Saint Petersburg like any other big European city has a lot to offer and like in any city with a great history one will never have enough time to see and do everything here. Many people when they travel to a new city face the problem of choosing out of hundreds of sights and attractions the best and the most interesting places for them to visit.
In this post, we tried to make this choice easier and divided all city attractions into different groups according to one’s interests. We really hope our guide will help you in planning a perfect trip to St.Petersburg. By the way, I’ve been living in St.Petersburg all my life and know this city very well.
I’m a big art and classical music lover don’t be surprised this guide will contain a lot of information on cultural life in St.Petersburg but there are many other things to do in the city except theaters and museums.
Download for free our checklist of places to see in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
For those who’d like to explore more of Russia and visit some off the beaten track places that are difficult to get on your own G-Adventures and Intrepid Travel offer some great tours;
- Backroads of Russia; St.Petersburg – Moscow (G-Adventures)
- Epic Trans-Siberian Journey; Moscow to Vladivostok (G-Adventures)
- Trans-Mongolian Adventure; Moscow to Beijing (G-Adventures)
Places to stay in St.Petersburg
- Budget | Soul Kitchen Hostel | Christopher Hostel | No Rain No Pain Hostel | SKY Hotel |
- Middle price | Art Avenue | Belvedere Nevsky Business Hotel | Nevsky Grand Hotel | By Hermitage Hotel |
- Luxury | WYNWOOD Hotel | The Bridge Hotel | Angleterre Hotel | Belmond Grand Hotel Europe |
Travel insurance for your trip
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Must-visit places in St.Petersburg
The State Hermitage
For me, it’s definitely the first and the most important place in Saint Petersburg like Louvre in Paris or the Vatican museum in Rome. It’s definitely a must-include in your Saint Petersburg itinerary. I spent a lot of time here as a visitor and a student at the Hermitage center and still every time I come here I find something new that I haven’t seen before or just never noticed, the collection of the museum is enormous.
The Hermitage is not a single building, the complex Includes Winter Palace, New Hermitage, Old Hermitage, Small Hermitage, the Hermitage theater and the General Staff building on the opposite side of the Palace Square. Its total gallery space is 66 862m2.
The museum collection includes about 3 million art pieces, if you stop at everyone for 1 minute you’ll need 8 years to see all of them. These are just impressive numbers but Hermitage is a real treasure box, moving to every next room you think it can’t be more impressive but it can. Besides thousands of masterpieces in the halls, the interior itself is absolutely stunning.
Things not to miss in the Hermitage
- The Pavilion Hall and the incredible Peacock clock. The clock gets started every Wednesday at 7 pm come here at least 30 minutes before to get a spot.
- The Grand Church of the Winter Palace
- Lodges of Raphael, the exact copy of the Raphael Loggia in the Papal Palace, Vatican.
- Treasure Gallery has two rooms Diamond and Gold. Both rooms can be visited only with a tour, in summer it’s better to book it in advance as it can be fully booked.
- St.George’s Hall, one of the biggest rooms in the Hermitage crowned with a red throne.
- The Armorial Hall, a stunning room painted white with golden columns and lamps.
- The Principal or Jordan Staircase
- The Malachite Room
- The Madonna Lita and the Benois Madonna by Da Vinci
- Crouching Boy by Michelangelo
- Madonna and Child by Raphael
- The Rembrandt Room with his famous Return of the Prodigal Son and Danae.
The Hermitage collection of European art of XIX-XX centuries; Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Picasso, etc. My favorite part of the collection. It was moved to the General Staff Building (the white and yellow building opposite the Winter Palace). There you’ll find paintings of Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, and many others. A ticket is valid for both the Hermitage and the General Staff Building.
Tip! To skip the crowds in summer the best time to visit Hermitage is on Wednesdays and Fridays after 6 pm, the museum is open till 9 pm on these days. Tuesday is the worst day to come, there are too many people because the museum is closed on Mondays.
