38 things to do in St Petersburg, Russia

Things to do in St Petersburg, Russia | PACK THE SUITCASES

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Here are 38 of my favourite things to do in St Petersburg, Russia, which I’ve compiled after spending a decent amount of time there exploring and getting to know the city. St Petersburg is a good place to start if it’s your first time in Russia as it’s much more tourist-friendly than the other major cities, and therefore less overwhelming for your first stop before heading on to Moscow or Kazan.

I’ve avoided including anything I didn’t fancy doing myself and have only focused on the city of St Petersburg itself and immediate surroundings… If I go any further afield, this would turn into a million things to do and no one will have the patience to read it. I’ll be impressed if anyone actually reads all 38 things TBH. But I hope it’s helpful, even if you just pick a few out for a shorter trip. Oh and I went to Moscow just before I went to St Petersburg, if you also want to find out about that (and I slightly preferred it, too – although I loved both).

Anyway, crack open the vodka and read on if you want some tips on things to do in St Petersburg, Russia, the most magical and fairytale city…

Please note that this travel guide is from 2018. For obvious reasons, I do not want to promote visiting Russia at the current time.

Things to do in St Petersburg, Russia

1. See the Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood

If you’re anything like me, the first thing you do in a new city is have a mooch around to get your bearings. It’s hard not to miss the impressive Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood (catchy name, I know) in St Petersburg’s cultural centre. It’s a classic Russian ornate church with five domes, all decorated with the typical Russian detail. The interior is just as lavish and colourful as the exterior, but if you’re trying to avoid the crowds then it’s enough just to see the outside. It’s very similar to St Basil’s in Moscow in its design, but has the added bonus of being on the water’s edge, which makes for a good photo opportunity. 

As ever with any major attraction, part of it was covered in some lovely scaffolding when I was there. 

Things to do in St Petersburg, Russia | PACK THE SUITCASES

2. Have a Soviet-style experience in a stolovaya – one of the most Russian things to do in St Petersburg, Russia

You have to visit an iconic self-service stolovaya. This roughly translates to ‘canteen’, but it’s so much more than that.

Stolovayas are ridiculously cheap for good food. I couldn’t believe the plate you can get for about £4. They’re all roughly the same concept: point at what you want or load it into your own tray as you go around the canteen. No botched attempts at Russian required! Also, they’re an important part of Soviet history. They started in the 1920s as a new programme of public catering facilities, and after the Revolution, many former bars and restaurants became working stolovayas to feed the people. Today, despite McDonald’s and the like being everywhere, locals still flock to stolovayas. 

Stolovaya #1 is my stolovaya of choice in St Petersburg, and it’s handily located near Nevsky Prospekt. It’s cash only, like many affordable places, so make sure you’re prepared in this contactless age. It has the aforementioned pies, as well as other Russian staples like their delicious beetroot salad, dumplings and buckwheat (10/10). You can follow up with some of the pastries on offer…

3. Be blown away by the Hermitage

The Hermitage is one of the top things to do while in St Petersburg that you absolutely have to do, and you’d really regret it if you didn’t go. It may be touristy and not at all off the beaten path, but it’s incredible and 100% worth it.

If your trip falls on a Wednesday/Friday, you’re in luck. The Hermitage is open late on those days (at the time of writing – do check) so you have the option to visit it in the evening, until 21.00. Because it’s all indoors, this is a good use of time before your evening meal when you’d rather be doing outside stuff in daylight hours.

Anyway, it’s quite the spectacle and bloody massive. To get there, take the metro to Admiralteyskaya and walk from there. It’s not far at all, which is a good thing because the Hermitage itself involves a lot of trotting to get around its insane amount of rooms. You’ll need at least 2 hours to see even a portion of it. It’s the second-largest museum in the world (after the Louvre), so I’d recommend Converse or similar comfy shoes to tackle it.

You can book your tickets online (which is slightly more expensive than paying on the door, at 700 rubles per person) or just queue up. We were there in a popular time, but the queue went down quickly and was no problem. You can do organised tours of the Hermitage, but for once I wouldn’t recommend that. It’s better to wander it at your own pace. Personally, I can’t stick portraits of old dead kings and whatnot, so whizzed past that kind of stuff to spend more time seeing the things I’m more into. I really rated the Malachite room, the Jordan staircase, and the Pavilion room. 

