Built by Tsar Peter the Great, St Petersburg has survived centuries of tumultuous shifts in Russia’s history – prevailing as a city of royal splendour through its golden-domed churches and colourful palaces. Wander the streets or cruise the Neva River and canals to see row upon row of imperial buildings converted into boutique shops, elegant restaurants and museums. 

    Among the city's many cultural treasures are the State Hermitage Museum with its millions of art masterpieces and Mariinsky Theatre, which is as majestic today as it was when it premiered Tchaikovsky ballets in the 1800s. Here’s just a sampling of the awe-inspiring things that you can see and do in St Petersburg in a day.

    What are the best things to do in St Petersburg?


    Saviour on the Spilled Blood

    Ornate church built to honour a fallen tsar

    • History
    • Photo

    With majestic bronze and multi-coloured domes reaching up to the sky and an intricate Russian Orthodox design, this historic church in central St Petersburg is impossible to miss. Built on the site of the assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the church has an equally wondrous interior with Biblical-themed mosaics covering more than 7,000 sq m of space, Italian marble floors, and decorative stones from the Urals and Altai region. 

    No longer an active church, Saviour on the Spilled Blood has been extensively restored and opened as a state museum, with an entry fee of about 250 rubles. 

    Location: Griboyedov Canal Emb 2A, St Petersburg 191186, Russia

    Open: Thursday–Tuesday from 10.30 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +7 812 315-16-36


    Peterhof Palace and Gardens

    The Versailles of Russia

    • Couples
    • Families
    • History
    • Photo

    Found about 30km west of St Petersburg, Peterhof was built by Peter the Great and served as a seaside summer retreat for royals for two centuries until the Russian revolution of 1917. Now a UNESCO heritage site, Peterhof is a sprawling estate of splendid Baroque palaces, golden statuary, gardens and museums. 

    The Grand Palace is the largest on the estate, its 30 rooms brimming with priceless paintings and handcrafted furnishings such as imported cabinets from China. The best time to visit Peterhof is May through October when its 150 fountains are flowing, including Samson Fountain with its 20-metre water spout from a lion's mouth. 

    Location: Razvodnaya Street 2, Peterhof, St Petersburg 198516, Russia

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +7 812 450-52-87


    photo by Richard Mortel (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Nevsky Prospekt

    St Petersburg's lively main boulevard

    • Photo
    • Budget

    Stretching 4 km through the city’s centre, Nevsky Prospekt is the heart and soul of St Petersburg. Since its days as a grand promenade for the city’s aristocrats, Nevsky Prospekt has emerged over the centuries into a thriving centre for shopping, dining, arts and cultural sights.

    Browse for books at Dom Knigi bookshop in the elegant Singer House or stop by Cafe Singer to relax with a great view of the street life and Kazansky Cathedral. One could easily spend the day just wandering while gazing at the beautiful architecture along the way including Anichkov Palace and the Russian National Library.

    Location: Nevsky Avenue, St Petersburg 191025, Russia


    State Hermitage Museum

    The world’s second-largest art museum

    • History
    • Photo

    Set in 5 interconnected buildings, the Hermitage houses an astonishing amount of art, from 7th-century BC Scythian gold to masterpieces by such virtuosos as Leonardo Da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso. Since Catherine the Great put her personal art collection on display in the Small Hermitage adjacent to the Winter Palace in 1764, the collection has grown to include some 3 million items. 

    With so much to see in a confusing maze of a place, it's impossible to explore it all in a day. Guided tours are available to catch the highlights, and you’ll avoid the queues by buying entry tickets online in advance. 

    Location: 2, Dvortsovaya Ploschad (Palace Square), St Petersburg, Russia

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 10.30 am to 6 pm (Wednesdays and Fridays until 9 pm)

    Phone: +7 812 710-90-79


    Kunstkamera Museum of Ethnology and Anthropology

    Full of the weird and wonderful

    • Families
    • History
    • Photo

    Founded by Peter the Great in 1714, this is Russia's oldest museum. Among its huge collections of natural objects is its infamous display of "freaks" -- preserved specimens of such curiosities as two-headed foetuses and deformed body parts. The intent of the exhibit was not to shock, but rather to quell superstitious beliefs of the time and show that such strange mutations are quirks of nature with scientific explanations. 

