In between meetings and conferences, there’s always time to take in St. Petersburg’s rich diversity of arts and cultural offerings. Here’s a list of the city’s best, including a list of five classics and five modern attractions.
Yusupov Palace (right) on the Moika river. Photo: Strana.ru
While classical beauty can be found in St. Petersburg’s theaters, museums, churches and palaces, the city also features a more eccentric side. To suggest a fuller than usual panorama of what St. Petersburg has to offer, we have composed a list of 10 sights – five that you would find on anyone’s list, and another five that show you a different side of Russia’s northern capital.
You simply cannot say you’ve been to St. Petersburg without a visit to one of the world’s most wondrous museums. Most exhibition halls just show amazing art, but history is an equal draw here. Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great as a private exhibition hall, it opened to the public in 1852. Eventually encompassing six buildings, at its peak nearly 1,000 people lived here, including the imperial family. It was here in 1917 that the Russian revolution was ushered in. Always expanding, the museum’s holdings include 3 million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world.
Address of the Main Museum Complex: 2, Dvortsovaya Square, St. Petersburg (Metro Admiralteyskaya, Nevsky Prospekt, Gostiny Dvor).
Open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 10.30 a.m. till 6 p.m., Wednesday from 10.30 till 9 p.m. Tickets are 400 rubles. More information here.
2. St. Isaac's Cathedral
St. Petersburg’s largest Russian Orthodox cathedral is named for St. Isaac of Dalmatia, Peter the Great’s patron saint. Built between 1818 and 1858 at a remarkable cost at the time of 1 million gold rubles, it served as the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism for a time during the Soviet period. One of Russia’s first mega-projects, its dome is over 100 meters high and is plated with pure gold. Today it is both a functioning church and museum. If you only have time to see one Orthodox church, this is a safe bet and, as an added bonus, the city’s best view can be had from the dome.
Address of the St. Isaac's Cathedral Museum: 4, St. Isaac’s Square, St. Petersburg (Metro Admiralteyskaya). Open daily (except Wednesday) from 10.30 a.m. till 6 p.m. Tickets are 250 rubles.
3. Mariinsky Theater
First opening in 1860, the Mariinsky Theater has since served as the most famous place to view opera and ballet in St. Petersburg, and arguably, all of Russia. Many of Russia’s most famous classical composers – including Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov – first staged their famous works here. The Mariinsky Theater Second Stage opened next door in 2013.
4. Peter and Paul Fortress
St. Petersburg’s original structure, this fortress was founded by Peter the Great in 1703. Until the early 20th century, it was used primarily as a Tsarist holding pen for political prisoners including Dostoevsky, Gorky, Trotsky and Tito. Today the fortress is a museum featuring the tallest bell tower in the city, a cathedral that houses the remains of most of the Tsars including Nicholas II and his family, the mint building and a city museum.
Address: 3, Peter and Paul fortress, St. Petersburg (Metro Gorkovskaya).
Open daily (except Wednesday) from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m., Tuesday – from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. More information here.
5. Yusupov Palace
This 18th century mansion is probably most famous for being the site of Rasputin’s murder in 1916 (and a special tour revolves around this incident). However, this palace, a home for the noble Yusupov family, is a work of art on the level with many royal residences with ample amounts of gold, chandeliers and a concert hall. It is also used for high-level conferences and delegations and many a king, queen and rock star have graced its steps.
Address: 94, Moika Emb., St. Petersburg (Metro Admiralteyskaya, Sennaya Ploshchad/Sadovaya/Spasskaya).
Open daily from 11 a.m. till 5 p.m.
Russia’s first museum was founded by Peter the Great and completed in 1727. Today it is one of the world’s largest anthropological and ethnographic exhibition centers. One of Peter’s motivations in opening this museum was to battle irrational superstitions of monsters among the general public. To that end, he encouraged research on natural abnormalities and filled numerous jars with deformed fetuses to show examples of nature’s accidents.
Address: 3, University Emb., St. Petersburg (Metro Nevsky Prospect).
Open daily (except Monday) from 11 a.m. till 6 p.m. Tickets are 250 rubles.
7. Datsan Gunzechoinei Buddhist Temple
This Buddhist temple will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2015. Built on the initiation of Dalai Lama Gyatso and Buryat lama Dorzhiev, it was ransacked during the Russian Civil War and hosted the Mongolian-Tibetan mission to the USSR before receiving a new lease on life after the fall of Communism. Recently a Mongolian-style Great Buddha statue has been installed, while a Siam sitting Buddha that had been absent for years, was brought back.
Address: 91 Primorskyi av., St. Petersburg (Metro Staraya derevnya).
Open daily (except Wednesday) from 10 a.m. till 7 p.m. Entrance is free.
8. Udelnaya Flea Market
This flea market in the north of the city operates on weekends and is dedicated to all sorts of old treasures and oddities. Everything from iron Orthodox crosses to Soviet uniforms to bootleg Bob Dylan records from the 1970s can be found here.
Located at Metro Udelnaya the flea market operates throughout the year on weekends and holidays. The bulk of the venders set out their goods from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Photo gallery: https://vk.com/album-17696100_146103771
9. Soviet Ryumochnaya
As there were few proper bars in the USSR, the “ryumochnaya” was a Soviet compromise, an institution where one could stop off on their way home from the factory and have a bite of something pickled and 50 grams of vodka. The few that remain are very affordable, in addition to being historical glimpses at Soviet consumerism. Try Mayak (Ul. Mayakovskogo 20 at Metro Ploshchad Vosstaniya) or Ryumochnaya (Ul. Razezzhaya 11 at Metro Vladimirskaya).
10. Wow Russia tours
Dutchman Jonathan Van Dijk leads a variety of tours that will take you to places you would otherwise not find on your own. His Communism tour is offered in a Soviet-made Volga (also known as the Mercedes of the USSR) taking visitors through 70 years of Soviet architecture. In a four-hour tour he shows early Soviet factories, futuristic buildings and the best in Khrushchev-era housing.
Address: 62, Zayachi Pereulok, St. Petersburg.