4. Overdose on gold

You’re in for a lot of gold all over St Petersburg. Cafe? Let’s put a gold roof on it. Random post box? Yeah, paint it gold.

But nowhere beats the gold in the Hermitage. I don’t even know where to begin describing it. You’ll just have to see for yourself.

Oh and look out for the giant solid gold peacock clock (peaclock?). There’s a sentence I wasn’t ever expecting to type.

5. Understand the Russian love for Georgian cuisine – one of the best things to do in St Petersburg, Russia, for foodies

Before my trip, I’d heard loads about the Russian’s deep-rooted love affair with Georgian cuisine. Georgian food involves loads of plant-based options, including delicious dips/hummus and all sorts of creations involving aubergines, so I was very excited about this. I wasn’t disappointed. It was some of the most beautiful food I’ve ever had, both in terms of taste and presentation. 

I researched a few Georgian places to eat in St Petersburg but my favourite by far was Kakha Bar. And as an added bonus, this was right by where we were staying (see #23 in this post for more on where to stay). I was so glad this place was very close to our apartment… with the ridiculous quantity of food and having crippled myself walking 30,000 steps in sandals, I was in no state to venture far afterwards.

My one Georgian-food-based mistake while in Russia was my rather overambitious ordering of a khachapuri, which is a large twist of bread filled with melted cheese. I rarely venture into the world of dairy these days and it absolutely DEFEATED me. Cheese addicts will literally dive into it though.

6. Get your art fix at the Erarta Museum 

The Erarta Museum, at Vasilievsky Island (nearest metro: Vasileostrovskaya) has five vast floors of art and is the biggest art museum in Russia. Given that Russia likes to go big or go home, you can imagine the hugeness. The setting is modern and so is the art, and you’ll find lots of work by contemporary Russian artists who are big names there but if you live in Western Europe, you might not have seen before. All the pieces’ descriptions have English translations.

You could easily spend a whole morning going round the museum before a pit stop for lunch. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I always enjoy a museum cafe and this one is no exception. 

7. Do a day trip to the very extra Catherine Palace (Tsarskoye Selo) – one of the unmissable things to do in St Petersburg, Russia

Tsarskoye Selo is the most impressive thing I’ve seen in all my travels. Versailles has nothing on this bad boy. I liked it much better than St Petersburg’s other palace, Peterhof, so if you’re debating between the two, this one gets my vote. You’ll need to set aside most of a day for it.

Tsarskoye Selo is actually the name of the town the palace is in, but a lot of people seem to use the name for the palace too. To confuse matters further, the town is also known as Pushkin. The palace itself is actually called Catherine Palace, after Catherine I of Russia, who obviously had amazing bougie taste in Rococo architecture and an addiction to painting everything gold. I approve.

To get there, get the suburban train from Vitebsk Station to Pushkin Station (about 30 mins). You can then walk (a bit of a trek) or get the bus (371 or 382) to the park gates. If you have good weather and you’re not bothered about seeing the inside of the palace, then I’d recommend going on a Tuesday. At the time of writing (but do check), the interior of the palace is closed on Tuesdays. This means it’ll be much quieter and you can take photographs with fewer people in.

I was blown away by the grandeur of it all. I mean, I knew it was going to be blue (and obvs wore a blue dress to match) but not that blue. And it’s so big. As you can see by this photo, it goes off into the distance and is just as deep. Oh and it’s not all about the palace itself – the grounds have other buildings in the same style that would be attractions in themselves anywhere else. 

8. Get lost in the Catherine Palace’s meadows and grounds 

The grounds at Tsarskoye Selo cover 1,400 acres. Walking through them is a must on a sunny day, and this is my favourite memory of my whole two-week trip to Russia. There’s a beautiful lake you can walk around, before entering into pinewoods and meadows with streams flowing through them. All the meadowland in the grounds was really the highlight for me – miles of cow parsley and cornflowers bobbing in the breeze while the birds sang and squirrels darted across your path. It felt like we’d entered another world, some kind of fairytale idyll. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good if it had been full of people, which is another thumbs-up for coming on a Tuesday.

We spent hours walking through the grounds, only breaking it up by popping into the on-site café for lunch, which was inside a boathouse on the edge of a lake. It was called the Admiralty Restaurant (linking to TripAdvisor there as it doesn’t seem to have its own website). Excellent salads.


