I spent almost 2 months in Saint Petersburg in total. This city has a special place in my heart. It’s the place where I had the time of my life. It’s the place where I did my first volunteering which changed the way I travel. So am I able to accurately tell what are the top things to see in St. Petersburg, Russia?
Seven weeks is a lot of time. Even though there’s still so many places I don’t know in Saint Petersburg, I can show you a perfect plan to visiting the most important and the most interesting places in the city. Following this plan will let you use your limited time the most efficiently.
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Top things to see in St Petersburg, Russia
Start your day arriving to Nevski Prospekt metro station. It’s in the very heart of the city and you can reach the most beautiful and top places to see in St. Petersburg on foot from there. When you go out of the station the first thing you will see is Kazan Cathedral. If you turn your back to it you will see, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world – Church of Savior on Blood
Church of Savior on Blood
The church was built by tsar Alexander III in the place where his father was killed in a bombing attack by a revolutionary organization. He wanted the building to stand out in the baroque and neoclassical architecture and therefore the church is inspired by medieval Russian style.
There is so many places to visit in Saint Petersburg but I could spend hours looking at this church only. I think it’s one of my favorite buildings in the world. If I had to choose just one top thing to see in St. Petersburg, Russia – that’s the one!
Just a short walk from the Church of Savior on Blood you will find the Palace Square. Walk along Nevsky Prospect and turn into Bolshaya Morskaya street. It will take you through impressive arches in the building of the General Staff. Right in front you will see the Winter Palace with the famous Hermitage Museum.
It’s an important place in the history of Petersburg and Russia – let’s only mention that the first person to live in the palace was Catherine the Great and it was the first building taken by the Bolsheviks at the beginning of October revolution. Don’t go to the Hermitage on your first day, you need a lot of time and energy for it.
In the center of the square you will find a monumental Alexander Column raised after Russia won over Napoleon’s France. The column is made of one huge piece of granite. On top of it an angel smashes a snake with a cross and is a symbol of triumph over evil.
Spit of Vasilyevsky Island
The eastern end of Vasilyevsky Island with its two rostral columns is another top thing to see in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It’s popular among tourists for a reason – it’s a perfect viewpoint at Peter and Paul Fortress, Neva River, Winter Palace and the dome of St. Isaac’s cathedral.
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St. Isaac’s Cathedral & the Bronze Horseman
From the Spit walk along Admiralty Embankment towards the Bronze Horseman – a monument offered to Peter I by Catherine II. The monument stands on a so called Thunder Stone, the biggest stone ever moved by humans. The legend says that till the Bronze Horseman stands in the city, no enemy will conquer it. That’s why during the II World War the monument was protected with sandbags and a wooden building. That’s how it wasn’t destroyed by bombs – and Saint Petersburg wasn’t conquered.
From the Bronze Horseman it’s just a quick walk through Alexander Garden to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, a monumental building with a dome covered with a thin layer of pure gold. It’s the biggest cathedral in Saint Petersburg and the fourth biggest dome building in the world.
Make sure to visit it inside and climb up to the viewing platform at the colonnade, one of the best ones you can see in St. Petersburg.
Peter and Paul Fortress
If you have enough strength you can walk to Peter and Paul Fortress from St. Isaac’s Cathedral through Nevski Prospekt, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, Field of Mars and Trinity Bridge. It adds 3,5 km to your walk but it’s an amazing part, especially because of the view you have from Trinity Bridge. You can also take the metro and arrive to Gor’kovskaya metro station on blue line.
While crossing the bridge on the way to the Fortress, don’t forget to throw a coin on the hare, the symbol of Hare Island. They say that if you manage to hit the rabbit and make the coin stay on its base you will have good luck. There probably is a small fortune lying down in the water already…. 🙂
In the fortress there is a lot of choice of museums and points of interest. You can see Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral with the tombs of Russian tsars (read more about it here), you can climb up the fortress walls, visit the museum of the history of Saint Petersburg and not only – check the list of all available exhibitions here.
Or you can relax on the beach right outside the fortress 🙂 Just please, don’t go into Neva River like some do, it’s extremely polluted…
Mosque in Saint Petersburg, Russia
Close to the fortress there is an impressive mosque of Saint Petersburg with its outstanding turquoise dome and portals. If the gates are open go inside too. I was inside back in 2014 and it is so impressive. This time the gates were closed unfortunately but still I enjoyed watching it from the outside.
Aurora is a Russian cruiser. One of many war ships turned into a museum, you could say. But Aurora has an important place in Russian and Saint Petersburg’s history. It is believed that its blank shot gave a signal to start the Bolsheviks’ assault on Winter Palace – and began the October Revolution.
