10 top things to do in St Petersburg, Russia
St Petersburg, with its stunning architecture, beautiful palaces, fabulous White Nights and incredible history is a #1 travel destination in Russia, a fantastic place to start your Russia’s discovery. The city was started by the Tzar and the first Russian Emperor Peter the Great in the course of Northern War as a would-be port of Russia in the Baltic sea, so-called gate to Europe. Within its history, best Western-European and local architects have created amazing ensembles, parks, mansions, palaces and, thus, turned the city into one of the most incredible places!
Being so overwhelming and so cultural the city can be very challenging for a tourist. Here are top things that we suggest you should do in St Petersburg. Should you be interested in any of them please also check our private tours.
Take a boat tour along rivers and canals
At the times of Peter the Great citizens used to travel around the city in boats. This idea belonged to the Tzar whose favorite city was Amsterdam. What is more, roads were bad at that time and boats seemed to be a nice option to get around.
At present, there is no such a type of public transport. Today citizens and travelers can enjoy a boat ride along its rivers just for fun! Looking at the city from water is the best local experience one can get.
Taking a boat trip is possible nearly at every pier in the center. In most of cases Russian-speaking guide will escort you, though. Taking an English tour is possible at some places e.g. from the Fountain river near the Anichkov bridge.
Take a privilege of having your own boat tour and go beyond standard itineraries. Depends on company’s license and type of boat get to various canals, rivers and even the Gulf of Finland.
Visit the Hermitage museum: not only the highlights but off the beaten track rooms
Well, I am sure Hermitage is in your bucket list and there is no need to say how incredible it is. However, there are certain things «off the beaten path» which may be interesting to you before visiting it.
Apart from typical itinerary around Hermitage you may include in your visit some rooms of the Winter palace. Starting from the Jordan staircase you should enter the Field Marshals’ hall and then turn right. You going to find a long gallery with portraits of the members of the Romanov family. Walking almost up to its end on your right you will find a large concert hall with a heavy silver reliquary (you won’t miss it). Starting from there you will see incredible malachite sitting room (next one) and other rooms off the beaten track. Follow further to see collection of furniture and finally end up in the Wooden library of Nicolas the II –the last Russian emperor.
Apart from this, you should visit both Treasuries of the Hermitage. They offer you an incredible collection of Jewelry given to the Romanovs and by the Romanovs as diplomatic gifts; a large number of church utensils richly decorated with Silver, Gold, diamonds, precious stones and what not; unbelievable pieces of ancient Greek jewelry as well as items made by other ancient nomadic tribes like Scythians, Sarmatians etc. You will see a pendant made of Colombian emerald which is about 125 carats, two large horse-cloths decorated with many thousands of diamonds, earrings made by the ancient Greek masters in the micro techniq
Climb to the top of St Isaac’s to enjoy city’s best roof views
St. Isaac’s cathedral is one of main highlights of St Petersburg. I believe that no need to explain why?
However, it is not only the interior but the colonnade with observation ground which deserves your attention. Climbing up to the top some 200 steps is not easy, indeed, but you will never regret doing it!
We love it any time of the day, but it is better to get there in evening when the light allows you to make incredible pictures of the city. In the summer time cathedral works late hours which allows you to be more flexible.
Stroll along Nevsky prospect
Although it seems to be so trivial, yet it is the nicest idea. Nevsky avenue is literally overwhelmed with eye-catching buildings. Every corner you will find the fine examples of Imperial grandeur, impeccable historical ensembles, churches, monuments …even apartment and business blocks here look pretty! If you do not have any idea of your upcoming trip and no time to plan it well – just walk along Nevsky starting from the Palace square up to Anichkov bridge. Believe us, there are many beauties on the way.
Welcome to see both the Imperial and aristocratic grandeur
In no other Russian city you will be able to admire so many imperial palaces and mansions of the past like in St Petersburg. World- renowned Winter palace, Catherine palace etc are absolutely must-sees while exploring the city.
However, apart from Romanovs, there were many other aristocratic families living in the Russia’s capital in the XVIII and XIX centuries. All of them left artistic and cultural heritage to the future generations. One of such families were the Yusupovs.