9. Admire Tsarskoye Selo from a rooftop vodka bar

I took the cover photo for this blogpost from this bar, which we stumbled across as we left Tsarskoye Selo. It was in a sort of little tower with a rooftop sitting area from which you could see for miles. I can’t find the name of it (Google just lists ‘vodka bar’!) but if you want to find it, it’s here.

Even if you don’t like drinking neat vodka, you have to do it at least once. When in Russia…

10. Get your fix of fountains at Peterhof

Peterhof is a stunning palace and estate, but like I said above, I much preferred the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The colour was more striking, the grounds were wilder (can’t get enough of those meadows), and the crowds (because of our tactical timing) were absent.

Peterhof is still impressive though and its collection of fountains is something else. Apparently there are over 60 of them. Note that they’re only switched on from early May to early October, so it would be a less exciting fountainy experience in other months. Like the Catherine Palace, Peterhof can take up most of the day. It’s also on the water, so that’s a really nice added bonus, but be aware it’s absolutely FULL of mosquitoes. 

There are a few options for getting to Peterhof but the main two are either the train from Baltiskiy Station to Noviy Peterhof (45 mins) then walk (about 20 mins) or get a bus (about 10 mins) to the gates, or ride the hydrofoil from the Hermitage wharf, across the Gulf of Finland, to the jetty (about 30 mins). The latter option is only available in summer so do check. 

11. Find the Cruiser Aurora (a museum on a ship)

At first glance, this is just a ship docked on the shore of the River Neva. But up close, there’s more to it. The upper deck is preserved as it was when it was a working ship, and below deck is a museum. It’s famous for being the ship that fired a blank shot at what was the Winter Palace (now the Hermitage) during the October Revolution. This signalled the start of the attack on the palace, which made everything kick off and changed the course of Russia’s history forever. It’s worth walking past for a look but unless you have plenty of time and/or an interest in ships/battles, it’s not something I’d pay to go inside.

12. Explore the Peter and Paul Fortress

The Peter and Paul Fortress is a major landmark in St Peterburg, set apart from the city on its own little island. The nearest metro station is Gorkovskaya, which you can get to from Nevskiy Prospekt on line 2, then walk the rest of the way. The whole thing should take about 25 mins. 

Inside the fortress, the main spectacle is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, which is made of warm yellow brickwork and set in a big courtyard. Inside it, you’ll find Catherine and Peter the Great’s tombs – all the big names of royal Russian history are buried here. There are plenty of other buildings too and a museum, but the best thing is just walking around taking it all in. I really loved our afternoon there.

If you want to stop for a drink and cake at the fortress, I’d recommend Korushka. It could easily be an awful touristy rip off given its location, but it’s actually lovely. Wander along the banks of the Neva and enjoy the view of the ‘mainland’ afterwards.

13. Throw coins at the hare by Ioannovsky Bridge

As you enter the Peter and Paul Fortress, you walk across Ioannovsky Bridge. You’ll see a log sticking out of the water with a little bronze sculpture of a hare on it. The island that the fortress is on is known as Hare Island, hence sculptures of these little chaps cropping up a lot there.

Before humans came along and plonked a massive fortress on it, the island was a mostly a swamp and home to lots of hares minding their own business. Legend has it that during a particularly bad flood, a hare was afraid of drowning and leaped into Peter the Great’s boot. The hare was then saved, and the island got its name. But they still destroyed the hares’ home by building all over it, because humans.

ANYWAY. The hare sculpture in the water has a tradition attached to it. You have to try to throw a coin onto the top of the log the hare stands on. If the coin lands on it and doesn’t roll off, your wish will be granted!

14. Continue the hare theme with a hare-raising picture in the fortress

I love a slightly cringeworthy photo opportunity, and this larger-than-life hare fit the bill. He’s inside the Peter and Paul Fortress. You might have to shove past children posing with him to get your shot, but as you can see it’s worth it. Hare for a good time, not a long time.


15. Have an eggcellent time at the Fabergé Museum

The puns just won’t stop coming and yes, I hate myself. Anyway, one of the most popular things to do in St Petersburg is to visit the Fabergé Museum, home of many of those unmistakable eggs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have you been living under an egg all this time? There’s actually more to Fabergé than just its famous eggs, and a lot of the museum focuses on jewellery, ornaments and the like too. It’s not huge so this is a good one if you have a bit of spare time to fill before a restaurant reservation or something.

