Recommended Stay: 3 days, preferably during White Nights (end of May to mid-July)
Visited: 2014 & 2017 (Visa required. It is also possible to visit visa-free via cruise)
The Hermitage Museum, a walking tour of Nevsky Prospekt including visits to the Church on Spilled Blood and the Kazan Cathedral, and St. Isaac’s Cathedral & viewpoint. I used Rick Steves and Lonely Planet guidebooks to help me chart out this itinerary.
The Hermitage Museum – Located in the Imperial Winter Palace, this extraordinary museum is one of my favorites in the world. The marvelously decorated rooms are filled to the brim with spectacular treasures collected by the tsars, mainly Catherine the Great, for decades from artistic masters around the globe. There is an overwhelming list of artwork to browse, but the unmissable highlights are featured below.
Ticket Tips: No need to line up. As you enter the courtyard of the Hermitage, there are several kiosks that you can utilize to purchase your ticket using a credit card.
Below are the veritable masterpieces of the Hermitage. Please plan to see them all. Allow 2-3 hours as navigating between sections can take time.
Church of the Spilled Blood – Built in the 18th century, this awe-inspiring Orthodox church was constructed to commemorate the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Topped with 5 colorfully mesmerizing domes and wallpapered with intricately dazzling mosaics, this church has been the iconic emblem of St. Petersburg for centuries.
Kazan Cathedral – this neoclassical colonnaded cathedral was commissioned by Tsar Paul shortly before he was assassinated in a coup. It was modeled from St. Peter’s in Rome.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is difficult to miss in St. Petersburg. Its dome appears to be visible from any vantage point around town and the 262-step climb to the colonnaded terrace should not be skipped on your visit to this glorious city.
Peter & Paul Fortress, Kunstkamera, and a museum of your interest (Russian Museum, Erarta Museum, Doesteovsky’s Apartment, etc). A show at any of the theaters in the evening, preferably at the historic Mariinsky Theatre.
Peter & Paul Fortress requires about half a day and has a few highlights that will spur the curiosity of travelers, particularly those who are inclined in learning about Russian history. Since it closes late (7pm), it is best to schedule a visit here towards the end of the day. Originally built by Peter the Great in 1703 to defend the city from Swedish invaders, the fortress is perceived to be the seed where St. Petersburg originated from. It is best to purchase the combo ticket which includes the entrance to the cathedral, the final resting place of the Romanovs, and the Trubetskoy Bastion, where infamous Russians have been imprisoned by both the oppressive tsars and the equally tyrannical Bolsheviks. After touring the sites, it is possible to amble around the perimeter of the fortress for superb views of the water and the sumptuous buildings on the other side of town.
Kunstkamera or the Museum of Ethnology & Anthropology was founded in 1714 by Peter the Great and was the city’s first museum. It was created to house Peter’s collection of various birth anomalies with the aim of educating Russians against certain taboos, etc. It is located on Vasilyevsky Island, which is just right across from the Hermitage. Expect long lines.
I chose to visit Dostoevsky’s Apartment since he is my favorite author of all time. It can be accessed using the metro station named after him.
Since I splurged at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow a few days back, I decided to skip a show at the Mariinsky Theater.
Visit one or both of the palaces out of town – The Tsarskoe Selo or Peterhof. A river cruise in the evening.
Since I had been to the Hermitage twice, which is another Catherine the Great palace similar to Tsarskoe Selo, I opted to take a day trip to Peterhof to gaze at the dazzling grounds teeming with fountains and sculptures. I took a hydrofoil ferry going to Peterhof and a public small bus (marshrutka) coming back to St. Petersburg.
There are a plethora of river cruises available during the summer but not a whole lot have English speaking commentary. If you do not mind a commentary in Russian, just like me, I jumped aboard the nearest dock for a cruise around the fabulous canals of St. Petersburg.
I personally relished St. Petersburg substantially more than Moscow, although both cities are crucial stops in a trip to Mother Russia. As the imperial capital of the tsars, St. Petersburg can easily jam pack one’s sightseeing itinerary and the sights will undoubtedly impress even the most jaded of travelers. A minor drawback though is that the city requires endless walking as the subway only has a few stops within downtown and distances between blocks are long. The vital metro stops are Admiralteyskya for the Hermitage, Kuntskamera, and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Nevsky Prospekt for Church of Spilled Blood & Kazan Cathedral and Gorovskaya for Peter & Paul Fortress.
2014 – St. Peter’s Line Cruise
2017- Courtyard by Marriott: located on the island of Vasilievsky, it is walking distance from the metro stop Sportisnaya and about a half hour walk to the Hermitage and Peter & Paul Fortress. I used a combination of a free night certificate and points and cash on my stay here. I was also upgraded to a junior suite, which has a small living room, walking closet and expansive bathroom. The view from my room was grand. Below are some pictures during sunset taken around 1020PM.
Which city do you like better – St. Petersburg or Moscow?