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St Petersburg, Russia’s second city, is awash with grand buildings, former royal palaces and even a picturesque canal system. The old imperial capital is positively stacked with things to see and places to go.
We’ve put together a guide of the best things to do in St Petersburg, from soaking up some culture at its many museums and galleries to touring the city and checking out what’s on offer in terms of every day St Petersburg.
Whether you’re travelling with your family, or if you want something romantic to do with your partner, there’ll be something for you.
So see below for our guide and see what’s on offer in this magnificent city…
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Though it’s full of history, visiting St Petersburg isn’t like visiting a living museum. There’s a lot of fun to be had in this grand old city, and we’ve found just a few of the best fun things to do in St Petersburg.
See the city through the eyes of someone who lives there and take a tour with a local. A fun thing to do in St Petersburg, you’ll get to learn all the insider city tips from someone who knows the local knowledge.
Your guide will meet you in the centre of the city and lead you to some of the best-kept secrets, showing you the easiest ways to get around as you chat about life, cultural differences and get a real insight into daily life in the city.
Not the usual kind of tour that will take you to all of the tourist hotspots, but instead a fun day out where you (amongst other things) get to discover fantastic places to eat and drink. This will open up the city in a new way so you can really make the most of your time here.
We said St Petersburg boasted some pretty lovely canals, and we weren’t lying. So whilst you can trot alongside the canals at your own pace, taking pictures from the bridges (there are over 200) and marvelling at the prettiness of it all… there is actually a better way to see the canals.
And that, of course, is by boat on the canals themselves. Especially if you’re a fan of architecture, getting to ride past all of the utterly charming buildings that line the canals is easily one of the most fun things to do in St Petersburg. Think of the photos you can take!
Complete with a guide, you’ll get to learn all about the beautiful architecture and stunning monuments as you pass by, floating along the storied canals of the old Imperial capital for one and a half hours of glorious building spotting.
Visiting a city isn’t always all about just hitting the famous sites: if you really want to get under the skin of a destination you’ve got to dig a little deeper.
So seek out the city’s rebellious youth as you pay a visit to the Museum of Non-Conformist Art and discover the underground, edgy art gallery for a truly fun thing to do in St Petersburg.
The museum is part of the Pushkinskaya 10 Arts Center and is where you can glimpse into the world of Russia’s alternative art scene. This gritty centre for counter-culture displays works which deal with topics related to modern day problems in society and independence art from Soviet times.
Exhibitions are changed regularly and there’s a wide range of spaces to discover in this important hub of creativity for the people of the city.
With all the French and Italian influenced buildings, the innumerable bridges, and the general feel of this icy city, you’ll definitely feel romance in the air. So bring your partner along and make it a getaway for two.
There’s nothing that quite epitomises St Petersburg more than its quite literally stunning former imperial buildings. Easily the most impressive of these, of course, are the former residences of Old Russia’s former rulers: the tsars.
So take a trip 30 kilometres south of the city to the village of Tsarkoye and explore Catherine Palace (one of the city’s most popular attractions).
The ‘Amber Room’, with its amber panels backed with gold leaf, is worth the visit alone. Elsewhere, the Peterhof Palace was made as a rival to Versailles… you can see how!
A journey into the old buildings of pre-revolutionary Russia is one of the most romantic things to do in St Petersburg – all that grand architecture and golden decor make you feel like you’re in a period drama.
Spend an evening in St.Petersburg in the most magical way possible: watching the ballet. A wonderfully romantic thing to do in St Petersburg for couples, get dressed up in your finery and take your other half to the opulent Hermitage Theatre along the Palace Embankment for a beautiful performance of Swan Lake.
Watching the ballet in Russia is often at the top of visitor’s things to do and, the intimacy of this setting is the perfect place to see it. You’ll be enthralled by the power as the troupe of top dancers from St Petersburg take to the stage accompanied by the St Petersburg State Governor’s Symphony Orchestra.