Visiting the Yusupov palace may be interesting for both history and art lovers. The palace is full of amazing interiors showing extreme wealth and artistic taste of its owners. Visitors can see original XIX century interiors decorated in different styles: a wonderful ballroom in the late classical style, gorgeous private theatre in the 2nd rococo style (where Anna Pavlova herself danced), exquisite sitting rooms. The ground floor of the palace (which is often missed out during group tours), features a fabulous Moorish room, a Billiard room of Prince Felix, a wooden library and a lot more.
Moreover, the palace was the venue for the most mysterious story of the XX century- the murder of Rasputin, a Russian holy man and self-proclaimed monk, a friend of the last Russian Tzar and his wife, a holy healer who was believed to treat Alexis from the genetic blood disease- hemophilia.
Yes, St Petersburg is very European, but you are still in Russia, right?! So why don’t you try to live like a Russian? Cook like Russian, get around the city like local, visit shops, markets, paint your Matreshka doll, make dumplings –pelmeni, pies or pancakes, do the vodka tasting!
In winter- try Russian Troyka ride in a picturesque place on a nice colorful sleigh, have hot tea, visit Russian banya. Feel Russian and have fun!
Admire the bridges drawn during white nights
Everyone coming to St Pete during its warmest time of the year wants to enjoy fabulous white nights. The best idea would be to see Neva river bridges drawn in the middle of the night!
You may come by 01.00 a.m. to the Neva and at about 01.20 you will admire the iconic view of the Palace bridge lifted up with the beautiful gilded spire of city’s first cathedral in between its wings. Move further and see the Holy Trinity bridge where just one single wing goes up. You may spend the whole night admiring St Petersburg bridges. It is easy to do in summer at night when is as bright as the day light!
Although carrying purely commercial cargo traffic the Neva looks so romantic with lit-up bridges drawn over it. Opening of bridges is an event to remember, an incredible show which is absolutely for free!
Take a Hydrofoil to Peterhof
If you ask locals about their favorite place near St Petersburg, you will hear – Peterhof.
The world’s most magnificent park with gorgeous and opulent fountains is loved by Russians like no place else. To enjoy it even more you would rather get there by hydrofoil. No traffic, no stress-do it like Peter the First wanted it-by boat.
Hydrofoil pierce is just next door to the Hermitage. Boats leave every half an hour. Take a boat at 10:00 so that you will be able to witness how they start the Grand Cascade in Lower Garden – its most eminent fountain (starts at 11:00).
Enjoy splendid architecture of the city’s center, fascinating views of the river sitting on a soft chair of the hydrofoil. As you get closer to the Gulf of Finland discover modern sights of St Petersburg, its brand-new stadium and bridge –both built not long before the World cup 2018.
Enjoy the art of Faberge
The greatest collection of Faberge jewelry with the world –renowned Easter Eggs made by the workshop of the prominent Russian jeweler is now exhibited in Russia again. Some years ago the heirs of Forbes family decided to sell Henry Forbes’ collection to the Russian foundation called «Links of the Times» Thus, a lot of art pieces lost by Russia during its Soviet period were successfully returned back home. Russia’s greatest heritage is exhibited now in a wonderfully restored Shuvalov palace.
Faberge art is must-see not only if you love Jewelry but also if you study Russian history. To some extend it is a monument to the last period of Russian Empire, monument to the reign of Alexnader III and Nicolas II and their private lifes.
See the beauty in the ordinary
Not only top attractions are interesting, educating and just beautiful. Even quite ordinary places can amaze the most sophisticated travelers! Visiting some XIX century buildings used now as apartment blocks offer you to notice the beauty in the ordinary things.
Access to them can be difficult as obviously people living there are not happy about everyday visitors. However, we know best way to do it and the best time to see them. Be ready to see some stained glass windows, some decorative elements like statues of Atlas, former fireplaces or just nice staircases. If you are searching for some off-the-beaten path places do not miss them. Apart from this find some cute yards -some even look like wells – so incredibly small they are.
Thank you for reading this article to the end. We hope that you found some useful tips for your future trip to our city. Should you decide to ask for a private tour we will be happy to help you. See the tours or just contact us.
Discover St Petersburg team.