St. Petersburg is a port city on the Baltic Sea in Russia. For two centuries it was the imperial capital, founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, who is the subject of the city’s iconic “Bronze Horseman” statue. The city is Russia’s cultural center and offer visitors many impressive castles and palaces to admire.
Guided tours of the Hermitage Storage Facility are available. This storage facility is made with golden yellow glass and decorated with shapes that were inspired by petroglyphs. The highlight here is the lovely wool and silk embroidered Turkish ceremonial tent which was once presented to Catherine the Great by the Sultan Selim III in 1793. Next to it you can see a most impressive diplomatic gift – a massive wood carving of the mythical Garuda bird, given to the city by Indonesia for its 300th anniversary. Other items on display are ancient Russian icons and frescoes and a collection of 3500 canvases by Russian artists and so much more.
Hermitage Vyborg is a small museum housed in an impressive building that was designed by Finnish architect Uno Ulberg in 1930. This museum hosts themed exhibitions that have been curated from Hermitage’s huge collection and change every six months. This building is shared by Vyborg’s art school which also has a gallery with changing exhibitions.
Vyborg Castle sits on an islet in Vyborg Bay. It was built by the Swedes in 1293. Most of the castle today consists of 16th century alterations. There are a couple of exhibition halls among them a small museum on local history.
The main attraction is the climb up the steps of whitewashed St. Olaf’s Tower for fantastic views of the city.
Yusupov Palace is a fantastic palace on the Moyka River. The last owner was eccentric Prince Felix Ysupov, who at one time was the richest man in Russia. This is the palace where Grigory Rasputin was murdered in 1916. It occurred in the basement and you can visit the place as part of a guided tour. This palace was built by Vallin de la Mothe in the 1770s. The interiors are grandly decorated and many halls are painted in different styles and decorated with gilded chandeliers, frescoes, tapestries and impressive furniture.
The visit of this incredible palace begins on the 2nd floor where you can see the ballroom or the White Column Room, banquet hall, Green Drawing Room and the Rococo private theater. The tour continues on the ground floor with the impressive Turkish Study, the Prince’s Study and the Moorish Drawing Room among other rooms. Tours are in Russian but along with the admission price is an audio tour in English.
Built in 1859 The Mariinsky Theater has played a pivotal role in Russian ballet. This theater remains as one of Russia’s most loved and respected cultural institutions. Visitors enjoy seeing the attractive green-and-white main building with one of the world’s greatest ballet and opera stages.
There is a brand-new second stage, the Mariinsky II, a state-of-the-art opera house.
The Alexander Nevsky Monastery was named for the patron saint of St. Petersburg and is the city’s most ancient and eminent monastery. In 1797 it became a lavra, the most senior grade of Russian Orthodox monasteries.
Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art is located on Vasilyevsky Island. This museum is divided into two parts and spreads over five floors. On the left-hand side is the permanent collection that includes about 2000 works of Russian art created between the 1950s and the present day. On the right-hand side are temporary exhibits and commercial galleries with artwork on display and for sale.
Dominating St. Petersburg’s skyline is the golden dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The lavish interior is open as a museum. Services are still held here on major religious holidays. Visitors also enjoy climbing the 262 steps to the colonnade around the drum of the dome for awesome views.
The cathedral was designed in 1818 by French designer Auguste de Montferrand. It took until 1858 to complete. Over 100kg of gold leaf were used to cover the 21.8m-high dome.
Catherine Palace is the centerpiece of Tsarskoe Selo which is part of Pushkin Town. It was created between 1744 and 1796 in the Baroque style, designed by Rastrelli and named for the second wife of Peter the Great. Visitors can see the palace between noon and 2PM and 4 and 4.45PM. The rest of the time it is reserved for pre-booked tour groups.
Among the highlights here are the Great Hall, the Arabesque Hall, the White State Dining Room and many others. There is also the world-famous Amber Room.
Around the palace is the beautiful Catherine Park. The park stretches around the ornamental Great Pond and includes many interesting buildings, follies and pavilions.
There is the Cameron Gallery with rotating exhibitions.
In the summertime from the park you can take a ferry to the little island and visit the Chesme Colume. Beside the pond, the blue Baroque Grotto Pavilion offers temporary exhibitions in the summer. You can also see the Turkish Bath with its minaret-style tower, the Marble Bridge, the Chinese Pavilion and a Concert Hall, that holds concerts every Saturday at 5 PM.
The State Hermitage Museum is located in the magnificent Winter Palace and adjoining buildings. This includes an enormous collection with more than three million items of which a fraction are on display in 360 rooms. It offers a comprehensive history of Western European art.
The State Hermitage consists of five linked buildings along riverside Dvortsovaya nab.
From west to east they are:
The Winter Palace in stunning mint-green with white and gold columns, windows, recesses and its roof is topped by rows of classical statues.
The Small Hermitage built as a retreat for Catherine the Great and now houses an art collection that was started by Peter the Great.
