The former Russian capital, St Petersburg, has nothing to be ashamed of compared to the current one. It offers grandeur on a similar scale, just with a different twist to it. Often called the Venice of the North, it will make you fall in love with it with its 342 bridges, beautiful canals and charming waterfront. In addition to such a picturesque scenery, St Petersburg offers a heavily artistic core. The Hermitage alone, with its displays and exhibitions showcasing the works of the greatest artists, is able to make a trip to St Petersburg worth it, but there is much more to see. From the Russian Museum to Catherine Palace, St Petersburg offers a real feast for the art buffs. In addition to the museums and art galleries, tourists can enjoy restaurants and nightclubs which can easily rival those in Moscow. The sheer number of tourist attractions and things to see and do in St Petersburg is so overwhelming that it’s hard to explore everything during one trip – St Petersburg takes, and deserves more than just one city break!
Top 10 Things to See and Do in St Petersburg
Shore Excursion City Tour
This tour takes two days and allows you to travel in your own, private ship, which is docked during the night. You will be able to learn the history of the city from a guide, who will also show you around the highlights of the city, including early access to the Hermitage to avoid the crowds.
St Petersburg Small Group Two-Day Tour
Allowing you to bypass some of the longest lines at the main attractions of the city, including the Hermitage, this tour will take two days to show you the city with a small group of people. Not only will you be able to see the gorgeous cityscape of St Petersburg from different viewpoints, but you will also be able to enjoy a traditional Russian dinner.
Small Group Hermitage Museum Tour with Skip-The-Line
This three-hour-long tour of St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum will give you plenty of time to explore the building on your own, and even provide you with a skip-the-line admission and early access in summer. Inside, you can see some of the greatest works of Western European art, including works of Da Vinci and Raphael.
Grand Tour of St Petersburg
Traverse the streets of the city of St Petersburg as you are led by a well-accustomed, English-speaking guide. The tour provides transportation throughout the city with an air-conditioned coach. You can even opt-in for a hotel pick-up, which will allow you to save yourself the trouble of getting to the centre.
St Petersburg Imperial Splendors and Faberge Museum
Spread across two days to give you a lot of time to discover the sights in your own pace, this tour provides a guided shore excursion trip around the city. You do not need any visa paperwork to enjoy the tour, and you will be enjoying panoramic views of the city and such monuments as Catherine Palace and more.
Peterhof Grand Palace and Gardens Tour
This four-hour-long tour of the Peterhof Grand Palace will take you aboard a comfortable boat as you cruise along the Neva River for forty-five minutes. After the cruise, you will be able to walk through both the Lower and the Upper Gardens and to conclude the tour, you will see the Palace from the inside.
Small Group Early Access Tour to Peterhof Grand Palace
Taking five hours of your day, this informative tour of the Peterhof Grand Palace will depart right from the centre of St Petersburg. You will be able to explore the gorgeous palace at your own pace with a local guide to answer your questions and provide you with facts about the history and heritage of the palace.
One-Day Imperial St Petersburg Highlights
This full-day tour of the city of St Petersburgh will show you some of its Imperial cultural heritage, with Russian visas included, so you don’t have to worry about anything. A well-informed guide will give you a history lesson on the royal past of the city, as you explore the Hermitage and the Church on Spilled Blood.
Tour of Pushkin and Catherine Palace
A half-day-long tour which will take you to Pushkin, a town near St Petersburg. In Pushkin, you will be able to discover Tsarskoye Selo, a town inside of a town, as well as the Catherine Palace, which was one of the residences of the royal family, and is listed on the UNESCO heritage list.
Moscow Must-Sees Private Tour from St Petersburg
This tour will allow you to escape from the hustle and bustle of the streets of St Petersburg and will take you on a full-day trip to Moscow, the capital of Russia. You will be able to walk around the Old Town as a local guide explains the culture and history of the city, and leads you to the Victory Park, Red Square, Kazan Cathedral and more.
Other Things to See and Do
State Hermitage Museum
While the Hermitage often requires an expensive ticket to enter, make sure to stop by during the first Thursday of the month, which will allow you to see the museum for free. Inside, you will find many exhibitions and collections of art, including the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.
Located just next to the Hermitage, the Kunstkamera is a museum of ethnology and ethnography and is among the most popular museums in the city. Inside, you will see the famous collection of Peter the Great. The museum was opened in 1727 and is open for free to all tourists on the third Thursday each month.
Vladimir Nabokov Museum
Open to the visitors for free during the whole year, the Vladimir Nabokov Museum is a 19th-century house, which was the childhood home of Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita and by some regarded the most versatile Russian writer of the 20th century. The collection of the museum includes artifacts from his childhood, among others.
