Formerly known as Petrograd, St Petersburg is an Imperial capital of Russia. With over 5 million people, this city is a perfect blend of Russian Culture and European art. Nestled at the eastern tip of Baltic sea and Neva River, St Petersburg has 300 years of revolutionary history behind it. Founded and designed by Peter the Great, the city has everything to offer from grand museums to magnificent architecture. From beautiful river canals to mysterious white nights, St Petersburg will never fail to astound you with its sheer magnificence. St Petersburg has plenty of sites and endorses few hidden gems that you would like to do:
To understand well, Nevsky Prospekt is not a site but a historic center. Designed by Peter the Great, it runs right through the heart of the city & serves as a sightseeing spine of St Petersburg. Nevsky Prospekt connects to major landmarks and showcases the beautiful architectures in and around the area. Walk down the street or sit in the cafes, go shopping or check out street artists displaying their art, Nevsky Prospekt is the best place to spend your day.
The Hermitage Museum/ The Winter Palace
The most famous landmarks of St Petersburg, the Hermitage Museum was founded by Empress Catherine the Great in 1764. Housing more than 3 million pieces of art collection around the globe, this massive palace-museum is truly world class. The museum displays the works by Rembrandt, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and much more. You can witness it while moving through some of the most luxurious ballrooms and throne rooms ever built. You can spend an entire day in this magnificent building quite easily.
Buying tickets & More: To avoid long queues & save on time, you can buy tickets online First Thursday of every month is free of charge for all visitors. An audio guide is also available for additional charges. The museum is closed on Monday.
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
With pure gold plated dome rising above 300 ft. stands one of the largest Cathedrals in the world, St Isaac’s Cathedral. It will make you surrender by its magnificent structure. Built in 1858, the Cathedral dominates the St Petersburg Skyline. As you walk through high bronze doors of the Cathedral, the interiors are richly decorated with religious drawings and stunning mosaic. The Colonnade (Observation deck) Walkway is accessible on climbing 262 steps, giving you a chance to see the panoramic view of the city. Buying tickets & More: Cathedral – Adult 250RUB. Children 50RUB. Audio Guide (Russian, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish) 100RUB. Colonnade – 150 RUB. Evening Summer 400RUB, White Nights 400RUB.
Church of the Savior on Blood
An iconic Russian Orthodox architecture with rich details on its façade and onion domes, the Church of the Savior on Blood differs from other structures in St Petersburg. This church was constructed on site where Tsar Alexander ll was assassinated in 1881, hence strikes an informal name. The interiors of the church are impressively adorned with more than 7500 square meters of mosaics thus making it highly recommended to know the interesting history behind this spectacular landmark.
Buying tickets & More: Adults 250RUB, Children 50RUB.
Another Neoclassical Russian Orthodox Church also known as Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan looms over the main boulevard of Nevsky Prospekt. This imposing structure was built in 1811 designed on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, served as Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism and later in 1996 returned as Russian Orthodox Church. It’s 111m wide arms reaches out towards Nevsky Prospekt, enclosing a garden. From inside, it’s dark and huge featuring numerous sculptures created by Russian artists and worth appreciation.
Buying tickets & More: Entry is free of charge. Photography and videography are not allowed inside. For females its necessary to cover your head with a scarf.
Peter & Paul Fortress
The original stronghold of St Petersburg and established by Peter the Great, this alluring citadel commands the pathways of Neva river on Hare Island. The fortress served as a prison for high-ranking political prisoners, but today adapts as most important part of State Museum of St Petersburg History. The fortress compound is enormous containing various significant buildings such as Peter and Paul Cathedral with bell tower up to 400ft. Inside Cathedral is the burial place of all Russian Tsars starting from Peter the Great to the last Tsar, except Peter II and Ivan VI. Worth a visit for knowing about Russia and the local history of St Petersburg.
Buying tickets & More: Free to roam around the grounds of the fortress. Peter & Paul Cathedral Adults 450RUB/ Children 250RUB.
The Palace Bridge
This Russia’s Northern Capital city is not only referred as ‘Venice of North’ but also ‘City of Bridges’ as it has over 300 bridges of various types. The Palace bridge is considered as one of the most iconic bridges spanning over Neva River between Palace Square and Hermitage Museum & often featured on postcards or as a souvenir. Despite being a simple structure, the real catch lies into its functioning, as it splits into two wings inclining up allowing ships pass through the river. Built by a French firm and opened in 1916, the bridge is regularly used as a local mode of transport and a footbridge but mostly visited by visitors to get a glimpse during White nights.
Lying on the southern shore of Gulf of Finland, Peterhof is the home to Russia’s beautiful palace and gardens. Often called as ‘Russian Versailles’, Peterhof palace was built in 1721. Peter the Great played an active part in designing the palace in Western European style as a fascination. This three storeyed palace sits on top of the ridge that divides the upper and lower gardens and is surrounded by leafy and colorful flower gardens and eye-catching famous fountains. The basic fundamental of the design is symmetry. What is seen today is mostly reconstructed, as during World war II the area was largely damaged. Probably the best way to experience Peterhof is by taking hydrofoil (speedboat) across the Gulf of Finland. All and all a must-see for first-time travelers.
