Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in St. Petersburg

Moscow might be Russia's most modern, cosmopolitan city, but St. Petersburg is the cultural and historical heart of the country. Home to the Hermitage, one of the largest and most stunning art museums in the world, surrounded by canals, and home to beautiful white nights (when the sun never sets in summer), St. Petersburg is regal and inspiring.

Iran (IMNA) - First-time visitors should start at the Hermitage Museum –a museum so large, it is literally impossible to see it all in one day–and the beautiful Nevsky Avenue, flanked by opulent restaurants, churches, and palaces, and a great place for people watching. The Peterhof Palace Complex requires a day trip out of town, but it's a must-see and one of the highlights of a trip to St. Petersburg.

Whether you already know what to do when visiting or are looking for more ideas on how to spend your time, take a look at our list of top tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.

1.State Hermitage Museum

State Hermitage Museum

Founded when Empress Catherine the Great started acquiring works of art in the late 1700s, the museum didn't officially open to the public until 1852. Today, the Hermitage is the second-largest art museum in the world after the Louvre, and it's home to a collection of over three million items.

The Hermitage technically occupies six buildings, although the main part of the museum (and the building most people associate with the museum) is housed in the Winter Palace, which served as the home of the Russian emperors until 1917, and it's a massive structure with 1,500 rooms.

In addition to French Neoclassical and Impressionist art, Flemish Baroque and Italian Renaissance exhibits, the museum also holds an impressive collection of Russian art from the 11th to 19th centuries, a sizable 19th-century Egyptian antiquity collection, and a hall showcasing prehistoric art. The Hermitage has the largest collection of paintings in the world, spanning many countries and centuries.

2. Peter and Paul Fortress

The Peter and Paul Fortress

The Peter and Paul Fortress was originally a fortified area meant to protect the state from foreign attacks. It was constructed in 1703 and then extended and modified for the following four decades. While the fortress never saw any actual combat, it still has a dark story behind it, as it served as a prison and execution quarters during the Bolshevik revolution in the early 20th century. Today, it's part of the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg.

Within the walls of the fortress and surrounded by beautiful gardens and stone paths, there are several buildings. Perhaps the best known is the 18th-century Peter and Paul Cathedral, the final resting place of Russian czars. Prison cells, a city museum, and the Saint Petersburg Mint building (founded in 1724 to manufacture coins and still in operation) are also located within the walls of the fortress.

3. Palace Square

The Alexander Column in Palace Square

St. Petersburg's main city square is a massive open public space right in front of the Winter Palace. The Alexander Column, built in the 1830s of a single piece of red granite, stands 47 meters tall at the center of the square. It was commissioned by Alexander I to commemorate the victory against Napoleon.

Many major events in Soviet/Russian history have taken place right on the square–Tsar Alexander II was shot here in 1879, and Bolshevik troops started the Revolution here in 1917 by storming the Winter Palace, where the royalty lived. Since then, the square has also been used for marches and demonstrations, from military parades to celebrate Victory Day (which marks the end of WWII) to New Year's Eve celebrations.

4. Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace

Located less than 30 kilometers from central St. Petersburg, the 18th-century Peterhof Palace complex consists of a series of buildings, several formal gardens, and a total of 173 fountains fed by underground springs. Designed in the style of the Palace of Versailles, Peterhof is best known for its "Grand Cascade," which consists of 64 fountains located on a series of terraces outside the main entrance of the palace.

The opulence of the palace itself can be discovered through a guided tour. It features 30 rooms decorated with truly imposing gold colors, lots of marble, and items brought back from Asia mixing in with Baroque-style fireplaces and giant mirrors. Although it's possible to take a bus to get here, you can also catch a boat from St. Petersburg. The ride takes 45 minutes on the Neva River and offers great views of the shoreline along the way.

5. Eliseyev Emporium

Eliseyev Emporium

When the Eliseyev Emporium building was inaugurated in 1903, it was one of the most luxurious structures of its time. This might not be the case anymore, but the Art Nouveau details, stained-glass windows, crystal and metal candelabra, and hand-painted wall patterns are still quite impressive. The main attraction here, however, is the window displays, which feature moving puppets representing characters from The Nutcracker.

Today, this retail complex focuses mainly on food, with the most famous stop inside being the Eliseevy Merchants' Shop, Russia's oldest confectionery shop, which also sells high-end meats, spices, and dressings. The Eliseyev Emporium is also home to a unique homemade ice-cream shop selling flavors such as spicy basic and strawberry, green tea with jasmine, and "tender violet." Beautiful, hand-carved wooden souvenirs of traditional figures from Russian folktales are also available here.


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