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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 18 March, 2024
Expert travel writer: Jennifer Eremeeva

The second-largest art museum in the world, a visit to the State Hermitage is the ultimate must-do in St. Petersburg – a jaw-dropping, overwhelming exploration of human history, spread across six historic buildings on the shores of the Neva river.

Whatever your interest – Egyptian antiquities, French Renaissance Art, Russian military history – it is represented here, on a scale few other museums in the world can match.

Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great as a court museum, the original Hermitage was built as a private gallery for the Empress’ vast art collection, adjoining the Winter Palace. Eighty years later, the Hermitage was reconstructed under Nicolas I and opened to the public in 1852. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the imperial collections became public property.

Locals (misleadingly) refer to the Hermitage as the ‘Winter Palace’, but this is just one in the complex of five buildings, which display more than three million items – still a fraction of the Hermitage’s full collection. One ticket gives you access to all five buildings, each of which houses very different parts of the collection.

Recommendations

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General Staff Building

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

General Staff Building

Separate to the main Hermitage complex, an individual ticket is needed for entry. It’s home to an exceptional collection of French Impressionist paintings, with works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Degas. The building also houses 19th- and 20th-century European art, including works by Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky.

Adult price: £10

Best for ages 18+

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Hermitage Theatre

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Hermitage Theatre

Once the private theatre of the imperial family, the theatre is open in the day, with classic ballets in the evening, although tickets are much pricier than other theatres in the city.

Adult price: £10

Best for ages 18+

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Large (Old) Hermitage

St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

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This part of the museum showcases works by Italian Renaissance painters including Titian and Giorgione, as well as two paintings attributed to Leonardo da Vinci: the Benois Madonna and the Litta Madonna – considered two of the museum’s greatest highlights.

Adult price: £5

Best for ages 18+

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New Hermitage

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

New Hermitage

One of the two big draws here is the ‘Knight’s Hall’, home to three, full-sized, armour-clad horses and their warriors, surrounded by exhibits of arms and armour from the 15th to 17th Centuries. The second is the collection of Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque art, with large collections of works by Van Dyk, Rubens and Rembrandt.

The Classical Antiquities rooms on the ground floor house the extraordinary Kolyan Vase: a 2.5m-high vase made from jasper quartz, and weighing over 19 tonnes.

Adult price: £10

Best for ages 18+

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Small Hermitage

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Small Hermitage

The Pavilion Hall is one of the finest rooms in the entire complex, glittering with fountains and chandeliers. It’s also home to the Peacock Clock – one of the museum’s highlights – a musical automaton, made in the second half of the 18th century and acquired by Catherine the Great in 1781.

Adult price: £10

Best for ages 18+

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Winter Palace

St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

external facade of the building

The State Hermitage museum’s main building and biggest draw, famous for its eye-wateringly opulent central staircase and ornate halls; if you only have time to do one building, this is the one to see.

Adult price: £5

Best for ages 13+

Logistics

Price from: £5
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The Hermitage is so vast it’s impossible to see everything – and it’s best to not even try; if you stood in front of every exhibit for 1 minute it would take ten years to see everything (without eating or sleeping)!

Private guided tours by one of the city’s excellent English-speaking guides are strongly recommended. Guides are adept at navigating the museum’s many floors and galleries, and will ensure you see the main highlights. If you’re interested in more than just the ‘main highlights’, before you go, check out the museum’s very useful Trip Planner which helps you create an itinerary in advance – and plan what you want to see. Tours range from three-hour to full day. There are also packages combining a ticket and downloadable audio tour.

If you want to visit the Treasure Galleries, including the Gold Room, you need to book on a guided tour that includes it, or buy a ticket from a vending machine in the courtyard on arrival. Be warned, queues to the cash desks are always long, because Russian citizens get reduced-price tickets if they buy in person.

When to do it

If the State Hermitage is a priority for you on a visit to St. Petersburg, consider visiting in winter when the crowds thin out.

In high season, take advantage of the museum’s late openings on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until 8pm and visit the museum in the early evening. Some tours offer early access to the museum, before the crowds arrive. The museum is closed on Mondays.

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St Petersburg

Northwestern Region, Russia

Shining domed towers of orthodox cathedral

On the shores of the Baltic, Russia’s dazzling cultural capital – and former home of its lavish Tsars – is a treasure trove of art, music, literature, and history. Home to one of the world’s greatest museums, the State Hermitage.

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