20 main attractions of St. Petersburg (PHOTOS)

Alex 'Florstein' Fedorov (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The historic center of the former Russian capital and monuments related to it made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List back in 1990. It is considered the largest historic and cultural object on the list. Below we’ve highlighted the main attractions of St. Petersburg, that are simply a must to visit. We also added several other places to the list that are not on UNESCO’s.


1. Winter Palace (The State Hermitage Museum)

Over more than a century and a half, the Winter Palace was the main imperial palace of Russia. It became the fifth monarchic residence built on that site since 1712. Empress Catherine the Great became the first owner of the building.

To contain her collection of paintings and sculptures, an outbuilding was built, attached to the imperial residence, which received the name ‘Hermitage’. Today, the main museum complex of the State Hermitage Museum – one of the largest museums in the world – integrates six buildings, including the Winter Palace itself.

We spoke here about the treasures of the Hermitage; we also explained how not to plan a visit to this museum here!

Additionally, find out why this palace is called the Winter Palace and about other curious facts about the former imperial residence here.

2. Mikhailovsky Palace (The Russian Museum)

This palace is, first of all, famous as the largest collection of Russian art in the world. The private collection of Emperor Alexander III, the main patron of national culture of his era, became the foundation of the museum.

3. The Palace of Yusupovs on the Moika

This mansion’s luxurious decorations could compete with the imperial family members’ residences. This was one of the 57 palaces of one of the wealthiest noble families of Russia, the Princes Yusupovs. The building itself is also famous for the fact that Grigori Rasputin – a starets and a confidant of Emperor Nicholas II’s family – was assassinated in it.

Read more about the Palace of Yusupovs here


4. Palace Bridge

This is a famous bridge of St. Petersburg that became a symbol of the city. Its central two-wing span, drawn during the ‘White Nights’ season (you can catch it a week before June 21 and a week after) is probably the most photographed structure of the city.

5. Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge (formerly Emperor Peter the Great Bridge)

This most unusual St. Petersburg bridge over the Neva River was opened in 1911. It has two central towers and two arches. The bridge connects two prominent locations in the city – the Smolny Cathedral and Okhtinsky Cape, where the Swedish fortress Nyenschantz once stood, torn down before the middle of the 18th century. 

6. Anichkov Bridge 

This three-span bridge over the Fontanka River, which can’t be drawn, is decorated with The Horse Tamers composition, comprised of four bronze sculptures designed by Peter Klodt. For many, the Anichkov Bridge is one of the favorite photo locations on Nevsky Prospekt.

Read more about this and other bridges of St. Petersburg here.


7. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

This church was built on the site of assassination of Emperor Alexander II: in 1881, one of the members of the terrorist organization ‘People’s Will’ threw a bomb under the monarch’s feet. This sixth attempt on the life of the emperor turned out to be fatal. 

The construction of the church began in 1883; it was only consecrated in 1907. On the outside, the building is reminiscent of St. Basil’s Cathedral on the Red Square in Moscow. From the inside, its walls and vaults are entirely covered by mosaics.

Read more about the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood here.

8. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

Built in 1858, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral was an “heir” of three previous cathedrals that had been located on the same site since 1710 (St. Petersburg was founded in 1703). The construction of the cathedral took 40 years. The building is 101.5 meters tall; at the level of 43 meters above ground, there’s a colonnade from which a panoramic view of the city opens.

Read more about St. Isaac’s Cathedral here.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral operate as museums. On weekends and during Church holidays, divine services are conducted in them, which you can attend free of charge. 

9. Kazan Cathedral

This cathedral, located in the middle of Nevsky Prospekt, is revered as a memorial of Russian military glory. It was consecrated in 1811, a year before the victory in the Patriotic War of 1812. Later, military trophies were delivered to it; in 1813, Commander in Chief of this war, Mikhail Kutuzov, was buried in the left chapel of the cathedral. One of the most venerated sacred objects of the Russian Orthodox Church is kept here – the Our Lady of Kazan icon.

Read more about Kazan Cathedral here.


10. Palace Embankment

The grandest embankment of St. Petersburg stretches for less than two kilometers. Along it stand the Winter Palace and the buildings of the State Hermitage Museum, the Summer Garden, the Marble Palace (a branch of the Russian Museum), as well as other prominent palaces and mansions. From the embankment, a view of the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Spit of Vasilievsky Island also opens.

11. Spit of Vasilievsky Island

The central part of the architecture ensemble of the spit is formed by the buildings of the Stock Exchange, the Zoological Museum, the Museum of Soil and by a park featuring the famous red ‘Rostral Columns’: they served as lighthouses for the port that stood here until 1885. The sides of the spit feature the Palace Bridge and the Exchange Bridge.

