St Petersburg sets itself apart from the capital with a distinctly European air thanks to neoclassical and baroque architecture and an intricate network of canals. St Petersburg retains glimpses of centuries of tradition and history yet also feels modern and cosmopolitan with fine dining, cutting edge art galleries and an exciting underground music scene. The city that sits on the Neva River embraces great arts including performances of Tchaikovsky’s operas, crazy nightlife with some a vibrant underground club scene and rich cultural history of course amply displayed in the fine architecture of the Hermitage, the Summer Palace and Nevsky Prospekt. Here are just 7 things to see and do in St Petersburg;
State Hermitage Museum
St Petersburg is known for its world class museums, the most famous of which is the State Hermitage Museum, a popular tourist spot where visitors can view some of the best art and culture around. The museum is made up of 6 buildings holding over 3 million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The museum was the creation of Catherine the Great in 1764 and although it costs around 4 times as much to visit as a local, visitors have been flocking here since 1852. The main museum complex is housed within 6 buildings built in the 18th and 19th centuries, including the Winter Palace, which is a former imperial residence of the tsars. Monuments, art, culture and artefacts are on display at The Winter Palace, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage and the Small Hermitage. Also on display are pieces from the ancient world, art and artefacts from around Western Europe, archaeological pieces from across Russia and Orient. Prioritise your visit to the Hermitage Museum complex on the Neva embankment as there is just so much to see, from Egyptian antiquities, Classical antiquities and Western European Art from the 13th to 20th century and set across 120 rooms, this place is not for the faint-hearted!
Looking for some authentic theatre and ballet? The Mariinsky Theater opened in 1860 and was the place to been seen in the late 19th century with greats such as Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky revealing their new musical masterpieces. Today the theatre is home to the world-renowned Mariinsky Ballet, Mariinsky Opera and the spellbinding Mariinsky Orchestra.
Letniy Sad is known as the Summer Garden and was designed by Frenchman Le Blond in 1704. The beautiful garden is set on an island within the canal complexes in St Petersburg, with fountains, unique trees and over 200 statues was once ruined due to a powerful flood. Now, the garden still has 80 beautiful statues and the best of summer blooms and sits opposite the Summer Palace of Peter the Great. This garden is a relaxing and romantic spot to walk around.
The Dvortsovyi Most is the Palace Bridge which is 250 meters long and goes across the Neva River. At night, lights shine from the huge bridge making it fun to drive or walk over for a fascinating glance at St. Petersburg. The drawbridge open each night for ship traffic to pass through and is around 30 meters wide and was completed in 1916 by the engineer A.I. Pshnitskii.
At the center of St Petersburg, Nevsky Prospekt aka Nevsky Avenue is the city’s main street and the most famous shopping and nightlife district. Planned by Peter the Great, here you’ll find a few large department stores, little Russian boutiques with unique items and the city’s most expensive properties. Then at night, you can visit one of the many bars, clubs and restaurants for a lively night of Russian hospitality.
Try a St Petersburg City Tour to get to grips with the city’s layout, or visit during the White Nights, the so called summer period when the sun never sets and consider extending your stay to discover Siberia; aboard the Trans-Siberian railway.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
When touring St. Petersburg, you may notice more than a few stunning castles and buildings. One of these is the St. Isaac’s Cathedral – Isaakievskiy Sobor – which opened in 1858 and is today an extremely popular orthodox cathedral located at the very heart of St. Petersburg. This is the largest and tallest cathedral in Russia, standing in at 333 feet (102 m) and dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia. You can step inside this church and learn about the orthodox religion or simply view the beautiful architecture of the church.
Love nightlife and bar hopping? Then Datscha is the best place for you! Filled with bars and clubs, this area is famous for loud music and low key drinking. Filled with shabby-chic decor and cheap drinks, you can enjoy a fun but also casual night out.
By Julie Bowman