16. Do a boat tour to see St Petersburg from the water – one of the best things to do in St Petersburg, Russia, on a sunny day

Ah, the instant regret of a boat tour in any major city. You’re feeling nice and warm, enjoying wearing a t-shirt and then decide it’s a good idea to go out onto freezing cold open water to experience a gale-force wind that you had no idea existed… But it’s a fact that a boat tour is a really nice way of understanding the layout and main sights of a city, especially one as big as St Petersburg, where you couldn’t easily cover it on foot in a short trip.

I massively recommend the English-language boat tour Anglo Tourismo. You can buy tickets at the booth on Anichkov Bridge for about 1,200 rubles. St Petersburg is a city of canals, and the boat tour was excellent. I wasn’t even that cold. Sort of. 

17. Take it all in on Nevsky Prospekt

Nevsky Prospekt is the bustling heart of St Petersburg; the main street in the city, with loads going on and the inevitable accompanying crowds. If you’re not a fan of touristy areas, don’t let the hordes put you off. It’s worth seeing and the rest of the city isn’t as manic at all, so you only have to put up with it for this part. There are so many gorgeous buildings along it to keep an eye out for. One of my favourites was the bright pink Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace at Anichkov Bridge.

You’ll also notice plenty of shops and department stores around here. Regular readers will know that I adore shopping but I wouldn’t recommend looking in any of these unless. It’s all either very expensive or generic European high street stuff (like Zara). Save your shopping for something more unusual (see #25 on this list).

I’d say to set aside at least 30 minutes to take in the sights and sounds of the Nevsky Prospekt area on foot. You’ll naturally cover more of it during your time in St Petersburg, too. 

18. Have lunch and buy some presents at Eliseyev Emporium

My favourite thing in the city centre is the Eliseyev Emporium (on Nevsky Prospekt, of course). It’s a sort of café meets food hall within an Art Nouveau building (1902/3). You’ll spot its distinctive facade and animated characters playing in a band in the window, which means you get people standing outside watching. Don’t be put off by them milling about, it’s not a queue to get in.

Inside, you’re met with a sort of tsar-ist opulence. There are deli counters selling all sorts of bakery goods, chocolates, meats, cheeses and wines, all set against the usual Russian amount of gold. Imagine a Russian version of Harrod’s but a million times more exciting, with shelves up to the ceiling of all manner of jars and tins. Cheeses, cakes, meats and sweets are encased in shining displays as far as the eye can see. It’s a real wonderland – reminiscent of a Victorian-style pharmacy, but with food instead of medicine. Oh and of course there’s a giant pineapple-like palm tree as a centrepiece with tables set around it. You can wait for one of these to come free, and then pounce to secure your spot for lunch. The food is gorgeous here, and you’ll be able to people-watch to your heart’s content.

Once you’ve had lunch, it’s also a good place to pick up presents for friends back home because there are lots of small tinned goods and mini vodkas that will fit nicely into your luggage. 

19. Geek out over old trams at the Museum of Urban Electrical Transport

Another thing on Vasilievsky Island, the Museum of Urban Electrical Transport is home to a collection of old trams and trolley-buses. If this kind of thing is your jam (and why wouldn’t it be?!), it’s worth popping in for a quick look at this small but unique museum. It’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. And yes, you can get inside the trams for photo opportunities. 

20. Visit during White Nights – one of the most unique things to do in St Petersburg, Russia

One of the most surreal things about visiting St Petersburg is experiencing the White Nights. You’ll have to go during summer for this treat, but I strongly recommend considering planning your whole trip around it. 

White Nights is the period when the sun hardly fully sets, and the city stays light late into the night with very white skies. It was about 23.30 in my picture below! White Nights usually runs from mid-June to the beginning of July, but do check because it varies each year. During White Nights, the city is alive 24 hours a day and museums/restaurants/bars all stay open later, while festivals and gigs go on. The city’s drawbridges get raised in the night, taking boat cruises on the Neva River after 1am. This is a big deal and people flock to watch the bridges go up, but if you’re knackered from walking all day then it’s enough just to wander the city’s many canals earlier in the night.

There’s a proper hyped-up atmosphere during White Nights and everyone is in a sort of euphoria, having lost all sense of time. I loved it and would definitely go back to experience the city at this time again.

