Saint Petersburg was for a long time the artistic and cultural capital of the world and it’s no surprise the city has amazing things to see. This is also one of the largest European cities and, with so many entertainment options, deciding what to do in Saint Petersburg might seem like an almost impossible mission.
After have been twice in there, we will help you out listing the main activities that should be in your itinerary in order to have a taste of this majestic city.
It is the former residence of the Czars and the most luxurious palace we have ever entered. It’s just wonderful! We were in St. Petersburg twice and at the first time, we did the nonsense about not going to the Hermitage. Do not do this as it will probably be the most interesting tour of all of Russia.
In each room, there will be a surprise. There are designed floors, ceilings that are true works of art, crystal chandeliers over 10 meters high, gold-plated ornaments and more.
The palace currently functions as a museum and houses one of the most important art collections in the world. The place is gigantic, so plan your visit well and decide first what to prioritize, because in order to see everything, you would need a few years of your life.
2. Watch a ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre
The Mariinsky is to Saint Petersburg as the Bolshoi is to Moscow. This is one of the best and most beautiful theatres in the world. We attended the ballet Les Saisons Russes and it was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. To perform over there, you have to be among the best dancers in the world. So, you can imagine the quality of the presentation. We had goosebumps over the perfection and precision of them.
*As in other Russian theatres, Mariinsky charges an extra fee for international cards. Contact us if you are having difficulties. We can try to help you out.
3. A walk around Peter and Paul Fortress
It was here that the history of the city began, in 1703, under the command of Tsar Peter, the Great. Earlier, St. Petersburg has been just a citadel on the banks of the River Neva, surrounded by a wall erected to defend the Swedish invaders.
The place worked for many years as a political prison, but currently works as a complex that brings together the Church of St. Peter and Paul, a museum and other buildings. The fort is the most important monument in the city.
*A tip for anyone wanting to learn more about Saint Petersburg’s history is to watch the BBC documentary “Empire of the Tsars”, aslo available on Netflix. It gave us a real good insight into the Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia for three centuries, until the 1917 Revolution.
4. A visit to the Ekaterina Palace and Garden
Located in the town of the Czars, Pushkin, which is 25km from St. Petersburg, the palace has a gigantic garden inspired by Versailles.
The Ekaterina Palace was built by Peter, the Great for his wife Catherine in 1717. Years later, the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, who enjoyed luxuries, ordered the whole place to be rebuilt in the mould of Versailles. And she wasn’t joking around, for both the garden and the interior of the house do not leave anything to be desired for the French model. The ticket for the garden costs 120 rubles (US$ 2) and for the interior of the palace, 1000 rubles (US$ 18).
5. Church of the Saviour on Blood
The churches in Russia are fascinating.
Since St. Petersburg is a flat city and has not high-rise buildings, wherever you walk, you can see the twisted, gold or coloured domes of the churches. The most beautiful, in our opinion, are the Church of the Saviour on Blood in St. Petersburg and St. Basil’s in Moscow. Perhaps the two main symbols of Russia.
6. Get to know The White Nights of Saint Petersburg
For almost a month in the summer, the residents of St. Petersburg do not see the night. These are days and days without the sun setting. Can you imagine? During this period, known as “The White Nights,” the city becomes a huge stage for parties and cultural events. You can enjoy endless open air festivals or even ballet performances at night in one of the theatres.
7. To walk by Novsky Prospect Street
Considered the Champs-Élysées of St. Petersburg, the Novsky Prospect Street is full of churches, monuments, museums, galleries, caffes, restaurants and cool shops to visit. The historic and extremely well maintained buildings will take you back to the past.
8. A tour through Saint Petersburg’s most beautiful metro stations
Russian subways are famous for its sumptuous architecture. It used to be a sign of power during the Soviet era and still are a source of pride for the Russians. Some stations are true works of art. The St. Petersburg underground still carries the title for being “the deepest in the world” and you will lose a few minutes of your day on the station’s escalators.
Do not miss the stations Ploshchad Vosstaniya, Tekhnologichesky Institut, Baltiyskaya, Narvskaya, Kirovsky Zavod, Avtovo.
*And if you want a full list of the most beautiful Russian metro stations, check this post!
9. Eat in a Georgian restaurant
If your trip will not extend into Georgia, do not miss the opportunity to taste one of the best food in the world in St. Petersburg. Russians love it and it’s full of Georgian restaurants scattered throughout the city.
Do not forget to try the khachapuri, khinkali, walnut salad, mushroom gratin with cheese and, of course, ask to drink an authentic Georgian wine.
10. Watch people diving in the Neva River over winter
If you are in town in January, be sure to follow the celebration of Epiphany (the Christening of Jesus), where the Russians gather on the River Neva for a swim.
In the middle of winter, a hole is dug in the frozen river (the water temperature can reach -20ºC) and more than 3,000 Russians take turns on diving, which many believe have healing powers. Have you courage? (See here other Russian’s craziness).
We hope this post on What to do in Saint Petersburg was useful to you and that it helps you explore this magnificent city more and better. Any doubts, suggestions or comments you may have, just drop us a line. Safe Travels!
*Article originally written on March 2017 and updated on June 2018.