You can buy tickets online or at the ticket vending machines in the courtyard, it is more expensive. If you want to buy a ticket at the ticket office the best way is to buy it in the General Staff building as the queue there is usually shorter, a ticket valid for a day for all buildings of the Hermitage complex.
- Open; Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun from 10.30 am to 8 pm Wed and Fri from 10.30am to 9 pm Monday closed.
- Admission; RUB700/US$11 – adults; children and students – free.
- Getting here; Palace Square, 1, metro Admiralteyskaya
You can join a skip the line tour in the Hermitage museum that includes quick admission and a knowledgeable guide.
The Peter and Paul Fortress
The origin of the city and its first official building. There are several museums inside the fortress that you can visit but if you don’t have time or don’t feel like it, it’s worth just to walk around inside. Peter and Paul Cathedral is a beautiful building, in summer on Sundays at 5 pm there is a free Carillion concert in front of Cathedral Square.
Don’t be surprised in you see people in swimming costumes around a sandy beach at the fortress is a popular spot for locals who live nearby to come for tanning. Every summer from June to September a sand sculpture festival takes place where you can see some incredible compositions built from sand. The entrance to the fortress is free but you’ll have to pay if you want to walk on the walls or visit museums inside.
- Open; daily from 8.30am to 8pm
- Admission fee; free to get inside the fortress
- Getting here; 5 minutes walk from metro Gorkovskaya
You can join a 2-hour fortress tour with an excellent guide to find out more about the history of the city and the fortress.
Probably one of the most impressive city cathedrals and one of the largest cathedrals in the world. Its dome rises above 100m and is entirely plated with pure gold. A visit to the Cathedral is one of the not-to-miss things to do in St.Petersburg. The interior decoration is stunning; columns, pilasters, and floor from composed multicolored granites and marbles, the iconostasis decorated with semiprecious stones like malachite and lazurite, mosaics, and frescoes decorate the walls and the ceiling.
Inside don’t forget to look up the painting of the dome is very elaborated and just simply beautiful. If you have time go up to the colonnade the view from the top is amazing, the best time to do it is late evening when you can see the sunset and the city in thousands of lights. Buy ticket here
- Open; daily (closed on Wednesdays) from 10.30am to 6pm, in season (from 27th April to 30th September) opened in the evenings as well from 6pm to 10.30pm.
- Admission fee; the cathedral – RUB350/US$ – adults, RUB200/US$ – students, RUB100/US$ – children. Colonnade RUB200/US$ for everybody.
- Getting here; St.Isaac Square 4, metro Admiralteyskaya
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
If you though this church was in Moscow you’re partly right the Savior on Spilled Blood is quite similar to the St.Basil’s cathedral in Red Square but St.Petersburg’s church is much younger, it was built at the beginning of the 20th century on the place where Russian Emperor Alexander II was assassinated by a terrorist that belonged to the Anarchist movement. This church is one of the most recognizable city buildings and the most photographed by tourists.
The architecture style of the church is very different from other city buildings it’s probably one of the “most Russian” buildings in St.Petersburg. Local tip. If you want to take a photo of the church without hundreds of people around come here very early morning at 6am (in summer there is enough light at this time) and you’ll get it all for yourself. Buy ticket here
- Open; daily (closed on Wednesdays) from 10.30am to 6pm. In high season (from 27th April to 30th September) there are evening excursions from 6pm to 10.30pm.
- Admission fee; RUB350/US$ – adults, RUB100/US$ – children (7 to 18).
- Getting here; Griboedov emb.m 2A, metro Kanal Griboedova/Nevsky Prospect
You can combine a visit to the St.Isaac’s Cathedral, the Church on the Spilled Blood and the Naval cathedrals if you join Cathedrals of St. Petersburg Private Half-Day Tour.
Peterhof Palace and Park
In the summer season (between mid-May and mid-September) it’s one of the most popular places to visit in the city. Peterhof is a perfect place for a day trip from Saint Petersburg. If you’re lucky with the weather the visit will be even more enjoyable. I’ve been to Peterhof many times since I was a child but every time I can’t stop admiring the beauty of the palace and the park.
