St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and offers numerous attractions, perhaps too many to see in one short trip. If you're pressed for time we recommend the following top must-see attractions, which include cultural and historical interest, ranging from Imperial Palaces to museums to churches and cathedrals to Soviet era landmarks.
A splendid city : splendid in its spaciousness, in the dimensions of its buildings and its thoroughfares, and in its cosmopolitan gaiety. Such were my first impressions of St. Petersburg, and such, in the main, are my permanent recollections of the capital of the Russian Empire.
Russia's New Era. J. Barret, 19th century
The legendary cruiser Aurora lies at anchor at the point where the arm of the Neva, the Greater Nevka (Bolshaya Nevka), flows out of it. The cruiser was named after the frigate Aurora which became famous during the Crimean War (1853-1856).
In October 1917 the sailors of the Aurora joined the insurgent people. On the night of October 25, on the orders of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the cruiser sailed into the Neva and dropped anchor by the middle span of the St. Nicholas Bridge and trained its guns on the brightly illuminated windows of the Winter Palace, the seat of the Provisional Government. At 9:45 pm the Aurora gave the signal for the storming of the Winter Palace.
Nevsky Avenue, St. Petersburg’s main thoroughfare, traces its history back to the time when sumptuous architectural ensembles began to take shape on the banks of the Neva. Gogol begins his story Nevsky Prospekt with the following words: “There is nothing better than Nevsky Avenue, in St. Petersburg at any rate; it means everything for this city. Whats doesn’t this beauty-street of our capital excel in?”
The Nevsky acquired its charm after the appearance of ensembles and squares designed by Voronikhin and Rossi.
There are not many squares in world architecture that leave as deep an impression on the viewer as the Palace Square (Dvortsovaya Ploschad). The amazing sensation of space, the harmony of the buildings surrounding it, and the beauty of each separate building, combine to produce an overwhelming effect. The secret of this enchantment lies in the integrity of the ensemble, although everything here was built at different times by different architects and in different styles.
Early in her reign, Catherine the Great decided to erect a monument to the city’s founder. It was to be the symbol and justification of her rule. The site was chosen with care, in front of the western ramparts of the Admiralty, where the Church of St. Isaac the Dalmatian once stood in which Peter married Catherine.
The French philosopher, Denis Dedirot, editor of the Encyclopedie, helped to find a worthy sculptor. He suggested the project to Etienne Falconet and the sculptor came to Petersburg in 1768 with his pupil Marie Collot.
Peter and Paul Fortress
It was decided to build an earthen fortress on the small island where the Neva divides into two channels, the Greater and the Lesser Neva, before flowing into the sea. The foundation-stone was laid on 27 May, 1703, the date now regarded as the city’s birthday. In 1706, however, the Tsar ordered Domenico Trezzini to rebuild it in stone. The architect worked on this powerful, unassailable fortification right up to his death. A brick wall up to 15 meters thick enclosed the barracks, powder cellar, commandant’s house, large cathedral, mint and domestic buildings.