While many visitors to Russia head straight to Moscow (a choice we wouldn’t argue with too strongly), St Petersburg has emerged from its shadow to offer what is arguably a more memorable visitor experience.
It’s got all the history and architectural grandeur of Russia’s capital, but combines it with quirks and alternative culture to offer an incredible and unique experience. This list of top attractions in St Petersburg is hardly exhaustive, but should give you a taste of what this spectacular city has to offer.
Also known as the Summer Palace, this sprawling complex has been compared to Versailles. A short half hour hydrofoil ride from the centre of St Petersburg will see you land at the edge of the gardens from where you can see the main Palace, adorned in gold, at the end of a series of pools and fountains in front of you. Entrance to the gardens is free, but pay for entry into the Palace where you can see the Gold ballroom – a room completely dripping, top to toe, in gold. It’s quite a sight!
Church of the Saviour on Blood
There are many churches in St Petersburg, and each one can stake a claim as an attraction in its own right. But if you only visit one, make it this one. Whilst also incredibly impressive from the outside, on the inside the church contains over 7,500 mosaics, mostly depicting biblical scenes with an extraordinary attention to detail.
As a city, St Petersburg is built on a number of islands all interconnected by a series of canals. Taking to the water can be a great way to get a different view of the city. You can silently glide right past the main sights before getting a close up view of the smallest statue – a tiny bird.
This is the Winter Palace of St Petersburg, now used as an art museum. It is one of the oldest and largest in the world and the experts say that if you looked at every painting for a minute, it would take you over 10 years to view them all. I recommend being selective in your viewing!
Go to the ballet
Russia is famous for its ballet schools and Moscow (Bolshoi) and St Petersburg (Mariinsky) are home to two of the most famous. There are now two Mariinsky Theatres (Old and New) either side of a canal, both of which have regular ballet and opera performances. Tickets may need to be booked in advance and don’t forget to get dressed up for the big event.
Admiring the transport quirks
From elaborate metro stations accessed by long wooden escalators, to the bridges across the canals being raised to a great fanfare and party atmosphere at 1am, there are a number of unique features to the St Petersburg transport network. Just make sure you are on the correct island before the bridges rise, as they won’t go back down for 5 hours and you don’t want to get stuck.