In addition to amazing architecture there are so many quirky things to do in St Petersburg. It is the second largest city in Russia and is also said to be the cultural capital of Russia. Here are 14 of the best things to do in St Petersburg.
1. Things to do in St Petersburg: Go on a tour of the city in a red tank
Out of all the things to do in St Petersburg we will start with me favourite. A tour in a red armoured vehicle (tank). There aren’t many places in the world that you can do something like this!
The red tank experience was so good that it deserved its own post! It is the most unique thing to do in St Petersburg, read more: Red tank taxi in Russia
2. Things to do in St Petersburg: Watch a Cossack show
We really wanted to see a cossack show so booked it online before we arrived through http://bagatitsashow.com/show. The show takes place in the evening and the theatre is opposite Smolny Catherdral. The seats are not allocated so get there early if you want to sit near the front.
I would definitely recommend going, the live music and amazing traditional dancing results in a fantastic show. It was slightly touristy but lots of fun. The show last 1 hour 50 minutes with a 30 minute intermission. The performers were dressed in beautiful traditional costumes and even sung a few folk songs.
The second video starts with singing and then moves onto my favourite dance of the night. I am impressed that the women managed to keep themselves from getting dizzy!
Entrance price: 3000 Rubles
3. Things to do in St Petersburg: See Smolny cathedral
We stumbled across this 18th century baroque cathedral because it was across the road from the Cossack show. Smolny Cathedral is beautiful and also has a bell tower that gives a view over the city. The closest metro station is Chernyshevskaya.
Entrance price: 200 Rubles to go up the bell tower
Opening hours: 07:00- 20:00 (Bell tower: 11:00- 20:00)
4. Things to do in St Petersburg: Try your hand at some old soviet arcade games
The Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines houses a large collection of games that were played in the soviet era. The atmosphere is very relaxed and if you want a change from the old games there is miniature basketball and table tennis. There is also a bar and drink dispenser where you can purchase Soviet lemonade.
It was fun trying to play the games, sometimes without fully understanding what they were because they were in Russian. However after a while the novelty wore off and we ended up giving the rest of our chips to a few of the children eagerly playing there. It was an interesting and unique experience nonetheless.
Entrance price: 450 rubles for adults 350 rubles for children (15 chips for the games included in the price)
Opening hours: 11:00- 20:00 everyday
5. Things to do in St Petersburg: Marvel at the Church of the Saviour on spilled blood
Despite its sinister name Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. It has similar onion domes to St Basils cathedral, but Church of the Savior is a lot more detailed and colourful on both the inside and out. This is arguable the most iconic landmark in St Petersburg and was built on the site that Alexander II was assassinated on 1881.
The best view of the church is from the other side of the river. Standing in front of the church makes it hard to fit all of it into a photo. If you want to take a photo without lots of people in it then the best time to arrive is at 06:00. After that the church is very busy with tourists admiring the site.
The interior of the church is even more beautiful than the outside. The entirety of the ceiling and walls are covered in gold depictions from the Bible. Every inch of the high ceilings and walls are decorated with ornate golden pictures. It is hard to capture its beauty in photographs, you can get a bit more of an idea from the video below.
Although a big draw to Russia is St Basils Cathedral, I ended up preferring the grand and intricate design of this stunning church, it is a must see.
Entrance price: 350 rubles
Opening hours: 10:30- 18:00 (except in the summer when there are some evening excursions until 22:30) It is also closed on Wednesdays.
6. Things to do in St Petersburg: Look at 100Kg of gold at St Isaac’s cathedral
This beautiful cathedral includes more than 100 Kg of gold, which is reason enough to visit! As well as that, it has a rooftop viewpoint that gives you a 360 degree view across St Petersburg.
I wish that we had time to go inside because from the photos I have seen it looks amazing. It includes over 400 different sculptures mosaics and paintings.
Entrance fee for cathedral: 250 rubles
Entrance fee for viewpoint: An additional 150 Rubles
Opening hours: 10:30- 18:00 everyday except Wednesday (In the summer stays open until 22:30)
7. Things to do in St Petersburg: St Nicholas Navel Cathedral
This cathedral encompasses Baroque style architecture. It is located in the sailors quarters and named after St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors.
We didn’t have time to go inside but it includes beautiful painting dedicated to the Russian navy. No photos are allowed inside the cathedral and men need to cover their legs. Women need to cover their legs and also wear a head scarf.
Opening hours: 07:00-19:00
8. Things to do in St Petersburg: Rostral Column
Rostral column is made up of two matching columns that used to be lighthouses. They include sculptures of boats and ancient Gods. On public holidays the torches at the top of the columns are lit.
9. Things to do in St Petersburg: Catherine Palace and Park
Catherine Palace and Park (Pushkin Palace) are also nicknamed the summer palace. The palace includes many beautiful rooms with painted ceilings and lots of gold (over 100 Kg). The most extravagant of all is the famous amber room which is decorated with panels made completely out of amber. Much like the Sistine chapel, no photos are allowed inside the amber room.
The rooms are separated by a rope and one side is for the standard tickets and the other side is for private and small group tours. If you want to splash out on one thing I would recommend doing a tour because it was a lot less crowded and much easier to enjoy.
Unfortunately much of the palace was destroyed during WWII and had to be restored.
