The Top 10 Things to See and Do in St. Petersburg
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St. Petersburg is one of Russia’s most famous cities. It served as the capital of Russian Empire for over 200 years, right up until the Revolution of 1917. It is a unique city — European, Russian, Soviet, and Asian influences have shaped its architectural styles. And it is fantastically beautiful — it boasts hundreds of shining spires, monumental cathedrals, grand palaces, gilded domes, and endless canals. In this post we offer you our vision of the Top Ten Things to See and Do in St. Petersburg.
While it will only take you seconds to fall in love with St. Petersburg, it will take you weeks before you really get to know it.
But what if you only have a day or two in St. Petersburg on your Baltic cruise? Which palaces, churches, cathedrals, and museums should you be sure to visit during your trip to St. Petersburg?
Note: Our tours and shore excursions of St. Petersburg are centered around this list, so be sure to check those out to make the best use of your limited time in port.
#1 Discover Masterpieces on a Tour of the Hermitage Museum
If you don’t see anything else in St. Petersburg, you must go visit The Hermitage museum. It is the second largest museum in the world, second only to the Louvre in Paris. The museum complex consists of 5 separate buildings connected by a series of galleries and halls.
The main building of The Hermitage Museum, is know as “The Winter Palace” — the original (Winter) residence of the Russian Royal family (The Romanovs). There, you will find a series of elegant rooms including ballrooms, the throne chair room, reception rooms, and various private chambers.
The other buildings of the Hermitage house collections of Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts, as well as classic Italian, French, and Spanish paintings and statues. Within these collections, you can find many world-renowned masterpieces. This includes some famous pieces by Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, among many others, making a visit to The Hermitage Museum is #1 out of the Top 10 things to do in St. Petersburg.
We have a separate article about The Hermitage Museum, be sure to read it for more information about its history!
#2 Adore Mosaics Of The Church On The Spilled Blood
It should be a crime to come to St. Petersburg and not visit this amazing church. The Church on The Spilled Blood (or Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood) has a long and unusual history.
Constructed on the spot where the Russian emperor was assassinated (spilled blood) by terrorists in 1881, this church is famous for its iconic design, and breathtaking interior. Inside the church, nearly every square inch of the walls, domes, and even columns, are covered with shining mosaics. Mosaics cover more than 7,000 square meters (more than 75,000 square feet)!
The Church on the Spilled Blood is a unique cathedral and to say that is a “must see” is a huge understatement. This is why The Church on The Spilled Blood is our number 2 Best Thing to See in St. Petersburg. All travel bloggers will tell you the same, for example, check out Kate Swanson’s advice on visiting St. Petersburg on a Baltic cruise.
#3 Stroll Through The Peterhoff Fountain Garden
The Number 3 Best thing to see in St. Petersburg is the Peterhoff Fountain Park (also called The Peterhoff Lower Garden or Russian Versailles). This park is famous for its unique natural fountains, and the tallest natural Fountain in the World (check out Guinness Book of Records). This means that the fountains are powered only by gravity – there isn’t a single pump used to power the more than 180 fountains that operate on a daily basis!
Every single fountain is a work of art, carved from marble or gilded. Most of these fountains in this park were made in the 18th to mid 19th centuries and are originals. There are also a series of “trick fountains” inspired by Peter the Great’s playful side.
Stroll through the park’s green alleys, enjoy the relaxing breeze from the vast Gulf of Finland, and take a picture in front of the Main Cascade with Peterhoff Palace in the background.
#4 Tour The Royal Staterooms Of The Pavlovsk Palace
Pavlovsk Summer Palace of The Russian Royal family is a gem hidden in the center of a park. It is located in the center of the picturesque little town of Pavlovsk, only an hour away from St. Petersburg.
Inside this palace, you can find the private rooms of Russian empress Mariya, her absolutely gorgeous bedroom, make-up room, reception rooms, throne chair room and even a private family church!
This is an exceptionally restored intimate Royal family’s palace. One other thing that puts Pavlovsk palace at an advantage relatively to any other Summer Palace is its absence of crowds.