An elegant, emotive and memorable way to spend an evening in the city with your other half.
For more romance in the old imperial capital, grab your partner and get to the spectacular St Isaac’s Cathedral. This huge religious building is actually the fourth largest cathedral in the world, which makes it an impressive sight that’s for sure.
Inside this cross of neoclassical and Byzantine architecture, well, it’s even more impressive. The amount of sumptuous detail to soak up inside is astounding – the whole thing drips in beautiful paintings, ornate stonework and endlessly gilded features.
But what makes this one of the most romantic things to do in St Petersburg is the view you can get of the city from here. That’s right: climb the steps at the colonnade and you get rewarded with incredible vistas to share with your partner.
With its mix of magical, almost fairytales buildings on its streets and history, St Petersburg is a great place to visit with children. The city will capture their imagination – and they’ll learn a thing or two, as well.
Sometimes when you’re visiting a city with children, one of the main priorities is actually making the trip as stress-free as possible. One of the ways you can do that is by ensuring that your travel around the city is easy: a hop-on hop-off bus can really help with that!
Jumping on one of these is a great thing to do in St Petersburg with kids. Besides the ease of being able to get off and on as you wish, what child isn’t absolutely enthralled at the thought of riding on the top of a double-decker bus?
So as you ride around the city, getting off at whichever sights you want to see, you won’t be tied into a tour – meaning you’ll be able to stop for lunch whenever you want to. And that, when you’re with kids, is a very important thing!
Take the whole family to see the wealth of art on display inside St Petersburg’s iconic art museum and make the day run smoothly with a skip the line ticket. But, as this is the second largest Art Gallery on the planet, you might need some help with understanding what is what.
Don’t you worry: you can enjoy the exhibitions with the convenience of a guide who will help explain the many important pieces and give everyone a much greater understanding of the gallery.
An interesting and educational thing to do in St Petersburg with kids, the museum’s utterly enormous collection includes many intriguing treasures and artefacts for you to discover.
From relics of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greek jewellery and the iconic Russian wonder that is the large automaton Peacock Clock, a day spent here is sure to spark your children’s imaginations.
St Petersburg is known for its ballet. The city is practically a bastion of ballet. But another art form you might not know that this city (and Russia in fact) excels at is a puppet theatre. So treat you and your family to a slice of more digestible, child-friendly culture with a visit to the Bolshoi Puppet Theatre.
Founded in 1931, the Bolshoi Puppet Theatre is the oldest in Russia and is practically an institution of the city. And if you think you’ll be going to see something like Punch & Judy, well, you’d be wrong.
The stories that the amazing puppeteers here recreate run the gamut from The Nutcracker to The Ugly Duckling, classic tales that make catching a show here one of the best things to do in St Petersburg with kids.
If you don’t feel like paying entry to museums and galleries, or if you’re on a strict budget, or even if you’re backpacking through Russia: we’ve got you covered with several cool free things to do in St Petersburg.
When it comes to free things to do in St Petersburg, do what the locals do and head to New Holland Island Park. The newly opened park is located in the downtown of the city on a triangular artificial island.
Amazingly the park dates back to the 18th century but has only been opened up for public use in the past few years. The space is now a cultural hub for the people of the city to enjoy and, on a sunny day, you’ll find locals enjoying time together, busking musicians and children playing in the wooden park.
There’s also a contemporary art exhibition and lots of places to grab a bite to eat. Visitors can enjoy the park year-round as it hosts an ice rink in the winter, whilst it’s illuminated by Christmas lights during the festive season.
With all of the grand buildings and large-scale opulence that St Petersburg has to offer, you might be thinking that this is all there is to the city. We’ll forgive you for thinking that, but there’s also a whole other every day and decidedly more local side to the city to explore, too.
So for a free thing to do in St Petersburg, why not wander around a super interesting flea market? Yes, you read right. Udelka Flea Market is a great place to browse – and, if you’re willing to part with a little money, buy yourself something completely unique, too.