Sigmund Freud Museum of Dreams
While it is definitely one of the weirder attractions of St Petersburg, the Sigmund Freud Museum of Dreams is sure worth a visit. Inside, you will be able to experience an odd exhibition of abstractions and ideas, not physical items, with illustrations of Freud's patients' dreams.
Being one of the hidden gems of the city of St Petersburg, the Yusupov Gardens are often overlooked by tourists as they are located West of Sennaya Ploshchad. Inside the park, you will find a gorgeous lake in the middle, surrounded by flowery grounds and the Old Yusupov Palace not far from it.
If you are looking for a cosy spot for an afternoon walk or a jogging session, make sure to stop by the Mikhailovsky Gardens in St Petersburg. The Gardens are operated by the Russian Museum, and span across almost nine hectares, presenting the famous Russian Style Moderne with wrought-iron décor elements.
Being the oldest park in the city, the Summer Garden is still among the more picturesque ones. Filled with trees and bushes, the park can be entered at the northern Neva end or the southern Moyka end. It was laid out in the early 18th century in a baroque style and is filled with gorgeous marble sculptures.
New Holland Island
Located right in the city centre, the New Holland Island is one of the newest additions to the cultural scene of St Petersburg. The Island is a contemporary cultural hub and a haven for artists of all kind, who often put up their latest work for people to see among the stalls of the Island.
Alexander Nevsky Monastery
Not only can you gaze at the beautiful outside façade of the monastery, but you can also come inside for free during mass to participate in the occasion. While you are there, make sure to step outside afterwards to see the gravesites of some of the most famous Russian artists.
Opened in 2005, the Anna Nova is one of the most prominent galleries in Russia which work in the field of contemporary art. The gallery presents collections of artists from different generations, local and international alike, and hosts many rotating exhibitions which are free to see.
Presenting a wide collection of mostly local contemporary and modern art, the art gallery of Marina Gisich is a place worth visiting. There is a range of rotating exhibitions with artists such as Belyi Peter, Kozin Vladimir, Morozov Alexander, Alexeeva Marina, and others, along with various art fairs.
With a very unique group of exhibitions, the Name Gallery includes the works of six graphic artists spread across two eras, one from 1970 to 1980 and the other from 2014 to 2018. Moreover, if you come during one of the opening nights of one of the exhibitions, you will be given a glass of champagne and some appetisers for free.
When on your vacation in St Petersburg, make sure to visit Dom Knigi, the oldest bookshop in the city. It is located inside of the gorgeous Singer Building, which is worth visiting in itself and is free to enter. There is a lot of English-language books on the ground floor, and you can get some as souvenirs.
Being a former headquarters of the Singer sewing machine company, the Singer Building is one of the most picturesque buildings in all of St Petersburg. The modern architectural style of the building was designed by Pavel Suzor, and it is finished off with a gorgeous glass tower adorned with sculptures.
If you are in the mood to visit a grand flea market, make sure to stop by the Udelka. Filled with a range of collections of WWII memorabilia, Soviet souvenirs, pre-revolutionary artifacts, and many more, the Udelnaya Fair, as it is properly called, allows you to gaze upon the curiosities for free.
While you may think that an ordinary metro station is nothing special to look at, you will be surely surprised by the gorgeous architecture of the Avtovo station. Not only is it furnished with sophisticated chandeliers and adorned with tall columns, commemorating the Soviet Union, but it is also filled with ornamental glass.
While the concept of an anti-café originates in Moscow, it is also very popular in St Petersburg. The twist of the anti-café is that you do not pay for the coffee, snacks, and pastries you get there, but instead you pay for the time you spent there. It's a great place to relax and unwind, or even meet some people and play board games together.
Being the original anti-café of St Petersburg, the Ziferblat is one of the oldest free spaces of the city. As you pay for the time spent here, you will be provided with cookies, coffee, tea, soft drinks, and pastries. You can even spot some local artists who come here to work on their paintings in peace and quiet.
Free city tours
There are some free city tours departing from the Alexander Column on Palace Square, so make sure to stop by. The tours start at 10:45 a.m. and offers a two-and-a-half hour experience, along with a local guide who speaks English. Be cautious that the tours are widely popular and there are often full.
Gulf of Finland
With its northern coast not far from St Petersburg, the Gulf of Finland is a popular place among the locals to relax during the summer months. If you happen to visit the city during hot summer time, make sure to stop by the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Finland with a tranquil atmosphere and plenty of restaurants.