If you are interested in the museum, go on deck – check the opening hours and prices here. You can also just look at Aurora from the shore, as a monument, an important representative of the country’s history.
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No matter if you’re interested in art or not, you need to go to the Hermitage. It’s not only the largest museum of art and culture in the world, it’s also an immense and beautiful palace, winter residence of the tsars. That’s why it’s one of the top things you need to see in St. Petersburg even if you know nothing about art.
You can spend the whole day in the Hermitage easily. I’ve been there three times already and I still feel like I haven’t seen everything.
Make sure to take a map. The rooms have numbers and you will see them over each door. Check where you are and where you will go next. Walking around this museum without a plan is not working – you won’t see even half of it. And you won’t have an idea which half is still missing 🙂
If you’re there in high touristic season make sure to arrive to the Hermitage before opening and wait in the queue for the gates to open. The later you arrive the more people is there and you might not be able to see the most famous paintings without squeezing between a group of 50 people blocking your way. Despite being in the museum early, last time we haven’t seen the only painting by Leonardo Da Vinci in the Hermitage because of the crowds.
Plan around 4 hours for it. You won’t see everything in less and more is hardly possible. Believe me – you will be tired after that.
It is a good idea to go for a lunch after the Hermitage. You will need to sit, eat and recharge your batteries, that’s for sure 🙂
Walk along Nevsky Prospect to Vosstaniya Square
After you get your energy back it’s time to walk along the most famous street in Saint Petersburg, Nevsky Prospect. It’s the main thoroughfare of the city and it’s extremely busy almost all day long. For this reason I’m not a big fan of Nevsky personally but I must admit there are a few points of interest on your way which you shouldn’t miss.
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First of them is Kazan Cathedral which I strongly recommend you to visit. An icon Our Lady of Kazan located in the cathedral is special for the Russian orthodox church. Find out why in another post here.
On the other side of the street you will see the beautiful building of Singer House, also known as House of Books (Dom Knigi).
Next on your way is Gostiny Dvor, Petersburg’s first shopping center and one of the first shopping arcades in the world. It’s huge and if you feel like spending some money, I bet you will find an opportunity there 🙂 Next you will see Alexander Theatre and the monument of Catherine the Great after which you will cross Anichkov Brigde with its beautiful four sculptures of Horse Tamers.
You can then either continue towards Vosstaniya Square, the huge transportation and traffic hub of the city where you will find a Hero-City obelisk commemorating the victory of the Red Army over the Nazis. You’ll also see Moskovskiy train station, one of a few in the city. You can get to many destinations in Russia from Saint Petersburg by train. As famous as Moscow and as little known as Solovetsky Islands. The choice is yours 🙂
You can also skip Vosstaniya Square turn left behind Anichkov Bridge, go to Farsh i Bochka (Stuffing and Barrell) craft beer pub and reward yourself for this long day… 🙂
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Catherine Palace and the park in Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo)
When recommending top things to see in St. Petersburg it’s hard not to mention outstanding palaces located close to the city – in Pushkin and Peterhof.
The palace in Pushkin was originally designed for Catherine I but it grew to its monumental size a few years later for the empress Elizabeth. Catherine the Great also contributed to the building’s beauty, she wanted to have it embellished. The palace suffered a great damage during the II world war but it was re-constructed and it’s outstanding today again. It’s the second palace after the Winter Palace I recommend you to visit inside.
In Catherine Palace you will find the famous Amber Room – a chamber decorated fully with amber. It’s a reconstruction, original amber decorations made by craftsmen from Gdańsk disappeared during the war and have never been found.
In the palace the ball room is stunning as well. Its walls are covered in mirrors and golden decorations. It gives you a sense of infinite space and extreme splendor.
This year we didn’t go inside (I was there during my first stay) because the huge queue of people discouraged us. Come here as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
The park surrounding the palace is beautiful too and it’s worth having a long walk there. I did it in April and in August, it looks awesome no matter when 🙂
Perfonally I like Tsarskoye Selo more than more famous Peterhof. The park is less crowded and I like it more. The palace is incomparably more spectacular than the one in Peterhof. But well… there are unique fountains… that’s why I recommend it for day 4 anyway 🙂
How to get to Pushkin?
You will find up to date information on how to get there on the museum’s website here.
If you plan to take a train, I recommend going from Vitebsky railway station. It turned out that the trains go every half an hour from there but only a few of them stop on Kupchino station, especially on weekends. We didn’t want to but eventually we had to take a marshrutka 🙂
Some people make a longer trip and after visiting Pushkin they go to the palace and park in Pavlovsk. I think it’s better to focus on one – but it’s up to you.
