The Best Things to Do in Saint Petersburg, Russia

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The Best Things to Do in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Saint Petersburg is a beautiful coastal city in north-west Russia. The second-largest city in Russia after Moscow, it's considered by many as one of the most stunning cities in the world. Created in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great, serving
as the capital of Imperial Russia for close to two centuries, Saint Petersburg is best known for its history and culture, art, vibrant nightlife and grand architecture. Here are some of the best things to do in St Petersburg.

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The Best Things to Do in Saint Petersburg, Russia

The Hermitage Museum

Saint-Petersburg. Winter Palace

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The Hermitage Museum is Saint Petersburg’s main attraction largely due to its large collection of Western European art. The museum was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great to host her personal art collection and was later opened to the public in the 1850s. It is the second-largest art museum in the world with over three million items in its custody. Its painting collection is particularly captivating and includes masterpieces by renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso, and others.

The museum’s vast collection is housed in six historic buildings including the Winter Palace with some items in storage. It is said that to view all the items would take almost a decade, so get a guide to take you through the highlights or plan to see a particular item that may be of interest to you.

Peterhof Palace

Grand Cascade in Peterhof Palace. Saint Petersburg, Russia

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Peterhof Palace is a must-visit while in Saint Petersburg. Located just outside the city in Petrodvets, it was built in the 18th Century and features several grand buildings as well as picturesque gardens. Initially intended to serve as a country home, it was redesigned as a palace following Peter the Great’s visit to Versailles in 1717 and his desire to replicate such a court in Russia. It is therefore sometimes referred to as the Russian Versailles due to the similarities in their designs, especially in the gardens and cascades.

It also features several fountains with gold statues and fixtures everywhere you look. The palaces and the gardens are stunning and elegant giving visitors an insight into the lives of the Tsars as well as their tastes.

Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg at Sunset

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The Peter and Paul Fortress is one of the oldest buildings in the city having been built in the early 18th Century by Peter the Great. It was built primarily as a military fortification meant to shield the new city from a dreaded Swedish counter-attack as the two nations were embroiled in conflict. However, the fort wasn’t attacked and went on to serve as a garrison and as a prison up to the 1920s when it was converted into a museum.

The fortress is now the main building of the Saint Petersburg Museum of History which showcases the history of the city and that of the region at large. Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral where many members of the royal family are buried is also located within the fort. If you visit the fort during winter you might come across people bathing in the freezing water which they believe has therapeutic effects.

Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg

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The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood is probably one of the most identifiable buildings in the city and it resembles the iconic Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Alexander II was fatally wounded in an attack and his heir Alexander III commissioned a cathedral on the same site in his father’s memory. The church was built from 1883 till 1907 following the designs of renowned architects Archimandrite Ignaty and Alfred Parland and featured elaborate mosaics that likened Alexander II’s death to the crucifixion.

The cathedral stands out as the only major building in the city built completely in traditional Russian architecture and features five gilded domes and elaborate facades. It was neglected during the Soviet era but an extensive restoration project was carried out from 1970 to 1997 when it was reopened to the public.

Mariinsky Ballet

The Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater in Saint Petersburg, Russia

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Saint Petersburg is frequently referred to as the cultural capital of Russia, and rightly so. One of the main cultural spectacles in the city is the Mariinsky Theatre, one of the most famous ballet and opera houses in the world. Once known as The Imperial Ballet of Russia, it has been the home of ballet and opera in the city producing many renowned artists in both disciplines such as Nijinsky, Pavlova, Nureyev, Profokiev, Tchaikovsky, and many more.

Its magnificent interior and awesome performances are the object of praise from many visitors and ought not to be missed while in town. Since its opening in 1860, the theatre has wowed audiences with classic operas and ballets becoming one of the best evening entertainment spots in the city.

Russian Museum

The gates of Mikhailovsky Palace, Russian Museum

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The State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg is undeniably the finest collection of Russian art and a must-see while in town. It was established in 1895 by Nicholas II in honor of his father Tsar Alexander III who was an avid collector of Russian art. He bought the Mikhailovskiy Palace, a stunning neoclassical residence built in the 1820s to house the collection and the museum was opened in 1898.

The museum was known as the Alexandrovskiy Museum at the time and it largely benefited from the 1917 Russian Revolution as confiscation of private artworks enriched its permanent collection. It now includes over 400,000 art pieces some dating as far back as the 11th Century.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral

St. Petersburg, Russia

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Saint Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the most identifiable landmarks in Saint Petersburg and its gold dome is visible from many points in the city. The church was built from 1818 to 1858 and is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. The exterior of the church is exquisite and its large doors are aptly decorated with scenes from the Bible. The interior is just as impressive and is decorated with rare stones and an iconic ceiling painting called The Virgin in Majesty by Karl Bryullov.

Visitors can climb up the 262 stairs to the cathedral’s gilded platform where one is met with one of the best panoramic views of the city. The Saint Catherine’s Chapel, a Baroque and Classical masterpiece at the cathedral is also worth checking out.

Vasilevskiy Island

Kunstkammer Museum on the Vasilevskiy Island

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Vasilevskiy Island is the largest island in Saint Petersburg and it is located just across the river from the iconic Winter Palace. The island is connected to the mainland by two of the most famous bridges in the city-Blagoveshchensk Bridge and Palace Bridge. The island was projected to become the city center during Peter the Great’s reign but upon his death, it was moved to the southern banks of the Neva River. The island is now the center of academic life with several colleges and universities.

Among its highlights are the 19th Century rostral columns and a pair of 15th Century sphinxes said to originate from Egypt. The island is also connected with the Saint Petersburg Metro and it is one of the best spots to wander along the river while enjoying the sights.

Catherine Palace (Tsarkoe Selo)

Catherine palace in Tsarskoe Selo (Pushkin), Saint Petersburg, Russia

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Catherine Palace is a magnificent Baroque palace built between 1744 and 1796 under Empress Elizabeth and Catherine the Great. The palace has been well restored and is now one of the highlights of a visit to Saint Petersburg. It offers a glimpse into the day to day lives of the Tsars and its superb interiors are extremely stunning. The recently restored Amber Room, in particular, is a wonderful sight to behold as is the Great Hall.

The palace also has several items and replicas that belonged to the empresses including a flowing evening gown. Looking out of the windows into the beautiful gardens gives one a feeling of what it was like to live in the vast palace and trust me, it’s a nice feeling.

River and Canals Cruises

Fontanka river in summer, St. Petersburg, Russia

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Several canals and rivers crisscross the city of Saint Petersburg which is made up of over 40 islands giving it the nickname “Venice of the North”. It goes without saying then that one of the best ways to explore the city is by boat. There are small boats which you can rent by the hour and choose your own route while catering for your own food and drink. There are also larger boats operated by boat companies that offer guided tours with food and drinks also catered for.

The highlight of a boat cruise is the opening of the bascule bridges on River Neva at around midnight, a spectacle that attracts scores of spectators. Whichever boat or route you take, you will be amazed by the sheer scope of the city’s architecture and beauty.


Saint Petersburg is a truly charming city and an absolute joy to explore with a host of different attractions to keep you occupied from the moment you land to your moment of departure. Its rich history and culture are evident wherever you look and on the other hand, it is a modern city with a renowned hospitality sector, a vibrant night scene, and lots of eateries. In short, it has it all and in abundance too making it one of the best places to take a break from the monotony of day to day life.