St Petersburg Sightseeing

Most of St Petersburg's major attractions were lovingly restored to look their best to celebrate its 300th birthday in 2003. St. Petersburg, the most European of Russian cities, has come a long way in recent years. Always beautiful and eye-catching, millions have been spent on development and renovation to create a much more tourist friendly city. The unique architecture, the warmth of the locals and the wealth of sights to be explored make St. Petersburg a popular city break destination with plenty to keep you busy. Below are some brief introductions to the main sights of St Petersburg and links to more detailed information for each attraction.

Peter & Paul Fortress  

Peter and Paul Fortress

The day the first stone was laid to build Peter and Paul Fortress is also the birthday of St Petersburg, 27th May 1703. Peter the Great chose this spot on a small island in an attempt to protect the city from the Swedes during the Northern War, but they were defeated even before the fortress was finished. The fortress was then used for a long time as a political prison. Dominating centrally is the tall gleaming golden spire of the impressive, recently renovated Peter and Paul Cathedral, the burial place of Russian Emperors since Peter the Great. In 1998, the remains of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his family were finally buried here.

Kazan Cathedral  

St Isaac's Cathedral

Designed by French architect Auguste Montferrand in the 19th century and constructed in 40 years, St Isaac's was the city's main cathedral and the largest in Russia. It has one of the largest domes in the world and there are fantastic views of the city from the top. The cathedral is surrounded by 112 massive granite columns (constructed from single pieces of red granite), while the interior is adorned with gleaming icons, beautiful mosaics, murals and columns of malachite and lapis lazuli. The church is now a museum, however church services are held here on major orthodox holidays.

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood  

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

This beautiful church, closely resembling St Basil's in Moscow, was constructed under Alexander III, at the end of the 19th century. It was a memorial to his father, Emperor Alexander II, who was fatally wounded by members of the revolutionary movement in March 1881, who threw a bomb at his royal carriage. Inside, the walls are covered with more than 7,000 square metres of mosaic panels designed by prominent Russian artists. The church was badly damaged during WW2 and at one point was actually used as a warehouse for vegetables. It underwent major restoration works for a long period, before re-opening to the public in 1997. Nowadays it is a museum and has never functioned as a public place of worship.

Interesting fact:
The embankment was extended to allow the church to jut out into the canal so it could be built precisely on the spot where the Emperor's blood was spilt.

The Hermitage  

The State Hermitage Museum

The State Hermitage Museum is one of the largest museums in the world, with a collection of over 3 million exhibits from prehistoric to modern times. Empress Catherine II founded the Hermitage in 1764, when she purchased a large number of Western European paintings. To house the collection she ordered a new building to be constructed. Located along the banks of the River Neva, the permanent museum display now occupies five buildings (the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Great Hermitage, the New Hermitage and the Hermitage Theatre) together forming a brilliant architectural ensemble. Remarkable architects and sculptors of the 18th and 19th centuries decorated the museuma's interiors. A number of staterooms, where official ceremonies used to be held, preserve their sumptuous décor. The Hermitage proudly displays authentic masterpieces by some of the greatest painters and sculptors in the world including da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, El Greco, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and Matisse.

Yusupov Palace  

Yusupov Palace

One of the most sumptuous palaces in St Petersburg, whose history is closely associated with aristocrats, eminent architects and artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. It belonged to the wealthy and respected Yusupov family, and is now famed for being the scene of Rasputin's murder in December 1916. A self proclaimed holy man, Rasputin's death was an even bigger mystery than his life itself had been and a small exhibition guides you through the tragic tale.

Catherine's Palace, Pushkin  

Catherine's Palace in Pushkin

Catherine's Palace is located in the town of Pushkin, approximately 15 miles south of St Petersburg. The town is often referred to as Tsarskoye Selo (Royal Village) as this was its original name when founded in the 18th century as the summer residence of the Russian Tsars. Pushkin had studied here for six years and the town was renamed after him to commemorate his tragic death in 1937. The Palace itself dates back to the 18th century when architect Rastrelli was commissioned by Catherine to rebuild the original summer palace. Nowadays Catherine's Palace has become world-renowned for its elegant architecture, both on the exterior and interior, and its beautifully landscaped parks and ponds. However one of the most wonderful highlights of Catherinea's Palace is the Amber Room, an entire room decorated solely in amber. Left in a bad state by the Nazis after 1945, with most of the original amber missing, the Amber Room was recently meticulously restored to its former glory with the help of German funding.



Pavlovsk lies about 20 miles from St Petersburg and is named after Tsar Pavel, who used this palace as a summer residence for himself and his family. Construction begun in the late 18th century and Pavel and his wife adorned the halls and rooms of the palace with paintings, sculptures, furniture, items of bronze, silk fabrics and china sets acquired from their journeys around Europe, as well as gifts from European Royal courts. Pavlovsk is surrounded by more than 600 hectares of landscaped park and gardens, making it one of the largest in the world.



Often referred to as the "Russian Versailles" Peterhof is a popular tourist destination, particularly during the summer period when the eye-catching fountains are all turned on. Peter the Great's summer residence is a jewel of Russian palace architecture and park design. Both Empress Elizabeth and Catherine the Great helped to extend the palace and park ensemble throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, including an impressive network of hundreds of fountains throughout the gardens. These fountains enthral visitors with their grandiose setting and variety, from the Grand Cascade to a mysterious joke fountain which sprays tourists with water if they step on the magic stone. The Grand Palace was badly damaged during WW2 but photographs and descriptions of the palace from the early 20th century allowed restorers to return the interior to near its original state. Peterhof means "Peter's Court" in German but following the German troops destruction of the estate during WW2, the name was changed to Petrodvorets (Peter's Palace). It has now reverted to its original name. 

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