Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, St. Petersburg served as Russia's imperial capital for more than two hundred years. Today, the city is Russia's culture capital and one of the best possible destinations for anyone interested in the country's rich history. Visitors will be treated to a dazzling area of educational and unique museums, but there are also plenty of beautiful gardens, stunning palaces and fortresses, and excellent restaurants and bars. The city is a must-see for any visitor to Russia, so here are 25 of the best things to see and do while you're there.
1.Academy of Fine Arts Museum
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The Academy of Fine Arts Museum served as one of Russia's most important art schools between 1757 and 1918, and it offers some excellent insight into the history of Russian art education. The academy’s former students and teachers did most of the artwork on permanent display, but the museum also hosts an annual exhibition of artwork done by current students of the Academy, an event now based in Moscow. In addition, the museum often offers temporary exhibits featuring local Russian artists. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and it is not wheelchair-accessible.
Universitetskaya Naberezhnaya 17, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia, Phone: +7-81-22-13-64-96
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Situated in the heart of St. Petersburg, the Alexander Garden dates back to the early 1870s. The garden was named after Alexander II, the emperor at the time, who ordered more than 50 species of tree to be planted here. Various statues were added to the garden throughout the rest of the 19th century, including statues of the poet Vasily Zhukovsky, the writer Nikolai Gogo, and the explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky. Another major highlight of the garden is the fountain in the center, which is known as the "dancing fountain" because of the way it reacts when music is played.
Admiralteiskiy Ave., 12, St. Petersburg, Russia
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Owned by the Komarov Botanical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Botanical Garden is located on Aptekarsky Island. Founded in 1714 on the orders of Peter the Great, the garden was originally intended as a place to grow and study important medicinal herbs. Today, it is one of Russia's oldest botanical gardens, and it is home to a large number of exotic plants that have been carefully collected over the years. Most of the grounds have been carefully landscaped in the style of an English garden, and the property also boasts a museum and almost 30 greenhouses, some of which are open to the public.
Professora Popova St., 2, St. Petersburg 197376, Russia, Phone: +7-81-23-72-54-64
4.Cabin of Peter the Great
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Constructed in 1703, the Cabin of Peter the Great took only three days to build and was the first residential building to be erected in the city of St. Petersburg. Although the cabin is made of wood, the walls were carefully painted to make it look as though they're made of brick. The Tsar lived in the 60-square-meter cabin between 1703 and 1708, and much of the home is still filled with his personal belongings. The cabin is now a part of the Russian Museum, and it is open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day of the week except for Tuesdays.
Petrovskaya Emb., 6 | metro Gorkovskaya, St. Petersburg 197046, Russia, Phone: +7-81-25-95-42-48
5.Cruiser Aurora Museum
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The cruiser Aurora was built and launched into battle at the very beginning of the 20th century, and it played an important role in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. An active naval crew still mans the ship, but it also houses the Cruiser Aurora Museum, which allows visitors to set foot on the historic ship and view the crews' living quarters, the engine room, and a collection of well-preserved communist propaganda. There is no charge to enter the museum, but visitors who would like to take photos or view the engine room will have to pay a small fee.
Petrovskaya Naberezhnaya, St. Petersburg, Russia, Phone: +7-96-50-89-47-23
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Russia has long been known for its impressive silver and gold decorative arts, and the Faberge Museum is home to one of the country's most impressive collections of these decorative arts. The museum is named after Peter Carl Faberge, one of the country's best-known jewelers and the inventor of the famous Faberge egg. There are approximately 4,000 exhibits in the museum, but the highlight is the collection of nine Imperial Easter eggs, which Faberge created for the Emperors Alexander III and Nicolas II. The museum is open every day but Fridays, and guided tours are available for a fee.
Fontanka River Emb., 21, St. Petersburg 191011, Russia, Phone: +7-81-23-33-26-55
7.Grand Maket Rossiya
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If you don't have time to tour the entire country, a visit to the Maket Rossiya is the next best thing. This 8,6000-square-foot model represents almost the entire country, and it was built by a group of roughly 400 artists and computer scientists over the course of five years. In addition to representations of every major landmark in Russia, the model boasts moving trains and cars, changing weather, and 500,000 LED lights that are used to create night and day. Audio tours are available in English, German, and Russian, and binoculars can be rented by anyone interested in getting a closer look.
