists including Leon Trotsky (in the wake of the 1905 revolution), Fyodor Dostoevsky (in 1849) and leading Decembrists (in 1825).
8. Enjoy a Private Canal Boat Ride*
Canal boat ride past Yusupov Palace
It’s a completely different experience to view St Petersburg from the water.
During a private canal boat ride you gain a whole new perspective of the city’s magnificent architecture. With an open-air terrace on the canal boat’s upper deck, you can marvel at the views, whilst the lower deck provides tables and chairs in which to relax and take in the sights in comfort. All the while, a guide brings to life the city’s rich history.
*Contact Grand Cultural Tours to find out more about booking a private group canal boat ride.
9. Experience a Guided Tour of Yusupov Palace and Learn about the Murder of Rasputin
Constructed in the neoclassical style, Yusupov palace was completed during the period from 1760 till 1850 by renowned architects of the time.
The stately rooms are richly decorated and contain unique West European works of art, as well as 19th century musical instruments.
The highlight of the palace is the Rococo style theatre, built as a miniature of the world-renowned Mariinsky Theatre.
On the night of the 16th December 1916, Grigory Rasputin, the Russian peasant & mystical faith healer, was brutally murdered by a group of monarchists (who despised of his influence over Nicholas II) in the palace’s basement. During a tour of the palace, you can enter the exhibition dedicated to this historical event.
Yusupov Palace was also used as a setting in the filming of the BBC War & Peace TV Series (2016).
10. Take a Guided Tour of the Russian Museum
Barge Haulers on the Volga, Ilya Repin 1873 (Photo rights: The State Russian Museum)
Housed within Mikhailovsky Palace, the Russian Museum contains a remarkable collection of national art which traces the development of the visual arts in Russia.
From its origin in Byzantine icon-painting to the richly varied avant-garde experiments of the early 20th century, the museum holds one of the world’s greatest collections of Russian art.
Among the many masterpieces is llya Repin’s Barge Haulers on the Volga painted in 1873. The most versatile of all the Russian Realist painters, Repin’s masterpiece celebrates the barge haulers’ dignity and fortitude whilst condemning those who sanctioned such inhumanity to man.
11. Travel by Hydrofoil to Peterhof Palace
Often referred to as "the Russian Versailles", Peterhof was built by Peter the Great after his victory over the Swedes at Poltava in 1709. Peter employed over 5,000 labourers, serfs and soldiers supported by architects, water-engineers, landscape gardeners and sculptors. The palace was officially opened in 1723.
Given the importance of maritime history to the story of St Petersburg, the Hydrofoil trip across the Gulf of Finland to Peterhof Palace is a particularly apt way to travel.
Peterhof is around a 45 min train ride from St Petersburg.
12. Visit Pushkin’s Apartment
(Photo courtesy of The State Russian Museums)
Alexander Pushkin is recognised as Russia’s greatest poet and father of the Russian language.
The Pushkin Apartment is a carefully preserved example of a nobleman's residence of the 1830s. Especially of interest is Pushkin’s study where he wrote the epic novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, and The Queen of Spades, both of which were later turned into operas by the great Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
It was within the apartment that Pushkin bled to death after being shot in a duel by his brother-in-law, the dashing French military officer, George D’Anthès, who Pushkin believed to be his wife's lover.
13. Experience Lunch with a Russian Family in a Dacha*
What better way to feel at home in Russia than to dine in an authentic dacha? Hosted by a St Petersburg family, enjoy an informal, friendly and unique dining experience whilst gaining an insight in to the social, cultural and political life of the city from your Russian hosts.
*Contact Grand Cultural Tours to find out more about booking an authentic dacha dining experience.
14. Visit the Dostoevsky Memorial Apartment & Literary Exhibition and Enjoy a Guided Crime and Punishment Walking Tour
No Russian writer exemplifies their St Petersburg literary credentials more than Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Born in the city, he wrote most of his works here, the most famous of which, Crime and Punishment, was a literary sensation and is considered to be his first great work.
Step back into 19th Century Russia, by first visiting the Dostoyevsky Memorial Museum before walking in the footsteps of Crime and Punishment’s protagonist, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, on a literary tour of St Petersburg.
The rooms of the Dostoyevsky Memorial Museum display the writer’s personal belongings and furnishings and are where he lived from 1878 until his death in 1881. Another part of the museum includes editions of Dostoyevsky's books published during his lifetime, a collection of illustrations and photographs signed by the writer (and famous contemporaries) and manuscripts and portraits.
