From modern street art to the grand palaces, there’s so much to experience in St. Petersburg. See our list of the top attractions in Russia’s capital city.
Lifted straight out of the 18th century, lavish St. Petersburg revels in the glory of its grand history. At every turn, there’s a building that looks like it would be more at home in a Disney movie, and every one of them has a tale to tell.
From grand palaces that once housed tsars to the wonderful art museums that take you on a journey through Russian and world history, there’s a wealth of stunning sights to see. Here’s our pick of the 10 top attractions to see in St. Petersburg.
1. Grand Palace
As imposing and enchanting as Russia’s tsarist architecture gets, the Grand Palace in Peterhof opens up a haven of history and the chance to drink in the sugary sweet existence of the country’s wealthiest forefathers.
Outside, take a moment to admire the glittering façade of pure pomp with its yellow-brick exterior and stepped fountain. Inside, you’ll find history has been perfectly preserved. From the opulently decorated hallways to the galleries bursting at the seams with alluring artwork, everything is original and well worth a visit.
2. Street Art Museum
From the ultra-opulent to the ultra-modern, St. Petersburg’s Street Art Museum gives you the chance to explore the diversity of Russian art. With its finger firmly on the pulse of a multitude of genres, the museum takes you on a journey spanning a variety of art forms, including massive murals and mixed-media installations.
The most special part of the museum is its setting, however. Housed in an only partially extinct industrial site, you’ll see plastics workers going about their daily routine while surrounded by cutting-edge, modern art from top Russian street artists such as Timothy Radya, Kirill Kto, and Nikita Nomerz.
3. Catherine Palace
The 18th century was a time of true gaudy delights for Russia and nowhere will you witness this more than at Catherine Palace. Every last inch is dripping with opulence – take the tour to see its extravagant exteriors and classic interiors, lovingly remodeled through the centuries. Enjoy the beautiful views from the Great Hall, drink in the rococo grandeur of the staterooms, and gaze at the works lining the walls of the Portrait Hall. Don’t miss the world-famous Amber Room. Here, you have to see the decorative panels that were installed into the walls in the late 18th century.
4. State Russian Museum
Another neoclassical delight, the 19th-century State Russian Museum is every bit as over the top as other palaces you’ll find on your travels in St. Petersburg. But inside, it hides a treasure trove of Russian art history that’ll take you on a fascinating journey through time.
Its dedication to nothing but Russian artwork means the museum gives off an authentic aura. See everything from ancient church decorative icons all the way to more modern 20th-century paintings. As you journey deeper into the museum, you’ll discover a wealth of masterpieces, with works from Karl Bryullov, Alexander Ivanov, Nicholas Ghe, Ilya Repin, and Natalya Goncharov to enjoy.
5. New Holland
The palaces created during the 18th century are an indicator of how grandiose a time it was for Russia, but the upper classes of the era didn’t stop there. One of the more unusual sights in St. Petersburg is the man-made island of New Holland, which came to life in 1719. Celebrating the love that Peter the Great had for all things Dutch, the island initially served as a port for the city, but has since become a cultural icon.
Today, New Holland is one of the most tranquil and unusual parks you’ll find anywhere in the world. Whether you want to wander the gardens lined with colorful plants and waterlilies, or inspect the historic architecture that has hosted military operations throughout the centuries, there’s something for everyone to see here.
6. Peter and Paul Fortress
Experience the history of St. Petersburg with a trip back to the city’s very roots. Peter and Paul Fortress is a defensive fortification located on Zayachy Island and the seed from which the city as a whole would later bloom. Soak up the picture-perfect panoramic views across the city and use the opportunity to sunbathe on the quiet beach below.
History fans will be in heaven with a wealth of fascinating highlights to indulge in. From the picturesque cathedral where the Romanovs are buried, to the haunting past of the former prison at the fort, explore the treasures hidden within the walls.
7. St. Isaac’s Cathedral
With a grand dome that dominates the city’s skyline, St. Isaac’s Cathedral is impossible to miss. Step inside to marvel at the opulent interior and climb more than 250 steps to the top for unparalleled views of the city. You can also explore the historical exhibitions housed in the onsite museum.
Highlights inside the cathedral include the eight columns of semi-precious stone – six malachite and two lazurite – that frame the iconostasis. It’s also well worth taking a look at the array of artistic mosaics dotted around the walls. These were once paintings by the masters of the 19th century but were later replaced by mosaics after the damp cold of the structure was found to be damaging them.
8. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
If there’s one word that describes St. Petersburg best, it would be elaborate. Whether it’s a palace, a stately home or, in this case, a church, those behind the awe-inspiring architecture of St. Petersburg were clearly keen to never hold back. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is perhaps the most opulent of them all, with the five-domed structure creating a striking silhouette on the city’s skyline.
The church speaks volumes about the design trends of the 18th century, with its blue, yellow, and gold-tipped domes looking like something pulled straight from a fairytale. It’s a delight to behold, so spend a little time admiring this true work of art. Some 40 years were spent piecing this intricate design together and every minute of it looks well spent.
9. The Hermitage
As art collections go, few in the world can compete with what’s housed at the Hermitage. As the second biggest art museum in the world, it’s home to as many as three million individual pieces, which have been carefully selected ever since Catherine the Great bought a number of paintings back in 1764.
There are five buildings packed with works to see: Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre. Indulge in everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts and prehistoric art, to Italian renaissance pieces and 11th to 19th-century Russian paintings across the decorative museum halls.
10. Pulkovo Observatory
Allow the Pulkovo Observatory to take you on a journey through both space and time as you transport yourself back to the early days of astronomy. Founded in 1839, the observatory once housed the largest telescope in the world. Throughout its time in the limelight, it’s been one of the most important of its kind across the world, with many sightings being reported from Pulkovo across two centuries of discovery.
What’s your favorite attraction in St. Petersburg? Comment on Facebook and let us know which sights are a must-see in this Russian city.