Saint Petersburg is one of the most important and famous cities in Russia.
It’s a huge city and you need a lot of time to explore it well. I spent 6 weeks in Saint Petersburg in 2014 volunteering. I taught basics of finance in Russian school – and after classes I explored the famous and unknown parts of the city. I came back there in August 2017 for a week to visit my friends, to show the city to my fiancé – and to prepare a comprehensive guide to the city for the readers of my blog 🙂
Check my full guide of top things to see in Saint Petersburg, Russia with a free printable e-book.
Here in this post I chose top 10 places you can’t miss. It was tough to choose only ten – but this list will let you experience Saint Petersburg at its best 🙂
1. Church of Savior on Blood
Tsar Alexander III had the Church of Savior on Blood built in the place where his father Alexander II died in a bombing attack. To commemorate his father, Alexander III decided to build a church different from the baroque and neoclassic architecture dominating the city. The church is inspired by classic, medieval Russian style. The church inside is covered with mosaics and according to some sources it’s the biggest surface covered with them completely in the whole world.
2. Palace Square
An impressive, huge square, heart of the city, one of the most popular touristic places in Russia and in the whole world. On the square you will see the Winter Palace. Currently the Hermitage museum is located in the palace. 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.
At the other side of the square you will see the building of the General Staff. In the center of the square there is a monumental Alexander Column raised after Russia won over Napoleon’s France. On top of it an angel smashes a snake with a cross and is a symbol of triumph over evil.
3. The Hermitage
The Hermitage is a place you can’t miss in Saint Petersburg. It’s the biggest museum of art and culture in the world and a huge and an outstanding palace with 1500 rooms. It was the winter home of the tsars. You can easily spend one full day in the Hermitage.
I’ve been there three times and I still think I haven’t seen everything there. Before starting your tour around the museum take a map and make a plan, it’s too big to walk around without one. If you go to the Hermitage in high touristic season, arrive before opening. The later you come the more people will be there.
4. Spit of Vasilyevsky Island
The eastern end of Vasilyevsky Island and its two rostral columns is another top thing to visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia. This spot offers a perfect view at the most important points in the city – Peter and Paul Fortress, Neva River, Winter Palace and the dome of St. Isaac’s cathedral.
5. The Bronze Horseman
The Bronze Horseman is a monument offered to Peter I by Catherine II. The monument presents Peter the Great on his horse and the monument is placed on a so called Thunder Stone which is believed to be the biggest stone ever moved by humans. The legend has it that while the Bronze Horseman stands in Saint Petersburg, no enemy will conquer the city. During the World War II the inhabitants built a wooden structure and put sand bags around the monument to protect it from enemies’ bombs.
6. Isaac’s Cathedral
The biggest cathedral in Saint Petersburg and the fourth largest dome church in the world. The dome is covered with a thin layer of pure gold and you will be able to notice it from many places in the city. It shines so much that during the World War II they covered it with grey paint not to attract enemies’ planes. The inside is even more impressive than the outside. You can also climb to the viewing platform at the colonnade and I strongly recommend you to do so. It is one of the best panoramic view of Saint Petersburg.
7. Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul Fortress is the first building built in Saint Petersburg on the last upstream island of the Neva delta – Hare Island. Initially built as a fort to protect the city from the attack of the Swedish, it never really served its purpose. Currently it serves as home to many museums and points of interest.
Inside Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral there are tombs of Russian tsars which you can see. You can also climb up the fortress walls, visit the museum of history of Saint Petersburg and many more. You can also relax on the beach right outside the fortress.
Make sure to throw a coin on the hare standing on a log in the water as you cross the bridge to get to the island. If you manage to hit the rabbit in such way that the coin stays between his legs you will have a lot of luck in your life. I never managed… 🙂
8. Nevsky Prospect
Nevsky Prospect is the most famous street in Saint Petersburg and it’s the main thoroughfare of the city. It gets busy and it is not the most pleasant place for an walk but there are a few points of interest on the way which can’t be missed.
First of them is Kazan Cathedral which I strongly recommend you to visit, it’s home to one of the most important icons for the orthodox church – an icon Our Lady of Kazan. Even though it’s not sure if there is an original or a copy of the icon in the cathedral, it is worth seeing how people worship it.
You will see the beautiful building of Singer House, known as House of Books (Dom Knigi). On Nevsky Prospect there is also Gostiny Dvor, Petersburg’s first shopping center and one of the first shopping arcades in the world. You will also see Alexander Theatre and the monument of Catherine the Great after which you will cross Anichkov Brigde famous for its beautiful four sculptures of Horse Tamers.
9. Catherine Palace and the park in Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo)
There is a number of beautiful palaces of the tsars located outside of the city and it’s tough to choose which one to see. My favorite is Catherine Palace in Pushkin. The palace was originally designed for Catherine I but it grew to its monumental size a few years later for the empress Elizabeth.
The palace was severely damaged during the World War II but it was brought back to its original shape and looks. One of the highlights of Catherine Palace is the famous Amber Room – a chamber decorated fully with amber. It’s not the original one but a reconstruction, the original decorations disappeared were stolen during the war and have never been found.
The park surrounding the palace is beautiful as well, take your time to walk around and enjoy.
10. The fountains of Peterhof
The palace and the fountains in Peterhof are sometimes called Russian Versailles. The palace itself is not too impressive and you can skip the visit inside but the fountains are definitely worth seeing.
The palace is surrounded by a park 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!
This was the list of top 10 places you should visit in Saint Petersburg. If you need more, check the full guide to the city with a printable e-book to download on my blog. It is an outstanding city, one of the most beautiful in Europe, and maybe even in the whole world. Make the most of your trip and enjoy your time!
By Born Globals
Bio: My name is Dorota, I live in Poland. Even though I have always been passionate about travelling, I discovered a whole new world when I went to Russia for 6 weeks volunteering program. I loved it so much that I decided to volunteer on every continent and promote this idea on my blog. I slowly make the dream come true – and I want to help others believe they can do it too!