St Petersburg Tourism – Russia

St Petersburg Church of Blood, Russia

St Petersburg tourist hordes in summertime beside the Griboedov Canal and back-dropped by the Church on Spilled Blood (Tsar Alexander II’s blood to be precise).

Why visit Saint Petersburg?

This ‘Venice of the North’ is a splendid metropolis of grand, baroque buildings laced around with canals and a dynamite joie de vivre.
Colourful, attractive, very walkable and deeply cultured, the city contains perhaps the world’s most spectacular museum – the amazing Hermitage – among many other offerings.
Summer days are very, very long – in fact night hardly falls at all around midsummer – so there’s plenty of light-time to waft around the streets in a haze of vodka-fuelled goodwill with your new Russian chums. . . and chums there will be, for St Petersburg people are very, very sociable.
The city is also artistic, sophisticated and not especially expensive. St Petersburg Pictures


– Petty crime is not uncommon, including ‘swarming’ thievery by gypsy street children. See ‘Safety’.
– This being an ex-swamp, mosquitoes swarm in the summertime, so take a strong repellent and sleep precautions if you expect to be in budget accommodation.
– Springtime thaws lead to vast swords of ice dropping off roofs, occasionally killing pedestrians.
– Russian drivers are borderline crazy and have no respect for pedestrians so take care crossing roads.


Best: April, May, Octoberwhen average low temperatures are still above zero (! ) and highs reach a staggering 8C (46F). Chilly but low humidity, low rainfall, low mosquitoes, low tourist numbers, so get well wrapped up!
Winters will be incredibly cold, -2C (28F) to -10C (14F) or lower, but beautiful, with lowest rainfall, and offering a different perspective on Russian life!
Summer in St Pete has various drawbacks – it’s obviously crowded with tourists but also with mosquitoes; it’s the wettest and most humid time of the year, though June ushers in the lively White Nights festival. Summer average highs are about 22C (72F) but can go above 30C (86F), lows around 12C (54F).

Main Attractions

The famous 4km (2. 5mls) Nevsky Prospekt street is an easy choice for a first St Petersburg walk, starting at the Admiralty with spectacular interior and city views from nearby St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and taking in among many other sights the massive, baroque Winter Palace in equally massive Palace Square (including the Hermitage Museum, see below)); the sculpted Anichkov bridge; the Beloselsky Palace and ending at Alexander Nevsky Monastery.
Along the way is the city’s main shopping area.
Also near Nevsky Prospekt is the gorgeous, multicoloured Church of the Spilled Blood and the Mikhail Palace/Russian Museum.

The city’s oldest building, Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral (particularly the interior), a short walk across the river, is the next move, along with the Strelka district on Vasilevsky island and its grand old buildings and great views.

There are plenty more interesting streets and quirky sights to see as you move around St Petersburg, including visitable apartment/ museums of famous Russians such as Rasputin, Pushkin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Dostoyevsky.

The Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was finally terminated, is lavish and worth a trip.

Short Trips

Peterhof (Petrodvorets), Peter the Great’s Grand Palace, museums and gardens – with spectacular water features is 29km from the city; go by bus or hydrofoil.

Pushkin (Catherine’s Palace), a renovated masterpiece in the baroque style, surrounded by parks, is 25km south of St Pete.

– Veliky Novgorod; this charming carpenter’s town (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is 186kms (110mls) down the road to Moscow, 3. 5 hours by train, bus or car, and well worth a few hours. Most attractions are religious and/or wooden. Many touristfrom s visit en route St Pete- Moscow.


The metro (subway) system is brilliant, beautiful and easy to use – one token for any distance, but avoid rush-hours. Trolley buses and trains a little complicated, metered taxis OK and sightseeing by canal boats – in the summertime – excellent. As to taxis, beware private cabs and especially don’t get in if there are others already in the vehicle. Be especially careful about gypsy cabs waiting near bars and restaurants late at night.


