Once you finish the laborious process of getting a Russian visa, a visit to St Petersburg feels like a cultural pilgrimage into a world of endless art.
Whilst the vast collection of art in St Petersburg will steal your attention, it’s not the only show stopper, you can look forward to the city’s immaculate architecture too. Everywhere you look from the sidewalks – right, left, up, down – no detail has been spared in the name of beauty.
Though unlike its Nordic neighbours, who subscribe to the less is more school of design, St Peterburg has clearly adopted the more is more approach. And whilst your personal taste may sway toward Nordic design (like mine), it’s impossible to avoid getting swept up in the fairytale opulence of your surroundings.
For those who want to experience the diversity of St Petersburg’s art scene, you should not miss the following places:
One of the largest and oldest museums in the world. The only place I’ve visited that can rival here is the Lourve in Paris. Put aside a full day to see what’s on offer, including the world’s largest collection of paintings. You will discover who’s who of Russian art, and find entire rooms dedicate to the big names of Western European art.
The collection they have of Picasso’s work is truly mesmerising, including a lovely display of his ceramics.
Address: Palace Square, 2, St Petersburg
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday (closed Monday) 10.30 – 18.30, opened late nights on Wednesday and Friday 10.30 – 21.00
© Faberge Museum
Peter Carlos Faberge is perhaps the most famous Russian jeweller in history, and you have a chance to see his works of art in St Petersburg – including the imperial Faberge eggs, his most well-known creations.
The silk-lined walls and decorative ceiling of the Fabergé Museum are the vision of Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire who’s devoted his time to repatriating thousands of Russian decorative and fine art that was sold by the Soviet government in the 1920s and 1930s.
Address: 21, Fontanka River Embankment, St. Petersburg
Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday (closed Friday) 10.00 – 21.00
Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood
There’s nothing austere about this church, from the whimsical exterior reminiscent of ice-cream swirls, to the blinding gold interior that make you want to reach for your sunglasses.
Whatever your feelings are toward being ambushed by so much gold, the craftsmanship gone into creating the floor to ceiling mosaics is truly impressive.
Address: Griboyedov Canal Embankment, 2Б, St Petersburg
Opening hours: Thursday to Tuesday (closed Wednesday) 10.30 – 18.00
Catherine Palace and Pushkin Park
Also know as the Summer Palace, this was perhaps the most beautiful area I visited in St Petersburg. Historically fascinating as well because Catherine Palace was also home to the infamous Amber Room, reportedly looted by the Nazis and never found again. However, now contains a very ornate replica.
Address: Sadovaya St, 7 | Ekaterininskiy Park, Pushkin, St. Petersburg
Opening hours: Varies throughout the year. See website for up-to-date information
The Peterhof Palace
Often referred to as the ‘Russian Versailles’ and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Peterhof Palace refers to not just one but a series of palaces located in Petergof, not too far away from the city. Accompanying the palace are stunning gardens filled with perfectly-pruned topiary, sculptures and fanciful fountains.
Address: Razvodnaya ulitsa, 2, St Petersburg
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday (closed Monday) 09.00 – 19.00, late night opening Saturday 09.00 – 22.00
State Russian Museum
Welcome to the home of St Petersburg’s largest collection of Russian art, from 11th century icons right through to modern age. Here you’ll also find wonderful examples of Russian folk art, a style that is often eclipsed in favour of more opulent aesthetics. And finally, no museum of Russian art would be complete without its most celebrated export: Wassily Kandinsky.
Address: Inzhenernaya St, 4, St Petersburg
Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday (closed Tuesday) 10.00am – 18.00, late night Thursday 13.00 – 21.00
Russian Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography
Easily the most modest museum on the list, it’s a little tatty around the edges but nonetheless one of the most interesting museums in the city. Contains many examples of Russian dress wear through the eras, as well as the very striking and rather creepy KunstKamera room (a museum within a museum).
Address: Inzhenernaya St, 4/1, St Petersburg
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday (closed Monday) 10.00 – 18.00, late night Tuesday 10.00 – 21.00
Mariinsky or Mikhailovsky
Finally, what’s a trip to St Petersburg without seeing Swan Lake at either of the city’s premier theatres? The dancing alone is enough reason to buy tickets, but the stage design and beautiful costumes do not falter either. Though if you can’t afford tickets to see Swan Lake in either of these venues, do what I did and attend a lesser known production. The swans might just have one or two missing feathers…!