21. Experience a different side of the city at New Holland

New Holland Island is a human-made island, constructed in the 1700s as a naval port. But it now looks like an image you’d expect to find in the dictionary under ‘hipster redevelopment’. Although it’s meant to resemble Holland, it felt just like being in Scandinavia and had a big Copenhagen vibe to it, which I obviously loved as that’s my favourite city ever.

There’s a courtyard full of eateries and bars, canals, outdoor seating, a communal herb garden (of course!), a little boating lake, and some gorgeous independent shops. Have I mentioned yet how good the fashion is in Russia? I think I banged on about it quite a lot in my Moscow posts.

There’s also lots of stuff going on like theatre productions and gigs on a pavilion, and seasonal things as well. As I’m writing this (months after my summer visit), there’s apparently an ice rink in the gardens there.

By the time you’ve mooched round the shops and grounds of New Holland, you’ll probably be ready for a feed. I really loved Pho N Roll, for Vietnamese street food. If you’re there in summer, take your scran to the outdoor seats for a good people-watching opportunity. Because everyone is so well dressed in Russia, the whole place is just made for a good people-watch. Then after eating, I highly recommend a frolic and photo opportunity in the herb garden…

3 days in St Petersurg, Russia_ a complete city guide and itinerary

22. Eat doughnuts at Pyshechnaya

Pyshechnaya is a bit of a St Petersburg institution. It opened in 1958 and been serving exclusively doughnuts and coffee from a vat ever since. It’s cash only and you eat standing up, but this is all part of the soviet-style experience The doughnuts are chewy and simple, none of the Instagrammable colours and flavours we’re used to seeing at the moment. I’m really not a doughnut fan at all, give me a cake instead any day, but I’d still recommend coming here.

23. Live like a local at Grey House apartments

I can’t recommend where we stayed in St Petersburg enough, so it’s getting its own place on this list.

Grey House is a gorgeous set of apartments on Rubinshteyna. Ours was ‘the red apartment’ and it had a traditional Russian stove, a huge bed, big en suite and a huge fitted wardrobe for all our rubbish. It was decorated in a sort of modern take on traditional Russian and I LOVED it. We had a superior double room because we were feeling extra (about £75 per night) but you can do a normal double for £57 per night. Breakfast can be included but we opted out.

The location couldn’t have been better because it was in a courtyard of apartments set back off Rubinshteyna street, so really quiet, yet the street had all the best bars and places to eat just outside. It’s on the third floor of the apartment block, but there’s a very old lift in full working order for getting luggage up and down.

I very rarely rave about places to stay but this one and where we stayed in Moscow were both great, so I was pretty happy with Russian accommodation overall. 

24. Visit the best model railway village in the world, Grand Maket Russia – one of my personal favourite things to do in St Petersburg, Russia

Even if you think you have zero interest in model railways, St Petersburg’s Grand Maket will impress you.

Grand Maket is Russia’s answer to Germany’s Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, all 800 m² of it. You might have heard of Miniatur Wunderland before as it’s Germany’s most popular tourist attraction and famous around the world as being the best model railway village ever. I agreed with that claim until we went to Grand Maket…

Whereas Miniatur Wunderland focuses on different European cities, Grand Maket covers Russia’s vast and varied terrain. All of Russia’s time zones are included, as well as all the major cities. It’s honestly so so good. The crowd control was better (no hordes of screaming kids pushing in) and it had far more amusing little scenes in it that really appealed to me. There are plenty of buttons you can press as you go round, which set off things like discos in clubs, fire engines pumping water onto blazing buildings, and a steam train puffing out real smoke that you could actually smell! And there are so many amusing details, like Putin riding a bear naked through the Russian wilderness. I could have spent all day there.

Tickets cost 480 rubles, and the ticket office is open from 10.00 to 19.30. It’s easy to get to by taking the metro to Moskovskiye Vorota, then walking. You can easily spend an hour or more there.

25. Go shopping for clothes you can’t get at home but can actually afford (YAAAAS)

I strongly dislike going clothes shopping on holiday (I love it at home). This is because most cities just have the normal shops that you can get in the UK/anywhere so it’s pointless. There are usually unique designer boutiques too, but most of them are completely unaffordable to normal humans.

Russia, however, is different. Not only does it have its own high-street shops that you can’t get in most places, they’re even just about affordable. It also has European chains that we don’t have in the UK (or only have in stupid London, which is far too far away to get to for most of us).

