7 Ways to Explore Saint Petersburg, Russia

Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock.com

Saint Petersburg, Russia is an incredible city filled with some of the world’s most fascinating tales. Historical sights and modern attractions are both readily available. The social scene is Vodka-fueled and gregarious with easy transportation, as a result boredom is absolutely impossible. St. Petersburg has been going through a mini-Revolution, finding its balance between Russia’s old days and the modern world. Throughout a comprehensive tour, be sure to see some of the city’s world renowned sights, but don’t miss out on some of the best hidden gems stumbled across by a few unplanned urban adventures.

7. Dvortsovaya Ploshchad (Palace Square Neighborhood)

The city’s royal heart and historical past preside in Dvortsovaya Ploshchad, known as Palace Square, a behemoth city center outlined by beautiful, neoclassical buildings constructed in different eras, but coming together seamlessly. The Winter Palace, a charming chartreuse beauty sitting on the Neva river ride, is the main spectacle and the mainstay for Russian Tsars like Catherine the Great from the mid 1700s and on. Today, the Winter Palace is known as The State Hermitage Museum, the largest in Russia and a world renowned art house. The square is an essential way to inaugurate a visit to the city: admire the central, 155-foot Alexander I statue, a gravitational wonder since 1834. You can ponder details of baffling historical events like Bloody Sunday which led into the 1905 Russian Revolution, snap away at monstrous Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and walk along the riverbanks to nearby attractions like Nevsky Prospect neighborhood.
Dvortsovaya Ploshchad

6. Art Hotel Rachmaninov

The Rachmaninov Art Hotel in St. Petersburg holds significant art pieces exemplifying post-Revolution in St. Petersburg. Once home to Sergei Rachmaninov, a renowned Russian pianist, composer, and artist who lived there as a child, many pieces within Rachmaninov represent his love of Romanticism in classical music–specifically from Russia. The Rachmaninov’s interior is graced with artwork throughout the public spaces and also within the boutique hotel’s rooms and suites. The perspective offered here is definitely quirky, providing an interesting perspective to the furniture throughout which is all 19th century based designs. Hotel Rachminov also dedicates two gallery spaces to varied works of St. Petersburg artists revolving exhibitions. Within the attraction-filled Nevsky Prospect area, the art hotel is also within walking distance to beautiful Kazan Cathedral, Kazan Square, Stroganov Palace, and the charming riverside area. The art hotel is definitely a rare find and perfect for a few hours’ of perusing.

Photo by: Saint Petersburg Convention Bureau
Photo by: Saint Petersburg Convention Bureau

5. Vasilyevsky Island

The series of historical attractions along the eastern side of Vasilyevsky Island was originally incorporated as the administrative center of St. Petersburg under rule of Peter the Great, but eventually lost its purpose and is now mostly residential in a network of grids housing dynamic shopping avenues. The island’s west side is home to state-of-the-art Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art—definitely the most interesting of all sights. Views are distinctly scenic. Vasilyevsky is enveloped by the Malaya Neva and Bolshaya Neva Rivers in the northeast and south, and along the west by the beautiful Gulf of Finland. Enjoy fantastic views of the stunning Winter Palace and the famous Blagoveshchensky and Palace Bridges, connecting the southern stretch to the mainland. Take a walking tour of literary haven Pushkin House, the old stock exchange, the Zoological Museum, and science-based Kunstkamera Museum. Historically significant Menshikov Palace is also on route.

Vasilyevsky Island, Russia

4. Nevsky Prospect Neighborhood

Anyone visiting St. Petersburg, Russia for the first time should not miss a chance to explore the Nevsky Prospect neighborhood, a three-mile expanse carving through dense woodland, cutout in 1718, and now one of the finest pedestrian areas to enjoy. Nevsky Prospect is arguably the social and cultural heart of St. Petersburg, ripe with restaurants, cafes, and bars featuring plenty of cultural hotspots and events. See the neoclassical, St-Petersburg-Basilica-inspired Kazansky Ploschad (Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan), and explore the vibrant, Gaudi-esque Church of Spilled Blood, a magically designed cathedral exhibiting similar curves and colours used by Barcelona’s most celebrated architect. Look up the fascinating history surrounding Nevsky Prospect and learn how Peter the Great planned the thoroughfare as the start of a route from the city of Novgorod through to Moscow. The area hotels are ideal for visitors craving a lively backdrop.

Photo by: Dennis Jarvis Halifax via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Dennis Jarvis Halifax via Wikimedia Commons

3. Summer Garden at the Russian Museum

It might sound unusual to explore a summer garden in the thick of winter, but Letny Sad is in a league of its own. Defying seasons, this south-bank situated conservatory spans more than a whopping million square feet and is known as St. Petersburg’s biggest park. The Summer Garden is another Peter the Great installation. It was a location selected for his summer home and is now a green space cherished by locals. Recently restored throughout, the tree-flanked alleys found before the main fountains and the 18th century marble effigies are its loveliest features. The neighboring Russian Museum can be paired with a garden walk-through for an interesting few hours in the city. Upon a complete tour, visitors will see the Engineering Gardens, Mikhailovsky Gardens, along with massive, gold-tinged Summer Palace headed by impressive fountains and the austere House of Peter the Great.

The Summer Garden, St Petersburg Russia

2. Erarta Contemporary Art Museum and Gallery

The modern art scene in St. Petersburg might not be an obvious facet of the city or its attractions, but with many incredible new art venues opening their doors, the art scene is definitely an up-and-coming cultural scene. Take local metro from the northern city edge to Vasilevsky Island (also called Basil Island) and explore the amazing Erarta Contemporary Art Museum and Gallery, housing the biggest collection of artwork that is funded privately and exhibits religious and politically defying works. Every three months there are eight new art shows featured throughout two large wings at Erarta, showcasing work by both famous and up-and-coming national and international artists. More than 2,20o works from 250-plus artists are part of the museum’s impressive, and growing, permanent collections and are brought in from across the country. Get there easily in fifteen minutes by bus from Nevsky Prospect neighborhood.

Photo by: Erarta Museum and Galleries of Contemporary Art via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Erarta Museum and Galleries of Contemporary Art via Wikimedia Commons

1. Grand Peterhof Palace and Grand Cascade

Ultra-luxurious and completely impressive, the Grand Peterhof Palace and Grand Cascade comprise one of the most breathtaking historical scenes in modern-day St. Petersburg. Set against Gulf of Finland, this is a sublime collection of parks and multiple castles, often called the “Russian Versailles.” Established by Peter the Great in the early 18th century, the main attraction of the Upper Garden and Lower Park is the astonishing Bolshoi Dvorets (Grand Palace) fronted by Bolshoi Kaskad (Grand Cascade). Restyled in Baroque design circa 1750 by Winter Palace architect Bartolmoe Rastrelli, the painstaking restoration is axiomatic. The Grand Cascade spills from the palace fountains (turned on in May through October) toward the Baltic Sea, creating a massive fountain chain while pavilions and more fountains dot the surrounding park. In summer months, reach the palace via an exciting hydrofoil ride from the Winter Palace in under an hour.

Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock.com
Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock.com

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