Best Things To Do in St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg is a great city for sightseeing, with an abundance of art-filled galleries and brilliant architecture to explore. Stroll along the Nevsky Prospekt and have a coffee at a local cafe, explore north end's sites like the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum and the intricately decorated Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Or take a daytrip to the Peterhof Palace & Garden, Peter the Great's summer palace, which was modeled after France's Versailles. Admire the artistry of the famous Easter eggs and other items crafted by Carl Fabergé at a museum dedicated to his work, and then visit some of the ornate palaces in and around the city, which are also home to lush parks ideal for relaxing.
Updated June 28, 2016
- #1View all Photos#1 in St. Petersburg0.2 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, Museums, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, Museums, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Catherine the Great founded the Hermitage Museum in 1764 as a place to house her private art collection. The main museum complex comprises six buildings, including the Winter Palace, which was the home of the czars for almost 200 years. It finally opened to the public in 1852, and since then has been one of the largest and most interesting museums in the world. It draws more than 4 million visitors each year – in fact, this museum is the main reason some travelers visit St. Petersburg in the first place. Recent travelers offered fulsome praise for both the art on display and the opulent building housing the works. For many, the only downside was the constant crowds.
Bursting at the seams with art from masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso, the Hermitage demands a substantial commitment of time to see even a portion of its collection, which encompasses 3 million works of art and artifacts. Some previous visitors reported spending seven hours touring the grounds. If you plan to spend a considerable amount of time admiring the works, consider purchasing the two-day entrance ticket.
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The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main attractions in St. Petersburg, drawing crowds to its ornately decorated onion domes and the stunning mosaics housed within. Alexander III commissioned the construction of the church in 1883 as a tribute to his slain father, Alexander II, who was assassinated on this site by a group of revolutionaries. The church's name references this murder and much of the art inside has a martyrdom theme.
Recent visitors invariably raved about the beauty of the building, with the intricate mosaics inside regularly cited as being especially remarkable. Travelers also said the church is small, so you'll probably be able to tour the inside in less than an hour.
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The construction of St. Isaac's Cathedral was ordered by Alexander I in the early 1800s. This neoclassical marvel was finally completed in 1858 after 40 years of construction. St. Isaac's has an interesting history: it survived Nazi shelling in World War II and even briefly served as a museum of atheism under the Soviet regime.
St. Isaac's Cathedral possesses an imposing exterior presence with its single massive dome, but you'll also want to check out its opulent interior, with its multicolored marble floors and stunning frescoes, which never fail to impress visitors.
- #4View all Photos#4 in St. Petersburg0.7 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, MuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, MuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Peter and Paul Fortress is where St. Petersburg was founded. Peter the Great commissioned the building of a fort on Hare Island in 1703 and initiated construction of the fortress. Among its attractions is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, which has a bell tower that remains one of the tallest structures in the city. Along with its impressive height, the cathedral also houses the remains of centuries of Russian czars and their families. The Grand Ducal Burial Chapel, which is connected to the older cathedral, contains the tombs of other members of the Romanov family. At various times, including during the Soviet period, the fortress was used as a prison. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Bakunin and Leon Trotsky are among the notables who were held there. Now it operates as part of the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg. The St. Petersburg Mint also forms part of the fortress.
The fortress exerts a powerful draw for history buffs. Visitors often single out the cathedral as especially impressive. The fortress is a popular destination and can be crowded, especially in summer. Past visitors suggested timing your visit for noon, when the fortress cannon fires a blank shot. The cannon shot was once used to signal the beginning and end of the work day and commemorate special state events, among other things.
- #5View all Photos#5 in St. Petersburg15.7 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, Museums, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND15.7 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, Museums, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Though it's located about 20 miles outside St. Petersburg proper, the Catherine Palace and Park certainly merits a visit by anyone in the area, especially enthusiasts of elaborate and fanciful architecture. In 1717, Peter the Great commissioned a building for his wife, Catherine, who succeeded him after his death, but her namesake palace only began taking on its grand stature in 1743, when their daughter, the Empress Elizabeth, engaged a series of architects to expand upon it. The result was a massive building with ornate blue and white facades decorated with real gold. The interior is no less spectacular. What's more, the surrounding 1,400-acre park features multiple fountains and bridges.