The fountains of Peterhof
An impressive palace and gardens designed for tsar Peter the Great and often called Russian Versailles.
The palace is surrounded by a part divided in two parts. Upper Park – geometrically planned with the plants nicely trimmed and with numerous green tunnels – and the Lower Park, a bit less orderly, giving more freedom to nature. The parks are separated with the palace and the Grand Cascade – famous fountains.
It’s decorated with 37 gilded sculpture. What’s interesting – there are no pumps used to power the fountains. Only the elevation difference creates the water pressure. All fountains use 100 000 cubic meters of water. Daily!
I’ve been to Peterhof twice – once in April outside of the touristic season when the fountains didn’t work. Usually they open on the third Sunday of May. Then I was there in August in high touristic season.
Both times I liked and hated it at the same time.
For the first time I regretted that the fountains don’t work and I can’t see their full beauty. The park wasn’t that impressive either with no leaves on trees. But it was empty. It was for free. I could walk around the golden sculptures as much as I wanted.
For the second time the fountains worked and they were outstanding. But there were thousands of other people who wanted to see them. Oh, and the admission to the park cost 750 roubles.
Check current prices and opening hours of the park and opening hours and prices of the palace – however I think the palace is not worth visiting, especially after the Winter Palace and Tsarskoye Selo. It’s much smaller and less impressive.
I don’t regret any of these two trips to Peterhof. You need to see the fountains – and make up your own mind if you like it or not. My recommendation is to go there early before the biggest crowds arrive.
How to get to Peterhof?
Check how to get to Peterhof here – information below opening hours and prices.
The most beautiful metro stations
After coming back to Saint Petersburg from Peterhof by any mean of transportation you will be close to the southern part of the city. Use this opportunity to see the most beautiful and the oldest metro stations in Saint Petersburg.
The most beautiful station is Avtovo on a red line. Decorated in Soviet style, it commemorates the Leningrad Blockade during the II World War. You will see 46 columns there, 16 of them covered and beautifully decorated with glass. At the end of the corridor you will see a mosaic of symbolic victory.
Other stations worth seeing close to Avtovo are Kirovsky Zavod and Narvskaya. In the city center you also might want to see Ploschad Vosstaniya (on the red line)
Things to see in Saint Petersburg, Russia – next days
The above four days will allow you to see all the must and top things to see in Saint Petersburg. Does it mean four days is enough for it? Not at all. You can also see a ballet show or watch a hockey game in Saint Petersburg. There are also many more places and attractions worth doing, depending on your preferences and interests. I visited some of them myself, about the rest I heard good opinions from my friends.
A boat trip along the rivers and canals of the city
Saint Petersburg is called Venice of the North for a reason. Even though you won’t find romantic gondolas here but if only there are no big pieces of floe floating on the rivers, at every corner of every main street you can find people offering you a boat trip.
Without a doubt on your first day already you will get a lot of flyers and offers. Time to use them. The boat trip during the day costs around 600 roubles, it’s a bit more expensive during the night.
You can take a trip during the day or during sunset. There are also night trips during which you can watch the bridges open.
Trip on the rooftops of Saint Petersburg
A bit unofficial, yet very popular attraction of Saint Petersburg. Almost as often as a boat trip offer you will hear about a trip on the rooftops (ekskursya po krysham). The roofs of buildings in Saint Petersburg’s city center are connected so it’s possible to walk for hours without going down. You just have to know where to climb, where to go and how not to let the wrong people see you… 🙂
I tried to arrange such trip via this website – but they answered my email on our last day so it was too late. I regret it a lot and rooftops trip is the priority on my list of things to see in Saint Petersburg the next time.
The information I got is that the the trips are in the city center, overlooking the most popular buildings, they last around 1,5h, are conducted in groups of 2-8 people and they cost 500-600 roubles per person.
I just noticed that nobody advertises this attraction in English. I don’t know why but even if you don’t know Russian, try to contact them in English. Fingers crossed!
Walk along Moyka river from Mariinsky Theatre
The golden dome of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral always amazes me and river Moyka embankment close to Mariinsky Theatre is one of the best spots to see it. There is also an interesting island around – New Holland which you can visit too.
