Possibly the most iconic site in St. Petersburg after the Hermitage Museum, the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood stands out with its multicolored façade and onion-shaped domes. Sometimes called the Church of the Resurrection of Christ or the Resurrection Church, it was built on the site near the Griboedov Canal where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. Completed in 1907, the church’s design was inspired by traditional Russian styles, as well as St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev. The interior, designed by some of the most popular Russian artists at the time, features more than 7500 square feet of mosaic tiles covering the walls and ceilings.
The church endured significant damage over the years, first in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and later during the Siege of Leningrad during World War II, when it was used as a morgue.
Nevsky Prospekt (Не́вский проспе́кт) is the most famous street in Russia and main street of St. Petersberg, spanning from the Admiralty (Адмиралтейства) to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery (Александро-Невской лавры).
As a major central street in the city, Nevsky Prospekt is oft the stomping grounds for many holiday, national, and other celebrations, such as Victory Day, and Day of the City, hosting events from festivals to parades. The street is also home to many sculptures that captures both Russian heroes and historical figures including Nevsky himself, Catherine the Great, city hero of Leningrad Obelisk, Kutuzov, and one of Mikhail Barclay do Tolly, located in the Kazan area.
No visit to St Petersburg is really complete without spending a few hours at the site where it all began – the Peter & Paul Fortress. This is the original citadel of the city, built on Hare Island near the north bank of the Neva River between 1706 and 1740. And this is where you can get a feel for St Petersburg’s more than 300 year old history, from royal tombs to prison blocks to historical museum exhibitions.
The Peter & Paul Fortress was originally built to protect Russia’s new capital from a possible Swedish attack, but it never really served that purpose. Instead, it soon became a prison for high-ranking and political prisoners, beginning with Alexey, the son of Peter the Great. In 1872, a new prison within the walls of the Trubetskoy Bastion was built and over the next forty years, it held thousands of prisoners who were considered to be enemies of the state.
Long upheld as the lifeline of the city, the Neva River runs straight through the heart of St Petersburg, with its many tributaries and canal ways crisscrossing the city center. For visitors to St. Petersburg, following the path of the Neva River makes a popular route for walking tours and sightseeing cruises, with many of the city’s top attractions lining its banks. The grand façades of the Anichkov Palace, the Winter Palace and the Mariinsky Theatre, the Classicist buildings of New Holland Island, the historic Peter and Paul Fortress and the lush Summer Gardens all face onto the waterfront, punctuated by iconic drawbridges like the Peter the Great Bridge and the Palace Bridge.
The most romantic time to stroll along the Neva River is in late June or early July during the city’s famous ‘White Nights’, a phenomenon caused by the city’s high latitude where the sun never sets.
With its gigantic golden dome coated with over 220 pounds of gold and an impressive red granite portico, St Isaac’s Cathedral looks more like a palace than a cathedral, and it’s no surprise that the eye-catching masterpiece is among St. Petersburg’s most visited attractions. Commissioned by Tsar Alexander I in 1818 to mark the defeat of Napoleon, the magnificent cathedral took over 40 years to build and still ranks among the largest domed cathedrals in the world, with a capacity for up to 14,000 worshippers.
Set on the banks of the Neva River, the cathedral’s extravagant design was the work of French architect Auguste de Montferrand, blending Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical elements, and sparing no expenses. The cathedral interiors are equally lavish, featuring painstakingly sculpted reliefs, grand bronze doors and a colonnaded iconostasis adorned with semiprecious gems.
Peter Carl Fabergé was born in St Petersburg in 1846 and went into the family jewelry business. Appointed to serve the Russian court in 1885, he became the darling of the ill-fated Russian Imperial family for his intricate golden eggs, jewelry and ornate carved clocks. Following the assassination of the Romanovs in 1918, the Bolsheviks stole the Imperial jewelry collection and Fabergé fled to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he died two years later.
In over 35 years of Tsarist patronage, Faberge, his diamond cutters and goldsmiths created 54 gold eggs for them to mark significant occasions from coronations to royal weddings; of these, only 47 are accounted for. Post Communism, Russia has been quietly buying back its cultural heritage, and as the most famous name in Tsarist decorative arts, the fabulously bling Fabergé eggs were deservedly awarded their own museum in 2013.
Art enthusiasts visiting St. Petersburg will already have the State Russian Museum at the top of their itinerary and the prestigious gallery doesn’t disappoint, with an incredible 400,000 exhibits dating back as early as the 10th century. This is the world’s largest and finest museum of Russian Art, as well as Russia’s first state-owned art museum, and walking its halls is like taking a journey through the country’s art history.
