One of the world’s most magnificent cities, St. Petersburg stretches over forty-four islands. The city was built by Peter the Great in the 18th century to rival the splendor of Paris and combines a wealth of palaces, churches, and museums.
St. Petersburg Russia is the most beautiful and interesting city in Russia. From the Peter and Paul fortress to the retreats of the Tsars, we’ll show you all the highlights of St. Petersburg. Book your tour or shore excursion today!
Russia is filled with beautiful buildings and spectacular landscapes, each unique and breathtaking in its own way. But none can quite compare to Saint Petersburg. Founded by Peter the Great and named in his honor, the city has seen many functions throughout the years. It was a retreat of the Tsar and his family during Russia’s imperial years, and all grand imperial residences are still available to tour. In this article, we will show you the best of what St. Petersburg has to offer. You will understand the full significance of every landmark you will see, and you’ll learn about the city’s past and present.
ENJOYING HISTORIC ST. PETERSBURG
Saint Petersburg has become the center of learning and culture in Russia. There are many museums here, focusing both on (military) history, art, and anthropology. You’ll also be able to look into the past with a tour of the Cruiser Aurora, built around 1900 and famous for the start of the October Revolution. It is still available to see today. If you’re less interested in military history and lean more toward culture instead, you will want to look into the many gardens that bloom in St. Petersburg. In addition to the grounds around the palaces, there are many beautiful sights everywhere around the city.
When Peter the Great first reclaimed the land that would become St. Petersburg, his first action was to build a magnificent fort to protect the area from invasion. This fort, The Peter and Paul Fortress, still stands today, and parts of it are open to the public. The Fortress never needed to defend the city, as all military challenges to St. Petersburg were eliminated before it was even completed. Instead, it became a political prison and city landmark, housing well-known authors and political figures like Dostoevsky and Trotsky. There is also a museum and a beautiful cathedral that no historical traveler should pass up. After seeing the first building in the city, you can see the first residence: the Cabin of Peter the Great himself. Known to some as Peter’s Cottage, this small home is nonetheless magnificent. Peter’s original belongings are still on display within the cabin.
You might also want to explore the museum founded by Peter the Great, one of the oldest museums in the world. Officially known as the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography but also called the Kunstkammer, this magnificent building is dedicated to tracking the development and history of many different peoples worldwide.
With all that fear, it’s much easier to stay at home in our comfort zones than to break out and travel.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
St. Petersburg is filled with beautiful and historical treasures, both inside museums and out. The State Hermitage Museum and State Russian Museum both boast impressive collections, the Hermitage museum filled with over three million artifacts from around the world, and the Russian museum with one of the best collections of Russian art on display. The Mikhailovsky Castle Collections focus on 18th and 19th century art with a focus on Russian sculpture.
If you enjoy architecture, you can’t miss the religious buildings throughout St. Petersburg. St. Issac’s Cathedral, built in the mid-19th century, was once the largest cathedral in all of Russia. Although it is now surpassed by the mammoth Church of Christ our Savior in Moscow, St. Isaac’s is still a wealth of beautiful mosaics, sculpture, and artwork. Another major architectural feature of the city, the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a wonderful example of traditional Russian architecture, built in a completely different style from St. Isaac’s.
Finally, you’ll want to visit the three major imperial estates in and around St. Petersburg. Peterhof palace was built first, by Peter the Great himself, and continued to serve as a retreat for many generations of Tsars to come. It was expanded to include beautiful gardens and is now a park in addition to a tourist attraction. The next estate to be built was Tsarskoe Selo, or Pushkin, which actually houses two separate palaces. In addition to the beautiful grounds and architecture, Tsarskoe Selo was also the estate to which the last Tsar was exiled after the revolution. The final estate outside of St. Petersburg is Pavlovsk, a magnificent architectural contrast to the other two estates with English style landscaping and design.
MILITARY, ENGINEERING, AND MORE
In addition to the general history available in museums, St. Petersburg is a great place for a military historian to visit. From the Cruiser Aurora to the Museum of Artillery, Engineers, and Signals, you’ll love learning firsthand about Russian military history and technology. And whether you’re a more casual tourist or very historically focused, you’ll want to see the beautiful gardens and monuments throughout St. Petersburg. The Bronze Horseman and The Alexander Column commemorate the founder of St. Petersburg and the Russian victory against Napoleon respectively. But perhaps the most impressive monument is the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, a strong piece of architecture that is much more than a collection of statues and is entirely dedicated to Russia’s efforts in World War II.
Explore the gardens and bridges that can be found throughout the city. The Alexander Garden and Summer Garden both feature beautiful plantings in addition to wonderful statues in the Alexander Garden, and the first Summer Palace of St. Petersburg in the Summer Garden. More functional and less decorative are St. Petersburg’s two most marvelous bridges: the Trinity and Anichkov bridges. Both are used today, although the Anitchkov is a more traditional stone design dating back to the first days of the city while the Trinity is modern and longer, designed by the man who built the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
A full day of sightseeing should include a general sightseeing tour of the city along with visits to the Hermitage, the world famous art treasury, Peter & Paul Fortress, the place where the city got its start and the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood, one of the city’s landmarks, as well as several photo stops and shopping.
The Hermitage –The Tsar’s former Winter Palace and four other buildings that house one of the world’s premier art collections. Your two hours guided tour visits display rooms with masterpieces by Da Vinci, Rafael, Monet, Rembrandt, and Renoir. Designed by Rastrelli, the Baroque Winter Palace boasts patterned parquet floors, ornate staircases, molded and decorated ceilings.
Peter and Paul Fortress –Originally built to protect the city from Swedish attack, the fortress soon became Russia’s Tower of London, a place for political prisoners, including Peter the Great’s own son.
The Peter and Paul Cathedral –The city’s tallest structure in the days of Peter the Great and even today. Only the television tower exceeds it in the height. The ornate interior boasts gilded iconostasis, 18th century paintings, icons and the tombs of many Tsars and Tsarinas, including Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.
The Church on Spilled Blood was built on the spot where the Emperor was mortally wounded. The interior of the Church is decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics designed and created by the most prominent Russian artists of the day.
Peterhof Park –Travel to another former summer Imperial residence. Set in magnificent parks, Peterhof is reminiscent of Versailles. It was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, but has been restored to its full splendor. The parks are dotted with countless fountains, charming pavilions and summer houses.The diversity of the fountains in the park is surprising. From monumental ensembles like the Samson Cascade to the ever popular Joke Fountains, including one which sprays anyone who steps on a particular paving stone.