St. Petersburg Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), St. Petersburg

Russia's northern capital, Saint Petersburg is the country's second largest city where nearly every stone breathes history. It is named after apostle Saint Peter and traditionally dubbed by the Russians as “the Window to Europe” “opened” by Peter the Great on 27 May 1703 on the site of a captured Swedish fortress amid the swamp and the Neva River.

The city is integral with the birth of the Russian Empire and is also nicknamed the “Venice of the North” or “Russian Venice” for its numerous water corridors. Today's Saint Petersburg is a major port on the Baltic Sea and the northernmost metropolis in the world, representing a blend of the Western European architecture and Russian heritage manifested in a variety of venues, such as the Mariinsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet, The Winter Palace, the Kazan and St. Isaac's Cathedrals, and many more.

Over the course of two centuries the city served as the imperial capital, during which period its name had changed repeatedly: from the original Dutch-style Sankt-Pieter-Burch to the German-like Sankt-Peterburg to Petrograd (1914), Leningrad (1924) and finally Sankt-Peterburg (aka Saint Petersburg) again in 1991. Throughout all this time, however, locals have stuck with the shortest toponym – Piter.

Saint Petersburg is also known as "the Cultural Capital of Russia" for being a seat for the National Library of Russia and a home of the Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world. The Historic Center of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The majority of first-time visitors prefer making their acquaintance with “The City of White Nights” (another nick for Saint Petersburg associated with its closeness to the north pole region due to which it doesn't get dark here in the early summer) from Palace Square, gradually making their way to the Nevsky Prospekt whose stir and commotion have been immortalized by the likes of Pushkin, Gogol and Dostoevsky. If you wish to explore these and other prominent locations of Saint Petersburg and to soak up its unique atmosphere on your own and in your good time, take this self-guided walking tour.
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St. Petersburg Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: St. Petersburg Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Russia » St. Petersburg (See other walking tours in St. Petersburg)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.3 Km or 2.7 Miles
Author: emily
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Palace Square
  • Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum
  • Pushkin Apartment Museum
  • Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
  • Kazan Cathedral
  • Nevsky Prospekt
  • St. Isaac's Cathedral
  • Bronze Horseman
  • Palace Bridge
1
Palace Square

1) Palace Square (must see)

One cannot truly experience St. Petersburg without visiting Palace Square (Russian: Dvortsovaya Ploshchad), the central square of St. Petersburg. The place takes its name from the Winter Palace that frames it at one end.

The southern side of the square, formed as an arc, emerged in the late 18th century, designed by George von Velten; whereas the overall ensemble – masterminded as a vast monument to the Russian victory over Napoleonic France – came into existence under Alexander I (reigned 1801–1825).

The architect Carlo Rossi took 10 years, from 1819 to 1829, to create a bow-shaped plaza which centers on a double triumphal arch crowned with a bronze Roman quadriga. One of the most stunning architectural elements of the square is the Alexander Column designed by Auguste de Montferrand in 1830–1834. This red granite column (the tallest of its kind in the world) stands 47.5 meters high and weighs some 500 tons. It is set so well that requires no attachment to the base. The monument is topped with an angel holding a cross.

The square features a mix of architectural styles, ranging from Baroque of the white-and-turquoise Winter Palace (re-built between 1754 and 1762) to the Neoclassical Imperial-style of the General Staff Building (1819–1829). The eastern side of the square comprises Alexander Brullov's building of the Guards Corps Headquarters (1837–1843), overlooking the western side which opens towards Admiralty Square.

Many historic events took place at Palace Square over the years, including the so-called Bloody Sunday massacre of 9 January 1905, during which the Tsar’s troops gunned down hundreds of peaceful demonstrators thus giving start to the first Russian Revolution of 1905. Another revolution, of 1917, also culminated here with the storming of the Winter Palace. A signal for that attack came from the nearby moored Cruiser Aurora which fired a shot from her forecastle gun on 25 October 1917.

Why You Should Visit:
Immaculately clean square and extremely picturesque, in large part, due to the Hermitage and the Winter Palace.

