Saint-Petersburg is a true paradise for museum lovers and art connoisseurs. No wonder, as the city itself is a huge living museum and the historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Saint-Petersburg has more than 200 museums dedicated to different subjects: from fine arts and architecture to anatomy and war history. Of course, when you travel to Saint-Petersburg for just a couple of days it is impossible to visit all of the museums. In fact, even if you lived here your whole life it would be difficult for you to visit them all:) So, here is our short list of the most notable and fascinating museums that you don’t want to miss.
The State Hermitage Museum is the most famous and well known museum among tourists with over 4 million visitors every year. The main exposition is located in five interconnected historic buildings along the Palace embankment with the Winter Palace as its pinnacle.
The Hermitage collection began as a personal collection of the Empress Catherine the Great, and continued to expand under various Russian rulers. After the Russian Revolution the collection was partially sold abroad by the Soviet government, and miraculously survived the siege of Lenningrad and the entire Second World War. With all these trials and tribulations, Hermitage Museum now has one of the world’s largest art collections, second only to the Louvre.
The museum includes fine art and sculpture, Royal interiors and furnishings, armour and jewelry, Egyptian and Classical antiques and many other incredible artifacts.
One of the highlights of Hermitage is the Peacock Clock. This is a large mechanical timepiece featuring three life-sized golden mechanical birds (an owl, a peacock and a rooster) which are set in motion when the clock is turned on. You can admire their little performance every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. but be aware that this attraction is very popular among visitors so make sure you get there a bit earlier to get a good view;)Obviously, such grandiose museum is hard to cover in one day, and you won’t be able to see everything even if you spend a whole week there:) That’s why the best choice will be to take a guided tour. The guide will take you to the most notable parts of the museum and if you have some particular interests can customize the tour, so you can be sure not to miss anything.
General Staff Building is a separate building of the State Hermitage Museum which is not included in the main museum complex and is home to a wonderful collection of French impressionists paintings of the XIX-XX centuries.
Admire the art of Monet and Degas, bright and life-affirming Gauguin and Matisse, emotional Van Gogh and many other world renowned artists.
It is hard to miss the bow-shaped building located on the Palace Square opposite to the Winter Palace. The General Staff Building is a strange name for an art museum, you may think:),but that is because the main purpose of the building was different. Initially the building served as the headquarters of the General Staff, Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry. Nowadays, the western wing hosts the headquarters of the Western Military District and the eastern wing is allocated for the Hermitage Museum.
Another museum in St.Petersburg that you cannot miss is the Faberge Museum. This museum exhibits the masterpieces of the House of Faberge – the collection includes over 1000 items such as fantasy-themed objects, jewelry, accessories, silverware and home décor. But the highlight of the museum is the world’s second largest collection of 9 Imperial Easter Eggs (the largest world collection of 10 Eggs is in the Armoury Chamber in the Moscow Kremlin). After the 1917 Russian Revolution the Soviet government sold off at least half of the collection and after decades of searching through the world’s art auctions the collection has been returned to Saint-Petersburg and now can be seen by everyone.
The State Russian Museum
The Russian Museum is one of the largest museum complexes in Russia and the world’s biggest depository of Russian Fine Arts. It is located in the historical center of St.Petersburg and is a unique architectural complex of several Palaces and Gardens. Below are the museums highlights:
The most comprehensive collection of Russian art from 10th to 21st centuries is located in Mikhailovsky Palace and includes over 600 ancient icons, Russian folk art, and an enormous collection of works by most renowned Russian artists such as Ivan Aivazovsky, Karl Bryullov, Ilya Repin, Vasily Polenov and many others.
The Benois Wing
The Benois Wing in contrast to Mikhailovsky Palace, was built in the beginning of the 20th century and was initially intended for exhibitions of various art associations and unions, now houses an impressive collection of Russian avant-garde and Soviet art. You can find here the masterpieces of Petrov-Vodkin, Kandinsky, Filonov, Rodchenko and Malevich with one of his famous black squares.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Right next to the Benois Wing of the Russian Museum, on Griboedov Canal Embankment, there is a marvelous gingerbread-looking building with colorful domes. This is the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood which you won’t be able to pass by without stopping, admiring and taking a couple of selfies.
