Despite the fact that St. Petersburg is a relatively young city, founded in 1703 by Emperor Peter the Great, it has an exciting and rich history. The city was built on a boggy terrain at the cost of thousands of lives.
Many workers died during the construction but because of the Northern War with Sweden, the location had tremendous strategic importance. Very quickly, by 1712, St. Petersburg had grown enough to become the new Russian capital. Catherine the Great, Russian Tsars, and great writers like Dostoevsky and Pushkin all left their mark on this great city.
Today St. Petersburg has a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere, beautiful architecture, rich culture, and a legendary nightlife. It is the cultural capital of Russia, and as the locals say: people move to Moscow for business, and they move to St. Petersburg in search of love.
There you go, now you know where to go looking! Most visitors to St. Petersburg have a similar itinerary that includes a visit to the Hermitage Museum, the Mariinsky Theatre, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Church of the Savior on Blood, and so on. There is so much to see here it is best to sign up for a guided tour.
We have put together a list of ten things you should do in St. Petersburg besides visiting the usual famous spots.
1. Go Ghost Hunting
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, these places and stories will give you the creeps. A ghost tour will take you to some of the most haunted places in town. The Mikhailovsky Castle is considered to be the most haunted buildings in St. Petersburg. It was designed by Pavel I, who only lived here a little longer than a month before he was strangled to death in his bedroom. His ghost has been haunting the halls of the castle since then. Even museum workers and security guards refuse to stay in the palace at night. Click here to read more about other haunted buildings.
2. Listen to an Organ Concert in the Smolny Cathedral
Rising majestically from the waterside location on the banks of the Neva River, this magnificent blue baroque cathedral is today a concert and exhibition hall with an exhibition of Smolny’s history on display. Make sure to visit the beautiful Smolny Cathedral when there is an organ night concert. It also worths the climb to the top of one of the bell-towers!
3. Walk Across the Bridges
There are in total 342 bridges in St. Petersburg. Peter the Great wanted the city to look like Venice with canals instead of streets, citizens using boats for transportation and sledges when the water freezes. After his death, more and more bridges were built as it was a much easier way of getting around. If you go out, make sure to have a plan how you will get back to your accommodation at the night as the drawbridges have opening times and they remain raised overnight!
4. Try Stolle Pies
The streets of St. Petersburg are filled with the delicious scent of the freshly baked stolle pies which is a type of pirogi. These traditional Russian pies are baked with leavened dough filled with fruits, cheese or meat. You’ll find stolle pie bakeries everywhere. They’re very popular with locals and a St Petersburg attraction in themselves.
5. Get on a Night Cruise
Hop on a boat and cruise around St. Petersburg in the evening when everything is lit up. It is an amazing way to see the city, also called the ‘Venice of the North’ because of its bridges, rivers and canals. According to your choice the cruise can include drinks, dinner, folk music and a information about the city. Drawbridges during the summer have precise opening and closing times to allow ships access to the Baltic Sea.
6. Get aboard of Aurora
Photograph by Michael Stephens
The Aurora is a huge battle cruiser, that served in the Russo-Japanese War and in the First World War Also. Today it is a free museum, open every day apart from Mondays and Fridays.
7. Experience the White Nights
Due to St. Petersburg’s very northerly geographical location there are so called ‘White Nights’ in the city when all day there is almost broad daylight. Don’t miss this unique experience with lively friendly, atmosphere on the streets throughout the night as well as the day! Each year it normally lasts from the 11th June until the 2nd July.
8. Find the lucky bird statue
Known to locals as Chizhik-Pyzhik, the little bird statue can be found along the Fontanka river, near the Engineer’s Castle. Watch out for it on your walk and have some coins at hand. One of many St. Petersburg legends, this little bird thought to make you rich if you can hit it with a coin.
9. Touch the statue of Peter the Great for good luck
The monument to Peter the Great is located inside the Peter and Paul Fortress which you’ll be more than likely to visit on your stay as one of St.Petersburg’s first buildings. The statue has a tiny head and it is completely disproportionate to the body. Legend has it that touching the statue brings good luck. Locals, especially young people of the city lay flowers at the feet of the monument.
10. Eat pyshky
Live like the locals and eat like the locals. In St. Petersburg it means, to take it easy and do not hurry. Sit down, lean back and enjoy a cup of coffee with delicious warm doughnuts called pishky the legendary snack from the Soviet times. Click here to find out where to get the best pishky in town.