Moscow might be the political center of Russia, but St. Petersburg is the heart of this country’s cultural and artistic influences.
Founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and named after the apostle, St. Petersburg is often affiliated with the origin of Russian Empire and Russia’s emergence as a formidable power. Prior to 1917’s October Revolution, St. Petersburg was the country’s capital (with the exception of a switchover to Moscow for a hot second between 1728 – 1730.) Often hailed as the Paris of Russia, this city is home to a plethora of world-renowned art museums, colorful cathedrals, beautiful parks, and glamorous palaces. We begin our series with museums, since the State Hermitage Museum is akin to the soul of St. Petersburg – culturally and artistically.
State Hermitage Museum & Winter Palace
Palace Square, 2, St Petersburg, Russia, 190000
The top must-see in St. Petersburg is the glorious State Hermitage Museum, which was named after “people who live alone” for the purpose of maintaining exclusivity. The world’s second largest art museum was originally established by Empress Catherine the Great after she bought a vast collection of paintings from a German merchant. Though it was conceptualized in 1764, the museum finally opened its doors 88 years later. Similar to the Louvre in Paris, it takes years to completely study more than 3 million masterpieces inside the Hermitage’s six ancient edifices, including: Winter Palace, Palace Embankment, Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, former residence of Russian emperors, General Staff Building, and Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya. Here are some notable works that capture worldwide travelers: Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy, Raphael’s Madonna Conestabile, Peacock Clock, Gold Room and Diamond Room in the Treasure Gallery, Malachite Room, Leonardo Da Vinci Room…and many more.
Peter and Paul Fortress
St Petersburg, Russia, 197046
Founded by Peter the Great, Peter and Paul Fortress began as the city’s citadel in 1703. Until 1920s, it was the prison for political criminals, including: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Maxim Gorky, Leon Trotsky…and more. Located on Hare Island, the fortress features a cathedral where former Russian czars and their families were buried. The grandiose bell tower is also the highest structure in the entire city of St. Petersburg. Today, the former prison is a museum.
Hot tip! Try to plan your visit at noon, when you can witness canon fires from the fortress.
The State Russian Museum & Mikhailovsky Palace
Inzhenernaya St, 4, St Petersburg, Russia, 191186
In addition to being one of the largest art museums in the world, the Russian Museum is also where travelers can discover the world’s largest collections of Russian art from 10th to 21st century. Signature masterpieces are housed in the neoclassical-style Mikhailovsky Palace, which is also the former residence of Grande Duke Mikhail Pavlovich (one of Emperor Paul I’s sons.) From the start, the palace garnered the reputation as one of the most incredible complexes in Europe. It often welcomed Russian poets and writers, like Alexander Pushkin, in its reception. The palace’s musical salon was also often frequented by Liszt, Berlioz, Schuman, and Wagner.
It was only until the end of 19th century when the royal residence began to feature art from Winter Palace, Gatchina and Aleksandrovsky Palaces, the Hermitage and the Museum of the Academy of Arts, as well as private collections that were part of donations. It takes a few hours to experience the extravagance of Russian Museum in full, since the entire area covers: Summer Palace of Peter I, Summer Garden, St. Michael’s Castle of Emperor Paul, Marble Palace of Count Orlove, the Stroganov Palace, and the cabin of Peter the Great.
Fontanka River Embankment, 21, St Petersburg, Russia, 191023
Want to see the famous Imperial Easter eggs in person? You can find their intricate craftsmanship at the Fabergé Museum dedicated to the iconic Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé. Born in St. Petersburg, Fabergé took over his jewelry-making family business at the age of 36. His very first Fabergé egg was not only given as a gift to the Czar’s wife on Easter in 1885, it also elevated the jeweler’s title to Goldsmith by Special Appointment to the Imperial Crown. There were potentially 69 eggs created under the supervision of Fabergé, but only 57 can be found today with the most prominent ones made for Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II’s wives and mothers as presents. Besides bejeweled eggs, the museum also embodies 4,000 pieces of Russian decorative and fine arts.
29 Liniya Vasil'yevskogo Ostrova, 2, St Petersburg, Russia, 199106
Erarta is Russia’s largest private museum of contemporary art, its name is the combination of two words, “era” and “art.” Together, it means “the era of art” in Russian which is symbolized in the two sculptures: Era and Arta, created by Dmitry Zhukov. Both were created in 2009, and both are placed at the entrance of the museum which leads to more than 2,800 artworks made by over 300 Russian artists. Since most of the pieces were completed between 1960s and today, a common theme that threads many artworks seems to infer the fall of the Soviet Union. Erata highlights paintings, sculptures, new media, installations, and a wide array of interactive displays. Since the museum typically hosts 30 exhibitions per year, there’s never a dull moment within its innovative walls.