Tsvetochnaya St., 16, St. Petersburg 196084, Russia, Phone: +7-81-24-95-54-65
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The largest museum of art and culture in Russia, the State Hermitage Museum boasts more than three million items, including the world's largest collection of paintings. The collections occupy six historic buildings, five of which are open to the public, but most of the highlights are housed in the Winter Palace. Because of the museum's immense size, many visitors choose to take a guided tour or rent an audio guide from the front desk. The museum is open every day except Mondays, and free admission is offered to all visitors on the first Thursday of each month.
Dvortsovaya Square, 2, St. Petersburg, Russia, Phone: +7-81-27-10-90-79
9.Kunstkammer Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography
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Founded by Peter the Great, the Kunstkammer Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography is the oldest museum in all of Russia. Most of the collection was assembled during Peter's lifetime, and many of the highlights are items he amassed during his journeys to different countries. Other interesting exhibits include the collection of the famous explorer Nikolai Miklukho-Maclay, a unique display of preserved anatomical specimens, and a section dedicated to the famous Russian polymath Mikhail Lomonosov. Admission is free on the third Friday of each month, and the museum is closed on Mondays and the last Tuesday of every month.
Universitetskaya Emb., 3 | Entrance from Tamozhenny Lane, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia, Phone: +7-81-23-28-14-12
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Sitting on the banks of the Moika River, the Mikhailovskiy Palace was the home of Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich and his family until the 1890s. Well-known architect Carlo Rossi designed the building, and Emperor Paul I funded its construction. The interiors were created by some of the best sculptors of the time; remnants of their work can still be seen in some of the halls. In 1895, a team led by architect Vasiliy Svinin began working to transform the interior of the palace into a museum, and the building has been home to the State Russian Museum ever since.
Sadovaya St., 2, St. Petersburg 191011, Russia, Phone: +7-81-25-95-42-48
11.Museum of Non-Conformist Art
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As its name suggests, the Museum of Non-Conformist Art is a must-see destination for anyone interested in Russia's alternative and modern art scenes. The museum is part of the Pushkinskaya 10 Arts Center, and a large part of the collection was donated by various Russian artists who have worked with the Pushkinskaya art collective. The oldest pieces of artwork date back to the early 1950s, and the museum actively works to display art created using new forms of technology. Regular guided tours are offered in Russian, English, German, and French, and there is no admission charge to enter the museum.
Pushkinskaya St., 10, St. Petersburg 191040, Russia, Phone: +7-81-27-64-48-52
12.Museum of Glass Art
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Located inside the Yelagin Palace, the Museum of Glass Art was founded to display the beautiful crystal and glassware pieces made in the Leningrad Glass Art Factory between the years of 1940 and 1997. In addition to approximately 8,000 glass items created in the factory, the museum displays some of the tools used to sculpt and cut the glassware alongside short videos that explain the process. The museum is closed on Mondays and the last Tuesday of each month, and visitors who require wheelchair assistance are asked to let the museum staff know ahead of time.
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13.Museum of Hygiene
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Formerly the Museum of Good Health, the Museum of Hygiene was created to inform the public about germs, diseases, and the importance of good hygiene. Established in 1919, the museum now provides a fascinating glimpse at the scientific and medical knowledge of the early 1920s. Many of the exhibits consist of campaigns against drug addiction, smoking, and the spread of AIDS; visitors should be aware that most text is in Russian only. Other highlights include a giant artificial heart, two glass models of humans with their internal organs on display, and a taxidermy dog that played a role in Pavlov's well-known experiments.
Ital'yanskaya ulitsa 5, St. Petersburg 191011, Russia, Phone: +7-81-23-11-42-27
14.Museum of Political History
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The Museum of Political History traces the history of politics in Russia from the late 1700s to the modern day, and it is situated inside the historic Kshesinskaya Palace in the center of St. Petersburg. Almost 500,000 exhibits are on display; highlights include a collection of porcelain propaganda from the 1920s, a decree signed by Napoleon, Lenin's former office, and letters written by Soviet statesman Mikhail Gorbachev. Two different audio guides are available for rent, and the museum is open to visitors between 10 am and 6 pm every day except for Mondays and the last Thursday of every month.
