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10 things to do and see in St Petersburg

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10 things to do and see in St Petersburg

City built on water in 1703 by Peter the Great as a “window on the West”, St. Petersburg is the second largest city of Russia, after its capital Moscow. Despite being a  young city, the residence of the Russian tsars has a rich history, an extraordinary architectural heritage and one of the most important museums in the world.

Imperial City, stage of two revolutions, the main character of a long siege, marked by the communist rule, a muse for writers like Pushkin and Dostoevsky, St. Petersburg is one of the most charming cities in Europe. Cultural and refined with its collections of art and prestigious theatres; romantic, especially on summer nights when everything “is illuminated with a special light”; impressive with its magnificent palaces and cathedrals with the onion domes; interesting in its wide and varied range of attractions.

The oldest part of the city is represented by Peter and Paul Fortress on the island of Petrograd. The Old Town – a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990 – has  instead , the monuments and the most famous buildings. Classical works such as the Cathedral of St. Isaac,  architectural buildings like the historic Winter Palace which hosts the Hermitage Museum, statues, great roads likeNevsky Avenue, shopping and entertainment. For those who love the beauty, history and culture, St. Petersburg is a must-see.

In this page we suggest you 10 things to do and see during a holiday or a weekend in St Petersburg.

If you are looking for a hotel in St Petersburg, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 550 hotels with prices, pictures and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg

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The Hermitage Museum is one of the most prestigious museum in the world for its size and works of art.

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg

The vast collection includes more than three million works of art and artefacts of the world culture made between the Stone Age and the 20th century, including paintings, sculptures, coins, archaeological findings, graphic art, of which only a part (about 60,000 pieces) exhibited in countless halls and other buildings in the city. The most extraordinary of these is surely the Winter Palace, the magnificent Baroque building in the green façade with white columns.

Residence of the tsars for over two hundred years, with the revolution of October the grandiose palace became the headquarters of the museum, now owned by the state. Through its eight areas (primitive cultures from the Paleolithic to the Slavic, Eastern Art, Art of the Middle East, Classical Antiquities, the Russian Culture and Art, Art of Western Europe), the Ermitage offers a complete overview on the arts of world. The history of the museum began in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great purchased a wide collection of Western European paintings, making the foundations of the symbol of the “Northern Capital”. After centuries of collecting, the Hermitage has the largest and probably the most important collection of paintings in the world, including some masterpieces by Caravaggio, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso. Treasures of such great artistic and cultural value worth a visit.

Where: Palace Square
How to get there: Metro: Admiralteyskaya, NevskyProspekt, GostinyDvor.
When: Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun from 10.30 am to 6 pm; Wedn from 10.30 am to 9 pm. Closed: Monday, January 1st and May 9th.
Ticket: Adults 400 R; 150R children and students. Free entrance every first Thursday of the month.

NevskyProspekt in St. Petersburg

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NevskyProspekt is the wide avenue that crosses the city of St. Petersburg from the west to the east linking the Admiralty to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg
Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg

With its 4.5 km in length and a width ranging from 25 to 60 m., “Nevsky” is the main street of the city and the most famous one in Russia. As Gogol wrote “in Petersburg, there is nothing better than NevskyProspekt. It is everything. ” The center of the city in fact develops around the large street, with magnificent buildings and embellished with churches, theatres, historic shops (do not miss the luxurious grocer art nouveau Eliseevskij), picturesque bridges and charming squares. Prospekt is a lively place, animated day and night, always popular for its cafés, restaurants and cinemas. Walking on Prospektyou can admire small and big masterpieces, such as the Stroganov Palace, beautiful example of Russian Baroque, the National Library of Russia, the literary café, Ostrovsky Square, the Anichkov bridge, the sumptuous Beloselskij-Belozerskij palace and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, majestic building inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome with miraculous image of Our Lady of Kazan venerated by the Russian people.

How to get there: Metro: NevskyProspekt Station; pl. VosstanjaMayakovskaya; pl. Alexandra Nevskogo.

Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg

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Peter the Great designed the fortress on the island of the Neva to protect its access to the Baltic Sea by the Swedish power. The construction of the military complex in 1703, created St. Petersburg. Actually, the fortress was never used for defensive purposes, and until 1917 was used instead, as a prison for rebels againstthe regime.

Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg
Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg

Here were imprisoned Alksei, the only son of Peter I, accused of conspiracy and sentenced to death, Dostoevsky, the elder brother of Lenin, Aleksandr, Gorky, Trotsky and Bakunin. In the area of the fortress, beyond  military buildings (barracks, prisons, armory) were also built a national mint (in operation since 1724), and a cathedral dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. Built by Domenico Trezzini in 1712, the oldest church in the city, has a very high bell tower (122 m.), whose golden spire is topped by an angel holding a cross. Inside, in  Baroque style, are the monumental tombs of the Romanovs, from Peter the Great to Nicholas II. Today, the fortress has many museums about the history of St. Petersburg. In summer time, on the beach which is located outside the walls, you can see many people taking the suntan. In winter time, the more adventurous meet here to cross the river completely frozen or even to bathe in the icy waters of the Neva (Walrus clubs).