River cruises are an excellent way to appreciate the watery aspect of this grand Russian city; boats big and small are available for hire long or short.

Banyas or Russian bathhouses (saunas) are an interesting cultural experience, particularly if you enjoy being beaten.

Skating in the winter is free on most canals but in the summer you’ll have to pay at one of the ice palaces.


25 Dec- 5 January, Russian Winter celebrates with traditional activities such as music, dance, sleigh rides, folk shows, just outside the city.
late February-early March, Goodbye Russian Winter, as above.
June, the White Nights arts festival is St Pete’s liveliest event.
April/May, St Petersburg Music Spring Festival, classical music.
mid November, Autumn Rhythms is a jazz festival based in St Pete’s clubs.

For some precise dates or more information see: European Festivals or Arts Festivals.


Museums: The incredible Hermitage Museum – with a building as wonderful as its contents, the extensive and beautifully housed Russian Museum, the superb Museum of Decorative Arts, the tasty Russian Vodka Museum and the Kunstammer, housing Peter the Great’s collection of freaks and monsters.

The Hermitage Museum, Russia’s best art collection in the stunning Winter Palace

This massive edifice houses nearly three million artifacts – in an awesome environment that often overshadows the exhibits – which would require nine years to see, so do some research and choose your targets carefully, but do include a visit to the amazing state rooms of the Winter Palace.

Avoiding huge Hermitage queues: buy a two-day voucher (discounted and the museum certainly justifies a couple of days) a few days in advance from the Hermitage online. Print the voucher and then exchange it for an entry ticket on arrival at the groups/disabled entrance. To see the most popular section of the museum, the Treasure Gallery, book a guided tour as soon as you arrive.

Classical Music: St Pete has two first-class Philharmonic orchestras. Book through Maximilian Ticket Agency.

Dance/Opera: at Mariinsky (formerly the Kirov) Theatre, Mikhailovsky Theater, or the cheaper and more intimate St Petersburg Opera.

Choral Music: fabulous churches offer sensational sounds, mostly free. e. g. Preobrazhenski Church 10am and 6pm, or Alexander Nevsky Monastery at 6pm – with a spooky bonus cemetery hosting Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Dostoyevsky.

Live Music & Clubs: The city has endless night action of all sorts in varied styles, constantly morphing into something new, so just take a walk, ask the concierge orcheck the monthly ‘Neva News’, the bi-weekly ‘St Petersburg Times’, or ‘Pulse’ magazine for event info/listings.


Russia in general is fairly safe, though people of a dark complexion travelling alone may be targetted by radicals as locals fear Chechnya terrorists.
There have been issues with fake policemen demanding papers and money in the past but this seems to be a dying art. Never give a policeman your passport and consider carrying only a photocopy.
As always keep most valuables in the hotel safe and carry only what you need in secure inside pockets. The main concern is crowded metro pickpockets (avoid rush-hours) or groups of gypsies (often women and/or children) swarming and pawing tourists, lifting valuables in the process. The best defence is to never encourage them in any way, keep a tight grip on valuables, shout “Nyet! ” and do not hesitate to shove or strike them. The police will be sympathetic. More on Travel Safety.
Drink bottled water to be on the safe side, St Pete infrastructure is ancient in places, including water piping and sources.


Hostels and B&Bs are a good, cheap alternative to pricey hotels, more fun less money and especially useful during festivals – such as White Nights – when reasonably priced places are difficult to find.


Eating in Saint Petersburg doesn’t mean bland and potatoes.
Offerings vary from the best Russian and Georgian cuisine through all the usual global foodstuffs; even vegetarians can eat green at the long-running Café Idiot.
Meals can be good value in good local cafés or hugely costly if you choose upmarket tourist establishments.


The usual Russia tourist souvenirs of dolls (inside dolls, inside dolls), painted boxes, old-fashioned watches and T-shirts are on offer just about everywhere a tourist might pop up, but paintings are a more interesting option, from fine street art to sophisticated works on sale in posh galleries.

Map of St Petersburg