Tip:
Highly photogenic, so make sure to bring a good camera and come early in the morning when the sun rises behind the General Staff Building, casting nice shadows over the horse-drawn chariot on top of it.
A 20-minute horse ride (not expensive) can give you a special dimension to visiting the place.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum

2) Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum (must see)

The former residence of the Russian Royals from 1732 to 1917, the Winter Palace also served briefly as the seat of the Provisional Government between the two revolutions of February and October 1917.

As the government led by Alexander Kerensky eventually failed and was accused of wishing to "surrender Petrograd to the Germans”, a detachment of Red Guard soldiers and sailors stormed the building on 25 October 1917. The arrested ministers were taken to the Peter and Paul Fortress, while Kerensky himself managed to escape.

A historical reenactment of the palace storming organized by the Bolsheviks in 1920, featuring thousands of Red Guards led by Lenin, proved so impressive even to the leaders of the original event (which, ironically, took place via open back door guarded by the wounded and disabled reserves), that it was later depicted in the Soviet propaganda art as an iconic symbol of the Russian Revolution.

After the Bolsheviks moved the capital to Moscow, the palace became part of the Hermitage Museum complex. The State Hermitage is one of the oldest museums in the world. Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, it has been open to the public since 1852. The collection accounts for more than three million exhibits, of which only a small part is on permanent display (350 rooms!). The world's largest gathering of masterpieces by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Goya, El Greco, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh is what makes the Hermitage a prime attraction.

Why You Should Visit:
The Pride of St. Petersburg! A humbling experience even for avid museum goers.
Absolutely gorgeous against the backdrop of winter snow.

Tip:
You must buy a ticket to take video or photographs.
The entrance fee for foreigners is higher than for the locals. Free for all on the first Thursday of a month and daily for all students and children.
Make sure to arrive at the opening time of 10:30 to beat the crowds.
Book online on the official website and take a printed ticket with you, or get a general admission ticket from a ticket machine in the main courtyard.
The on-site café is crowded and overpriced, so have a hearty breakfast and bring a bottle of water.
A 3-hour guided tour visits all the must-sees. An audio-guide is vital if you are on your own.

Opening Hours:
Tue, Thu-Sun: 10:30am-6pm; Wed: 10:30am-9pm
Closed on Mondays
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
Pushkin Apartment Museum

3) Pushkin Apartment Museum

The National Pushkin Museum (aka the All-Russian Museum of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin) at 12 Moika Embankment is the last home address of Alexander Pushkin where he spent the final four months of his life. Russia's #1 poet and his family lived here in a rented apartment from early September 1836 until a fatal duel on 27 January 1836 with Georges d'Anthès. The latter was challenged by Pushkin for attempting to seduce his wife, Natalia Pushkina.

After the poet's death, the house was rebuilt several times. The architectural appearance of the Pushkin apartment has also changed significantly. In the fall of 1924, the flat was taken over by the Pushkin circle of the Old Petersburg society who commenced its reconstruction which lasted several years. The very first museum comprising only several rooms opened in 1927 and then, significantly transformed for the 100th anniversary of the poet's death, reopened in February 1937. The museum took its current shape only in 1953, featuring over 200,000 artifacts, including memorabilia, books and works of art related to Pushkin.

Among the author’s personal items on display are his writing desk and much loved Voltaire's armchair, travel box and desk, walking sticks and a smoking pipe, an inkwell with a little arapie and many more. Other special exhibits include Pushkin's death mask, a lock of his hair, and the vest he was wearing on the day of the fight, plus the original sofa on which the poet died on 29 January 1837. In the room of the poet's wife you can find her portrait made by Alexander Brullov in 1832, her perfume bottle, coral bracelet, wallets embroidered with beads and silk, and other memorabilia.

Each year, the museum holds two memorials: the birthday of Pushkin and the anniversary of his death during which a moment of silence is observed at 2:45 pm, when Pushkin’s heart stopped beating.

Why You Should Visit:
Well worth a visit if you love literature and Russian literature in particular.

