How NOT to visit the Hermitage: 3 bad tips

Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
A visit to Russia’s main museum could become a real nightmare. And, if you follow the “tips” below, we guarantee you, it will! Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

1. Visit on the third Thursday of the month or even better – on December 7

The Hermitage line at an “open day”

If you want to spend several hours in the waiting lines to the ticket office, to the entrance and then to the cloakroom (there’s often not enough cloakroom tokens for everyone), you have to pick the date of your visit carefully.

The best day for an extremely inconvenient visit to the Hermitage is December 7. This is the museum’s birthday and is traditionally declared an “open day”; in honor of the holiday, a limited amount of online tickets that cost zero rubles is provided (make sure to download them from the website in time: they naturally go quickly). However, this is also the day when many art connoisseurs line up across the entire Palace Square to storm the physical ticket offices for free tickets (spoiler – this approach is a waste of time; such tickets are only available online!).

St. George's Hall (a.k.a. the Great Throne Room)

Another popular day among tourists is every third Thursday of the month, when the museum offers free visits for some categories of visitors, mostly citizens of the Russian Federation. It’s also crowded during the White Nights season (the second half of July) and during the winter holidays (the first week of January): it’s like “rush hour” in the grand halls of the Winter Palace.

To get the best experience of the Hermitage’s popularity, never buy your tickets online. Join the longest waiting line to the ticket office. And, if possible, don’t go to the ticket offices of the General Staff Building – usually, it has fewer visitors, but you can buy tickets to any wing of the museum.

The Hermitage only has no waiting lines at all on January 1, May 9 and on Mondays – when the museum is closed.

2. No matter what, visit all buildings belonging to the Hermitage

Gallery of Heroes from the 1812 War

Russia’s largest museum has more than 3 million art pieces and monuments of world culture. To give every piece at least half a minute of your time, you’ll need almost three years – and that’s not counting admiring the interiors. Even a simple jog through all the halls will take five to six hours. But no need to limit yourself only to the main building of the museum.

The main museum complex alone, situated along the Palace Embankment and on the Palace Square, includes:

  • The Winter Palace (a light-green building on the Palace Square),
  • The adjacent Small Hermitage (also green but with a different hue),
  • The New Hermitage, known for its facade with atlantes,
  • And also the Winter Palace of Peter I (in the building of the Hermitage Theater).
Stairs in the Winter Palace, the Hermitage's main building

But, that’s far from all. The Hermitage also includes the General Staff Building, situated on the other side of the Palace Square. The Hermitage has the Menshikov Palace (on the Universitetskaya Embankment), the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, the ‘Staraya Derevnya’ Restoration and Storage Center, the Stock Exchange (it’s currently under restoration) and also its branches in Kazan, Vyborg and Omsk. You’ll need several weeks for just a brief glimpse of everything.

3. Don’t plan anything in advance

Alexander Hall of the Winter Palace

You already know everything about buying tickets online – there’s no need for that. Why bother preparing to visit any thematic exhibits, either?

There are more than 40 thematic collections in the Hermitage buildings around the Palace Square – from monuments of Ancient Egyptian culture, the Scythians or the Golden Horde to the paintings of Italian painters of the Renaissance.

Certainly, there are nerds who value their time and want to visit particular exhibits. They plan out their own museum routes right on the museum’s website, but that option is not for the adventurers who venture to find Egyptian sarcophaguses in the General Staff Building (but, for some reason, can’t find them there).

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