Saint-Petersburg

Places to visit

Saint Petersburg is Russia’s second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants.

Situated on the Neva River, at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, it was founded by Peter the Great on 27 May 1703. During the periods 1713–1728 and 1732–1918, Saint Petersburg was the capital of Russia. In 1918, the central government bodies moved to Moscow.

Saint Petersburg is often considered Russia’s cultural capital. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saint Petersburg is home to the Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world.

The State Hermitage Museum

It is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The second-largest art museum in the world, it was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky.

Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors.

Apart from them, the Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya, and the eastern wing of the General Staff Building are also part of the museum. The museum has several exhibition centers abroad.

Of the six buildings in the main museum complex, five—namely the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre—are open to the public. The museum is closed on Mondays. However, it is recommended to visit Hermitage on weekdays, there are going to be less people, because on weekends it will be overcrowded.

Rivers and canals of St. Petersburg by boat

If you’re visiting St. Petersburg from May to October, there are a number of ways to explore the city by boat, from taking the hydrofoil to the suburban palace and park at Peterhof to enjoying dinner and live jazz on an evening cruise along the Neva.

When the weather’s good you should really take any opportunity to get out on the water, but even the shortest visit to St. Petersburg in summer should include one boat trip along the city’s central rivers and canals.

St. Isaac's Cathedral

St. Isaac’s Cathedral was originally the city’s main church and the largest cathedral in Russia. It was built between 1818 and 1858, by the French-born architect Auguste Montferrand, to be one of the most impressive landmarks of the Russian Imperial capital.

One hundred and eighty years later the gilded dome of St. Isaac’s still dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg. Although the cathedral is considerably smaller than the newly rebuilt Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow, it boasts much more impressive fades and interiors.

Peter and Paul Fortress

The first structure to be built in St. Petersburg, and thus the birthplace of the city, it never served its intended defensive function. Instead it has had a rich, hugely varied, and sometimes sinister history as a military base, a home of government departments, the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, the site of groundbreaking scientific experiments, and a forbidding jail that held some of Russia’s most prominent political prisoners.

Church of Savior on the Spilled Blood

Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is known to Petersburgers as the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood — or even just the Church on the Blood — as it marks the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt on March 1, 1881.

Designed by Alfred Parland in the style of 16th and 17th-century Russian churches, the Church of the Resurrection provides a stark (some would say jarring) contrast to its surroundings of Baroque, Classical and Modernist architecture.

Alexander II died of wounds inflicted in an attack by the terrorist group People’s Will. Immediately, his heir, Alexander III, declared his intention to erect a church on the site in his father’s memory, and moreover to have this church built in «traditional Russian» style — in distinction to what he saw as the contaminating Western influence of Petersburg.

The church has an outstanding and varied collection of mosaic icons. Several icons were completed in the traditions of academic painting, modernist style and Byzantine icon painting. The large icon of St. Alexander Nevsky was created according to a design by Nesterov. The icons of the main iconostasis Mother of God with Child and the Savior were painted to designs by Vasnetsov.

The Palace Bridge

It’s hard to move more than a few hundred meters in the centre of St. Petersburg without crossing a bridge.

Although it is only a 20th century creation, Palace Bridge is undoubtedly one of the most famous sights of St. Petersburg, and is quite literally unmissable for most visitors to the city, who will find themselves continually using the bridge to move between Palace Square, home to the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum, and the numerous historic attractions on Vasilevskiy Ostrov.

The central span of the bridge splits into two wings, which are raised through an angle of over 45° to allow ships to pass up the Neva River, and the view of the golden spire of the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral between the two raised wings is one of the most widespread and memorable images of St. Petersburg.