There are more than 150 fountains and 4 big cascades in the park, the most impressive one is the Grand Cascade that includes 75 fountains and 255 bronze sculptures, Samson is the highest fountain in the composition, with a 20-meter jet of water. Children will enjoy the park there are several trick fountains where they can get soaking wet, make sure to take some extra clothes and towels.
Open; fountains in the park are on only in summer season (from 29th April to 14th October) Mon-Fri from 10am to 6pm, Sat from 10am to 8.45pm and Sun from 10am to 7pm.
Admission fee; park RUB750/US$12 – adults, RUB450/US$7,5 – students; palace RUB700/US$11,5 – adults, RUB400/US$6,5 – students. Children under 16 visit both for free.
Getting here; the fastest and the most fun way is to take a hydrofoil from the Dvortsovaya emb. to Peterhof, this journey takes 30min. It’s possible to get here by a combination of metro and minibus but it’s quite a time consuming, will take between 1h and 1h3min. depending on traffic.
There are several tour options to visit Peterhof from St.Petersburg
- Peterhof Private Tour with a Hydrofoil Option
- Peterhof Palace and Gardens Half-Day Tour
- Private Peterhof Palace Tour with Pick-Up
- Peterhof Palace Group Tour by Bus
The Catherine Palace and Park
Another Russian tsars’ summer residence and my favorite place because I was born here and spent a big part of my life in this town I still come here every summer. The Catherine Palace and the park is one of the must-see places for every tourist coming to St.Petersburg. It doesn’t have any fountains like Peterhof but the complex is impressive, plus here you can see the famous Amber Room. Catherine Park is a good alternative (if you have to choose) for those who visit St.Petersburg off-season when the fountains in Peterhof are off.
Open; the park opened daily from 9am to 10pm (11pm May – June), after 7pm entrance is free.
Admission fee; Catherine park RUB120/US$2 – adults, children under 16 years free; Catherine palace RUB1000/US$16,5 – adults, RUB350/US$5,8 – students, children under 16 years free.
Getting here; the best is to take a minibus from metro Moskovskaya, buses stop 300m from the main park entrance and the palace.
You can Tsarskoye Selo with a tour from St.Petersburg
- 4-Hour Private Tour to Pushkin by Car (note the price per person displayed is for a 10+ group of people, if you’re less it gets more expensive pp.)
- Tour to Catherine Palace and Amber Room in Pushkin
- Bus Tour to Pushkin
It’s possible to visit Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo in one day with a tour, to do it on your own without a car is very difficult commuting between two places will take a lot of time.
The Palace Bridge
I’m quite sure the bridge itself you’ll see anyway walking around the city but the must-see part of it is at night when the bridge gets opened for big ships to go through the city. It’s not the only drawing bridge all bridges over the Neva river get opened at night in summer season (between April and October) but the Palace bridge opening is the most impressive with music and lights, there are usually hundreds of people watching it especially in June and July make sure to come here earlier to get a good spot.
The best place to watch the opening is in front of the Admiralty building. Tip! There are several wooden piers at the embankment from where you can take a famous photo with the Peter and Paul fortress framed between two parts of the opened Palace bridge.
There are several night boat tours on the Neva River that will take you past the main and most spectacular bridges.
St.Petersburg rivers and canals
For me, this and walking are the best ways to see the city. There are several route options you can take a boat on the Neva River (the biggest river in the city) I’d recommend doing this tour at night to see the bridges. For a day tour take a boat on a smaller river e.g. the Griboedov Kanal (channel), the Fontanka, or the Moika rivers, you’ll get to see more of the city center including some hidden gems. My favorite route is on the Moika River the boat goes under one very wide and quite low bridge (the Blue Bridge) which is quite exciting.
Stroll along this crazy busy street at any time of the day or night, in summer you’ll be surprised how many people there are on the street at night time especially on weekends. This street like a magnet attracts people day and night it looks like everybody is heading somewhere but in fact, many people just wander around. Many places in the main part of the Nevsky prospect, between Palace Square and Vosstaniya Square are opened 24 hours or at least till very late if in the middle of the night you feel like eating sushi, pizza or cake it won’t be difficult to find a place where you can get it.
