The Window to Europe

Saint Petersburg is called ‘the northern capital’, ‘the cultural capital of Russia’, ‘Northern Venice’, ‘Northern Palmira’ and even ‘the Window to Europe’.

The second largest city in Russia with the population of 5.4 million residents is renowned for its romantic atmosphere, bridges, rivers and channels, museums, beautiful architecture and vibrant cultural life.

Saint Petersburg is a relatively young city, it was founded in 1703, but is has an unparalleled cultural history. It inspired numerous writes such as Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Akhmatova and Brodsky. The city is situated on the Neva River, at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. It is It is the fourth-most populous city in Europe and is the world’s northernmost city with a population over 1 million residents.

The best time to visit Saint Petersburg are the spring and summer months, especially May, June and July when you can experience the famous “white nights” when twilight lasts all night. The white nights are closely linked to another attraction — the eight drawbridges spanning the Neva. The bridges are drawn from May to late October, between approximately 2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. to allow shipping to pass up and down the river. You will need several weeks to explore just the most famous attractions of the city:

Palaces of the Tsars

Saint Petersburg is the former capital of the Russian Empire and is known as the city of palaces. A walk in the city centre will transport you into Imperial Russia

The most famous is the baroque Winter palace, a vast magnificent building with over 600 rooms, now housing the Hermitage Museum.

The same architect, Bartolomeo Rastelli, designed the Stroganov Palace ( now a branch of the Russian Museum), the Anichkov Palace (now a palace for children’s extracurricular clubs), the Vorontsov Palace (now a military school). Other Baroque palaces include the Kikin Hall, the Menshikov Palace on the Neva Embankment, the Sheremetev house and the Beloselsky-Belosersky Palace. St Michael’s (or Engineers’) Castle,a Neoclassical palace, was constructed for Emperor Paul and is now a branch of the Russian Museum, as is the spectacular Neoclassical Marble Palace, built from 44 varieties of marble by Antonio Rinaldi. The Mikhailovsky Palace now houses the main collection of the Russian museum. Other palaces include the Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was killed by Prince Yusupov, the Razumovsky palace, the Mariinsky Palace, the Nicholas palace and the Yelagin Palace, a magnificent white summer home of the imperial family. Today all these major palaces are housing numerous museums and various governmental institutions.

Bridges, rivers and canals

Saint Petersburg is built on more than 100 islands surrounded by a multitude of rivers, canals, creeks and lakes that flow into the Baltic sea. There are 342 bridges over canals and rivers and over 800 smaller bridges in over smaller streams in parks and gardens. Local residents and tourist alike enjoy walks by the water or trips on city boats.

Museums and galleries

The most famous of St. Petersburg’s museums is of course the Hermitage, one of the world’s largest and richest collections of Western European art, comprising over 3 million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. Every year, it attracts about  5 million visitors. The museum represents a large complex of six palaces along Palace Embankment, including the famous Winter palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre. The most famous collections are Italian Renaissance, Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque, French neo-classical, Impressionist and Post-impressionist art, Italian, Spanish, German, British and Spanish fine art.

The ensemble of Peter and Paul Fortress, the original citadel of Saint Petersburg with the Peter and Paul Cathedral  is the central part of  the State Museum of Saint Petersburg History. 

The State Russian Museum  is the world’s largest collection of Russian fine art, ranging from the 10th up to the 21st century, covering all art genres.

Other notable museums include Erarta, the largest private museum of contemporary art in Russia, Peterhof Palace, Catherine Palace, Faberge Museum, Pushkin Museum, Akmatova Museum, the State Museum of Political History and the Ethnography museum. There are over 200 museums in Saint Petersburg, so it will take years to visit all of them!

Cathedrals, churches and temples

The oldest cathedral in the city is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, where  Peter the Great and other Russian emperors are buried.  The largest cathedral in the city is the neo-classical St Isaac’s Cathedral. The Kazan Cathedral on the Nevsky Prospekt was built  in the Empire style. The famous Church of the Savior on Blood is a cathedral in the old Russian style which marks the spot of Alexander II’s assassination. Remarkable baroque churches include the Smolny Convent, the Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas and St Andrew’s Cathedral. The Neo-classical churches include St Vladimir’;s Cathedral, the Transfiguration Cathedral and the Trinity Cathedral. The Grand Choral Synagogue of Saint Petersburg is the second largest in Europe, and the Buddhist Temple was the first in Europe. Finally, the magnificent Saint Petersburg Mosque is modelled after  the Gur-e Amir Mosque in Samarkand.

Theatres and entertainment venues

There are more than 50 theatres in Saint Petersburg. The most famous is the Mariinsky theatre of Opera and ballet, where many of the stage masterpieces of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov received their premieres. Other renowned thetres and venues include the Mikhailovsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet, the Grand Hall of the Philarmonic Society, the Alexandrinsky Theater, the Tovsotnogov Bolshoy Drama Theatre and the Ciniselli Circus.

Imperial residences and parks

St. Petersburg is surrounded by imperial residences, some of which are inscribed in the World Heritage list.

Peterhof, with the Grand Peterhof Palace and fountain cascades and magnificent gardens, is called “the Russian Versailles”. The palace-ensemble along with the city center is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tsarskoe Selo, with the baroque Catherine Palace and the neoclassical Alexander Palace is another impressive ensemble and is renowned also for the school where the most famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was educated.

In Pavlovsk, you can visit the beautiful Pavlovsk Palace and a large English-style park.

Gatchina, Oranienbaum and Kronstadt are other notable suburbs with palaces and parks.

Why not come and try learning Russian with this fun interactive online course which will help you to learn the basics of the language (greetings, personal information, food and drink, numbers and days of the week)?