Kuibysheva st., 2/4 | Metro: Gorkovskaya, St. Petersburg 198218, Russia, Phone: +7-81-23-13-61-63
15.Museum of Urban Sculpture
© Museum of Urban Sculpture
Founded in 1932, the Museum of Urban Sculpture encompasses an exhibition hall, two cemeteries, and a burial vault. The exhibition hall is the primary attraction; it houses models of almost all the important public monuments in St. Petersburg and allows visitors to obtain an excellent understanding of how Russian monumental sculpture has evolved over the years. The two cemeteries, the Necropolis of Masters of Arts and the Necropolis of the 18th Century, are home to memorial sculptures done by some of Russia's greatest artists. All four locations have different opening hours, so visitors are advised to plan their schedule in advance.
Chernoretskiy per., 2, Sankt-Petersburg, 191167 Russia, Phone: +7-81-22-74-26-35
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Author Vladimir Nabokov is best-known for writing books like Lolita and Pale Fire, but he was also a dedicated collector of butterflies and more than 20 species of butterfly have been named after the characters in his books. He spent much of the 1940s working as a curator in the Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, where he would collect, sort, and mount butterflies for up to 14 hours a day. Much of his collection has been donated to various museums, but part of it still remains in his childhood home in St. Petersburg, which is now the Nabokov Museum.
Bolshaya Morskaya St., 47, St. Petersburg 190000, Russia, Phone: +7-81-23-15-47-13
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Located in the Pavilion Hall of the State Hermitage Museum, the Peacock Clock was commissioned by Prince Grigory Potemkin, who is believed to have been the secret husband of Catherine the Great. The clock was built in England between 1777 and 1797, and it is now the only surviving large piece of 18th century robotics to have made it to modern times without alteration. The clock features three life-sized singing birds: an owl, a peacock, and a rooster. The clock only plays on certain days, so visitors who would like to see the show are advised to contact the museum before they visit.
Dvortsovaya Square, 2, St. Petersburg, Russia, Phone: +7-81-27-10-90-79
18.Peter and Paul Fortress
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Sometimes referred to as the birthplace of St. Petersburg, the Peter and Paul Fortress was the first structure to be constructed in the city. The fortress has fulfilled many different functions over the years; although it never had to defend the city as it was intended to, it has served as a military base, a prison for some of the country's most important political prisoners, an execution ground, and even the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, Today, the grounds are a popular leisure spot while most of the buildings have been converted into the St. Petersburg Museum of History,
Petropavlovskaya Fortress, 3, St. Petersburg 197046, Russia, Phone: +7-81-22-30-64-31
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19.Rasputin Museum at Yusupov Palace
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The Yusupov Palace is where Rasputin was murdered by Prince Yusupov in 1916, and the Rasputin Museum at Yusupov Palace tells the story of the legendary mystic's life and death. Rasputin was notoriously tough, and he survived several glasses of poisoned wine, four bullets, and a brutal beating with clubs before finally being killed by hypothermia after he was thrown into the icy River Neva. The palace is now a museum, but visitors who wish to see the rooms that hold the Rasputin exhibit will require a separate admission ticket. Guided tours are offered at 5 p.m. Friday through Monday.
Emb. Reki Moiki, 94, St. Petersburg 190000, Russia, Phone: +7-81-23-14-98-92
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20.State Russian Museum
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Based around the collection of Tsar Alexander III, the State Russian Museum is situated inside the Mikhailovskiy Palace and is home to one of the world's best displays of Russian art. The museum was founded in 1895 and first opened to the public in 1898, and over the years, the collection has expanded to include more than 400,000 pieces of artwork. The exhibits cover almost the entire history of Russian art; the oldest pieces in the museum date all the way back to the 11th century and are displayed alongside contemporary video artwork from the present time.
Inzhenernaya St., 4 | Metro: Gostiny Dvor, Nevskiy Prospekt, St. Petersburg 191011, Russia, Phone: +7-81-25-95-42-48
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21.Russian Vodka Museum
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It's hard to think about vodka without thinking about Russia, and the Russian Vodka Museum is an excellent destination for anyone interested in learning more about the country's favorite drink. The museum displays everything from traditional vodka glasses to unique, whimsically-shaped bottle stoppers, and there are also informative exhibits that explain the origins of Russian vodka, its history of government regulation, and national Russian quality standards. Guided tours complete with vodka tastings are available, and visitors who would like to bring home some real Russian vodka can browse the wide selection of vodka available for sale at the on-site gift shop.
