Saint Petersburg sights

Saint Petersburg sights

Saint Petersburg, Russia's second largest city, is located on the land bridge between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga. Between 1712 and 1918, Saint Petersburg was the capital of the Russian Empire. During this time around 2.300 glamorous buildings were built, including castles, city palaces, churches, monasteries and much more. Also worth seeing are train stations, museums, theaters and military facilities. All of this survived World War II and the Soviet regime. Many of the monuments were extensively restored after the war. The reward: In 1991, UNESCO included the historic city center of Saint Petersburg on the list of world cultural heritage.

Saint Petersburg - Palace Square in front of the Hermitage and Alexander Column

Saint Petersburg - Palace Square in front of the Hermitage and Alexander Column

Saint Petersburg's top sights from A to Z

Millions of guests have visited the long-standing capital of Russia in recent years. Many of the visitors came by cruise ship. Given the abundance of what is on offer, there is not enough time to get to know the sights intensively. The objects named below are among the attractions that visitors get to see with tight time windows and which are worth viewing.

Saint Petersburg - cruise terminal

Saint Petersburg - cruise terminal

Church of the Resurrection

The church, alternatively known as the Blood Church, the Church of the Redeemer and the Church of the Blood Redeemer, was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated on March 1, 1881. His son, Alexander III, ordered a church in the old Russian style with onion domes to be built in memory of the Tsar at the site of the assassination. The order violated a command of Tsar Peter the Great, who had forbidden the building of churches with onion domes in Saint Petersburg, but no one dared to contradict a ruling Tsar. The monumental building stands on the Griboyedov Canal.

Saint Petersburg - Church of the Resurrection
Saint Petersburg - Church of the Resurrection
Saint Petersburg - Church of the Resurrection - facade details
Saint Petersburg - Church of the Resurrection - towers

From the beginning, the 7.000 square meter building served as a memorial. In its history it has also been used as a concert hall, museum, theater and even as a warehouse for potatoes. At the Resurrection Church, the interior and exterior decoration with mosaics in the icon style are impressive. The church has one of the most extensive mosaic collections in Europe.


Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, initiated the Hermitage art collection. The center of the building complex is the “Winter Palace”, the former residence of the Russian tsars, built in the Russian Baroque. The ensemble of the art collection is located on the Neva opposite the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Saint Petersburg - Hermitage and the Neva river

Saint Petersburg - Hermitage and the Neva river

The Hermitage is one of the most important art collections in the world. More than three million objects are stored in their depots, and more than 60.000 exhibits are displayed in 350 halls. European artists are well represented. The Hermitage has works of art by Gauguin, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, Rubens and Leonardo da Vinci, among others.

Isaac's Cathedral

The cathedral, dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, is the largest church in the city. The dimensions are: 111 meters in length, 97 meters in width and 102 meters in height. The diameter of the main dome reaches 26 meters. Isaac's Cathedral is one of the largest sacred domed buildings in the world. There is space for 14.000 people inside.

Saint Petersburg - St. Isaac's Cathedral

Saint Petersburg - St. Isaac's Cathedral

The construction of a previous church began in 1707. Conversions, new buildings and fires ensured regular changes to the building fabric. The last major construction work was carried out from 1818. These were completed 40 years later. After the October Revolution, an anti-religious museum was set up in the church. During the Second World War it served as a depot for works of art. Since 1990, services have been held in the church on major public holidays. From the colonnade of the church, Saint Petersburg can be seen from a bird's eye view.

Kazan Cathedral

This Russian Orthodox church was built between 1801 and 1811 on the model of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on Nevsky Prospect. From 1932 to 1990 the church was used as a museum for the history of religion.

Catherine Palace

Katharinenpark is located in Pushkin, 25 kilometers south of Saint Petersburg, one of the city's five landscape parks. The park area includes the 300 meter long Catherine Palace, the former summer residence of the Tsars.

Saint Petersburg - Catherine Palace
Saint Petersburg - Catherine Palace - central entrance area
Saint Petersburg - Catherine Palace - seen from the park
Saint Petersburg - Catherine Palace - crowds in the great hall

In 1717, Empress Catherine I gave the order to build a hunting lodge with 16 rooms for her. The Peterhof was used for necessary representation duties. Katharina's successor, Elizabeth I, arranged for a substantial expansion and redesign of the palace and the park. The Catherine Palace was considered one of the most beautiful baroque palaces in Europe in the 18th century. Further improvements and redesigns were made by Catherine II. commissioned. The parks were also affected by the measures and were transformed into a magnificent landscape garden based on the English model.

Saint Petersburg - Catherine Palace Park
Saint Petersburg - Catherine Palace - Palace Garden
Saint Petersburg - Catherine Palace - State Hermitage Pavilion
Saint Petersburg - Catherine Palace - Hermitage kitchen

The palace is famous for its amber room. Prussia's King Friedrich Wilhelm I gave it to the Russian Tsar Peter the Great in 1716. Initially, the Amber Room was installed in the Winter Palace. After that it was part of the Catherine Palace for almost 200 years. During the Second World War, the Amber Room was dismantled for security reasons, and it has been lost ever since. A faithful replica of the room has been replacing the lost cultural asset since 2003.