    While many come here to see the oddities, the museum also houses a collection of cultural artefacts from around the world and a fascinating astronomical exhibit with nifty-looking old clock mechanisms, telescopes and spyglasses. 

    Location: University Embankment, 3, St Petersburg 199034, Russia

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +7 812 328-14-12


    photo by Jorge Láscar (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Tsar Restaurant

    Russian cuisine served in an opulent setting

    • Couples
    • Food
    • Luxury

    Enjoy a taste of life as a Russian royal at this elegant restaurant in a beautifully preserved historic building. The Tsar's long been praised for its impeccable service, caviar tasting menu and classic Russian dishes including beef Stroganoff, chicken Kiev and Pozharskaya cutlets. The kitchen is overseen by Chef Roman Vasilyev, known for his modern take on Russian imperial cuisine. 

    To dine in this chandeliered space, surrounded by antiques and vintage finery, with crisp white linens and crystal goblets, is to step back to a time when this centuries-old building hosted high-society parties where poets and artists mingled with the aristocracy. 

    Location: Sadovaya Street, 12, St Petersburg 191186, Russia

    Open: Daily from noon to 1 am

    Phone: +7 812 640-16-16


    Enjoy a river and canal cruise

    A tranquil view of the city

    • Couples
    • Families

    As a city linked by canals and arched bridges across more than a hundred islands in the Neva Delta, St Petersburg’s grandeur is best revealed when explored by boat. A glide along the Neva River takes you past the city’s most beautiful buildings including the State Hermitage Museum, Peter and Paul Fortress and St Isaac’s Cathedral.

    The best-value boat trip is the one-hour excursion on board one of the roving boats that you can catch from several departure points along Nevsky Prospekt. Book a longer guided cruise to learn more about the history behind the sights or see the city’s twinkling lights on a romantic evening dinner cruise.


    Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines

    As fun and quirky as it sounds

    • Families

    Geeky gamers and anyone curious to see how Soviet kids got their kicks in the 1970s and 80s will find plenty to enjoy at this retro arcade museum. Some enterprising Russian students set up the museum with dozens of restored Soviet-era arcade games, first in Moscow before expanding to St Petersburg in a former candy factory. 

    Many games have military themes, from the “Morskoi Boi” sea battle machine to the “Tankodrome” game with shooting tanks. The entry fee of about 450 roubles includes a handful of authentic Soviet kopek coins with which to play the games. 

    Location: Konyushennaya Square, Building 2, St Petersburg, Russia

    Open: Daily from 11 am to 8 pm


    photo by Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    Mariinsky Theatre

    See Russia's finest ballet and opera performances

    • Couples
    • Nightlife

    Some of the world’s greatest dancers like Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Baryshnikov have twirled across the stage at this historic theatre, which opened more than two centuries ago. The building itself is a showpiece of imperial grandeur, with its wedding-cake façade and richly decorated interior.

    Its resident Kirov Ballet company is celebrated worldwide. Whatever show you catch, whether it be Peter Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake or an opera like La Boheme or Otello, it’s sure to be a mesmerising experience. More shows are staged at the huge Mariinsky II nearby, the sleeker 21st-century sister theatre with 2,000 seats.

    Location: 1 Theatre Square, St Petersburg 190000, Russia

    Phone: +7 812 748 51 82


    Dumskaya Street

    • Nightlife

    The St Petersburg nightlife scene has a bit of an image-conscious reputation, where would-be bar patrons could be subjected to “face control” and turned away if they don’t have the right look. Not so in the Dumskaya Street area, which attracts a more dressed-down crowd with its casual, bohemian vibe. 

    A good spot to start is Bar Fidel, with its tiny no-fuss interior that warms up when crowded to almost feel like a hot Havana night. Once you’ve gained a little liquid courage, try your turn at the microphone at Poison karaoke bar, then go dance the night away in the strobe lights of lively Lomonosov Bar. 

    Location: Dumskaya Ulitsa, St Petersburg 191186, Russia

    Lana Willocks | Contributing Writer

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