Definitely one of the most beautiful metros in the world, the decoration of some stations looks like the interior of palaces; marble and glass columns, mosaic, wall painting, sculpture, lamps, etc. The most beautiful stations are; Avtovo (the most beautiful one), Kirovsky Zavod, Admiralteyskaya, Pushkinskaya, Mezhdunarodnaya, Zvenigorodskaya, Bukharestskaya, Obvodny Kanal, Spasskaya, and a new station opened in 2018 Begovaya.
- Open; daily from 5.30am to midnight.
- Cost; you buy a token to enter the metro at any station (RUB45/US$0,8) and can stay underground as long as you wish without any time or station limit.
If you want to know more about the St.Petersburg metro you can join a 2-hour guided metro tour.
A beautiful monastery complex in Baroque style, the highlight of the convent is a richly decorated cathedral that from far reminds a little bit a meringue cake. If you think you’ve already seen enough cathedrals in St.Petersburg you might be right but this one looks quite a lot different white and blue baroque style with five cupolas crowning it. Smolny Convent is by far not as touristy as the St.Isaac’s or Church on Spilled Blood the main reason is the location, it’s located outside the historical center and a bit far from the nearest metro station but it’s a stunning complex that is worth visiting.
- Open; daily from 7am to 8pm
- Admission fee; free
- Getting here; Ploshchad Rastrelli, 1, metro Chernyshevskaya (20min. walk)
The famous city symbols
There are several unofficial symbols of St.Petersburg, the four main are; the Rostral columns, the Angel on the top of the Alexander Column, the Golden Ship – a weather vane in the form of a ship on the spire of the Admiralty building, and The Bronze Horseman. To see the first two you’ll need a binocular both are located quite high up. All four symbols are located very close to each other, you’ll need about an hour to do a loop and see all of them.
There are several city tour options to explore St.Petersburg and its highlights;
- St.Petersburg: Full-Day Grand Tour
- Saint Petersburg: Private Full-Day Sightseeing Tour
- Flexible Day Tour in St. Petersburg with Guide & Driver
Note! There are special tours for cruise passengers (3-day visa-free visit to St.Petersburg) with correct paperwork and licensed guides;
- Saint Petersburg without a Visa: 2-Day Essentials Tour
- St. Petersburg: 2-Day Visa-Free Group Shore Tour
- St. Petersburg 1-Day Visa-Free Shore Excursion
- 2-Day Group St. Petersburg w/ Imperial Residences Visa-Free
Best romantic places to see in St.Petersburg
Visiting St.Petersburg in the summer months of June and July is already quite romantic; White Nights, opening of the bridges, river cruises, night walks etc. but there are several places in the city that are recommended for a couple.
The Colonnade of St.Isaac’s Cathedral
The cathedral is a must visit place for any tourist but going up to its colonnade at night is an activity reserved for couples. To observe the night city from one of the highest points in the historical center is a great experience believe me I’ve don’t it more than once.
- Open; daily (closed on Wednesdays) from 10.30am to 6pm, in season (from 27th April to 30th September) opened in the evenings as well from 6pm to 10.30pm.
- Admission fee; RUB200/US$ for everybody.
- Getting here; St.Isaac Square 4, metro Admiralteyskaya
The Summer Garden
The biggest garden in the city center with many hidden corners, fountains, Greek sculpture, green tunnels, cozy benches and a couple of swans in the small artificial lake. Buy an ice cream or a cup of coffee and enjoy the green oasis of the garden with your beloved one.
- Open; daily (closed on Tuesdays) from 10am to 10pm.
- Admission fee; free
- Getting here; 15min. walk from metro Nevsky Prospect, Gorkovskaya or Chernyshevskaya
This garden is more off the beaten track place with fewer people and very few tourists, it might be not as big and fancy as the Summer Garden but it’s very cozy and quiet, it’s a place for artistic souls who like discovering unexpected and be surprised. The favorite couples’ place in the garden is Angel’s bench – a wooden bench with a small sculpture of an angle with an umbrella reading a book.
