Culture, art, shopping, architecture, food: There are so many things to do and see in St. Petersburg, Russia that trying to condense them into a single list seems a bit futile. Yet here is one attempt to convey the delights that await the intrepid traveler to one of the most interesting cities in the world.
• Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood: St. Petersburg’s most iconic sight is probably the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. But looks can be deceiving. Unlike the fabled St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, the Church of the Savior is barely 100 years old. It marks, however, the very spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. Alexander III started the construction as a memorial to his late father. Like many churches in Russia, the Church of the Savior is now a museum and was never reconsecrated after the Soviets government closed it.
• Hermitage Museum: Not only one of the oldest (if not the oldest) museums in the world, this is also one of the best. Located inside the Winter Palace of Empress Catherine the Great, it spans more than 1,500 rooms. Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, ancient Scythian Gold and artwork from the dawn of time—this museum will take visitors’ breath away. Plan at least one full day or more for a visit. The Russian Tsars managed to build such a large collection of priceless artwork that it won’t even fit into the huge Winter Palace. There are many, many outbuildings and even an archive to visit.
• Peterhof Palace: Peterhof Palace was built by Tsar Peter to outshine Versailles. He might not have managed to build a bigger palace, but the opulent water gardens his architects created beggar comprehension. Especially the grand cascade draws millions of tourists to Peterhof each year. Peterhof Palace is, strictly speaking, not located in St. Petersburg anymore, but a couple of miles away to the west. Visitors will have to take one of the crazy hydrofoil speedboats to get there (which is an adventure in itself). Once there, don’t forget to visit the unbelievable Bath House-Palace of the tsars.
• Saint Isaac’s Cathedral: An architectonic marvel, this is not only the largest orthodox basilica in the world but also the fourth-largest cathedral in the world. Strictly speaking, it is not a proper church anymore either. Like the Cathedral of the Savior on Spilled Blood, it is now a museum. Only on the highest feast days service are held here. A small portion of the huge Cathedral is devoted to regular worship activity these days, though.
• Peter and Paul Fortress: Marking the very spot St. Petersburg was founded, it was here Tsar Peter erected a small wooden hut in 1703 and oversaw the construction of the mighty fortress. The bell tower of the Peter and Paul Cathedral (122.5 meters) is still the highest building in St. Petersburg. Below lie the many sarcophagi of the Russian Tsars. Peter and Paul Fortress also played the most crucial role during the Russian revolution and was later used as a prison. Make sure to tour the walls and enjoy the beautiful view of the river Newa and the Winter Palace on the other side.
• Mariinsky Theater: Russian opera and ballet production are world-renowned. And of all the grand operas in Russia, the Mariinsky Theater is the finest. Absolutely make sure to book tickets for a performance during a stay. The ancient interiors are beyond marvelous as is the incredible skill of the Russian ballet dancers.
• Fabergé Museum: The Fabergé Museum opened in 2013. But despite that short history, the privately owned museum is already one of the highlights. Here visitors will see nine of the fabled Imperial Easter Eggs and some 4,000 other exhibits from Fabergé and the golden age of jewelry.
Those who have been to St. Petersburg, Russia can honestly boast that they have visited one of the most extraordinary cities in the world.
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