Old Hermitage at the river end of the Small Hermitage.
New Hermitage was built for Nicholas II and holds a continually growing art collection.
The State Hermitage Theatre was built in the 1780s by classicist Giacomo Quarenghi. Concerts and ballets are performed here.
The Russian Museum has found its home in Mikhailovsky Palace and has the country’s biggest collection of Russian art. Behind the palace you’ll find a lovely garden. Here you’ll find permanent and temporary exhibitions.
The Peter and Paul Fortress houses a cathedral where the Romanovs are buried. This once was a prison and the large defensive fortress in located on Zavachy Island. St. Petersburg started from this island and grew into the city it has become today. There are panoramic views from the top of the fortress walls and at the foot you’ll find a lovely, sandy riverside beach that is great for sunbathing.
Individual tickets are needed for each of the fortress’s attractions but a combination ticket can be bought for the Peter and Paul Cathedral and the Turbetskoy Bastion. The main entrance is across the Ioannovsky Bridge and there is also access by way of the Kronwerk Bridge.
Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood is an elaborate five-domed church with a classic Russian Orthodox exterior and an interior that is decorated with about 7000 sq.m. of mosaics. This church was once officially called the Church of the Resurrection of Christ. It incorporates elements of 18th century Russian architecture and took 24 years to build.
St. Petersburg’s first palace was the two-story Summer Palace which was built for Peter the Great from 1710 to 1714. It has little reliefs around the walls that depict Russian naval victories. Inside you can see early 18th century furnishings.
Strelka is among the oldest parts of Vasilyevsky Island. This eastern tip was where Peter the great wanted his new city’s administrative and intellectural center to be. The Strelka became the focus of the city’s maritime trade and is symbolized by the colonnaded Customs House now known as the Pushkin House.
The two Rostral Columns, are landmarks and are studded with ship’s prows and four seated sculptures that represent the four great rivers of Russia – the Neva, the Volga, the Dnieper and the Volkhov. These were once oil-fired navigation beacons in the 1800s and their gas torches get lit up on some holidays. The Strelka offers one of the best views in the city.
The Bell Tower of Vladimirskiy Cathedral is the city’s second tallest structure after the TV tower at 122.5m-high. At the base is a small exhibition about the renovation of the tower in 1997. From the top you can get a 360-degree panorama.
Water Avenue is a canal that is criss-crossed by bridges.
The culmination here is the impressive Grand Cascade, a symphony of over 140 fountains.
The central statue depicts Samson tearing open the jaws of a lion. This statue celebrates Peter the Great’s victory over the Swedes at Poltava.
Oranienbaum is both a museum and public park with lovely pathways, ornamental lakes and pavilions to enjoy.
Beyond the lovely lake is the Palace of Peter III that is also known as Peterstadt. It is a small palace with rich interiors. The entrance is through the Gate of Honor which is all that remains of a small-scale fortress.
Take the time to see Catherine’s Chinese Palace that has been fully restored and was designed by Antonio Rinaldi. It is Rococo on the inside and Baroque on the outside. There are painted ceilings and inlaid-wood floors and walls.
Park Monrepo is a most tranquil place to get away for a few hours. This park faces Zashchitnaya Bay. It is laid out in classical style with pavilions, curved bridges, arbors and sculptures.
Monplaisir is a lovely wood-paneled villa facing the sea. It was the favorite retreat of Peter the Great. This complex also includes the Catherine Building, built by Rastrelli between 1747 and 1755. At one time Catherine the Great lived here with her husband Peter III. the interior includes the bedroom and study of Alexander I, as well as the huge Yellow Hall.
Visit the beautiful Park Alexandria which was built for Tsar Nicholas I.
See the Gothic Chapel that was completed in 1834 as the private chapel of Nicholas I.
There is also the restored Farmer’s Palace built in 1831 as a pavilion in the park and designed to inspire pastoral fantasies of rural life for the royal family.
The Botanical Gardens are found on Apothecary Island and were once gardens of medicinal plants. They were founded by Peter the Great in 1714 who also named the island. It is a wonderful place to visit and stroll about.
The highlight here is the tsaritsa nochi (Selenicereus pteranthus), a flowering cactus that blossoms only one night a year usually in mid-June. On this particular night the gardens stay open until morning so visitor can see this miracle and sip some champagne.
The heart and soul of St. Petersburg is Nevsky Prospekt which runs right through the city center and links two of the city’s most important landmarks – the Admiralty and the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. There are many notable buildings lining the street. French author Alexander Dumas described this street as “la rue du tolerance” – “the street of tolerance”.
You’ll find many churches here among them the impressive Lutheran Church of St. Peter.
Starting from the mid-18th century there are also many luxurious Baroque palaces to see such as the Anchikov Palace.
Along the street run electric trams and at the beginning of the 20th century such Art Noveau masterpieces were built as the Singer Building now known as Dom Knigi.