There are many funky sculptures hidden in the garden most of them are related to the theater because Saint Petersburg Youth Theater is located here. The sculptures were installed here temporarily for the anniversary of the theater but people liked them so much that it was decided to keep them here permanently.
- Open; daily 8am to 11pm.
- Admission fee; free
- Getting here; Fontanka River emb., 114, metro Tekhnologichesky Institut
A riverboat ride
Out of many options in the city for a romantic ride I’d suggest taking a night boat on the Moika River it’ll be quiet this time of the day and the city center looks beautiful at night. Another more traditional option is to do a night boat ride on the Neva River to see the opening of the bridges. It will be very busy and noisy in the summer.
A sunrise SUP excursion
If you’re rather an adventurous couple and like going off the beaten track I’d suggest exploring the city center on a SUP this way you can combine exercising and sightseeing. There are several SUPping routes in the city, in my opinion, the best one is on the Griboedov channel, past Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, Kazan Cathedral, Summer Garden, and several other highlights.
The average duration of the tour is between 1h30min. and 2 hours. The tours start very early at 6am in order to be finished before tourist boats start running on the rivers which gives you a great opportunity to see city rivers and channels without many boats.
Sunrise at the river
It’s my favorite time of the white nights when the majority of people already gone, the bridges are still opened and the sun is rising from behind the Peter and Paul fortress. The best spot for watching the sunrise is Dvortsovaya emb., in front of the Hermitage. It’s up to you to stay awake late or to get up very early, depending on the month the sunset in summer is between 3.30am in June and 4.30am in July. I’m sure you’ll be able to find an opened coffee shops somewhere at Nevsky avenue to grab a cup of coffee.
Cross the Kissing Bridge
The Potseluev (kissing in Russian) bridge across the Moika River is a traditional place for newly married couples to come it’s believed that if they can cross the bridge while kissing it will be a long-lasting happy marriage. In fact, the bridge has nothing to do with kissing it was named after a merchant that had a pub at the bridge his surname was Potseluev (Kissing).
Best places to visit for culture lovers
The State Russian Museum
Another not-to-miss place in St.Petersburg unlike the Hermitage the Russian museum focused exclusively on Russian art, don’t expect to see here masterpieces by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, or Monet. The museum collection represents Russian art from early icons to modern art, after a visit you’ll get a good idea of the way it developed in the country.
- Open; Mon from 10am to 8pm; Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun from 10am to 6pm; Thu from 1pm to 9pm. Tuesday closed.
- Admission fee; RUB450/US$7 – adults, RUB200/US$3 – students.
- Getting here;
The highlights of the Russian Museum
- Moonlight Night on the Dnieper by Arkhip Kuindzhi
- The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Bryullov
- Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks by Ilya Repin
- Knight at the Crossroads by Viktor Vasnetsov
- The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky
- Portrait of Chaliapin by Boris Kustodiev
- Black Square by Malevich
- Old Russian icons
One of the newest city museums, it was opened in 2013 in the beautiful Shuvalov palace the Faberge museum has the largest collection of Faberge’s works in the world. Among 4000 objects here you can find 15 of the famous Faberge Eggs, 9 of them were made for the Romanov Family. Beautiful masterpieces in stunning interior of the palace, a must-visit place if you like works from treasury metals and gems.
- Open; every day from 9am to 9pm
- Admission fee; RUB450/US$7.
- Getting here; Fontanka river emb., 21, metro Nevsky Prospekt/Gostiny Dvor.
The main opera and ballet theater of St.Petersburg and definitely my favorite one. Mariinsky theater has three main stages located within walking distance from each other. The historical stage a traditional old theater with a huge crystal lamp in the middle, richly decorated interior, heavy curtains etc. all you imagine when you think of an opera theater.