Tip:
A little dexterity might be needed to stay in front of or behind the groups of Russian schoolchildren, and be aware that you need to purchase an additional ticket to be allowed to use your camera/phone.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Mon: 10:30am-6pm; Last admission at 5pm
4
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

4) Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (must see)

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (Russian: Tserkovʹ Spasa na Krovi) is a former Russian Orthodox church which today functions as a secular museum. Built on the spot where political nihilists assassinated Alexander II, it represents a monument to the late Tsar.

On March 13, 1881 as Alexander II's carriage passed along the embankment, a grenade thrown by an anarchist conspirator exploded. The tsar, shaken but unhurt, got out of the carriage to remonstrate with the presumed culprit, at which point a second conspirator threw another bomb, mortally wounding the Tsar who died a few hours later in the Winter Palace.

Funded by the Romanov Imperial family and private donors, the church's construction began in 1883 under the reign of Alexander III and was completed under Nicholas II in 1907. It ran well over the initial budget of 3.6 million rubles to over 4.6 million.

The project was led by architect Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, assisted by some of the most celebrated Russian artists of the day—Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov, and Mikhail Vrubel—who created the interior. The latter boasts 7,500 square meters of intricately detailed mosaics—more than any other church in the world—and depicts biblical scenes and images of saints. Architecturally, the cathedral contrasts the predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical architecture of Saint Petersburg, and harks back to the medieval Russian style in the spirit of romantic nationalism.

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, and then shut down in 1932. During the Siege of Leningrad in WWII, it was used as a temporary morgue. After the war, the building served as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of “Savior on Potatoes”. In 1970, it was converted to a museum and then underwent thorough restoration funded with proceeds from St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The church was finally reopened in August 1997, but has not been re-consecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship.

Why You Should Visit:
One of Saint Petersburg's major attractions and possibly the most photographed local temple. Great location to walk to, with beautiful views abound. You can go inside for a fee, if time allows.

Tip:
Try wandering into the Mikhaylovski Garden next door for some picturesque views.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10:30am-6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Kazan Cathedral

5) Kazan Cathedral (must see)

The Kazan Cathedral (Russian: Kazanskiy Kafedralniy Sobor), also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, is a Russian Orthodox temple dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan, one of the most venerated icons in Russia, accredited with many miracles.

The architect Andrey Voronikhin modeled the building on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome despite strong opposition from the church authorities who disliked the idea of replicating a Catholic basilica in Russia's then capital. The construction started in 1801 and lasted ten years.

Many leading Russian artists of the day contributed to the design, producing the interior grand with arched ceilings and ornate carvings, and numerous columns echoing the majestic exterior colonnade reminiscent of a palatial hall – 69 meters long and 62 meters high. In addition to the spectacular stone colonnade accented with gold, the cathedral's exterior features a small fountain encircled by a garden and a wrought-iron grille separating it from a small square. The cathedral's huge bronze doors were copied from the doors of the Baptistery in Florence, Italy.

The Kazan Cathedral became a symbol of and a memorial to the Russian victory in the Patriotic War of 1812. When Napoleon invaded the country, the Russian commander-in-chief General Mikhail Kutuzov sought divine help from Our Lady of Kazan. In 1813, he himself was interred in the cathedral. After the war, in 1815, keys to 17 cities and eight fortresses brought from Europe by the victorious Russian army were placed inside the cathedral's sacristy. In 1837, Boris Orlovsky designed two bronze statues – of Kutuzov and Barclay de Tolly – standing out front.

In January 1932 the authorities closed the cathedral and reopened it in November as the pro-Marxist "Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism". Religious services resumed in 1992, and four years later the cathedral was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. As of 2017 it functions as the mother cathedral of the metropolis of St. Petersburg.

Why You Should Visit:
For anyone who hasn't been inside an active Eastern Orthodox Church, this is recommended as worshipers abound and the building's architecture is something truly admirable.