Where: Peter and Paul Fortress
How to get there: Metro: Gorkovskaya station
When: Cathedral: Mon – Fri 10 am – 7 pm;  Sat 10am 5.15 pm ; Sun 11am – 7 pm. Fortress: daily from 6 am  to 9 pm . Prison Trubetskoy stronghold : every day 10 M – 7 pm
Ticket: Cathedral +Fortress +  Prison Trubetskoy stronghold: Adult R 300, R 160 students, retired people 120 R.

St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg

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Majestic, magnificent, monumental. This is  the St. Isaac Cathedral, built by the French architect Montferrand at the behest of Tsar Alexander and, further developed under Tsar Nicholas I, I between 1818 and 1858.

St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg
St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg

But the history of the cathedral dates back to 1710 when Peter the Great, born on the day dedicated to St. Isaac’s (May 30), built a wooden church in honour of the Byzantine monk. The cathedral is a giant work which measures 111.2 meters long and 97.6 wide. 112 monolithic columns of red granite hold up the four colonnades, 350 statues on the roof, 100 kg of gold on the dome which is the pride of the city. The interior is made sumptuous by gold, marble (there are 14 types), bronzes, malachite and lapis lazuli. Itis 4,000 square meters and can accommodate 14,000 people. The fresco under the central vault of the Virgin with Angels and Saints, made by Brjullovand Bruni, has a size of 816 square meters. The Church, still classified as a museum, is one of the city’s most visited attractions. Climbing the 262 steps of the colonnade you can admire a splendid view of St. Petersburg from 43 m. of height.

Where: St. Isaac’s square
How to get there: Metro Sadovaja
When: Thursday – Tuesday, 11 am – 6 pm
Ticket: Church: 320 RUR; colonnade: 160 RUR

Peterhof Complex in St. Petersburg

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Peterhof is a magnificent complex of palaces, gardens, fountains, waterfalls and water features designed by Peter I who dreamed of an imperial residence outside St. Petersburg to be accessed by sea, like the Palace of Versailles.

Peterhof Complex in St. Petersburg
Peterhof Complex in St. Petersburg

The Grand Palace opened in 1723 and was expanded in 1750 by the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli during the reign of Elizabeth. It was, in the summer time, the tzars centre of life. The building is majestic but simple and elegant. The interior however, is much more rich and sumptuous: gold decoration, frescoed ceilings, porcelain, silks, mirrors. Among the 27 rooms, one more beautiful than the other (The Golden Ballroom and turquoise Throne Room are spectacular), there is also the Tsar Room  hosting some items that belonged to Peter the Great. Simplicity and harmony characterize the shelter Marly, charming Baroque palace surrounded by the waters of a pond, built by Peter as a personal sanctuary. The main attraction of Peterhof is, however, its lush park with 150 fountains and 4 cascades fed by a source located 22 km away thanks to a complex hydraulic system designed by the Russian Tuvolkov (1720). The most famous waterfall is the Great Waterfall, just in front of the Palace, that among gilded statues (well 255) and water jets (138 to be precise) create the maritime channel along 400 m. that connects the palace to the sea. The main element of the spectacular composition is the “Fountain of Samson fighting with the lion” from whose mouth gets up a jet of water of 21 m., allegory of the Russian victory (Samson) on Swedes (lion) in Poltava in 1709. InPeterhof, the official opening of the fountains (end of May) is a real party with music, fireworks and performances. We suggest you, therefore, to visit the splendid summer residence to better enjoy this spectacular place.

Where: About 29 km from St. Petersburg.
How to get there: It can be reached by bus from the metro LeninskyProsekt or hydrofoil from  St. Petersburg near the Hermitage.
When:
Great Palace: Tue – Sun 10:30 am to 5 pm. Closed Tuesdays of each month; Monplaisir: Thu – Tue, from June to September, 10: 30 am to 5 pm. Marly: Tue – Sun  from May to September, from 10:30 am to 5 pm. Hermitage: Tue – Sun, from May to September, 10:30 am to 6 pm. Fountains: from late May to October from 11 am to 5 pm
Ticket: admission with fee

The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg

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With its impressive green and white façade decorated with 400 Ionic columns, the Winter Palace dominates the monumental Palace Square in the center of which stands the column of Alexander I that celebrates the victory against Napoleon.

The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg
The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg

The Winter Palace is the most famous building in St. Petersburg, themain chracter of its history for more than three centuries. The palace was in fact, the winter residence of the Tsars from Peter the Great on. Modified several times, the actual building (1754-62) is the work of Bartolomeo Rastrellias requested by the Empress Elizabeth. The luxurious interior, redesigned with the restruction of 1837, under the reign of Catherine the Great, is a masterpiece of Baroque art. In 1917,after the abdication of Nicholas II and the February Revolution, the imperial residence became the seat of the Russian Temporary Government. In October of the same year, the Bolsheviks conquered the palace, and declared it part of the Hermitage Museum, now owned by the state. As part of the Museum, many of the 1,057 halls and rooms of the palace are open to the public.

