St. Petersburg is a Russian port city on the Baltic Sea. It was the imperial capital for 2 centuries, having been founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, subject of the city's iconic “Bronze Horseman” statue. It remains Russia's cultural centre, with venues such as the Mariinsky Theatre hosting opera and ballet, and the State Russian Museum showcasing Russian art, from Orthodox icon paintings to Kandinsky works. St. Petersburg is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Culture, art, shopping, architecture, and the excellent Russian food – it’s quite easy to spend a whole week in Russia’s former capital. There are just so many things to do in St. Petersburg!
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St. Petersburg’s most iconic sight is probably the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. But looks can be deceiving. Unlike the fabled St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, the Church of the Savior is barely 100 years old. It marks, however, the very spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. Alexander III started the construction as a memorial to his late father. As many churches in Russia, the Church of the Savior is now a museum and was never reconsecrated after the Soviets government closed it. Still, you absolutely have to go inside. The colorful mosaics are unbelievably beautiful!
The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is not only one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) museums in the world, it is also one of the best. It is located inside the Winter Palace of Empress Catherine the great and spans more than 1,500 rooms. Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, but also ancient Scythian Gold and artwork from the dawn of time – this museum will quite literally take your breath away. The Russian Tsars managed to build such a large collection of priceless artwork that it won’t even fit into the huge Winter Palace. There are many, many outbuildings and even an archive you can visit.
Peterhof Palace was built by Tsar Peter to outshine Versailles. He might not have managed to build a bigger palace, but the opulent water gardens his architects created beggar comprehension. Especially the grand cascade draws millions of tourists to Peterhof each year. Peterhof Palace is, strictly speaking, not located in St. Petersburg anymore, but a couple of miles away to the west. You will have to take one of the crazy hydrofoil speedboats to get there (which is an adventure in itself). Oh, and once you are there, don’t forget to visit the unbelievable Bath House Palace of the tsars!
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral is an architectonic marvel. It is not only the largest orthodox basilica in the world but also the fourth largest cathedral in the world. Strictly speaking, it is not a proper church anymore either. Like the Cathedral of the Savior on Spilled Blood, it is now a museum. Only on the highest feast days service are held here. A small portion of the huge Cathedral is devoted to regular worship activity these days, though. Pro tip: Absolutely go all the way to the top, as this is by far the best view of St. Petersburg!
St. Petersburg is a city of many water canals. In fact, there are over 800 bridges crossing a total length of 300 kilometers of artificial canals. They served as important transport ways and kept the city built on marshland dry. These days, most traffic sticks to the roads. But as a tourist, you absolutely should go on a canal tour and see St. Petersburg from a different side.
Peter and Paul Fortress marks the very spot St. Petersburg was founded. It was here, Tsar Peter erected a small wooden hut in 1703 AD and oversaw the construction of the mighty fortress. The bell tower of the Peter and Paul Cathedral (122.5 meters) is still the highest building in St. Petersburg. Below lie the many sarcophagi of the Russian Tsars. Peter and Paul Fortress also played the most crucial role during the Russian revolution and was later used as a prison. Make sure to tour the walls (you will have to pay a little extra fee) and enjoy the beautiful view of the river Newa and the Winter Palace on the other side.
Even a quick taxi ride through St. Petersburg will impress the sheer quantity of palaces in the city onto you. There are quite literally thousands! Perhaps the grandest of them all lies in Pushkin, some 25 kilometers outside. Catherine the Great built it to escape the many obligations at court. The palace and the wide gardens are more than worth a visit (even in winter!). The highlight, however, will be the world famous amber room. The original was lost during World War II, but Russian artisans created a perfect replica you can now see the Catherine Palace. Truly outstanding!
The Fabergé Museum opened in 2013. But despite that short history, the privately owned museum is already one of the highlights. Here you will see 9 (!!) of the fabled Imperial Easter Eggs and some 4.000 other exhibits from Farbergé and the golden age of jewelry! You will need to get tickets in advance.
Food lovers listen: You have to put the Yeliseev Emporium on your list of things to do in St. Petersburg. This huge shop on Nevsky prospect will be the ideal place to buy an authentic souvenir or just treat yourself to some Russian candy! There is a little café inside, so it’s also an ideal spot to take a little break from shopping. Either way, you will never have visited a more opulent food store!
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