Buying tickets & More: Lower Park with Fountains – Summer Season Adults 500RUB, Children & Students 250RUB Winter Season: Upper Gardens – Free Grand Palace – Adults 600RUB, Students 300RUB. Audio guide 500RUB (Photos & Videos not allowed) Note – Almost everything is closed on last Tuesdays of each month but has to be checked beforehand.
Located in Tsarskoe Selo, this Palace is named after Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great. Originally received as a gift from Peter the Great to his wife Catherine I in 1717. The Palace was a 2-storeyed building which later on turned into a stunning Grand palace by their daughter Empress Elizabeth as her chief summer residence. The building was designed and reconstructed by Rastrelli in 1756. The exterior is lavishly done with blue and white colors with golden atlantes, caryatids while the interiors are nothing less than a picturesque. Every room is equally luxurious including the White state staircase. The Amber Room is the main highlight, fully covered with pure amber and took over 20 years to complete. It is altogether a distinctive experience.
After the visit to the palace, take a stroll in Catherine park and enjoy the serene landscapes equally as large as Peterhof.
Buying tickets & More : Adult – 1000RUB, Children 350RUB Audio – 150RUB
Pavlovsk Palace & Park
Probably the best place we felt while paying a visit to Pavlovsk Palace & Park. Although it’s not as grand or architecturally rich as other sites which we visited. The place holds a charm of the extensive dense park which is to be entered to get access to the Palace. The park is delighted with rivers and ponds, lined with trees and classical statues surrounding the Grand Palace. The rose pavilion and private gardens are the main highlights. Built by Paul I, the palace building is perhaps the best preserved of Russian imperial residences. Therefore, it feels like a comfortable mansion set amidst sprawling greenery. An extra care has been taken by providing covers for the footwear of visitors by the caretakers of the mansion as to maintain cleanliness. Inside the palace are magnificent rooms with neoclassical interiors used by the imperial family. Greek Hall, Italian Hall, Hall of War, Throne room are some of the main attractions inside the palace.
Buying tickets & More: Pavlovsk Park May 1 to Oct 31 – Adult 150RUB, Nov 1 to Apr 30 – Sat, Sun & Public holidays 150RUB & all other days Free. Photo and video are free. Pavlovsk Palace Adult 500RUB, Family(2Adults+1Child) 900RUB, Family (2Adults + 2Child) 1150RUB. Photos 200RUB, Video 300RUB.
The currency used in Russia is Ruble. Don’t bother to get your currency exchange in your home country since the rate of exchange will be quite good in Russia itself. You can even withdraw money using your card as exchange rate will be pretty much same.
Migration cards are given to all foreign nationals upon arrival in Russia. It is an identity document which has two parts. One part of which is kept by the immigration authority & the other is to be kept safe during your entire stay. It needs to be surrendered upon the departure. The card is also required by your hotel in order to register your visa.
Learn few words:
As stated in my earlier guide, it is always advisable to learn a few words or phrases while you are visiting a country. It not only helps you to communicate but also helps to bond with the locals. In Russia, it’s very hard to find someone who speaks or understand English, so even basic words could be quite helpful for you. The best option is to always have Google Translate on your mobile which can be lifesavers.
Safety is always the first concern while one is visiting any country. We had so much of concern while visiting Russia since we read many stories about stolen passport and money. Any country can be safe if we are a bit more cautious. We learned this lesson on our very first day In Russia. It is always advisable to be extra careful while visiting tourist attractions and don’t give an open invitation to pickpocketers.
Avoid drinking tap water:
Tap water in Russia, especially in St Petersburg is not at all safe to drink and can cause various health issues. It is always better to use bottled water even for brushing your teeth.
Follow the Customs:
The first thing you will notice is that Russians seem to be reserved & less friendly. They also consider it rude to speak loudly in public places. Always be respectful while visiting churches and wear a headscarf. Some churches don’t allow photography so it’s always better to follow those in order to avoid those staring eyes.
Getting around in St. Petersburg is quite easy. One of the best ways is to stay in the heart of St Petersburg. Which is why we choose to stay in Nevsky Prospekt itself. There are quite a lot of ways to travel to St Petersburg, some of which are:
St Petersburg’s Metro is one of the deepest metro in the world & has four lines. The metro can surely help you easily to move around the city.
Buses & Tram:
One of the cheap method of transportation in St Petersburg to travel around the city. Only one should know where to get down, making it a bit difficult for foreigners to use, especially if one cannot understand Cyrillic letters.
Marshrutka is the minibus running on the fixed route. These buses are quite popular in St. Petersburg and especially useful for getting to the suburbs.
Taxis in St Petersburg are in abundance. You can find two kinds of taxi’s official and private one run by an individual. Official one can be a bit on the expensive side. The one which is privately run can be cheaper than other, but you need to negotiate the price before starting your trip.