Where: just outside the city centre
How to get there: Metro: Admiralteyskaya, NevskyProspekt, GostinyDvor
When: Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun from 10.30 am to 6 pm; Wednesday  10.30 am to 9 pm. Closed: Monday, January 1 and May 9. The ticket office closes one hour earlier.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg

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With its multiple onion shape domes, the bell tower, and the decorations with colourful glazes, ceramic tiles and stained glass, the Cathedral of the Savior or the Resurrection of Christ (official name) is one of the most important symbols of  St. Petersburg.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg

Built between 1883 and 1907 on the model of the Moscow Cathedral of St. Basil, the church stands on the site where was fatally wounded Tsar Alexander II, which is why the church was renamed the church the Savior on spilled blood. Created at the behest of his son Alexander III as a memorial for the murdered father, the Temple was opened to the people by the Bolsheviks, with serious damage to the inside and began to deteriorate. In the 30s, following the closure of religious buildings ordered by Stalin, it was used as a warehouse and storage. Abandoned for years, finally in 1970 began the long and troubled renovation work (27 years!) That returned the building to its former splendour. In addition to the spectacular appearance, the Savior’s Church is famous for its beautiful and unique collection of mosaics that completely cover the interior walls. The rich decoration was created by Russian artists (Vasnetsov, Nesterov, Ryabushkin) between the end of ‘800 and ‘900. Not to be missed.

Where: Griboyedov Canal Embankment
How to get there: Metro Nevskijprospect
When: May- September – From Thursday to Tuesday, 10 am – 8 pm
October – April- 11 am – 7 pm
Ticket: adult 320 R

The White Nights of St. Petersburg

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“… Maybe in summer in Petersburg are there the nights? This is not the night … we should invent a new name – for example, the half-light … “.

The White Nights of St. Petersburg
The White Nights of St. Petersburg

The writer Gončaròvused these words to describe the White Nights, the charming atmospheric phenomenon that on summer nights colour the sky of St. Petersburg with a special light. For its latitude, from late May to mid-July, the sun remains high for a long period and even when it set, its twilight light continues until the dawn, “giving the sun just a half hour at night” (Pushkin, Introduction to the bronze Horseman). So it is as if the day would never end. The city does not sleep, there are many people around, locals remain open, a full calendar of events, festivals and night festivities, celebrating the extraordinary event that by now, is one of the symbols of St. Petersburg and which attracts tourists from all over of the world. At that time of year in fact, the city is more beautiful and charming than ever. Every building and monument has a romantic aspect in the pink frame of the night sky. Impossible not to fall in love.

When: from the end of May to half July

Things to eat in St. Petersburg

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St. Petersburg offers traditional and modern Russian cuisine.
Usually a meal begins with appetizers (zakuski): smoked or salted fish (herring, salmon, sturgeon), cold meat, mushrooms (stewed, boiled, marinated), salads, including the “viniegriet” with beets, carrots, potatoes , peas, pickled cucumbers and seasoned with oil, the delicious caviar (black and red) often served in “blini”, wheat flour pancakes, almost always with sour cream. Don’t miss the soups (piervyj).

Things to eat in St. Petersburg
Things to eat in St. Petersburg

The most popular and famous is the “borscht” prepared in a meat or chicken broth, which includes beets, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables, usually served with fresh cream. The “solyanka”, made with different types of meat, cucumbers, olives, pepper and spices. The main course (vtoroj) generally consists of boiled or grilled meat, meatballs, baked fish or grilled with a side of “kaša”, or boiled wheat. Among the most famous dishes: the “pelmeni”, fresh pasta with minced meat filling, served with different sauces (sour cream, tomato sauce, mushroom sauce) and “golubtsi”, spiced minced meat balls and rice, wrapped in leaves of cabbage and stewed in tomato sauce with prunes, vegetables and spices. Among the desserts, the “pirožki” stuffed with apricot jam or berries and the “syrniki”, cottage cheese scones, sugar, eggs and flour served with jam or honey. As for beverages, in addition to vodka, the most famous Russian distilled, are worth trying the “kvas”, a fermented non-alcoholic drink, made of wheat and barley, and “medovucha” a little alcoholic drink and plenty of sugar , made with honey.

Where to sleep in St. Petersburg

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The best way to enjoy St. Petersburg, especially if you stay for a few days, is choosing a hotel in the old town.

Where to sleep in St. Petersburg
Where to sleep in St. Petersburg

There are hundreds, in every category and with differentprices. If you accept a room with shared bathroom you can find hotels that cost less than 20 euro per night while high category hotels may not exceed, 80 EUR per night. With a little more you can book a luxury hotel in the tourist areas and close to the most famous monuments. If you move away from the centre , the prices still go down but you have to consider to move by metro and  some crime problems, especially at night.

If you are looking for a hotel in St Petersburg, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about  550 hotels with prices, pictures and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com