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10 Must-See Attractions in Saint Petersburg

posted in: Europe  |  posted by: Ian Harrison on July 29, 2009  |  No Comments

Moscow may get the lion’s share of attention, press and publicity in Russia but the former capital and second city of the mammoth country, with such a rich and deep history, is the place to visit. Saint Petersburg, capital of Russia for more than two hundred years before the revolution of 1917, is one of the premier hubs of culture in Europe, if not the world.

The city is tough to beat and on par with the best on the continent in the realm of historic landmarks and monuments. Saint Petersburg in fact, is a UNESCO World Heritage City, with dozens of monuments, forts, palaces, estates and even roads, on the official inscription list. In short, Saint Petersburg is a destination that requires several days to appreciate. Those who do take the time to explore the vast and beautiful city of close to 6 million people will reap memorable rewards.

At the very least, add these ten must-see Saint Petersburg attractions to your list.

10. Kazan Cathedral

It took a decade in the early 19th century to built the grand, mother cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in Saint Petersburg. The result, a virtual homage to Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, is still remarkable today.

Kazan Cathedral

9. State Hermitage

Saint Petersburg’s State Hermitage is in truth, many attractions in one massive package. A museum of art and culture that ranks up there with The Louvre in Paris and Prado in Madrid in importance and size, the vital complex spans the Winter Palace, Hermitage Theatre, Marble Palace, Summer Garden and Menshikov Palace. Remember to thank Catherine the Great on your way out.

Winter Palace

8. Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter the Great had the original citadel built in the city that bears his patron saint’s name in the early 18th century. The magnificent result, the Peter and Paul Fortress, contains many important landmarks, such as the Peter and Paul Cathedral. As the burial place of the Czars from Peter I to Alexander III, the cathedral draws many visitors.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

7. Catherine Palace

Saint Petersburg is a city of palaces. The Rococo summer palace of Catherine I however, built in 1717, is simply brilliant. Well worth the 26 km trip south of Saint Petersburg to the small town of Pushkin.

Catherine Palace

6. Kunstkamera

The first museum in Russia, at the behest of Peter the Great in 1727, is also one of the most unusual and infamous in the world. With over 2 million items on display, the anthropology and ethnography museum’s collection includes the late Czar’s personal trove of “natural and human curiosities and rarities”.


5. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

First in size in Saint Petersburg and for a time, in Russia as well, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral was built over a period of four decades, from 1818 to 1858. The spectacular church was believe it or not, converted to a museum of atheism under the Soviet authority. Worship at Saint Isaac’s began anew after the fall of communism.

Saint Isaac's Cathedral

4. Peterhof

Think of Peterhof as Versailles to Saint Petersburg’s Paris. The UNESCO World Heritage municipal town hosts a phenomenal palace and garden complex, built on the order of Peter the Great of course, that rivals any within Europe.


3. Mariinsky Theatre

It would be sheer folly to visit Russia and not take in a ballet. Even worse to skip out on a performance in Saint Petersburg, where the legendary Mariinsky Theatre serves as a cultural mecca of sorts. Home to the Mariinsky Ballet, Mariinsky Opera and Mariinsky Orchestra, the paramount facility has been open since 1860.

Mariinsky Theatre

2. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Incessant visits to cathedrals can get tiresome in Europe after a spell but the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is well worth your time. We promise. Built under Alexander III in the late 19th century as a memorial to his father, Alexander II, the iconic Baroque and Neoclassical church has more than 7500 square metres of mosaics on display.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

1. St. Michael’s Castle

Known also as Mikhailovsky Castle or the Engineer Castle, St. Michael’s is the opulent former royal residence of Emperor Paul I. Built between 1797 and 1801, Paul spent just over a month in his new digs before a group of assassins took him out in his own bedroom.

Discover the best hotel deals in Saint Petersburg.

St. Michael's Castle

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

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