The museum was opened in 1898 inside the grand Mikhailovsky Palace and its collection has steadily grown, amassing a large number of private art collections and religious art confiscated during the Russian Revolution. Today, the extensive exhibitions are housed in a complex of palatial buildings including the Benois Wing, the Stroganov Palace, St Michael's Castle, the Marble Palace and the Mikhailovsky Gardens.
The Admiralty Building is one of St. Petersburg's oldest structures. It was built by Peter the Great and originally served as a dockyard. It once housed the Admiralty Board, which was in charge of ship building and eventually became part of the ministry of the navy. Some sections were built in the 1700s while other additions were constructed in the 1800s.
Unfortunately visitors today won't be able to see the building in its original state. Many of the statues were destroyed in 1860 when the Orthodox church declared them to be pagan. The building was also damaged during the blockade of Leningrad and was attacked by the Germans in World War II. The Admiralty Building does still have lots of sculptures and reliefs to admire. There is also a 240 foot golden spire with its weather vane, a little ship, that sits on top of it and is one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. The original is in the Naval Museum, so the one you see here today is a replica.
Fittingly for a drink that dates right back to the 12th century, the perfect place to sample Russian vodka is located in St Petersburg’s former military stables and is part of the Museum Quarter project to protect the historic buildings of the city center. Exhibitions at the Russian Vodka Museum romp through the story of the spirit’s production and its cultural importance, detailing its rise in popularity and refinement from a drink for medieval peasants to the favorite tipple of the Russian aristocracy in the 19th century. Displays include shot glasses, an enormous collection of unusual vodka bottles, posters from previous advertising campaigns and ancient equipment used in distillation. All visits to the museum terminate with a tasting of several different flavored vodkas accompanied by Russian snacks known as zakuski – ‘little bites’ of caviar, salads, pickles, smoked meats or fish normally served with flatbread as hors d’oeuvres before dinner.
Originally named the Decembrists’ Square, after the December 1825 uprising, Senate Square (Ploschad Dekabristov) is one of St. Petersburg’s most famous public squares, encircled by some of the city’s top attractions. Linked to the central hub of Palace Square by the 407 meter-long Admiralty building – the one-time Russian Naval Headquarters – Senate Square is also home to the grand Senate Building and the early 19th-century Cavalry Manege, now home to the Central Exhibition Hall, and backs onto the grounds of the gold-domed St Isaac’s Cathedral.
The unforgettable centerpiece of Senate Square is its Bronze Horseman statue, one of the most iconic symbols of St. Petersburg. Commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1778, the statue is the work of French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet and depicts a horseback Peter the Great atop the “Thunder Stone,” an enormous cliff-like pedestal fashioned from a single piece of red granite and weighing in at around 1,500 tons.
St. Petersburg’s preeminent opera and ballet venue, and home to the world-renowned Kirov Ballet, Mariinsky Theatre has long been at the center of the city’s rich arts scene. Built in 1859 by architect Albert Cavos and named after Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the theatre saw a host of prestigious performers grace its stage during its pre-Revolution heyday, including dancers like Vatslav Nizhinsky, Matilda Kshesinskaya and Anna Pavlova, and opera singer Fiodor Shaliapin.
The Mariinsky Theatre’s present-day building was restored in 1944, after being damaged during in the Siege of Leningrad, and features a 1,625-seat auditorium. Today, the historic theatre is accompanied by the Mariinsky Theatre concert hall, or Mariinsky II, an incongruously modern building that opened next door to the original theater in 2007.
With its orange-brick façade and gilded church spire, hemmed in by the waters of the Fontanka and Moika Rivers, Mikhailovsky Castle offers an enchanting first impression, but it’s the palace’s somber history that will stick in the minds of visitors. Built between 1797 and 1800 during the short reign of Emperor Paul I, the castle was the result of the enigmatic leader’s near-obsessive fear of being assassinated. Claiming that he was visited in a dream by the Archangel Michael and advised to build a castle on the site of his birthplace, the Tsar did just that – erecting a supposedly impenetrable fortress underlain with secret tunnels and protected by fortified ramparts, drawbridges and a moat. Somewhat ironically, fate stepped in, and just a month after moving into his safeguard the Tsar was murdered in his sleep.
One of the few churches that survived the city’s Communist years, the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral remains an impressive sight with its fairytale-esque white and ice-blue façade capped with five glittering gold cupolas. Commissioned by Empress Elizabeth in 1753, the cathedral’s fanciful Baroque design was the brainchild of architect Savva Chevinskiy and was named in honor of Saint Nicolas, the protector of the seamen.
Located at the heart of the 18th-century sailors’ quarter, the church was affectionately nicknamed the "Sailor’s Church" and served as an important naval center, from where pre-voyage prayers and blessings were made. Today, the two-story church remains a place of worship, as well as a popular tourist attraction, with visitors flocking to admire its magnificent paintings and gilded iconostasis, pay their respects at the memorials of lost seamen and take in the views from the belfry.