Tip:
Try to visit during a service (6 pm) and focus on the service and voices of the quire to get a better feel for the soul of the country and Russian people.
Majestic during the day, the cathedral is exceptionally spectacular at night.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-8pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Nevsky Prospekt

6) Nevsky Prospekt (must see)

Nevsky Avenue (Russian: Nevsky Prospekt) is the main thoroughfare of Saint Petersburg where most of the city's shopping and nightlife occurs. The street takes its name from the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, the monastery at the eastern end of it, which commemorates the Russian national hero, Prince Saint Alexander Nevsky (1221-1263).

The avenue was planned in 1703 by Peter the Great as the outset of the road to Novgorod and Moscow. Today it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Major local attractions include the Rastrelliesque Stroganov Palace, the grand neoclassical Kazan Cathedral, the Art Nouveau Bookhouse, Elisseeff Emporium, half a dozen 18th-century churches, a monument to Catherine the Great, the Great Gostiny Dvor – enormous 18th-century shopping mall, the Passage – a mid-19th-century department store, the Russian National Library, the Alexandrinsky Theatre, and the Anichkov Bridge with its horse statues.

The feverish life of the avenue was described by Nikolai Gogol in his story "Nevsky Prospekt" published in 1835. Fyodor Dostoevsky often employed Nevsky Prospekt too as a setting in his works, such as Crime and Punishment (1866) and The Double: A Petersburg Poem (1846).

During the early Soviet years (1918–44), the name of the avenue changed several times: first and briefly to "Proletkult Street" (Russian: Ulitsa Proletkul'ta) and then to "Avenue of the 25th of October", alluding to the day of the October Revolution. None of these, however, took on in the daily language of the locals who kept using the old name.

During the German siege of Leningrad in 1941–1944, some walls on the north side of Nevsky Prospect were stenciled with warnings for passers-by: "Citizens! During shelling this side of the street is the most dangerous". One such inscription is now a war memorial. After the siege was lifted in January 1944, the name “Nevsky Prospect” was officially restored and has remained ever since.
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
St. Isaac's Cathedral

7) St. Isaac's Cathedral (must see)

St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Russian: Isaakievskiy Sobor) is the largest cathedral in Russia and the third largest in the world. Dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia – the patron saint of Peter the Great, the cathedral's construction was commissioned by Tsar Alexander I to replace an earlier church standing on this site.

The construction lasted 40 years, from 1818 to 1858, and was supervised by architect Auguste de Montferrand. The fact that it took so long produced an idiom in the Finnish language: rakentaa kuin Iisakinkirkkoa (“To build like the church of Isaac”).

The project's final budget amounted to an incredible for that period 1,000,000 gold rubles. The result, however, proved to be well worth it – a gray/pink temple of Neoclassical design with a beautiful golden dome, large stained glass of the Resurrection at the altar, stunning iconostasis embellished with malachite, and lapis lazuli columns throughout the interior. A total of 112 red granite columns line the exterior which is also lavishly adorned with bas-reliefs depicting religious scenes and crowned with a rotunda. There are 48 statues in the building: 24 on the roof and 24 on the rotunda.

During the Soviet period the cathedral was stripped of religious trappings and in 1931 turned into the Museum of History of Religion and Atheism. The dove sculpture was replaced with a Foucault pendulum to demonstrate Copernicus's theory. During World War II, the dome was painted over in gray to camouflage against enemy aircraft, and in its skylight was set up a geodesic intersection point to determine positions of German artillery batteries.

After the fall of the communism the museum was removed and a regular worship activity resumed, but only in the left-side chapel. The main body of the cathedral is used for occasional services on feast days. In 2017 the Governor of Saint Petersburg suggested returning the cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church, but the townspeople opposed the decision and defended the museum status.

Why You Should Visit:
A unique place of worship with a more Western feel rather than traditional Orthodox – clearly related but different...

Tip:
Get the tickets for both the museum and climb to the cupola – both well worth it. Negotiating a lot of steps is rewarded in the end with a bird's eye panoramic view to die for!