Entrance price: 720 RUB
Opening hours: In the summer months the palace is open 12:00-19:00 every day except Tuesday with the park open a lot longer from 07:00-23:00. During other periods the opening hours vary so please check them before visiting.
10. Things to do in St Petersburg: The beautiful gardens of Peterhof Palace
Peterhof palace is a series of palaces covered in gold and surrounded by waterfalls and beautiful gardens. They were originally commissioned by Peter the Great and are heavily influenced by the Palace of Versailles.
The palace is about a 50 minute drive from the centre of St Petersburg. Again I would recommend going on a private or small group tour. This allows you to access the Grand Palace early and means that it is a lot less crowded.
The palace contains 140 fountains, however these are only switched on from late April/ early May until early October. There are no exact dates because it depends on the weather. The grande cascade with its big fountains and gold sculptures are what the palace is most famous for.
Entrance Price: 1000 rubles
Grande Palace opening hours: 10:00- 18:00 (closed on Monday but the gardens are still open)
Grand cascade operating: 11:00- 18:00 (closes 19:00 at the weekend)
11. Things to do in St Petersburg: See the State Hermitage Museum (Winter Palace)
The exterior of Winter Palace is a distinctive green, white and gold colour. Inside the palace is the State Hermitage Museum. This prestigious art museum is the second largest art museum in the world, after the Louvre.
In addition to the largest collection of paintings in the world, the museum also contains the famous gold peacock clock. It is the only example of 18th century robotics that has not been altered. If you go on Wednesday then you can witness the peacock and owl move as the clock chimes.
The museum is huge and filled with history so it is worth getting a private tour guide. This not only makes the visit more interesting but means that you take a different route around the museum and it’s a lot less crowded.
Entrance price: 700 Rubles
Opening hours: Closed on Mondays and is free every third Thursday of the month.
(The quietest time to go is on Wednesday and Friday after 17:00 because the museum is open until 21:00 on these two days).
12. Things to do in St Petersburg: See the cathedral in Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul fortress is also known as rabbit island. The story behind the name is that there was a rabbit trying to escape the floods and whilst doing so jumped onto the boot of Peter the Great. He happened to be getting off a boat and onto the island at that time.
Peter and Paul cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the city and the burial place for the most important members of the imperial family. It is the burial place of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the Romanovs.
13. Things to do in St Petersburg: Take a boat tour
The inspiration for St Petersburg came from Venice, so there are lots of canals and it is even nicknamed ‘Venice of the north’. This means that a boat trip is a great introduction to St Petersburg.
We took a boat trip around the canals and listened to an audio guide in English at the same time. It was nice to see the city from a different perspective.
14. Things to do in St Petersburg: See the beautiful Metro stations
Although not as famous as its Moscow counterpart, it still has some very impressive train stations. When we were taking a photo a passer by even joked with our guide that now we can tell everyone we have been to Moscow.
The most beautiful metro stations are: Avtovo, Kirovskiy Zavod, Mayakovskaya, Technologichesky Institut, Ploshad Vosstaniya and Narvskaya.
Admiralteyskaya is the second deepest metro station in the world at 102 meters below ground level. It has the longest escalators I have ever seen! We were at this stop because it is next to the hermitage museum.
Zvenigorodskaya and Pushkinskaya are one station with two different parts. Pushkinskaya is dedicated to the Russian poet Alexander Pushkinskaya.
15. Things to do in St Petersburg: Have dessert in a beautiful coffee shop
Eliseyev Emporium Coffeeshop is a coffee shop that serves a variety of drinks and some delicious desserts. It is decorated in a unique style and is a great place to buy souvenirs. They serve intricately decorated desserts, chocolate and realistic looking marzipan fruit.
16. Things to do in St Petersburg: Go to a restaurant with singing staff
The Ribeye restaurant was recommended by our guide. It is a steakhouse next to Kazan Cathedral where the waiters/waitresses take it in turns to sing. The steak was delicious but the dessert was my favourite, a mango and passionfruit cake decorated with multi coloured meringues.
Accommodation: Golden Triangle Hotel
We stayed in a small boutique hotel called Golden Triangle hotel. It was beautiful and had the best service I experienced in Russia. The man in charge of breakfast was lovely and despite being shocked by me asking for ice with breakfast, they quickly made some for me and brought it part way through the meal. I really appreciated how friendly and accommodating everyone at the hotel was. It is also in a great location very close to Nevskiy Avenue.
Due to the language barrier and the fact we couldn’t even read any signs, we hired a private guide and driver through Viator. This was useful for getting around and learning about the history of different places. Initially we were just going to take a half day tour to Peterhof palace because it is more awkward to get to. It is easy to plan the trip and just hire a guide for the Palaces, which is what we are planning to do when we go back.
Getting from St Petersburg to Moscow
There are direct flights into St Petersburg from lots of cities, including London. I would recommend combining a trip to St Petersburg with Moscow. We spent 3 days in each city which is enough but does mean that the trip is very fast paced.
There are two options to get from St Petersburg to Moscow, either an internal flight or a train. We decided to take the fast train mostly because it meant seeing a little more of Russia. The journey was fascinating and we passed old fashioned communist blocks. The journey ended up being slightly quicker than flying and the cost was similar.
Visited: End of May 2017