Saint Petersburg is famous for its beautiful palaces, picturesque canals, singing bascule bridges. Golden fountains, famous paintings – and impressive cathedrals. How to decide which places to see in the limited amount of time?
This post will help you decide which churches and cathedrals are worth seeing. You will get to know their short history and interesting facts, you will see them outside and inside. You will learn from where to see and photograph them. And you will decide which of them will make it to your sightseeing list 🙂
Obviously, there’s more to see in Saint Petersburg than cathedrals! Check this post with top things to do in Saint Petersburg, Russia with a free printable guide to download. It will make your planning much easier! 🙂
Churches and cathedrals of Saint Petersburg, Russia
1. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
The biggest cathedral in Saint Petersburg and the fourth largest dome church in the world after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London and (according to some sources) Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The cathedral’s dome is covered with a thin layer of pure gold and you will see its shining glamor from many places in the city. The dome shines so much that during II World War they covered it with grey paint not to attract enemies’ planes.
Is it worth seeing St. Isaac’s Cathedral?
It’s not worth it. It’s A MUST, both outside and inside. Rich decorations of the interior are truly impressive. Don’t miss the viewing point under the dome, where you can see one of the best panoramas of the city.
Pictures of the interior – St. Isaac’s Cathedral
From where to see and photograph St. Isaac’s Cathedral?
Except for St. Isaac’s square, Alexander Garden and Bronze Horseman my favorite places to see Saint Isaac’s Cathedral are:
Moyka river embankment close to Mariinsky Theatre and New Holland
Trinity bridge (Troitskiy Most)
2. Church of Savior on Spilled Blood
The church was built in the place where tsar Alexander II died in a bombing attack. He was killed by a Polish guy working for Narodnaya Volya revolutionary organization. To commemorate him, his son built a church so different from the baroque and neoclassic architecture dominating the city. The church is closer to classic, medieval Russian style. The best expression I heard to describe it is “a dream of a crazy confectioner” 😉
The interior of the church is covered with mosaics and according to some sources it’s the biggest surface covered with them completely in the whole world.
Pro tip: If you plan to see Moscow too, do it before Saint Petersburg. One of the top places to see in Moscow is St. Basil’s Cathedral on the Red Square. It is breathtaking – unless you saw the uncomparably more beautiful Church of Savior on Blood before… 😉
Is it worth seeing Church of Savior on Blood?
It’s the most beautiful building I have ever seen. I could spend hours on a bridge over Griboyedov canal looking at it. And inside, despite these terrible crowds of people pushing me, I couldn’t stop looking at the walls and ceiling in awe. Another building you HAVE TO see.
Pictures of the interior – Church of Savior on Blood
From where to see and photograph Church of Savior on Blood?
It’s best to see and photograph the church from Griboyedov canal’s bridges and embankment, there’s no doubt about it. However, go to Field of Mars and check how beautifully the cute towers look from there.
3. Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral
The first cathedral in Saint Petersburg, tsar Peter the Great chose the place for it himself. He wanted that its bell tower is higher than Bell Tower of Ivan the Great in Moscow. That’s why until today, a golden tower raises above the city and it is forbidden to build higher buildings in the city center.
In the cathedral you will find tombs of almost all the tsars from Peter the Great, including Catherine the Great.
Is it worth seeing Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral?
While in Saint Petersburg you will see the bell tower from many points in the city. It looks wonderful from far away and it’s one of the symbols of the city. It’s also worth seeing it from close while visiting Peter and Paul fortress.
The insides of the cathedral disappointed me though. It’s much less impressive than the rest on the list and it is the most expensive.
If you’re not passionate about history and you don’t need to see the tombs of Russian tsars I wouldn’t go inside this cathedral.
Pictures of the interior – Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral
From where to see and photograph Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral?