Guarding the western end of Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s busiest shopping boulevard, Anichkov Palace is one of the street’s oldest buildings, occupying a scenic spot on the Fontanka River waterfront, fronted by the landmark Anichkov Bridge. Commissioned by Empress Elizabeth in 1741, the royal residence was designed by architect Mikhail Zemtsov, and added to over the years by architects like Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli and Karl Rossi.
Despite changing hands many times throughout the years, Anichkov Palace remained a royal residence until 1917, when it was nationalized in the aftermath of the October Revolution and used temporarily to house the St. Petersburg City Museum. Currently, the palace is used as a center for children’s after-school activities and is closed to the public, although visitors can still explore the small onsite history museum or arrange a private tour.
Catherine the Great was loved by the people of Russia, and her reign is often referred to as the golden age of Russia. Alexander II wanted to honor the empress and had the Monument to Catherine the Great built. The sculpting began in 1862 and wasn't completed until 1873. The statue shows Catherine the Great wearing an ermine coat. She carries a laurel wreath in her left hand and a specter in her right hand. Around her neck she wears the order of St. Andrew.
There are nine other statues towards the base of the monument, and they represent the sphere of influence of the Empress, including Prince Griogory Potemkin and Field Marshall Alexander Suvorov. The only other female statue aside from Catherine is Princess Catherine Dashkov who was the founder of the Russian Academy of Science. The statue of Catherine the Great was replaced by a statue of Lenin after the 1917 Revolution, but it was put back again after the end of the Soviet regime.
Officially known as the F.M. Dostoevsky Literary Memorial Museum, this museum celebrates the life of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was opened in 1971 in the apartment where he lived first in 1846 and again from 1878 until his death in 1881. Notably, it is also where he penned his last novel, the Brothers Karamazov. The interior has been reconstructed based on recollections of Dostoevsky’s wife and friends and includes memorabilia donated by his grandson. A literary exhibit focuses on Dostoevsky’s life and work, while exhibit halls occasionally display contemporary art. The museum library holds about 24,000 volumes and museum collection also includes a large collection of graphic and applied art and a collection of photographs.
Every November, the museum hosts a conference on Dostoevsky and World Culture. It also hosts bus and walking tours of St Petersburg focused on Dostoevsky’s works and the city.
Alexander Pushkin was Russia’s most celebrated poet and the Pushkin Museum and Memorial Apartment is a lasting memorial to his life and work. Located in one of the oldest stone mansions in St Petersburg, the apartment museum is just two blocks from Nevsky Prospekt on the banks of the Moika River. A fine example of a nobleman’s apartment in the 1830s, it became a museum in 1925.
The carefully preserved apartment is where Pushkin lived in 1836 and 1837 and where he died after being wounded in a duel. The centerpiece of the museum is Pushkin’s study, where objects belonging to his family, friends and contemporaries are on display. Visitors can also see Pushkin’s writing desk, a death mask, a lock of his hair and other personal items. In the basement of the building are exhibits on the history of the house, Pushkin’s life in St Petersburg in 1836, and the duel that killed him.
Built in 1777 under commission of Catherine the Great and featuring the works of architects like Charles Cameron, Jacomo Quarengi and Carlo Rossi, the stately Pavlovsk Palace was a gift from the Empress to her son, the future Emperor Paul I, to mark the birth of her first grandson. A magnificent neoclassical complex set in an idyllic 1,500-acre estate, the palace is surrounded by landscaped parks and woodlands, and served as the summer residence for the Emperor and his wife, Maria Feodorovna, until his untimely death in 1801.
Today, the painstakingly restored palace is open to the public and provides an intimate glimpse into the life of one of Russia’s most enigmatic rulers. Visitors can peek into the chambers of Maria Feodorovna, where her personal items are still on display; explore the state rooms, decorated with an impressive collection of furnishings, fine china and paintings; and admire highlights like the lavish Throne Room.
Located in the seaside town of Strelna, the Constantine Palace today forms part of the National Congress Palace complex of St. Petersburg. Strelna was originally chosen by Peter the Great to be the site of his summer residence in 1714, but the palace stood unfinished until the early 19th century. It served as a residence for the Romanov grand dukes until falling into decay after the Russian Revolution. Later, all interior decorations were stripped during the German occupation of St. Petersburg.
In 2001, Vladimir Putin ordered the palace to be renovated and converted into a presidential residence. It hosted more than 50 heads of state during St. Petersburg’s tercentenary celebration in 2003 and recently held the qualifying draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Visitors to the palace today can see exhibitions of Russian painting, decorative and applied arts and the history of Russian glass production from the 1700s.