Recent visitors offered lavish praise for the palace's extravagance and the opulence of the furnishings. The Amber Room was a particular highlight for recent visitors. The original Amber Room, which was decorated with six tons of amber and other semiprecious stones, was looted by Nazis during World War II. The whereabouts of the original Amber Room remain a mystery, but in 2003 the palace unveiled a reconstruction of the room – which is what visitors can admire today. The only downside to all this beauty? The palace is known to attract crowds year-round, according to reviewers.
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If you're visiting St. Petersburg in the summer, the Peterhof Palace & Garden is an absolute must-see. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Peterhof was the brainchild and summer palace of Peter the Great. The palace is frequently likened to Versailles, which inspired its design.
While the palace is an impressive site, the manicured gardens and numerous fountains really steal the show, according to recent visitors. Reviewers also add that you shouldn't bother with the palace if you have time constraints, because exploring this palace can easily take an entire day.
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The Russian Museum boasts the world's largest collection of Russian art. Its main exhibition space has been housed in the neoclassical Mikhailovsky Palace since 1895. The Russian Museum also consists of several other buildings, including the Marble Palace, the Mikhailovsky Castle (St. Michael's Castle), the Stroganov Palace and the Benois Wing. For many travelers, a visit here offers the chance to view artwork not often seen outside of Russia.
The complex is massive, so be prepared to spend several hours here, according to past visitors. It's a good idea to figure out what you want to see beforehand, so you can better plan your tour of this fascinating museum. The rooms in the Benois Wing, which hold works by Kandinsky and Malevich, are particularly popular (and often crowded). The museum usually has at least one excellent special exhibit on display. With a massive collection of more than 400,000 works from the 10th to the 21st century, the museum may be best viewed with a tour guide or by using the corresponding free English-language smartphone app, which offers an audio guide.
- #8View all Photos#8 in St. Petersburg1 mile to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1 mile to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Fabergé Museum in the Shuvalov Palace houses the world's largest collections of works by Peter Carl Fabergé, including nine of the renowned, bejeweled imperial Easter eggs for which the artist is best known. In addition to the Fabergé pieces, which had originally been collected by the prominent American entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes, the museum boasts a collection of more than 4,000 works of Russian decorative and fine arts. Fabergé, who was born in St. Petersburg, crafted his famous eggs for the last two Russian emperors, Alexander III and Nicholas II. He also made jewelry, religious objects, silverware and other items, examples of which can be seen in his eponymous museum. The 4,700-square-foot palace inside which the museum is located qualifies as a popular destination in its own right.
While the eggs may be the main attraction, visitors frequently are impressed, if not awed, by the quality and quantity of other works of art on display. Many also enthuse about the beauty of the building itself.
- #9View all Photos#9 in St. Petersburg1.2 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.2 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Iconic not only for its grand architecture, but also for the legendary performances held here, the Mariinsky Theatre is a must-see for fans of opera and ballet. According to some, seeing a performance here is as essential as paying a visit to the Hermitage Museum to understanding Russian life. Along with the premieres of "Sleeping Beauty," "The Nutcracker" and "Swan Lake," this theater is where dancers like Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Baryshnikov honed their skills, not to mention opera singers like Feodor Chaliapin. Dating back to 1860, the theater building itself is also an impressive sight thanks to its opulent interiors.
Past visitors highly recommended seeing a performance here while in St. Petersburg. Reviewers gushed about the theater's lavishness and the talent of the performers.
- #10View all PhotosfreeSummer Garden#10 in St. Petersburg0.8 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.8 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
After battling the crowds at the Hermitage and taking in countless masterpieces at the Russian Museum, you're going to need a place to unwind. So why not go to the same spot Peter the Great used to go for some rest and relaxation?