Here are some shops I recommend looking up in St Petersburg:

  • Berskha – a big European chain that we only online in the UK. H&M pricing.
  • Stradivarius – exactly as above, but better midi skirts.
  • Reserved – my favourite! It’s a Polish chain. The pricing is, again, H&M level. I did well at the St Petersburg one: 7 dresses, 3 tops and 2 skirts.
  • Unique Fabric – this is more expensive (think & Other Stories price level) but it’s gorgeous. It’s Russian and has much more of a boutique feel. It smells really nice inside too. A lot of the fashion was quite wintery with lovely heavy cords and woollen pieces, so not quite what I was after in 35-degree heat. But it was great quality.
  • Gate 31 – I was very close to buying a gorgeous £180ish coat here but it wouldn’t have fitted into my suitcase. It’s very Scandi-style, but again it’s Russian. Again, it’s & Other Stories/Cos price levels.

26. Try the Russian match made in heaven: vodka and herring

Herring and vodka is a classic Russian combo that you have to sample at least once.

The point of drinking vodka in Russia isn’t always to get completely trollied as quickly as possible (I know, I was confused too). It’s normally to celebrate something and involves lots of making toasts to everyone’s good health. It also involves a lot of snacks. You can’t order vodka without ordering something to eat with it, unless you’re some kind of heathen. Suitable nibbles include herring (I had the most delicious herring since being in Sweden), mushrooms, caviar or pickles. The point is to complement the flavour of the vodka, but all the eating has the added bonus of reducing your chances of falling over when you stand up. 

Cheers! (I won’t even begin to attempt to translate one of the many Russian toasts!)

27. Get into St Petersburg’s growing craft beer scene

Russia is such a craft beer destination and I don’t know why this isn’t more well known here in the UK. But I don’t think it’ll stay a secret for much longer. Both Moscow and Saint Petersburg have established beer scenes, with lots of cool bars and local microbreweries that I’d never heard of but that were on par with UK favourites like Track and Cloudwater. It was really interesting and great for my personal favourite, sours.

I highly recommend sampling St Petersburg’s craft beer scene at some point during your stay. Some of my favourite bars around the city included:

  • BeerGeek – nearest metro: Mayakovskaya (This was my favourite. Excellent selection of beers and the staff spoke good English so we could have a chat about sours!)
  • TopHops – nearest metro: Dostoyevskaya or Vladimirskaya
  • BeerHERE – nearest metro: Chkalovskaya
  • BottleNeck Beer Authority – nearest metro: Admiralteyskaya.

28. Hunt for a bargain at the Udelka flea market

I always enjoy a rummage at a flea market on holiday. Udelka is St Petersburg’s main flea market, running on Saturdays and Sundays. Despite some of the indoor shops being full of generic Turkish wares, further down the railway tracks you can find the authentic stuff. Of course, there’s plenty of tat to wade through but if you have the patience, there are some brilliant soviet-era trinkets on offer, including a great selection of hats and badges. The vendors are up for haggling, language barrier or not, so do have a go. The nearest metro is Udelnaya,

29. Try a Russian pie (or 10)

These quickly became a staple of my diet while in St Petersburg. If you’re veggie/vegan, don’t worry. I didn’t struggle for mushroom ones, or also cherry if I wanted something sweet. They’re encased in delicious brioche and are sort of the Russian equivalent of a Gregg’s sausage roll in that they’re available on every street (often from a stall) and perfectly acceptable to have as a highly calorific afternoon snack while walking around. The waistband of my jeans will attest to their danger in terms of calories, but they were worth it.

30. Visit the Yusupov Palace

Now, I know you’re probably all palaced out at this point, but bear with me. If you’re at all into Russian history, the Yusupov Palace will be of interest to you because it’s where the infamous Rasputin was assassinated. I’ve recently read The Witches of St Petersburg, which is all about Rasputin’s downfall (a great ‘easy’ read) and I wish I’d done so before our trip so I’d have appreciated the Rasputin-related history a bit more because now I’m obsessed with it all.

Anyway, the Yusupov Palace is worth a visit, and won’t take nearly as long as St Petersburg’s other palaces as it’s much smaller (although still insanely opulent).