Opening Hours:
Thu-Tue: 10:30am-5:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
Bronze Horseman

8) Bronze Horseman

The equestrian statue of Peter the Great, founder of Saint Petersburg, formally known as the Bronze Horseman, in Senate Square, is one of the symbols of the city. Commissioned by Catherine the Great, it took 12 years to be created by the French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet, starting from 1768 until inauguration in August 1782. The name “Mednyi Vsadnik” (Russian for "copper horseman") comes from an eponymous poem by Alexander Pushkin published in 1833, widely considered one of the most significant works of the Russian literature.

The Tsar's face is the work of Falconet's student, Marie-Anne Collot. She modeled Peter's face on his death mask and numerous portraits found in Saint Petersburg. Sitting heroically on his horse rearing at the edge of a dramatic cliff, the Emperor outstretches his arm towards the Neva River. His horse is depicted trampling a serpent, variously interpreted to represent treachery, evil, or the enemies of Peter and his reforms. The statue itself is about 6 meters (20 feet) tall; together with the pedestal of another 7 meters (25 feet) it stands approximately 13 meters (45 feet) high.

The statue rests on an enormous 200-ton granite monolith boulder, known as the Thunder Stone (Russian: Grom-kamen), which was delivered from the Gulf of Finland. The stone originally weighed nearly 1500 tonnes, but was carved down during transportation to its current size. At that time it was the largest stone ever moved by humans without machinery or horsepower. The Thunder Stone gained its name from a local legend that said that a thunder had split a piece off it.

Another legend says that while the Bronze Horseman stands in Saint Petersburg, no enemy force will ever be able to conquer it. During the Siege of Leningrad by the Germans in WWII, the statue was covered with sandbags and a wooden shelter. Thus protected, it survived 900 days of bombing and artillery shelling virtually untouched. True to the legend, Leningrad was never taken.

Tip:
A good vantage point late at night, around 1:30 am, to see the Palace Bridge drawing, plus several other attractions nearby and the whole stretch of the Neva embankment.
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Palace Bridge

9) Palace Bridge

The Palace Bridge (Russian: Dvortsoviy Most) is a cast-iron road- and foot-traffic bascule overpass spanning the Neva River between Palace Square and Vasilievsky Island. Like pretty much every other Neva bridge in Saint Petersburg, it is drawn by night, making foot travel between various parts of the city virtually impossible.

The bridge was built by the French firm Société de Construction des Batignolles to the design by Andrey Pshenitsky. The construction began in 1912, but was delayed by WWI, so the bridge was not opened until 1916. The history leading up to it was tortuous with 54 proposed designs rejected between 1901 and 1911, prompted by strict measures to prevent the obstruction of view from Palace Embankment towards Kunstkammer, Imperial Academy of Arts, and other structures on Vasilievsky Island.

The bridge measures in length 260.1 meters, in width – 27.8 meters, and is actually composed of five spans, the southernmost joining Palace Embankment between the Winter Palace and the Admiralty, and leading to Palace Square. The 700-ton bridge flights are opened up by an engine consisting of motors and huge gears, some of which are still the original ones, and thousand-ton counterweights.

During the October Revolution this bridge was singled out as one of the prime locations to be seized by revolutionists in order to establish control over the city, and was taken without a single shot fired.

A year after its inauguration, the bridge was renamed Republican Bridge, but the original name was restored in 1952. Various improvements and embellishments of the structure continued well through the Soviet period. In 1967, the bridge was repaired, and in 1998 the tramway tracks were removed.

Why You Should Visit:
Looks cool in the evening, as it has a bright lilac backlighting. The raising at 1:20 AM to the music is spectacular. Nice background for a canal boat ride at night!

Tip:
Quite nice to stroll around on a leisure evening, enjoying the palace grounds or watching live performers.
Nearby shops offer good souvenirs at reasonable prices. Plenty of street vendors selling hotdogs and beverages close-by.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in St. Petersburg, Russia

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Travel Distance: 5.9 Km or 3.7 Miles
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Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
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Tour Duration: 4 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 9.8 Km or 6.1 Miles

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