The Second Stage was opened recently in 2013 right next to the old one. This one is my favorite acoustic here is great and even from cheap top seats, you can see almost the whole stage and perfectly hear everything, plus the seats are very comfortable. My favorite cheap seats in the Second Stage are; balcony, left or right side, row 2, places 18-15 (single seats).
The Concert Hall is another modern stage opened in 2007 and located 500m away from the previous two, this one is mainly used for concerts rarely for operas and ballets though, with limited or no sets, the stage is too small for that. Acoustic here is good as well but some say after the installation of an organ it got worse.
Usually, the cheapest tickets to the balcony are not available online a long time beforehand (more than a month) I guess they wait for more expensive tickets to be sold. The cheapest tickets, unlike the more expensive ones, don’t have different prices for Russian and tourists.
Tickets for normal opera and orchestra performances, without superstars, cost; The Second Stage from RUB500/US$8 (balcony seats) to RUB3400/US$55 (first rows, stalls). The Concert Hall from RUB600/US$10 (balcony) to RUB2500/US$40 (stalls). The Historical Stage from RUB300/US$5 (3rd tier, left or right side, won’t be able to see much from up there) to RUB3600/US$60 (first row, stalls). Note! Tickets to some ballet performances can be more than double the price. I always buy tickets online it’s very quick and easy, you can get all the info, choose seats etc.
Open; usually, performances start at 7pm, sometimes at 6pm or 8pm. In summer on weekends there are morning performances (start at 12pm or 1pm), usually tickets for those are cheaper and they’re more children orientated.
Getting here; Teatralnaya Ploshad (Theater Square), 1, metro Sennaya Ploshchad, about 20min. walk from the metro, you can take a bus that stops in front of the theater.
Another place to go for a good ballet or opera performance. For opera I still prefer Mariinsky, but ballet is equally good in both, though some performances and dancers are better in one some in another. Mikhailovsky theater has some interesting modern ballet productions and dancing performances are more often in the playbill than operas. The interior reminds the Historical Stage of the Mariinsky, a traditional opera theater. Tickets for ballet are quite pricey here, start at RUB1500/US$25 (third circle, last row, you won’t see anything from up here), av.price RUB4000/US$65.
The Big Philharmonic Hall
For a good and affordable classical music concert, the Philharmonic is a perfect place. The repertoire is very diverse from solo piano concerts to Beethoven and Bruckner’s symphonies. The Hall might be not as impressive as the one in Mariinsky theater though it’s beautiful and performances here are always good. The location is great as well right in the city center, close to the metro stations and many hotels. Tickets from RUB500/US$8.
Useful items to pack for the trip
Weather in St.Petersburg is unpredictable, it can change from warm and sunny to cold in windy in a day so my advice, bring some warmish clothes (hoodie, jeans, trainers) as well as summer clothing.
- Comfortable shoes/sandals for walking – you’ll be walking a lot; around the city, in the museums and parks make sure you have a pair of comfortable shoes.
- Umbrella – it can rain at any time in this city.
- Hoodie/sweater – even if it’s warm during the day you’ll need something warm to wear at night time.
- Jeans (ladies’ option) – for the same reason as a hoodie.
- Travel backpack – for hand luggage (to pack your laptop, phone, documents etc.) and to use as a day pack in the city.
- Sunglasses – yes, it can be sunny in the city and if you do any water excursion sunglasses will be quite handy.
- LifeStraw – tap water is not good for drinking (at least nobody I know drinks it unless there is a filter) bringing a LifeStraw bottle of just a filter is a good idea.
Recommended books and guidebooks
- Lonely Planet St Petersburg. Kindle & Paperback, 2018
- Lonely Planet Russia. Kindle & Paperback, 2018
- Lonely Planet Russian Phrasebook & Dictionary. Paperback, 6th edition.
- St. Petersburg: Madness, Murder, and Art on the Banks of the Neva by Jonathan Miles. Kindle & Paperback
- St.Petersburg city guide and 3-day itinerary
- 29 Awesome and quirky things to do in St.Petersburg
- Best day trips from St.Petersburg
- Climbing Mt.Elbrus complete guide
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