The most interesting stuff is on sale at the weekends, when antique stores pop up and you’ll get to see a whole treasure trove of St Petersburg’s attics and dusty chests on display here.
St Petersburg may be packed full of historical buildings, but it is its underground which is a true icon of the city. Opened during Soviet times in 1955, the metro system was considered at the time to be the Palace of the People and so it was created with that idea in mind.
Today the St Petersburg Metro is one of the most decadent and beautiful in the whole world and is a must-see, free thing to do in St Petersburg. Ok, you might have to pay a little to hop on the metro, but seeing the stunning works of art in each station is free.
Mosaics adorn the walls and represent important events in Russia’s history. The walls of the stations are often covered in white marble and ornament glass lighting creates a glistening palatial effect. What a decadent place for the morning commute!
As with many cities that feature grand, elegant buildings, night time is a magical time – and St Petersburg is no different. The city lights up and the monuments are closed: time to explore a different side to the city.
For one of the best things to do in St Petersburg at night, head on over to Nikolayevsky Palace and catch a traditional Russian folk show. Full of traditional Russian songs and dances, this is an easy way to soak up culture after a long day of reading signs in galleries and looking up big buildings.
But one of the best things about the shows at Nikolayevsky Palace – a beautiful building to visit, by the way – is the interval. That’s not because the show is bad, far from it! Actually, it’s because you’ll get to sample some Russian food and drink, so you can tuck into some champagne and caviar before the show continues.
What with the food and drink, as well as the thoroughly traditional show, you’ll feel like you’ve had a proper Russian night out.
Russia might be well known for ballet and opera performances, but St Petersburg also has a thriving Jazz scene with lots of intimate little clubs around the city where jazz is performed nightly.
So a super fun thing to do in St Petersburg at night is to spend your evening hitting up the city’s Jazz bars and clubs; there is a place for everyone in the city’s late-night jazz spots. Take a cab away from the more touristy parts of town to the tiny JFC Jazz Club, which might be hard to find, but it’s worth the effort.
The Jazz Philharmonic Hall, on the other hand, is where you can see jazz in an actual theatre and, as you sit on your table illuminated by its own lamp, it’s hard not to feel like you’re in a scene from an old-fashioned movie.
For a much more contemporary slice of St Petersburg’s nightlife – much more contemporary than traditional Russian shows and the ever classic jazz club – head over to arguably the centre for the city’s nocturnal heart for the avant-garde: Fish Fabrique.
Fish Fabrique is a bar where the cool, hip and avant-garde of St Petersburg tend to congregate to a soundtrack of interesting music and with plenty of drink flowing. If exploring the underground scene of a city is your thing, this place will be your paradise.
Next door is Fish Fabrique Nouvelle: a dark, dingy bar/club that puts on some pretty damn good live gigs (Fish Fabrique only does these at weekends). So if you like your music strange, loud or heavy, or a mixture of all three, you should definitely pay a visit to these places!
That was our super handy guide for exploring what’s on offer in the city of St Petersburg. We hope you’ll find some cool things to do – whether you’re looking for something to do at night, or if you want something family-friendly to entertain the kids.
It’s a diverse place. From huge, opulent museums and traditional puppet theatre, to exploring the underground (sometimes quite literally) of the city, there are a lot of interesting things to do in St Petersburg.
Now all you have to do is book yourself a base in the city and get ready to explore! If you need more inspo for your European travels, check out the top 131 things to do in Europe. Like to know more about the neighborhoods in St Petersburg? Check out our no stress guide to the best neighborhoods in St Petersburg.
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Born in Los Angeles, Aaron Hovanesian is one of the original staff writers for Hotel Jules. Having backpacked the world as a young man, Aaron now prefers to travel the world in luxury, proudly staying in the world's most amazing hotels and properties. When Aaron is not traveling he lives in Western Colorado he can be found brewing his own beer (probably an IPA) or spending time with his two amazing golden retrievers.