#5 Appreciate The Views On a River Cruise
Your tour of St. Petersburg won’t be complete without a Canal and River Cruise. By boarding a small boat, you’ll be able to sail along its series of rivers and canals and see St. Petersburg the way its founder envisioned it.
Cruise along the Palace Embankment, past the Summer Garden, and by The Church on The Spilled Blood. Enjoy the monumental views of the original 18th century seaport and check out the colossal draw bridges over the Neva river. It is not without reason that St. Petersburg is known as “The Venice of the North.”
#6 Get A Feel For Soviet Metro
Apart from St. Petersburg’s museums, a series of metro stations along the “Red Line” offer a unique opportunity to get a feel for the Soviet architecture and design. Check out “Avtovo” station with the crystal columns and bronze chandeliers, find a bust of Lenin at the “Kirov Factory” station, and see what a “proper Soviet citizen” looked like at the “Narvskaya” station. Get onboard to travel by Russian metro and feel like a local.
If you are coming to St.Petersburg by a cruise ship and you haven’t seen the Moscow metro before, the St. Petersburg Metro is a close second.
#7 Get Amazed By The Monumental St. Isaac’s Cathedral
St. Isaac’s Cathedral will simply shock you with its size. Built by Italian architect, this cathedral can hold 14,000 people inside. St. Isaac’s is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world, and it’s not hard to imagine why it took 40 years to construct it. Visitors to this cathedral often compare it to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Inside the cathedral, you will find more than 40 different types of stone, gigantic bronze chandeliers, oil paintings, and icon mosaics. While touring this museum, learn about the secret of the main dome and hear the legend of its architect.
You can also climb up a spiral staircase and get a great view of St. Petersburg from St. Isaac’s Cathedral’s colonnade. We happily put this Cathedral as our top 7th best thing to see in St. Petersburg and have an evening tour featuring St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
#8 Do Some (Window) Shopping on Nevskiy Prospect Avenue
Nevskiy Prospect Avenue is our top 8th best thing to see in St. Petersburg. Nearly every city has a main shopping street and St. Petersburg is no exception. Walking along Nevskiy Prospect (or Nevsky Prospekt), you will have a great opportunity to pop into different cafes and shops and find souvenirs for those people who couldn’t come to St. Petersburg with you, all while enjoying imperial architecture.
While on Nevskiy Prospect don’t miss the historical “Dom Knigi” book store or the “Eliseyev” Food Emporium. With a personal guide one street can turn into a fascinating historical site, so don’t miss out, contact us and we will make sure that you will make the most of your time!
#9 Get Charmed By The Faberge Easter Eggs
Inside the Faberge Museum you will find the second largest collection of Faberge eggs in the world. Get a feel for the Royal family’s wealth on a tour of the Faberge museum.
Besides the Easter eggs, you will also see the Royal family members’ private possessions, a unique collection of Russian silver and enamels, as well as oil paintings and icons.
#10 Explore The Peter and Paul’s Fortress
If you have 3 or more days in port in St. Petersburg, explore Peter and Paul’s Fortress and tour the cathedral. Peter and Paul’s cathedral serves as a final resting place for nearly all of the members of the Russian Royal family.
After a tour of the cathedral, head into the prison housed in the fortress’ walls, where you will hear the story about the outstanding political prisoners of the Imperial and Soviet Russia. Finish the tour with a walk along the fortress walls to get another great view of the major sights of the city.
If you’re looking for a three day tour or shore excursion of St. Petersburg that includes all of the things discussed above, be sure to check out our Complete St. Petersburg Experience. It includes everything mentioned above, as well as a few other noteworthy gems that weren’t able to fit on the list of ten.
Our Two Day Faberge Experience includes everything mentioned above, except for #10, Peter and Paul’s Cathedral Fortress. This two day tour of St. Petersburg is also available as a shore excursion.
If you need help putting together a tour or if you have any questions, contact us and we will gladly help you out!