31. See the incredible metro stations – one of the best free things to do in St Petersburg, Russia

Although not quite as amazing as Moscow’s metro stations, St Petersburg definitely knows how to make your average commute a grand experience. I mentioned this in my Moscow blog post, but I’m going to say it again: it’s probably not worth doing a paid tour of metro stations. You can easily do your own tour just by doing a bit of research, and then you also get to go at your own pace and fit it around seeing other things. You’ll also naturally visit some of the stations just by getting around the city.

Some of my favourites were:

  • Avtovo
  • Kirovsky Zavod – grey marble columns; very on trend for the 2020s
  • Pushkinskaya
  • Mezhdunarodnaya – a lot of gold.

32. Go to the opera or ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre

Now, I’m going to preface this one by saying that opera, ballet and anything to do with theatre really are not my things, so aren’t something I’d ever go for. But I know lots of people visit Russia with the ballet on their list of things they really want to experience, and possibly the opera too. So I thought I’d better include it just to avoid people grumbling in the comment section! The Mariinsky Theatre is a beautiful building just to go and see in its own right, but it’s also home of the Mariinsky Ballet, which is most likely the one you’re after. You can register for an account on its official website to buy tickets online.

Once you’ve chosen what you’re going to see and ordered the tickets, you can start planning your outfit. Russians are really well dressed and love a bit of evening wear, so don’t worry about feeling overdressed (my eternal problem). This is one place a velvet jumpsuit and heels isn’t going to look out of place.

33. Wander round the Summer Palace and Garden

The Summer Garden was especially gorgeous when I visited. It’s an easy walk from the Hermitage, so you’ll probably naturally end up wandering through it at some point – don’t go out of your way as it is just a brief walk through a garden, but have a look if you’re passing.

While we were there, they’d installed floral archways everywhere for people to pose in front of for photographs. Classic Russia – everyone is always posing for a photo. I never felt daft there getting pictures for the blog! I’m not sure whether this is a regular occurrence, but I hope for your Instagram’s sake it is.

The Summer Palace, within the gardens, is pretty modest by Russian standards. It’s a Dutch-inspired two-storey house really, but pretty nonetheless. 

34. Visit the island of Kronstadt 

A former naval fortress (not as dull as it sounds, I promise) complete with impressive cathedral, Kronstadt is set apart from the city on its own island. It’s a  bit of a journey (metro to Staraya Derevnya then the 101 bus to Kronstadt) but you can do it en route to Peterhof with a bit of planning, or as a day trip in its own right. It’s surprisingly quiet tourist-wise, so a good option if you’re wanting to get away from people and have a serene wander around to take in the waterside views.

35. Get fat at Mickey & Monkeys 

I found the gorgeous Mickey & Monkeys through a recommendation from another travel blogger (thank you!). It’s not traditional Russian cuisine, but I’d done a lot of that during my two-week trip and was interested in where the trendy locals go. Seemingly, they were all in here. I’ve never seen so many hipster beards and jam jars in one restaurant…

Mickey & Monkeys does burgers, ‘freakshakes’, cocktails, and incredible cakes/desserts. The food was glorious and really reasonably priced. The decor was equally gorgeous. Exposed brick, a golden fake dinosaur skeleton hanging above the bar, chess-board-style tiled floors, and huge floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto the street outside. 

It’s an easy walk from Spasskaya station and there’s a branch of the gorgeous Russian boutique Unique Fabric just over the road. 

36. Enjoy the huge variety of different cuisines on offer – one of the best things to do in St Petersburg, Russia, that you might not be expecting

Sorry for banging on about food so much in this blogpost, but St Petersburg really went to town on its cuisine. Forget whatever nonsense you’ve been fed (pun intended) about boring stews and endless borscht. Russia is big on food and big on doing it well.

Obviously, you can get plenty of traditional Russian food in St Petersburg, and it’s all delicious. But of course locals don’t want to go out to eat Russian food all the time, the same as we in the UK don’t go out to eat British food very often.

This is when the huge variety of cuisine comes in. We take it for granted in UK cities how many different breeds of restaurants are on offer compared with what other European cities have. Almost every major UK city has plenty of options, from Thai to Lebanese. But think of French, Spanish or Italian cities and how much the one local cuisine absolutely dominates them. St Petersburg isn’t like that at all and is more into variety (as is Moscow). You’re spoilt for choice and will easily find Cuban, Ukrainian, Israeli, Hawaiian, and Russia’s all-time favourite, Georgian. This means that you’ll get to try loads of stuff that we don’t normally stumble across easily and you can eat twice as much and call it research. Enjoy.

