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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 17 January, 2023
Expert travel writer: Jennifer Eremeeva

Editor: despite Russia’s illegal and heinous invasion of Ukraine, we’ve left Russian content up on our site. There’s no reason you can’t add Russia to your travel bucket list for future visits. The war, and Putin, won’t last forever, and then we hope you go back. There are many innocent Russian people whose livelihoods depend on tourism, suffering greatly too from the actions of this evil dictator and his cronies.

Peter the Great’s exquisite maritime imperial capital has dazzled visitors since its founding in 1703; the city’s wide boulevards, spectacular churches and glittering palaces forming a backdrop to 400 years of Russia’s turbulent history.

Seismic events have left their mark on St. Petersburg, most particularly the revolutions of 1917, which took place in the city’s streets and squares, and World War II, in which the city survived a gruelling 900-day siege, resulting in the deaths of over one million of the inhabitants through starvation.

Originally designed as a ‘Window on the West’, St. Petersburg continues to fulfil that role today. This most European of Russian cities has always been characterized by dynamic change and a restless energy that inspired Russian intellectuals and politicians throughout its existence, as it still does today.

Russia’s vibrant cultural capital attracts creative minds of all kinds, and a programme of renovation in the city centre has seen world-class art galleries, restaurants and bars opening up, alongside super-stylish hotels.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

State Hermitage Museum

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Once the premier royal residence of the Romanovs, today this vast complex – the second-largest art museum in the world – houses a jaw-dropping collection of Egyptian antiquities, European Renaissance Art, treasure galleries and Russian military history.

Best for ages: 13+ | £5

Catherine Palace

St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

A summer palace that’s a showcase for the grandeur of Imperial Russia, and a fascinating insight into the gilded lives of the Tsars.

Best for ages: 13+ | £10

Russia’s Tsars & their legacy

St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

Visiting St. Petersburg is a chance to discover the larger-than-life personalities who ruled the city: the powerful Romanov dynasty aka the Tsars.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Tsar’s Village

St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

The extraordinary summer retreat of the Russian tsars, home to exquisitely restored Baroque palaces and formal gardens, including the Catherine Palace.

Best for ages: 18+ | £6

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Single bed in small room
Experience

Dostoevsky Museum

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Dostoyevsky’s apartment/house museum, located in the Haymarket, is where much of ‘Crime and Punishment’ is set and offers fascinating insights into the writer’s life and work.

Best for ages: 18+ | £3

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Wide yellow villa
Experience

House of Academics

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

One of the city’s oldest and most famous apartment blocks, home to scores of Russian Scientists since 1708; the facade of the building has nearly 30 memorial plaques honoring its past residents. You can g inside and visit the house-museum of its most famous resident, the great physiologist Ivan Pavlov.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Kuntskamera
Experience

Kuntskamera

St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

Founded by Peter the Great to house his collection of physical oddities and preserved ‘freaks’, this museum has a ghoulish lure; not for the faint-hearted, or children.

Best for ages: 16+ | £6

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Stall with dried fruit in baskets
Experience

Kuznechny Food Market

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Kuznechny Market offers a chance to step off the sightseeing trail and visit the city’s largest farmers’ market, with fresh produce, meat and fish.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Pushka Inn

St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

Cosy, classic but affordable accommodation in a historic hotel, located just moments from the Hermitage.

Official star rating:

Faces Historical Center

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Enjoy the convenience of a central location, in-room amenities, and friendly staff at a very affordable price.

Official star rating:

Hotel Astoria

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

One of the city’s oldest and most elegant places to stay in the city, it offers luxury accommodation and an excellent location.

Official star rating:

SO Sofitel

St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

A hip design hotel opposite St Isaac’s Cathedral, with a basement spa and rooftop bar and restaurant that’s one of the city’s premier party spots.

Official star rating:

When to go

St. Petersburg’s famous White Nights in June and July are an opportunity to see the city en fete during the eponymous cultural festival. There is magical quality to the endless daylight of this northern summer, but the downside is the long lines of tourists, whose ranks swell when large cruise ships are in port.

If you enjoy a more leisurely pace, and don’t mind wind, snow, and cold, consider visiting in winter when the theatrical season is at its height and the palaces and museums empty.

Getting there and away

Arriving by plane to St. Petersburg’s domestic or international airports, (Pulkovo I and II) take the express bus 39 to Moskovskaya Metro Station or a taxi from the official rank outside the airport terminals.

Each of St. Petersburg’s major rail stations is adjacent to a metro station with bus and taxi services. Check with your hotel to see if they provide arrival and departure transfers by private car. Avoid illegal taxis in the city.

Getting around

The two best ways to explore St. Petersburg’s compact centre in warm, dry weather are by foot or canal barge, the latter available at major riverside attractions.

The city’s public transport (Metro, tram, trolley, minibus, and bus) is cheap and efficient, but can be crowded and may overwhelm if you don’t read Cyrillic.

International hop-on-hop-off buses (City Sightseeing) offer affordable 24-hour passes, and can be the most efficient way around, particularly on their extension trips to the suburban palaces.

Where to stay

Time is always of the essence in St. Petersburg, so make the most of it by staying as close to the historic centre as possible, particularly if this is your first visit.