Although the name sounds a bit terrifying due its tragic history - this Cathedral has rightfully become one of the symbols of Saint-Petersburg. The church was constructed in Russian style using different materials such as brick, marble, granite, enamel, gilded copper and mosaics which make the whole building look like it is constructed completely of mosaics. The same can be noted about the interiors – in fact, the mosaic exposition of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the largest in Europe.
St Isaac’s Cathedral
St Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the largest Orthodox Cathedrals in the world and the largest church in Saint-Petersburg – you can see its brightening golden dome almost from any point within the city center. This Cathedral has a complex and interesting history which is perfectly reflected in the exhibition inside as the Cathedral is not only a functioning church, but also a museum. The exposition shows various architectural designs of the Cathedral – spoiler alert: the one you see is the 4th version of the Cathedral founded by Peter the Great back in the beginning of the 18th century;) The cost of the construction was about 25 million rubles which was an absolutely astounding sum at that time, yet when you see the Cathedral you understand that it was worth it; - a magnificent monument of classicism, splendid interiors of mosaics and frescoes made by famous masters, gigantic granite monolithic columns on facades and on the top, a huge dome with a colonnade and observation deck where a breathtaking view of the city opens.
Peter and Paul Fortress
I bet everyone has seen those postcards with panoramic views of Saint Petersburg. Well, the building with the tallest golden spire that is always present in these pictures is Peter and Paul Cathedral which is part of the ensemble of the eponymous Fortress. The Peter and Paul Fortress is the historical citadel of Saint Petersburg founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. Nevertheless, the Fortress has never been involved in any military action – from the very beginning it became the main prison for political prisoners. Currently, the memory of those dark times is preserved by the museum of Trubetskoy Bastion Prison.
Moreover, you can also visit the permanent expositions of Museum of History of Saint Petersburg, Museum of Science and Technology, Museum of Space Exploration and Rocket Technology which are all located in the Peter and Pall Fortress. Besides, each year the fortress hosts annual festivals of sand sculptures in the summer and ice sculptures in the winter. So, everybody will find something to do here;)
Walking around the star-shaped fortress you can witness an old tradition of the midday cannon shot fired at noon from the Naryshkin Bastion. Back in 18th and 19th centuries additional shots were sometimes fired to warn about the upcoming floods which were not uncommon in St. Petersburg until the end of the 20th century, when a protective dam was built.
The perfect end to the visit of the fortress is going up to the observation deck to see the panoramic view of Neva river and the city. There are two observation decks: the first is located on the fortress wall, and the second - on the bell tower of the Peter and Paul Cathedral.
Not far from Peter and Paul Fortress stands a symbol of the Russian October Revolution – the Aurora Cruiser. Initially built as a warship, the ship served during the Russo-Japanese War and WWI, but became famous for its blank shot, signaling the beginning of the attack on the Winter Palace and the beginning of the Revolution. Nowadays, the ship is a cultural heritage sight of the Russian Federation and represents a branch of Central Naval Museum of Peter the Great. You can go inside to see the exposition or you can just admire the outside view of this truly symbolic ship.
Museum of Political History
It is common knowledge that Saint-Petersburg has become a cradle of not only the Russian Empire but also of Russian Revolution. Many of the most fateful political events and decisions took place here. Originally, the Political History museum was founded in 1919 as a museum of revolution, and currently has a chronological collection of documents and artifacts owned by key figures of Russian history starting from Catherine II to the most recent Russian political leaders.
The museum is located in the mansion of Mathilde Kschessinska – the prima ballerina at the Imperial Ballet. The building is an exemplary model of art nouveau and although it was a gathering place for Russian nobility, in 1917 it became the hotbed of Russian Revolution with Lenin giving one of his most famous speeches from the balcony of this mansion.
State Memorial Museum of Leningrad
Defense and BlockadeIf you are interested in history of Leningrad (former name of St Petersburg back in Soviet times) and war history you should visit the museum of Leningrad Defense and Blockade. This museum is dedicated to one of the darkest times of St Petersburg during WWII. The exposition includes photos of the Blockaded city, military attributes, personal items of people who survived and those who couldn’t make it. Recently, the museum went through a large reconstruction and now most of the exhibition is interactive. Nowadays, Saint-Petersburg citizens still remember those times and the sacrifices that were made so future generations can enjoy this wonderful city.
Above are just a few museums in Saint-Petersburg that we highly recommend to visit, but they are probably the most significant ones. So, choose a couple of them to visit during your next trip and come back for more – you can be sure that the next time you still will have something new to seen.