37. Try drinking kvass (without spitting it straight back out)

Kvass is a fermented Slavic drink usually made from rye bread. It’s er, an acquired taste, but is more popular than Coca-Cola in Russia (another drink I hate, to be fair). I was expecting kvass to be like kombucha but it’s not. It’s really not. 

But it has to be tried because it’s such a big deal. Let me know in the comments if you’re a fan, so I can award you with some kind of medal for having tougher taste buds than me.

38. Buy a matryoshka

Finally, it would be a crime to go to Russia and not come home with a beautiful matryoshka, a set of wooden nesting dolls. You can buy them in souvenir shops and markets around the city.

I got a traditional-looking one in forest green as I thought it’d look a bit more tasteful on my living room shelf, but there are plenty of alternative options like Minion-themed ones if you fancy that. They make a good present for people at home, too.

Rows of Russian dolls at a market

Other things to do in St Petersburg, Russia…

So that’s the end of another stupidly long post. Props to you if you made it this far.

I’ve left quite a few things to do in St Petersburg off this list but I could go on and on, plus there will be millions I don’t know about. Cities change so much and so quickly that it’s impossible to keep blog posts up to date.

So let me know in the comments if you do any of my suggestions and what your favourite things to do in St Petersburg are. I like hearing about other people’s experiences in my favourite places. Just keep it to yourself if you’re having too good a time exploring Russia while I’m stuck at home. Ta.

Things to do in St Petersburg, Russia – useful information for your trip

Where to stay in St Petersburg

As discussed in #23 of this list, I can’t recommend Grey House aparthotel found enough. With that Russian stove and the perfect location at about £75 a night, you can’t go wrong.

How to get around St Petersburg

St Petersburg is famous for its metro system. I wouldn’t say it’s as exciting as Moscow’s if you’ve been there too, but it did the trick and some of the stations are just as stunning. Each journey is 45 rubles. We got a 5-day pass for our trip, but they do various options, including a 3-day one (which I think was 340 rubles). We also ended up using the trolley-buses a bit, which were really handy. A ticket is 40 rubles and you pay as you get on usually.

When to go to St Petersburg

We went in June and it was HOT. I mean, hot. Think 30 degrees in the evening. I actually loved the heat, despite being sick from it one of the days. It wasn’t humid and gross and I got to wear dresses with no tights every day. But if you’re not into fake tanning/shaving your legs every day (it did get a bit much TBH) and would prefer to be slightly less sweaty, I imagine the shoulder seasons would be a nice temperature – May or September maybe.

The biggest draw for going in June is of course White Nights, #20 in this list. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that choice, sweat included. I highly recommend going when that’s on, so check the dates in advance for the year you intend to travel.

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  1. Thank You for a great overview of our city! You didn’t miss a single detail. I read it with great pleasure, and I will be happy to share your article with my Twitter followers!

  2. Finlandia Railway station is worth a look. It is the start of the line to Helsinki and is beautifully decorated.

  3. What a great post! I for one appreciated your puns. 🙂 That church sounds, errrr, sinister!! I also weirdly find it funny that Russia has got into the craft beer scene, considering they basically consider beer to be a soft drink I’m surprised they want to put so much effort into it! LOL.

  4. Ho fabulous is Russia? WE visited Moscow a couple of winters ago and fell in love with it! The architecture is incredible and all that gold against blue skies blows you away. I can see that I will have to return if only to see Catherin’s Palace. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I’ve always been interested in visiting Russia and St. Petersburg looks like the best place to start. The architecture is so gorgeous and colorful. I was recently in Latvia and Estonia which had a lot of similar styles from their Soviet days but they weren’t as colorful and extravagant as this. The gold is just magnificent. Also love the idea of the vodka bar. You just have to, right?!

  6. I’ve always heard such great things about St. Petersburg and now I see why! What a beautiful city with so many museums and history to explore. I’d very much enjoy seeing Catherine’s Palace, sipping a drink on a rooftop bar and trying all the food!

  7. As a Russian and a St. Petersburg inhabitant, this is THE best post in that “X things to do in St. Peterburg” category that I’ve ever read. Sharing on my VK.

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