St. Petersburg, a city built up by Tsar Peter the Great who was inspired by the culture of The Netherlands, England and France, is Russia’s most Westernized city as well as its cultural capital – actually, if it wasn’t for the colorful onion domes it could have been any other West European city. This UNESCO World heritage city is literally bursting with history, culture and the grandest and most decorated royal palaces. So if you are a history lover just like me, this city will leave you absolutely enchanted! In fact, I had fallen in love with St. Petersburg long before I actually visited the city and all because of the movie Anastasia, which I watched when I was just 9 years old – thus it was an absolute dream come true to be in St. Petersburg!
Whenever I do city trips I try to explore the city by foot, because this is the best way you can truly discover a city. And although enormous, St. Petersburg is relatively easy to discover walking, so below you will find a 4-day tour, including as much walking routes as possible, to discover only the most beautiful sights of St. Petersburg.
Before I start, I have to mention a great plus of this city is that everyone understands and even speaks a little bit of English, so as we Brazilians say ‘you won’t die of hunger there’ – basically because for us food = life!
My boyfriend and I stayed in a hotel that was just one block away from the Hermitage Museum – a.k.a The Winter Palace! So it was obvious we visited it first. Not only is it a historic symbol of the power of the Russian monarchy it is also one of the largest and oldest museums in the World. Keep in mind that the Hermitage is huge! So do reserve enough time to visit the exhibitions, such as my favourite one of Leonardo Da Vinci with paintings like Madonna and the Child that are on permanent display in the Hermitage.
Insiders tip: the museum is closed on Mondays!
2. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
After a short 10 minute walk you will stumble upon the dreamy Church of the Savior on spilled Blood that was dedicated to be a memorial to Alexander II, who was fatally wounded there by a bomb thrown by an anarchist conspirator. If you think the outside is already breathtaking, you should see the inside! It is covered from top to bottom with paintings, leaving absolutely no blank space!
The Singer House or also widely known as the House of Books – as it became the city’s largest book store in 1938 – is a beautiful Art Nouveau building and recognized as a historical landmark. We decided to have some Russian pancakes ‘Blinis’ at Café Singer where you can enjoy a beautiful view on the Kazan Cathedral as you can see in the picture below!
4. Kazan Cathedral
The Kazan Cathedral belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church and is dedicated to the Lady of Kazan – The holy protecters of Russia. We actually went inside very quickly as a service was taking place, however seeing the building from the outside was already incredible!
The biggest palaces are outside the city, so you will have to reserve a whole day for it and sadly you cannot do this walking. Luckily our hotel offered a private English guide with tickets included for all the palaces and transportation for 2 days for only €80 p.p! – I can tell you that this was the best money spent during our whole trip. Russia is so rich in culture that it is impossible to discover it all by yourself, so the guide was fundamental to make our trip this memorable as she was able to give us a detailed glimpse of how life really was during the Tsar era with detailed historic stories and even royal gossip!
Insiders tip: as a guest of Hotel ‘Petro Palace’ you can have access to this incredible service, however other hotels might also offer similar private guide and transportation services!
1. Peterhof Palace
Insider tip: during the summer time you can enjoy the gardens in combination with a picnic!
The Peterhof Palace – sometimes even referred to as the Russian Versailles – was the best experience I had in St. Petersburg. We learned so much about all the details of this heavily decorated Palace, its history and the Russian culture thanks to our amazing guide.
Due to the enormous size of the Peterhof Palace and its gardens, we spend a whole day on this visitation. However, you will be more than satisfied with all there is to see and learn!
Insiders tip: you are not allowed to take photos inside of the palace, so leave your heavy cameras at the hotel!
2. The Mariinsky Theatre – The Nutcracker Ballet show
In the nighttime we scheduled a Ballet show – the Nutcracker – at the historic Mariinsky Theater. Once you are in Russia it is almost obligatory to watch a Ballet show! Not only is it spectacular to see it is part of the deep rooted Russian culture.
I had a tough time dragging my boyfriend to a 2 hour ballet show… (maybe some of the girl readers can relate) but he was so amazed by the magnificent show that he made me promise that from now on to always attend a show whenever we return. These ballet shows are very popular so keep in mind that you will have to book the tickets way in advanced!
Insiders tip: There are plenty of breaks during the show, so don’t worry you won’t have to hold your pee! But be careful to not confuse the break with the end of the show – yup that almost happened to us!
1. Catherine Palace
The Catherine Palace was the summer residence of the Russian Tsars and home to the World famous Amber Room. In fact, before the room was completely looted during WW2, it was considered the 8th World wonder. It has now been replicated and even includes a little original section from 1701 that survived the Nazi looting and that was found many years later in Germany – I challenge you to try and find it as the two can barely be told apart!
Nice to know: because Saint Petersburg is the birthpalce of president Putin, he motivated the government to renovate and bring back all the lost glories to his beloved city
Sadly, it was prohibited to take pictures inside the Amber room but thanks to Google I can give you a glimpse of just how amazing it really is!
The Catherine Palace was also the home of the powerful Catherine the Great, whose era is often considered the golden age of the Russian Empire. She was such a strong woman who went from being a simple German princess to one of the mightiest woman in the World!
2. The Pavlovsk Palace
The Pavlovsk Palace was built by Catherine the Great for her son the Gran Duke Paul. It is significantly small compared to the Catherine Palace but don’t you worry… it is just as rich in details! The palace survived the Russian Revolution and WW2 and therefore it still has a great inventory of original furniture and treasures.
Insiders tip: during the wintertime both attractions close earlier than normal. Therefore make sure to visit the Pavlovsk Palace first, as it also opens first, in order to avoid having to rush through the palaces!
3. Café Georgia
At the end of the day we ate at a Georgian restaurant that attracted me because of the dolls dressed up in ethnic clothes in the windows. Although it did not serve typical Russian dishes, it was absolutely delicious as you can see from my face in the photo!
Insiders tip: Do absolutely try the typical Russian red caviar. Especially since it is so cheap in Russia!
Day 4 is the day that you will probably walk the most – to walk from point 1 to 3 takes already about an hour. However, the day is organized in a way so that it allows you to enjoy the sunset at the St. Isaac’s Cathedral as a magnificent goodbye to this beautiful city!
Insiders tip: Cross the Troitsky Bridge instead when walking back to the St. Isaac’s Cathedral in order to see some new things!
1. Yusupov Palace
The Yusupov Palace is one of the two surviving St. Petersburg residences of the extremely wealthy Yusupov family and is most famous for the dramatic assassination of Rasputin. The museum now has an exhibition that uses photography, documents and wax figures to recreate this assassination.
2. Peter and Paul Fortress
The Peter and Paul Fortress is the original citadel of St. petersburg and was used as a prison and execution ground up until 1920’s but it is now open to the public. It is also the burial place of all the Russian Emperors and Empresses from Peter the Great to Alexander III.
3. Museum of Artillery
The Museum of Artillery is located right next to the Peter and Paul Fortress and so a visitation to both is the perfect combination. To be honest visiting this military museum was part of the comprise after dragging my boyfriend to a 2 hour ballet show! However, I ended up really enjoying to see the enormous collection of arms and heavy artillery from the Middle Ages up to the present day!
4. Isaac’s Cathedral – Panoramic view
We finished the day watching the sunset from the Isaac’s Cathedral rooftop, which has a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. It was by far the best way to say farewell to this amazing city!
If you are planning to visit St. Petersburg or the thought had never even crossed your mind, I hope this post inspired you to pack your bags immediately! Because I can assure you, you won’t regret it.
If I missed something or you have any further questions, feel free to comment bellow!