It’s tough to take a picture of the cathedral from inside the fortress – it’s too tall to fit the frame 🙂 In my opinion it looks best from more distant spots and my favorite are:
The Spit of Vasilievsky Island
Trinity Brigde and Palace Embankment
4. Smolny Cathedral (Smolny Convent of the Resurrection)
At the time of Peter the Great they produced pitch where Smolny Convent is today. It was needed for building the tsar’s fleet. That’s where the convent’s name comes from, smola – means pitch in Russian. The tsar’s daughter wanted to have it built but the plan didn’t work out well and the convent worked only for four years. In the buildings there was a warehouse, a museum and a concert hall before it was converted back to its functions as a church in 2016!
Is it worth seeing Smolny Convent?
During my first stay in Saint Petersburg we walked a lot around more or less known parts of the city. Smolny is out of the main touristic path and its insides were under complete renovation back then. But it stole my heart anyway with its beauty and emptiness. Now its outsides are refreshed, the colors are more intense and it is even more beautiful. There’s still not too many tourists and even people living in Petersburg were giving me this weird look when I was mentioning this place… 🙂
It’s worth going inside, it is free. For now there are no decorations, only white walls and icons – which is nice to see after all the posh cathedrals above. It’s also worth climbing up the tower to the viewing point from where you can see all other characteristic points of the city. It costs 150 RUB and this way you’re helping them continue the renovations.
Pictures of the interior – Smolny Cathedral
From where to see and photograph Smolny Cathedral?
It’s definitely best to see if from right in front of it but how to get there? The closest metro station is Chernyshevskaya. From there you need to walk 30 minutes to the convent. You can also take a marshrutka K-76 from Chernyshevskaya to Rastrelli square or take a bus 136 from a bus stop at Kirochnaya and Potyomkinskaya streets to Smolny bus stop next to the cathedral.
Don’t get scared – just ask Google maps telling it what time you’d like to leave from metro station and it will find you the schedules 🙂
5. Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan (Kazan Cathedral)
It’s probably the first building you will see going out of metro on Nevski Prospekt station. It’s an immense cathedral with a wide colonnade, its project was based on St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican.
An icon Our Lady of Kazan is special for the Russian orthodox church. After the huge fire in Kazan in XVIth century, the Virgin Mary appeared to a little girl and showed her where the icon was under a destroyed house. The icon was taken to Moscow, and then to Saint Petersburg from where it was stolen. Someone found and bought it on a black market. The honorable buyer gave it to the Pope John Paul II, who gave it back to the orthodox church.
Is it worth seeing Kazan Cathedral?
It’s not 100% sure if the icon in Kazan Cathedral is an original or a copy. Anyway, it is an important religious symbol for the orthodox church. Just look at the people coming close to the icon. You see they feel honored to be there, in front of Our Lady of Kazan. And except for beautiful interior – it is worth visiting Kazan Cathedral to see them.
Entrance is free.
Pictures of the interior- Kazan Cathedral
6. Saint Petersburg Mosque
The first and for many years – the only mosque in Saint Petersburg, one of the biggest in Europe. An impressive dome and portals are decorated with outstanding turquoise ceramic. During Soviet times the mosque served as a medical equipment storehouse but in the fifties it was given back to the Muslims. It is an active mosque since then.
Is it worth seeing Saint Petersburg Mosque?
This impressive building is located near Gor’kovskaya metro station, close to Peter and Paul Fortress. After visiting the fortress it’s worth coming close to the mosque to take a look at the impressive portal, taking you to another culture for a minute. In 2014 I managed to go inside and it’s equally impressive. This time the gates were closed but if there’s a possibility – do it. Remember about the rules in mosques – take your shoes off!
Have you been to any other church or cathedral in Saint Petersburg (like Trinity Cathedral, Chesme Church, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral or any other) and you’d like to tell me about it? Please do so and help me develop this post! 🙂
To follow the mood, you can also check the 10 most famous and recognizable churches in the world described by Temple Seeker.
And remember – there’s more to Saint Petersburg that cathedrals. Check the post here and grab your free printable guide to the city!
Check also 8 Russia travel tips you need to know and how to organize a trip to Saint Petersburg – here you will find all practical tips you need. For how long you should go, how much does it cost, where to look for accomodation and more 🙂
And if you liked this post please use the buttons below and share it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+! Thanks! 🙂