Things To Do In St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg earns the distinction of being the second biggest city in Russia and the center for shopping, religion, culture, nightlife, and entertainment. It is a magical city filled with staggering castles and divided by romantic canals. Visit the breathtaking engineering marvels like the Kazan Cathedral, a religious building inspired by the St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. You can see faith in action as queues of devoted pilgrims gather in front of a revered icon in Christianity (Our Lady of Kazan). At the Hermitage, be impressed with the beautiful floors and the extent of the collection which includes Rembrandt’s masterpiece “Return from the Prodigal Son”.
When To Go:
The summer season from mid-June to September is the ideal time to visit the city. Despite the fact that it’s extravagant, St. Petersburg's close to 24 hours of daylight and White Nights festivals are not to be missed. Summers are not that humid with temperatures dropping to a low of 50s, so make sure to pack in cotton clothes, caps, a wide brimmed hat, shades, and sun block lotion.
Spending the holidays to St. Petersburg in the winter is quite uncommon; winter days are short, and temperatures dip lower than the freezing point. If you plan to visit during the peak season in summer, make sure you book a room three months ahead, or to avoid any inconvenience, try booking a year ahead of time to get discounts on the peak season costs.
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Here are the things to do and places to see when in the city of St. Petersburg...
Stars Of The White Nights Festival (May 27 – August 2)
The Stars of the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg is recognized as one of the ten best music festivals of the world. It is the most prominent and extraordinary music festival in Russia. This annual festivity which started since 1993 was initiated by Maestro Valery Gergiev (who was then serving as the General and Artistic Director of the Mariinsky Theater. The main reason for commemorating the White Nights Festival annually is to celebrate the musical blessings of St. Petersburg City; and to showcase its roster of talented and gifted artists from the performing arts who participate in this festive event. After more than 20 years of celebration, the duration of the Stars of the White Nights Festival expanded from 10 days to 3 months.
The White Nights Festival is an annual tradition of celebrating the days of the “midnight sun” in St. Petersburg, and this means the range of sunlight is always present (24 hours). After 11pm, the sun slumps lazily towards he horizon but never fully sets... This event is characterized by performances that highlight the Russian culture, musicals, folk dance, concerts, and theatrical shows presented by talented Russian performers. This yearly event is usually organized by the city administration and officially begins at the State Academical Mariinskiy Theatre starting from May 27 until August 2. To get the best seats in the theater, tickets must be booked two months before the celebration of the White Nights Festival.
Scarlet Sails Festival (June 21-22)
The Scarlet Sails Festival is mostly held from June 21 to 22 in Saint-Petersburg. It is done to signify the culmination of the school year and the start of the school vacation for students. It is a huge and open event with more than a million attendees (mostly students or representatives of universities) coming from all around the world. This festivity is characterized by a fluvial parade with fireworks and boats adorned with scarlet (red) sails at the Neva River. It is one the highlights of the White Nights Festival. This traditional festivity also signifies the beginning of summer under a persistently sunny sky.
It is a fun and star studded event and filled with many activities like boat races, rowing, carnivals, outdoor concerts, and finishes up with a spectacular water show at night. It is also the time when the students are allowed to party on the street (the city allows the setting up of open stages all throughout the downtown area) or gather themselves to celebrate their “independence” from school work and regulations. The most awaited part of this festival is the incredible water show where spectacular fireworks light up the sky and the waters of the Neva River. This yearly tradition started after the end of World War II when a few Leningrad schools decided to commend the end of the school year by a colorful and festive celebration. It also derived inspiration from a children's book authored by Alexander Grinn called the "Scarlet Sails" (1922).
White Nights Carnival Festival (Street Festival)
This festivity is characterized by a series of carnival shows on the streets around St. Petersburg and held during the celebration of the White Nights Festival (May – August). The White Nights Carnival Festival is one of the most attended street festivals of the city. It is very entertaining and effectively conveys a part of Russian history because you get to see stage actors wearing period outfits inspired by the historic era of Peter and Catherine the Great.
Old carriages are also paraded around Petrof Street as a major aspect of the street festival. The carnival can also be seen inside the Catherine Palace (Pavlosk St.). The highlight of this street festival is the costume show of the Tsars and Tsarinas right on the main stage located at the Palace Square. It shows the period ensembles and elegant wardrobe collection worn by former kings and queens during the old times.
The State Academical Mariinskiy Theatre (White Nights Festival Venue)
The theater from the architectural point of view is really nice and it is located in the center of St. Petersburg (former Leningrad and Petrograd). It is all green and white and perfectly in tune with the various palaces and subtle colors of the city.
The State Academical Mariinskiy Theatre has an extravagant auditorium (with perfect acoustics) designed in blue and gold, architectural decorations with spiral columns, atlases, cherubs, medallions and imperial eagles. The painting on the ceiling presents cupids and dancing girls. The glittering foyer with fluted columns has bas-reliefs of Russian composers and door mirrors and memories of dancers who attended and performed in this prestigious theater. Do not miss watching a cultural performance every Festival of the White Nights, especially the ballet show called the "Gayane of Kathaturjan” (a famous sword dance). The theatrical and ballet interpretation of “Giselle” and “The Nutcracker” are also equally impressive not only because of the grand presentation, but for the world class quality of the artists who participate in the event. To book and purchase your ticket on time, please check the official website of the theater.
Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood
The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood is a beautiful and vibrant Orthodox Church built to highlight the memorial of Christ's resurrection. This majestic temple was constructed as a monument to Tsar-Martyr Alexander II. After the tragic events of March 1, 1881, on the site of a wounded Emperor Alexander II, it was decided to build a temple, whose construction began after selecting the best project in 1883. Until that time, it was at the blast site where they found the mortally wounded Emperor and the same spot where they chose to build a temporary chapel. It was also around this time when all the provinces began to receive donations for the erection of the monument to Alexander II, whom people called the King Liberator for the abolition of serfdom.
It is believed that the temple of the Savior on Spilled Blood was built with the money raised throughout Russia, which once again confirms the people's love for their king. The Savior on Blood is an unusual temple and holds a collective image and icons of the Russian Orthodox Church, from which their appearance resembles the St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. This is an old cathedral that has a striking grandeur and magnificence from both outside and inside. It is within the walking distance from the city center and the Summer Garden. Inside the cathedral, there is a beautiful mosaic and hey have specially fenced the place of death of the king and a stored portion of the pavement where he bled to death. The tour is included in the ticket price that lasts about 1 hour and very informative.
Peterhof Palace and Garden
At about 30 Km from Saint Petersburg dominates the architectural splendor of Peterhof Palace and Garden, one of the most impressive imperial residences. For those who enjoy a journey through history and art, a visit to this residence must not be missed. What is striking is not only the grandeur of the building or the length of its spacious interiors that is bright and studded with gold and mirrors, but the austere and domineering position right above a game of fountains and cascades out of sight.
It has a well maintained garden with flowers in delicate colors, but the focus and the tourists are more centered on the Great Falls and the fountain of the Triton that are part of the huge park that surrounds this court. All the majesty of the empire of Peter the Great is here, in a place not far from the famous St. Petersburg, which offers tourists a glimpse of an aristocratic past and the boundless riches. Among the various residences that you will get to admire in Europe, this is the most obvious symbol of the grandeur of an empire and should be discovered in all its immensity.
Saint Isaac's Cathedral
The St. Isaac's Cathedral is the largest and most beautiful church in St. Petersburg and imposingly stands at a height of 101.5 meters and occupies an area of 4000 square meters. Inside the cathedral, you will be struck by its beauty and rich decoration. The huge religious mural and designs were inspiring. The walls and floors are decorated with marble, malachite, lapis lazuli, gilded bronze and mosaics. The main dome inside is decorated with painted "The Virgin in Glory".
During the tour, the guides will tell about the history of the cathedral, its construction, the use of the cathedral at different times and so on. Under the dome soars a graceful and silvered dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit which looks hard to put down.
After listening to a guided tour, you will be invited to go up to the observation deck (Colonnade) and need to climb 222 steps on a spiral staircase. From here, you can have a better view of the impressive marble columns and a great view of the city center on the deck. Admire from afar the nearby Neva River and the monument to Peter the Great, St. Isaac's and the Palace Square, Peter and Paul Fortress, and a better chance to look at the front of the cathedral. During the Great Patriotic War, the fragments of armor shells were left on the columns and these tracks can still be seen until now.
Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas (Kronstadt)
The Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kronstadt provides an impressive and unusual interior decoration - it seems that the entire inside of the cathedral is saturated with fresh air, sunshine and light. Perhaps this contributes to a great lighting solution through glass domes and ornamental paintings on the walls. Outside it is made of brick and the size is comparable to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Most of its beauty begins inside as you get welcomed by its colorful decoration, St. Andrew's banners, and stained glass - all very bright and festive.
The cathedral’s theme is dedicated to the memory of the Russian sailors who died in the sea battles. Inscribed on the memorial tablets are all the losses of the Russian Navy starting from the 17th century up to 1917. Kronstadt itself is a city without a single traffic light. The nearby quay is well groomed and it is pleasant to walk here in the evening.
The Grand Palace deserves to be visited and an obligatory stop while in St. Petersburg City. This place is easily accessible and you can get there by boat (from the front of the Hermitage) which is very convenient. The palace is certainly very beautiful and the gardens are nice and well kept. The flower beds of colorful tulips serve as a nice background for photo opportunities. There are several fountains to admire and it is very hard to miss the central fountain, which is decorated with gilded statues and creates the impression that the water reaches out to the sea towards the terrace overlooking the Gulf of Finland. The other interesting highlights are the fountain checkerboard, the fountain of the Sun and the Roman fountains that were inspired by the fountains in St. Peter's Square. Cool woods crossed by paths and trails also round out the scene.
The palace was rebuilt so it is not the original. However, the place has to be seen because with its 150 fountains it is a real spectacle. Don’t miss the show at 11 AM because there is a short presentation before the opening of the main waterfall and the adjacent fountains. If you came from Peterhof you will arrive by bus, but if the weather permits it is definitely better to arrive from the sea because there are many hydrofoils that leave from the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, followed by the Neva River and from the coast of the Gulf of Finland. The hydrofoil journey takes about half an hour and costs 750 Rubles.
State Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage Museum is so huge you must spend a day to absorb everything that it offers. The exhibits presented there simply stagger the imagination of any man. At the moment you can touch the history of Russia and also the well-known personalities of the past centuries - kings and queens. You can admire the interior decoration of the premises of the Hermitage as well as the drawings on the floor that coincide exactly with the figures painted on the ceiling.
Most of the visitors stay longer and converge around the Peacock clock because they are indeed gorgeous. At the Knights’ Hall, it is interesting to see knights on horseback in full battle gear. Thus in the Hermitage there is so much to see, learn, and enjoy! And if you get tired, at the bottom of the museum there are comfortable red velvet sofas on which you can sit and relax, plus, there is a wonderful cafe that serves delicious hot chocolate.
The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg was built in 1732 and served as the winter home of the czars. In 1905, crowds of striking workers marched there to demand reforms from Czar Nicholas II. Hundreds were killed by government troops and the event became known as Bloody Sunday. In the palace, you can feel the atmosphere and authenticity of the royalty and be like some noble king or queen or part of the entourage. In the halls, you can see the real throne of the Russian Emperor and the many paintings of great artists, marble bowls, and household items that once belong to the Czar of Russia.
Catherine Palace and Park
The Catherine Palace and Park is a must see attraction when in St. Petersburg city. Absolutely everything is covered with a huge amount of gold. The images reflected in mirrors all glitters with gold figures and everything you can admire inside is done with stunning elegance and taste. The palace is striking in its beauty and it gives a nice feeling to set foot on the steps of the palace where kings and queens once ruled. On the other hand, it is a pity that it is not allowed to take pictures in the Amber Room. You can view the items and the rooms used by the kings and kept well-preserved up to the present day.
The palace is a perfect example of Russian Baroque architecture from the 18th century. Don’t fail to visit the Agate, the gallery Cameron, walk around the perimeter of the pond, and the Admiralty Prospect. These places provide the stunning and beautiful parts of the park (cast iron bridges, pergolas, arcs overgrown with vines, and numerous sculptures). If you want to avoid the huge queue at the entrance, it is best to visit in the afternoon after 16-17 pm, when the wave of large tourist groups starts to lessen.
Palace Square (Dvortsovaya Ploshchad)
The Palace Square (Dvortsovaya Ploshchad) is one of the main squares and amazing places in the city of St. Petersburg. Many tourists and residents like to walk on the square. On this site you can find the Winter Palace, the building and official headquarters of the Corps Guards, Palace Embankment, Nevsky Prospect, Palace Bridge, General Staff building, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Alexander Column.
The awesome facades of the Hermitage, Peter I and Catherine offer great backgrounds for a photograph. It offers wonderful views of the spire of the Admiralty and the Palace Square dome of St.Isaac’s. You will not get bored as you will meet people wearing costumes of the Imperial times and offers being photographed beside them with a fee.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan (Kazansky Sobor)
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan (Kazansky Sobor) is the second most beautiful and monumental cathedral after Saint Isaac’s. Observe silence once you enter because everything here is strictly solemn and austere. The Grey Colonnade and the cathedral itself fill the scenic view over the waters of the channel. Be sure to drop by, attend a service, explore the church, and get imbued with the tranquil atmosphere of the temple.
The place is filled with the divine energy that is felt inside, especially if you witness the unwavering devotion of the locals and tourists for the icon (Our Lady of Kazan). The revered icon is fully decorated and exhibited in the center of the cathedral. A visit to her is one of the most important things to do when in the city of St. Petersburg.
Grand Maket Russia Interactive Museum
The inscription at the entrance to the Grand Maket Russia Interactive Museum says that the layout - is a collective image and representation of Russian cities in miniature form. It is fascinating to observe all the laid out designs of the miniature city. It is interesting to look at the houses, trees, palaces, bridges, boats, people, and trains. The exact details of the construction of factories and mines were also interesting.
What captures every visitor’s attention is that about once every ten minutes, the light turns off and on for 2-3 minutes and the night scene looks cool. And like that, you can click on the buttons, and for example, start a toy fire. Indeed, it is one of the most fun and remarkable places to visit when in St. Petersburg city.
To fully appreciate what St. Petersburg has to offer, it is best to devote a full day visiting all of its famous landmarks, palaces, gardens, and other tourist attractions. If you’re spending the holiday in St. Petersburg, don’t miss a trip to the Peterhof Park that is about twenty kilometers from the city. The park is located the sea, on the Gulf of Finland; it is very large and well-kept. The main attraction is the spectacular fountains, decorated with gilded statues and various water games. The most beautiful waterfall is placed just under the building, which is entirely decorated with semi-precious stones, has various leaps and sides, and a series of golden statues.
To see the wonderful views all around St. Petersburg and the rest of the city, it is highly advisable and practical to take the hydrofoil tour. Beautiful parks, impressive fountains, pleasant gardens, and elegant palaces; everything as a whole is absolutely great in St. Petersburg City.
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