In St. Petersburg there is Culture, art, shopping, architecture, and the excellent Russian food
There are just so many things to do in St. Petersburg!
The Gernal Staff building on palace square in St. Petersburg, Russia – one of the many things to do in St. Petersburg
Yet, Russia isn’t very popular among western tourist. Old and new prejudices are probably the reason. But I tell you, they are wrong. The Russian people are among the friendliest I have ever met and the ancient Russian culture will sweep you away. And if you are worried about your safety, then you should know that Russia has a very, very low rate of petty crimes. So really, throw these prejudices away and do visit St. Petersburg. Here are 20 reasons:
1. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg’s most iconic sight is probably the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. But looks can be deceiving. Unlike the fabled St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, the Church of the Savior is barely 100 years old. It marks, however, the very spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.
Inside the Church of the Savior on Spilled blood in St. Petersburg, Russia
Alexander III started the construction as a memorial to his late father. As many churches in Russia, the Church of the Savior is now a museum and was never reconsecrated after the Soviets government closed it. Still, you absolutely have to go inside. The colorful mosaics are unbelievably beautiful!
2. Hermitage Museum
the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg Russia
The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is not only one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) museums in the world, it is also one of the best. It is located inside the Winter Palace of Empress Catherine the great and spans more than 1,500 rooms. Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, but also ancient Scythian Gold and artwork from the dawn of time – this museum will quite literally take your breath away.
Inside one of the many exhibition rooms of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
Plan at least one full day and don’t forget to read my extensive guide to plan your stay ahead, as you won’t be able to see everything in one day (yes, I know it sounds crazy!). In fact, the Russian Tsars managed to build such a large collection of priceless artwork that it won’t even fit into the huge Winter Palace. There are many, many outbuildings and even an archive you can visit.
3. Peterhof Palace
The Grand Cascade of Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg seen from a bridge crossing the main channel
Peterhof Palace was built by Tsar Peter to outshine Versailles. He might not have managed to build a bigger palace, but the opulent water gardens his architects created beggar comprehension. Especially the grand cascade draws millions of tourists to Peterhof each year. I wrote a comprehensive guide with tons of pictures here.
The golden statues of the grand cascade of Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia
Peterhof Palace is, strictly speaking, not located in St. Petersburg anymore, but a couple of miles away to the west. You will have to take one of the crazy hydrofoil speed boats to get there (which is an adventure in itself). Oh, and once you are there, don’t forget to visit the unbelievable Bath House Palace of the tsars!
4. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg Russia
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral is an architectonic marvel. It is not only the largest orthodox basilica in the world but also the fourth largest cathedral in the world. Strictly speaking, it is not a proper church anymore either. Like the Cathedral of the Savior on Spilled Blood, it is now a museum. Only on the highest feast days service are held here. A small portion of the huge Cathedral is devoted to regular worship activity these days, though.
Pro tip: Absolutely go all the way to the top, as this is by far the best view of St. Petersburg!
5. Peter and Paul Fortress
The Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia
Peter and Paul Fortress marks the very spot St. Petersburg was founded. It was here, Tsar Peter erected a small wooden hut in 1703 AD and oversaw the construction of the mighty fortress. The bell tower of the Peter and Paul Cathedral (122.5 meters) is still the highest building in St. Petersburg. Below lie the many sarcophagi of the Russian tsars.
The golden high altar of Peter and Paul cathedral
Peter and Paul Fortress also played the most crucial role during the Russian revolution and was later used as a prison. Make sure to tour the walls (you will have to pay a little extra fee) and enjoy the beautiful view of the river Newa and the Winter Palace on the other side. Read my full guide to Peter and Paul Fortress here.
6. Mariinsky Theater
Inside the Mariinsky theater in St. Petersburg, Russia
Russian opera and ballet production are world renowned. And of all the grand operas in Russia, the Mariinsky Theater is the finest. Absolutely make sure to book tickets for a performance during your stay. The ancient interiors are beyond marvelous as is the incredible skill of the Russian ballet dancers! Buy your tickets here.
7. Fabergé Museum
An imerpial easter egg in the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia
The Fabergé Museum opened in 2013. But despite that short history, the privately owned museum is already one of the highlights. Here you will see 9 (!!) of the fabled Imperial Easter Eggs and some 4.000 other exhibits from Farbergé and the golden age of jewelry! You will need to get tickets in advance. Here’s the official website.
8. Canal tour
A canal boat tour through St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg is a city of many water canals. In fact, there are over 800 bridges crossing a total length of 300 kilometers of artificial canals. They served as important transport ways and kept the city built on marshland dry. These days, most traffic sticks to the roads. But as a tourist, you absolutely should go on a canal tour and see St. Petersburg from a different side.
9. Catherine Palace
The Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia
Even a quick taxi ride through St. Petersburg will impress the sheer quantity of palaces in the city onto you. There are quite literally thousands! Perhaps the grandest of them all lies in Pushkin, some 25 kilometers outside. Catherine the Great built it to escape the many obligations at court.
The grand ball room of the catherine palace in St. Petersburg
The palace and the wide gardens are more than worth a visit (even in winter!). The highlight, however, will be the world famous amber room. The original was lost during World War II, but Russian artisans created a perfect replica you can now see inside the Catherine Palace. Truly outstanding! Read my full guide to the Catherine Palace here.
10. Russian river cruise
From St Petersburg you can go by river in Moscow for a wonderful cruise.