Konnogvardeiskiy Blvd., 4 | Metro Gostiny Dvor, St. Petersburg 190000, Russia, Phone: +7-81-25-70-64-22
22.Staraya Ladoga Museum Reserve
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Situated on the grounds of one of the oldest known settlements in northern Russia, Staraya Ladoga Museum Reserve consists of several historic churches as well as a fortress from the 16th century. The reserve is small enough to explore on foot, and there are also several interesting exhibits that display information about the history of the village from ancient times to the present day. Separate admission fees are charged for the museum, the grounds, and the church, and guided tours can be arranged in advance for an additional charge. The museum is open year-round, but hours vary according to the season.
19, Volkhovsky Prospekt, Staraya Ladoga (settlement), Volkhov District, Leningrad Region, Phone: +7-81-36-31-35-24
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23.Summer Palace of Peter the Great
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Although not as visually impressive as the ornate Winter Palace, the Summer Palace of Peter the Great is an important part of St. Petersburg's history. Constructed at the beginning of the 18th century, the two-story building was the first palace to be built in the city. It has hardly been altered since it was first built, and it served as Peter the Great's summer home for more than 10 years. The palace is now a branch of the Russian museum, and it is open to visitors between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm every day from June through October.
Kutuzova Emb., 2, St. Petersburg 191187, Russia
24.Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry
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Established in 1921 by renowned botanist and geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, the Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry is home to the largest seed bank in the world. The collection has taken years to assemble, but most impressive is the fact that it survived a 28-month German siege during World War II. The botanists charged with caring for the collection protected it with their lives during the siege; some even starved to death because they refused to eat the seeds and undo their life's work. Guided tours of the facility are available but must be arranged in advance.
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Arguably the most iconic building in St. Petersburg, the Winter Palace was the official residence of the Russian royal family between 1732 and 1917. The first version of the palace was completed in 1735, but it has been expanded and renovated many different times over the years, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the exterior has been left almost untouched since Catherine the Great came into power in 1962. Today, the beautiful baroque palace is the tallest building in the city and one of the most important parts of the famous State Hermitage Museum.
Dvortsovaya Square, 2, St. Petersburg, Russia, Phone: +7-81-27-10-90-79
25 Best Things to Do in Saint Petersburg
- Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Photo: Courtesy of schankz - Fotolia.com
- Alexander Garden, Photo: Courtesy of kurbanov_vener - Fotolia.com
- Botanical Garden, Photo: Courtesy of helgaknut - Fotolia.com
- Cabin of Peter the Great, Photo: Courtesy of aphonua - Fotolia.com
- Cruiser Aurora Museum, Photo: Courtesy of seafarer81 - Fotolia.com
- Faberge Museum, Photo: Courtesy of JackF - Fotolia.com
- Grand Maket Rossiya, Photo: Courtesy of sergeevspb - Fotolia.com
- Hermitage Museum, Photo: Courtesy of vladimirzhoga - Fotolia.com
- Kunstkammer Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, Photo: Courtesy of irisphoto1 - Fotolia.com
- Mikhailovskiy Palace, Photo: Courtesy of dimbar76 - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Non-Conformist Art, Photo: Courtesy of celeste clochard - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Glass Art, Photo: Courtesy of mimishka222 - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Hygiene, Photo: Courtesy of kittipong33 - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Political History, Photo: Courtesy of Igorzvencom - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Urban Sculpture, Photo: Museum of Urban Sculpture
- Nabokov's Butterflies, Photo: Courtesy of isaac74 - Fotolia.com
- Peacock Clock, Photo: Courtesy of tlovely - Fotolia.com
- Peter and Paul Fortress, Photo: Courtesy of a_medvedkov - Fotolia.com
- Rasputin Museum at Yusupov Palace, Photo: Courtesy of konstan - Fotolia.com
- State Russian Museum, Photo: Courtesy of konstan - Fotolia.com
- Russian Vodka Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Pavel Parmenov - Fotolia.com
- Staraya Ladoga Museum Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of kalichka - Fotolia.com
- Summer Palace of Peter the Great, Photo: Courtesy of Iva - Fotolia.com
- Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry, Photo: Courtesy of efesenko - Fotolia.com
- Winter Palace, Photo: Courtesy of aapsky - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of yulenochekk - Fotolia.com