Read about the Rostral Columns here.

12. Sevkabel Port

The most trendy embankment of the city is located on the territory of a public space opened on the site of the first Russian cable factory. From it, a view of the Vantovy bridge over the Korabelny fairway, of the Marine Station, as well as the port and cranes of the Kanonersky Ship Repairing Yard, opens. 

Cafes, restaurants and designer stores are the “residents” of Sevkabel Port. It also holds exhibitions, excursions, concerts, festivals and markets.

Find out how to look at St. Petersburg from the water here.


13. Palace Square

This is the main square of the city: there’s the Winter Palace, the General Staff Building (“split” between the State Hermitage Museum and military headquarters), as well as other buildings belonging to the Hermitage. In the middle of the square stands the Alexander Column, crowned with an angel.

Read more about the angel and other fantastic creatures of St. Petersburg here

In 1924, the country’s authorities contemplated changing the sculpture of the angel for the statue of Lenin, who died that year, but, in the end, they didn’t dare do it. Today, the city’s main mass events are organized on the Palace Square.

14. Senate Square

The square received its name after the building of the Senate – the highest body of state authority of the Russian Empire (today, the Constitutional Court of Russia occupies the building). There’s also the Bronze Horseman – a monument opened in 1782 in honor of Peter the Great. 

Check out 10 facts about the Bronze Horseman – the famous symbol of the city – here.

In 1925, Senate Square was renamed as Decembrists’ Square – in honor of the members of secret society noblemen, who organized a revolt at this place in December 1825. The hundred-year anniversary of the coup attempt to abolish absolute monarchy and liquidate serfdom was celebrated in the USSR on quite a grand scale. The original name was returned to the square only in 2008.

15. Field of Mars

Since the time of Peter the Great, this place, essentially a large meadow, has seen parades and reviews of troops; later, sports festivals were also held there. The name the ‘Field of Mars’, dedicated to the ancient Greek god of war, became associated with it only in 1805.

In April 1917, mass graves of those killed during the February Revolution (February 23-27, 1917) appeared there.

Find out what Petrograd looked like in 1917 here.

In November 1918, the ‘Field of Mars’, turned into a Bolshevik necropolis, was renamed to ‘Victims of the Revolution Square’: it hosted burials until 1933. In 1942, during the Siege of Leningrad, the square was given to the people to make vegetable gardens. In 1944, its historic name was returned; in 1957, the first official “eternal flame” on the territory of the USSR appeared there, from which, 10 years later, the flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow was lit.

Gardens and public spaces

16. Summer Garden

This park, founded by Peter the Great in 1704, occupies a small island. Initially, there was a summer residence of the monarch, closed from strangers, designed after the Park of Versailles. By the order of the founder, the park was adorned with marble sculptures authored by Italian craftsmen (today, you can see their copies in the Summer Garden), as well as fountains, lost due to the 1777 flood and restored only in the 21st century. The Summer Garden was first opened to the public by Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth, in 1752.

Discover five secrets of the Summer Garden here.

17. New Holland Island

Along with Sevkabel Port, there’s another trendy public space, opened on the site of a former industrial zone. In Peter the Great’s time, timber was dried there, intended for ship building. Later, a prison appeared – Navy Department buildings. 

Today, boutiques and restaurants operate in the building of the navy prison, a children’s center occupies the commandant’s house, while the lawn in the middle of the island hosts festivals in summer and a skating rink in winter.

Read more about New Holland here.

18. Mikhailovsky Garden

This garden appeared on St. Petersburg’s maps by the order of Peter the Great at the same time as the Summer Garden, which is located nearby. It is also adjacent to the Mikhailovsky Palace (the Russian Museum) and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood; it’s a small park with wide alleys and a little pond.

19. Botanical Garden

This is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Russia. Its collection began to be assembled in the 18th century, after Peter the Great had moved the capital to St. Petersburg and ordered the creation of the Apothecary Garden. The complex includes orangeries, a park with a Japanese garden, a museum and a plant nursery.

20. Peter and Paul Fortress

The history of St. Petersburg started on Zayachy Island with the construction of this fortress that hasn’t participated in a single battle. The date of its founding – May 27, 1703 – is considered the day of the founding of the city.

A system of fortifications was built around the perimeter of the island. Inside are located: the Peter and Paul Cathedral – the tomb of Russian emperors; the Mint, operational from 1724; a former prison for political criminals; officers’ and engineers’ houses, as well as other buildings. To this day, according to tradition from 1873, a signal artillery shot is fired from the Naryshkin Bastion of the fortress every noon. 

Read more: The most important things about the most unusual fortress of Russia

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