Lakhta Center - Gazprom Tower

You can't miss it, the 462-meter-high Gazprom Tower in Saint Petersburg's Lachta district. The spectacular, needle-shaped skyscraper has been Europe's tallest building since January 2018. In addition to a conference center and other facilities, the high-rise provides jobs for 8.000 Gazprom employees. A panorama restaurant is planned at a height of 315 meters. A viewing terrace at a height of 370 meters offers a 360-degree view.

Saint Petersburg - Gazprom Tower
Saint Petersburg - Gazprom Tower and city highway

Mariinsky Theater

The Mariinsky Theater on Theaterplatz has been one of the world's most famous opera and ballet theaters since 1860. Many important operas and ballets were staged in the theater. The ballet troupe has become internationally known under the name “Kirov Ballet”. Today it is officially called the "Ballet Company of the Mariinsky Theater".

After costly restorations and renovations completed in 2009, the theater, which is decorated in blue, white and gold, can hold 2.000 spectators.

Marble palace

Empress Catherine II had the marble palace built for Count Grigory Orlow, her favorite and lover. It took 17 years to complete, and 30 types of the finest marble were used. As an aside, it should be mentioned that the count did not live to see the completion of his palace. The building was redesigned in the 19th century. Only the "Great Staircase" and the Marble Hall were spared the changes. Today the palace houses part of the Russian Museum. Works of modern art from the Peter Ludwig collection as well as Russian artists of the post-war era are on display.

Saint Petersburg - Marble Palace

Saint Petersburg - Marble Palace

Museum ship Aurora 

The armored cruiser Aurora, lying on the banks of the Neva, is the symbol of the October Revolution. A cannon shot from the warship initiated the storming of the Winter Palace. The disused warship has been a listed building since 1960. It is used as a naval and maritime museum.

Saint Petersburg - armored cruiser Aurora

Saint Petersburg - armored cruiser Aurora

Nevsky Prospect

One of the highlights of Saint Petersburg is Nevsky Prospect. The 4,5-kilometer boulevard in the center of Saint Petersburg is one of the most famous streets in Russia. It connects the Admiralty with the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. Magnificent residences were built on this street from the middle of the 18th century. The Kazan Cathedral is also located on Nevsky Prospect.

Saint Petersburg - Admiralty

Saint Petersburg - Admiralty

Peter and Paul Fortress

The Peter and Paul Fortress was built on the "Rabbit Island" from 1703. Their purpose was to protect the future capital from the invasion of Swedish troops. The laying of the foundation stone for the fortification is regarded as the official founding date of Saint Petersburg. The fortress initially consisted of earth walls and wooden fortifications. It was rebuilt from stone between 1706 and 1740. In this context it got its irregular hexagonal shape.

Saint Petersburg - Peter and Paul Fortress
Saint Petersburg - Peter and Paul Fortress
Saint Petersburg - Peter and Paul Fortress - Villa of the fortress commanders
Saint Petersburg - Peter and Paul Fortress - Tsar tombs

The fortress includes the Peter and Paul Cathedral built on the site. Most of the Russian Tsars were buried in it since the 18th century. The interior of the church was lavishly decorated with trophies from the Northern War and wall paintings. The distinctive 123 meter high tower with the golden top is striking. It is adorned with an angel figure seven meters high.

Saint Petersburg - Peter and Paul Cathedral - Tomb of the Romanovs

Saint Petersburg - Peter and Paul Cathedral - Tomb of the Romanovs

There are several museums on the fortress grounds. In the casemates of the fortress there is a printing shop that uses old machines to produce historical prints that are offered for sale.

Russian Museum

The rich collection of Russian art in the Russian Museum goes back to Tsar Alexander III.. Objects that were previously in the Hermitage and the Alexander Palace in Pushkin were given to the museum. A suitable exhibition venue was found in the Mikhailovsky Palace. The art objects of the Russian nobility expropriated after the October Revolution were also added to the collections of the Russian Museum.

The fund of the collections is put at 315.000 exhibits. It encompasses the areas of painting, graphics, sculptures, handicrafts and folk art. In addition to the Mikhailovsky Palace, three other former palaces belong to the Russian Museum. There are the Stroganow-Palais, the Michaelisburg and the already mentioned Marble Palace. The museum has branches in other locations. In a national comparison, only the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow offers something comparable.

Peterhof Palace

On the Gulf of Finland, 30 kilometers west of Saint Petersburg, Tsar Peter I Peter the Great had a country house built in the city of the same name. This resulted in Peterhof Palace, the summer residence of the Tsars. The building is known as the "Russian Versailles". It has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1991. It is the most exclusive Tsar's palace in the Saint Petersburg region and represents Russia's claim to be a great power. Work was still being carried out on the building in the 19th century. German troops looted and destroyed the facility during World War II. The restoration work after the end of the war took decades.

Saint Petersburg - Peterhof Palace - pavilion under the coat of arms
Saint Petersburg - Peterhof Palace - Ballroom
Saint Petersburg - Peterhof Palace - Grand Cascade
Saint Petersburg - Peterhof Palace - fountain complex

The park surrounding the castle is remarkable. It consists of an upper and a lower garden. The upper garden is in front of the castle. The lower garden has a variety of water features and fountains. The garden is mainly dominated by the large cascade and the canal to the Baltic Sea. The water art is fed by underground pipes that use the natural slope of the park.

Updated Aug 2020