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St Petersburg’s extraordinary cathedrals & churches

  • St Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Last updated: 06 April, 2024

When Peter the Great inaugurated St Petersburg in 1703, it was the beginning of two centuries of building, which saw some of Europe’s most impressive churches and cathedrals rise up alongside the ornate palaces created for the Romanov dynasty.

Building churches and cathedrals had long been a way of gaining prestige since Russia was converted to Orthodoxy in 988 AD. Dukes from different areas competed with each other to see who could create the most extraordinary and beautiful church.

For Peter the Great, the challenge was even greater; to build churches and cathedrals that would become the most impressive in the world. Many were a product of the Baroque era, and have ornate frontages with onion bulb domes and facades in vivid colours; powder blue, rose-pink and yellow.

Throughout the Romanov era, increasingly ambitious churches were built, leaving the city with the legacy Peter the Great had wished for – a city with some the most extraordinary religious architecture in the world.

Who to go with: tour operators

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  • St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

Famous for its ornate, onion-bulb domes and the extraordinary gold mosaics housed within the spectacular façade, the Church of the Resurrection (more commonly known as the Church of the the Spilled Blood) is one of St Petersburg’s finest religious sites – a must-see, even for those who wouldn’t normally visit a church.

Built in 1881 in memory of Alexander II, the church stands on the spot where he was assassinated, when a bomb was thrown into his carriage. Outside, the domes are exuberantly decorated in bold golds and teal, and covered with jeweller’s enamel.

Inside, the scale of the mosaics is jaw-dropping; floor-to-ceiling gold-leaf depictions of different scenes from the bible, set against a vivid, deep blue backdrop.

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 13+

Chesme Church

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Chesme Church

Experience

Considered by some to be St. Petersburg’s most impressive single church, Chesme has a unique candystripe frontage, in pink and white, and an elegant, rose-hued interior.

Good for age: 18+

Kazan Cathedral

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Cathedral with pillars and fountain

Experience

Looming over Nevsky Prospekt, the scale of Kazan is breathtaking. Modelled on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the church took ten years to build between 1801-11 and is famous for its impressive stone colonnade.

Good for age: 18+

Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Gold domed white cathedral

Experience

A huge, Baroque confection, Kronstadt served as the main shrine for the Russian navy until the revolution in 1919. The Cathedral is actually two churches on separate floors, with opulent, gilded interiors.

Good for age: 18+

Peter & Paul Cathedral

  • St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

Interior of cathedral with ornate pillars rising up to ceiling

Experience

The burial place of Russia’s Romanov tsars from Peter the Great to Nicholas II, the Cathedral was the first landmark to be built in the city, and is thus the oldest – dating back to 1733.

Adult price: £7

Good for age: 18+

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Gold domed cathedral by day

Bucket List Experience

St Isaac’s Cathedral

The stately dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral — the fourth-largest domed cathedral in the world — dominates the low skyline of St. Petersburg. Though deliberately designed to integrate into the Western European style of the city, the interior of the cathedral is magnificently decorated with traditional Orthodox icons and frescoes and has recently reverted to the Russian Orthodox Church. Note the scarred exterior columns, which were damaged during air raids in World War II.

For a magnificent panoramic view of St. Petersburg, climb up to the cathedral’s colonnade, which stays open much of the night during the White Nights.

Adult price: £3

Good for age: 18+

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Blue and white painted cathedral rises between city buildings in square

Bucket List Experience

Smolny Cathedral

The dazzling cupolas and sky-blue facade of Smolny Cathedral, rising up from its waterside location on the River Neva, are one of St. Petersburg’s most arresting sights. Commissioned by Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth, to assuage her frequent pangs of Catholic guilt, Smolny was designed by her favourite architect, the Italian Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

Arguably his most magnificent creation, Rastrelli designed a traditional, five-domed Russian cathedral, but embellished it with exquisite interiors, and a baroque facade in her favourite shade of turquoise.

Climb the 277 steps to take in the spectacular views from the cathedral’s bell tower, and if you’re visiting independently, time it when a service is taking place, to witness the full drama of a Russian orthodox service.

Adult price: £3

Good for age: 18+

Trinity Cathedral

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

blue domed cathedral in city centre

Experience

Instantly recognisable by its bright blue domes, Trinity was a former regimental church of the Russian Imperial Army, and is famous for its icons, dating back to the 18th century.

Good for age: 18+

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

Most of the major churches and cathedrals are located in the centre of the city, which is easily walkable. Many visitors pre-book a day tour of St. Petersburg, which offer transport between two sites and a guide throughout. Russian churches don’t always have a huge amount of signing in English, so booking a guided tour is a good option if you want to know more of the history.

When to do it

Many of St. Petersburg’s better-known churches get extremely busy with tourist groups in the spring and summer months; if visiting then, go first thing in the morning to avoid the words of the crowds if you can.