Relax on The Field of Mars and the Summer Garden
The Field of Mars, despite its central location right next to the Church of Savior on Blood is a popular place where locals relax. If the weather is good you will see a lot of people lying on a blanket, having a picnic, throwing a frisbee. You can join and have a walk to a Summer Garden located nearby and to a tiny monument of a bird siskin. You need to hit it with a coin, just like you did with the hare in the fortress. The monument comes from a simple Russian song, it’s called Chizhyk-Pyzhik and it’s so cute 🙂
Kirov Central Culture and Leisure Park
Lovely and huge park, taking the whole island. It’s a perfect place to breathe some fresh air after a few days in the center of Saint Petersburg. Don’t walk there with no target though 🙂 Find a beautiful building of Yelagin Palace (Елагин дворец) – bought for the mother of tsar Alexander I, Maria Fedorovna.
I spend the early spring days of 2014 there and enjoyed the long unseen sun. I wanted to visit it again this year but I ran out of time. If you have a few free hours, I strongly recommend you to visit this lovely place.
Russian Vodka Museum
Just like Guinness beer and whiskey are parts of Irish culture, vodka is an inherent part of Russian culture. In the museum of vodka you will get to know Russian tradition and culture of drinking vodka, you will learn how the beverage’s history connects to the history and development of Russia. And you can also taste different kinds of vodka 🙂 If you like it, there is a restaurant right next to it where you can continue your tasting.
State Russian Museum
If you prefer art rather than vodka, go to the State Russian Museum. It’s the second biggest collection of Russian art in Russia located in the neoclassical building of Mikhailovsky Palac. I’ve never been inside but if you are interested in art and you don’t have enough of it after the Hermitage – it is the place for you. The museum is located close to the Church of Savior on Blood.
Smolny Convent and other cathedrals and churches
Saint Petersburg is full of cathedrals and churches. It’s not only the most famous ones – Saint Isaac’s and the Savior on Blood. One of my favorite churches in Saint Petersburg is Smolny Cathedral which amazed me with its heavenly colors. Except for this you can also see Chesme Church, Trinity Cathedral, St. Nicolas Naval Cathedral in Saint Petersburg.
Trip to Kronstadt
It’s an option for another day trip outside of Saint Petersburg. Kronstadt is a Russian military fort located on Kotlin island. It used to be a fully military area and repelled a lot of emeny fleets attacking the city. You can see an impressive Naval Cathedral there, monument of Peter the Great – and abandoned military bunkers on the west of the island – fort Rif. You can walk along the dark, empty corridors where soldiers used to hide. Amazing place if you like abandoned buildings 🙂
Accommodation in Saint Petersburg
Now you know what are the top things to see in St Petersburg, Russia. It’s time to look for accommodation now 🙂
The most convenient option is to live in the city center. I found a few recommendable places for you in convenient locations in different price ranges. I hope some of them will meet your requirements 🙂
- Art Avenue – cute rooms right next to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. You can walk to most of tourist attractions in the city from there. When I checked, the price was 44 EUR in a double room with bunk bed and 60 EUR in a room with double bed. Check availability and current prices >>
- Talisman Gorokhovaya – you can reach most tourist attractions on foot from this lovely place too, you’ll also live close to Sennaya Ploschad metro station. A room with 2 single beds costs 40 EUR, a suite with a double bed – 67 EUR. Check availability and current prices >>
- Nomera na Nekrasova – rooms located 10 minutes walk from Ploschad Vosstaniya metro station and railway station. It’s a cheaper option as when I checked the room with a double bed was 36 EUR / night. Check availability and current prices >>
- Dom Konchielova – a bigger room which can accommodate two or three people. Located 1,3 km from Ploschad Vosstaniya station and 600 m from Alexander Nevsky Square. When I checked the price was 50 EUR / night. Check availability and current prices >>
- If you feel like treating yourself with a little luxury, check Grand Hotel Tchaikovsky. It’s a little more expensive (76 EUR / night), but the standard will make you feel like a tsar… 🙂 Check availability and current prices >>
In case the above places don’t meet your requirements and you’ll continue the research on your own remember to find the accommodation close to a metro station. This will make your sightseeing much easier.
To look for your accommodation in Saint Petersburg, please use the links above. It changes nothing for you – but it does change the world for me! You will pay the same anyway but instead of giving it all to booking.com team, a little chunk of it will go to me for the hard work and time I spend developing this place for you! Thanks! 🙂
I spent almost 2 months in Saint Petersburg in total. This city has a special place in my heart. It’s the place where I had the time of my life. And I hope that you will have it too 🙂
It will make your planning much easier!
You will have all the information from this post – and more in the file which you can take with you on the trip.
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- The best things to do in Moscow during your first trip.
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- 11 Best Tips On Traveling Trans-Siberian Railway
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