On the walking tour, visit Dostoevsky's statue at Vladimirskaya Metro Station and his tombstone at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra’s Necropolis (where Tchaikovsky, Rubenstein, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glinka are also buried), as well as areas of the city that provided the settings for Crime and Punishment, including Sennaya Square (Hay Market Square).
15. Enjoy Lunch at The Idiot Restaurant
(Photo rights, The Idiot Restaurant, St Petersburg)
The Idiot Restaurant takes its name from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic novel, The Idiot, a classic tale of the conflict between good and evil.
Situated in the historical part of Saint-Petersburg, between St. Isaac Square and Yusupov palace, its relaxed 19th Century St Petersburg atmosphere takes you back to the days of Dostoevsky and other Russian literary masters.
The menu is mostly classical Russian dishes. Expect caviar, blinchiki (crepes), traditional salads and soups, pelmeni (traditional dumplings) and various fish and meat offerings. The drinks menu features a lengthy list of vodkas and other spirits, as well as fine European wines and an extensive selection of tea.
Enjoy Pleasant background music; jazz, retro and board games; backgammon, chess, cards, draughts are available
16. Visit Catherine’s Palace (Tsarskloe Palace)
Designed by the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli for Tsarina Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, the imperial Catherine's palace was the summer residence of the tsars. Later, the Scotsman Charles Cameron, was commissioned by Catherine the Great to redesign the palace’s interiors to her neo-classical taste. Cameron also constructed an ensemble of buildings next to the palace, including the Agate Rooms and Neo-Classical Cameron Gallery.
Perhaps the most impressive room is the Amber Room, an 18th century chamber decorated entirely with panels of amber and gold. The original, regarded as an “eighth wonder of the world”, went missing at the end of the Second World War, rumoured to have been stolen by the Nazis. In 1982 the Soviet government proceeded to build an exact replica, which took over 20 years to complete and was opened by President Putin in 2003. The palace’s magnificent parks and gardens provide the ideal setting for a morning stroll
17. Enjoy a Guided Tour of Pavlovsk Palace and Park
Commissioned by Catherine the Great for her son, Paul, in celebration of the birth of his son, the future Alexander I, Pavlovsk Palace and Park has a distinct charm, as opposed to the grandeur of Catherine Palace (Tsarskloe Selo).
Designed by the architects Charles Cameron and Vicenzo Brenna, who were given precise directions by Paul’s wife, Maria Fyodorovna, the palace buildings are made up of a mixture of neo-classical and more elaborate designs. Around the English style gardens are dotted a Palladian mansion, the Doric Temple of Friendship and the Apollo Colonnade. A most picturesque view is that of the Visconti Bridge, designed by Andrey Voronkin, which passes over the river Slavyanka that flows through the gardens.
18. Visit the Rimsky-Korsakov Memorial Museum
The youngest and probably the greatest of the "Mighty Handful" of composers, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, strove to create a Russian style of classical music in the late 19th century. A prolific composer, he is perhaps most famous for his fifteen operas, nearly all of which are based on Russian history or folklore.
More than two thirds of them were composed whilst living in the Rimsky-Korsakov Memorial Apartment Museum. Four rooms in the museum are reconstructions of original interiors. The centrepiece is a grand piano once played by Scriabin, Rachmaninov, and Stravinsky (among others) at Rimsky-Korsakov's celebrated musical soirees, which attracted leading lights of St. Petersburg's cultural world, including the opera singer Feodor Chaliapin and the painters Ilya Repin, Vasiliy Serov and Mikhail Vrubel.
19. Enjoy an Evening Performance at the Grand Philharmonic Hall
The St Petersburg Philharmonia is the oldest Philharmonia in Russia, dating back to 1802, when the St Petersburg Philharmomic Society was formed.
The building housing the Philharmonia was constructed in 1839 by the architect Pavel Petrovich Jacot for the city’s nobility.
The Grand Hall, with its wonderful acoustics and a seating capacity of over 1,500 seats, has been the centre of St Peterburg’s musical life since the 1840s.
Many works of the Russian classical tradition such as Borodin, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov were premiered here.
It was within the Grand Hall that the première of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 occurred on 9 August 1942 during the Second World War, while the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) was under siege by Nazi German forces.
The Philharmonia now hosts two world-famous symphony orchestras; the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and the St Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra.
20. Take the Sapsan High Speed Train to Moscow
With a maximum speed of over 155 mph, the Sapsan high speed train connects St. Petersburg to Moscow with a journey time on average of 3 hours 45 minutes. Why not sit back, relax and continue your adventure with a high speed train journey to Moscow!
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