Most come to the Summer Garden to just soak in the atmosphere, which travelers describe as tranquil. Classical gardens, Italian statues and lovely fountains will let you know that you made the right call to visit. Other structures housed here include the Summer Palace, which is maintained by the Russian Museum and available for touring for a fee. Because the Summer Palace is modest in comparison to some of the city's other noble structures (it's just two stories and houses seven rooms), many past visitors chose not to tour the interior.
- #11View all Photos#11 in St. Petersburg15.4 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND15.4 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located near the Catherine Palace and Park, the nearly 500-acre Alexander Park is less formal than its neighbor. The Alexander Palace, which was a frequent retreat for the last czar, Nicholas II, sits inside the park. Though the palace is currently closed for renovations, there are still several other attractions within the park worth seeing. The park also contains the remains of the Chinese Theatre, an opera house designed by Antonio Rinaldi (who also designed the Chinese Palace still standing in the Oranienbaum State Museum Reserve), which was destroyed during World War II. A Chinese Village remains, and its restored cottages were made into apartments, and many of the park's adornments have an Asian motif. The park also features miniature versions of some of St. Petersburg's most famous buildings.
The park is often described as peaceful, pleasant and relaxing. Its pathways accommodate walkers, runners and bicyclists (as well as users of wheelchairs). Past travelers said Alexander Park makes for a nice addition to any visit to Catherine Palace, but they also said it's not worth the trip from St. Petersburg if you don't plan to also tour Catherine Palace.
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Also known as the Moika Palace, Yusupov Palace is a St. Petersburg landmark. It was the main residence of the House of Yusupov, which was a wealthy family of Russian nobles.
Travelers come here to take in the luxurious interior. Those with a deep interest in Russian history find the palace especially fascinating. Others said the palace provided a more convenient option than Peterhof Palace & Garden, which sits about an hour outside St. Petersburg.
- #13View all Photos#13 in St. Petersburg19.5 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, Museums, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND19.5 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, Museums, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
While Menshikov Palace deserves exploration, the palace is part of a larger estate known as the Oranienbaum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area also encompasses the Palace of Peter III and the Chinese Palace, both of which were designed by the Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi. The Oranienbaum consists of an Upper Park and a Lower Park. The former features artfully planned canals, ponds and bridges, while the latter was decorated with fountains and sculptures.
Recent visitors praised the impressive gardens adorning the Oranienbaum's grounds and said the palace and its attractions are not as popular as some of St. Petersburg's other royal residences, so the Oranienbaum is much quieter and less crowded. Reviewers were also quick to recommend touring the inside of the Chinese Palace for its opulence.
- #14View all Photos#14 in St. Petersburg3.6 miles to city centerMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.6 miles to city centerMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Grand Maket Russia, or Grand Model Russia, is a more than 8,600-square-foot scale model of the country that showcases Russia's urban and rural life. With illumination from half a million electric lights, the model reproduces the country's roads, railroads and waterways. The interactive display also has numerous buttons allowing visitors to put various vehicles in motions. To see all of the display's intricacies, visitors can even borrow binoculars.
Recent visitors expressed amazement over the model's high degree of detail. While frequently described as kid-friendly, this is a highly entertaining thing to do for people of all ages, according to reviewers.
- #15View all Photos#15 in St. Petersburg0.7 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, MuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerCastles/Palaces, MuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Menshikov Palace, the first large structure built with stone in St. Petersburg, was constructed for Prince Alexander Menshikov, a close associate of Peter the Great, in the early 1700s. It was used for formal state functions until Menshikov fell out of favor with the emperor's successor. It currently belongs to the Hermitage and displays some of the museum's paintings and sculptures. The palace, which sits on Vasilyevsky Island on the banks of the Neva River, combines extravagant appointments, including ample use of marble, with everyday domesticity. Its blend of traditional Russian architecture and Western European style became known as Petrine Baroque.
Visitors tend to find the architecture rather fascinating and appreciate the views of the river. Though some pointed out this felt more like a grand house and less like a palace. Others said it's not worth making a special trip to the island. However, the palace is typically not as busy as some of the city's other things to do and may provide a respite from the crowds.