Russia’s second largest city, Saint Petersburg, is without a doubt the country’s cultural capital. At 300 years old, it’s still a young city by European standards. Despite that, many important historical events took place there. Just remember that the city was very important during the Communist Revolution in the beginning of the 20th Century.

Having said that, “‘Soviet” is a word few people would dare using to describe the city. As it was the capital of the Russian Empire for 200 years, the city is dotted by grand buildings and palaces, making it one of the most majestic European cities.

After a few visits to the city, I couldn’t help but fall for it, and in this post I’ll share with you what I consider to be the top places to visit in Saint Petersburg – in no particular order.

Top Places To Visit In Saint Petersburg, Russia

1- VISIT THE HERMITAGE MUSEUM

In my opinion, the Hermitage Museum is the greatest attraction in Saint Petersburg – so it’s no wonder I’ve put it in first place. The Hermitage is home to one of the largest paintings collections in the world, therefore seeing even half of it in one day is absolutely impossible.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

The Hermitage occupies six different buildings, out of which the Winter Palace is the most famous one. My recommendation is checking on the (free) maps available at the entrance which sections interest you most and go on a mission.

The museum is located in one of the city’s most photogenic areas, by the river Neva and near the Admiralty building, a few minutes’ walk from St Isaac’s Cathedral – also on this post.

2- PETERHOF PALACE

Also called “the Russian Versailles”, Peterhof was the first imperial palace to be built outside St Petersburg. The palace complex overlooks the Gulf of Finland and has several different sections, including the enormous Alexandra Park.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

The Grand Palace used to be the main summer residence of Russian Tsars. The interiors are grand, as the name suggests, in classic architecture and richly decorated.

But the main draw is the palace’s exterior, with many gilded domes and dozens of fountains, making Peterhof one of the most photogenic places in Saint Petersburg.

3- THE CHURCH OF THE SPILT BLOOD

There is no doubt that this is the most “Russian” church in the whole of Saint Petersburg. It reminds us of the famous St Basil Cathedral in Moscow. The many domes – some gilded, some colourful and others in spiral – make the Church of the Spilt Blood the city’s most unique place of worship.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Located by the Griboyedov canal, it is also known as the Church of the Ressurrection. It was built exactly where Tsar Alexander II, was killed in an attack. The church has one of the world’s biggest collections of mosaics and is one of the city’s most beloved attractions.

4- WATCH A BALLET AT MARIINSKY THEATRE

If when you go to Rome you must see the Pope, then when you go to Saint Petersburg, you must watch a ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

The city is home to many talented ballet companies, but none of them are as prestigious as the Mariinsky. It represents St Petersburg just like the Bolshoy does to Moscow. The Mariinsky, founded in the 18th century, used to be called The Imperial Ballet of Russia – so you get an idea of how important it is.

It was the very first ballet I’ve ever seen, and I loved the experience, although I only saw my second ballet recently, also in St Pete.

5- SEE THE CITY FROM THE COLLONADES AT ST ISAAC CATHEDRAL

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. The giant gilded dome can be seen from many places around central St Petersburg. Today it does not celebrate any masses, so it’s actually a museum.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

The interiors of St Isaac’s Cathedral are as grand as the exterior, and it is decorated with different types of marble, lapis lazuli and other rare stones. When you visit the Cathedral you can either see the interiors or climb up the 262-step stairs and get to the colonnade. There you will have the most amazing panoramic views over Saint Petersburg – one of the highlights of a visit to the city, in my opinion.

By all means, nothing will stop you from visit both the interior and the colonnade, if you wish to do so!

6- GO ON A BOAT TOUR AROUND THE CITY

Several rivers and canals crisscross Saint Petersburg, giving the city the “very original” title of Venice of the North. So, like the real Venice, a boat tour is one of the best ways to see the city’s magnificent architecture. Many companies operate the service and you will, for sure, pass by someone selling boat excursions on the main streets. There are different boat tours around town, offering varied views and experiences.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

7- WATCH LIFE GO BY ON PALACE SQUARE

One of the most monumental open spaces in Saint Petersburg, Palace Square gets its name for its location, right in front of the Winter Palace, home to the Hermitage. It is considered the city’s main square and it’s the perfect space to watch life go by and photograph some stunningly grand neo-classic buildings.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

In summer, several concerts and cultural activities take place here, attracting thousands of Peterburgans and tourists. In the centre of the square you will find Alexander Column, built to celebrate Russia’s victory over the troops of Napoleon.

8- VISIT PETER AND PAUL FORT

Peter and Paul Fort was built in 1703, the very same year that marks the city’s foundation by Peter, The Great. The fort was built to protect “Russia’s window to the West” from Swedish invaders. At the time, the original structure was just made of wood, but later it was rebuilt into a sturdy brick and stone fortress and one of the city’s most iconic constructions.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

You can take just a couple of hours to visit the fort or even a full day. That’s because it is home to a number of smaller museums, galleries, as well as Peter and Paul’s Cathedral. The church’s golden needle can be seen from miles away and it’s also possible to visit the upper part of the tower.

9- SEE THE ICON OF OUR LADY OF KAZAN

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Just like pretty much every building in Saint Petersburg, Kazan Cathedral is grand. Located on Nevsky Prospekt (Невский проспект), you can’t miss this church with its 96 columns in the shape of a crescent – a design inspired by the Vatican’s Saint Peter Basilica.

Our of the city’s main churches, this is one of the few that are fully working. As you visit the interior, you will be met by long queues of people heading to the altar. That is where they’ll pray for the icon of Our Lady Of Kazan. It is said that the icon is responsible for many miracles.

Whether your share their belief or not, watching men and women praying silently and kissing the icon – and other religious objects – is a very touching scene.

10- WALK ALONG NEVSKY PROSPEKT

Top 10 Places To Visit in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Nevsky Prospekt – or Nevsky Avenue – is Saint Peterburg’s grand catwalk. It crosses the city centre from east to west and is a reference point for visitors and locals alike. Many of the city’s most iconic buildings are located either here or just metres away.

What about you, have you ever been to Russia’s second largest city? What are your top places to visit in Saint Petersburg?

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