What are the best things to see and do in St. Petersburg?

Sabra Ayres
  • Sabra Ayres

  • Correspondent

  • Kabul, Afghanistan, Middle East

There’s so much interesting history and stunning scenery in Russia’s imperial city of St. Petersburg that you’ll rarely be at a loss for something fun to see and do. From royal palaces to guided boat tours, here are our Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ top choices for getting the most out of your trip to this fabled Russian city.

1. See the Winter Palace. The green and white palace on the banks of the Neva River houses the world-famous Hermitage collection and should be on everyone’s travel list. Art buffs should plan to spend at least half a day here in order to see everything.
 
2. Stroll along Nevsky Prospect. This is the heart of St. Petersburg and the main thoroughfare from which you can explore the city’s unique pulse.
 
3. Visit a summer palace. St. Petersburg has more than one option for visiting the summer homes of the former Russian royal court. See both the Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo if you have time; the latter contains the beautiful recently reconstructed Amber Room in Catherine Palace.
 
4. Stop at the Peter and Paul Fortress. The oldest building in St. Petersburg is recognizable by the 400-foot gold spire that jets into the city’s skyline.
 
5. Cruise the canals. Small boats, some with running commentary, ply the waterways of the city and are a relaxing way to see the city’s main attractions during the warmer months.

  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    When is the best time to visit St. Petersburg: during the winter or the summer White Nights?

    The best time to visit St. Petersburg depends on what sort of trip you’re seeking. While it’s true that St. Petersburg can be frigid in winter, Russians truly come alive when the temperature drops. For Russians, enduring the cold is seen as a sign of strength, and they’re proud of their city’s icy temps. You’ll find that with the right clothing (lots of wool and down, and no exposed skin), you can beat the chill and feel more like a local than a tourist. There’s something romantic about the snow falling on the pastel colors of the former houses of the nobility along the embankments.
     
    However, the White Nights of midsummer in St. Petersburg are equally spectacular, with long days of nearly 22 hours of sunlight. The bridges crossing the Neva River are raised each night to allow ships to pass, meaning cars and pedestrians can’t get across during certain hours of the early morning, usually from 1 to 5 a.m. Locals, especially the younger set, use the opportunity to stay out later at local bars and clubs, and then wait for the lowering of the bridges in the early morning sunlight. Call it city bonding at its best.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    What is the best thing to bring home from St. Petersburg?

    For the best thing to bring home from St. Petersburg for friends and family, think Russian souvenirs such as the stackable matrushka doll. You can find good prices and selections on a variety of sizes at St. Petersburg’s Gostiny Dvor shopping arcade, where you’ll also find traditional Russian scarves and other knickknacks.
     
    St. Petersburg shops also carry a lot of amber and you’ll find variations of the stone from store to store across the city. Don’t buy the first piece you see, as you’re likely to see more in the next place you visit. For your gourmand friends, black and red caviar are sold in most supermarkets in the center; look for a special refrigerator in the store dedicated to caviar.
     
    Finally, for the book lovers in your life, the pastel-colored nobility houses lining the embankments in St. Petersburg are well-photographed, and Dom Knigi bookstore on Nevksy Prospect carries several examples of these coffee table-sized books.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    What are the five best St. Petersburg food experiences?

    A visit to St. Petersburg is your chance to sample traditional Russian foods that you likely won’t find at home. Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best St. Petersburg food experiences will tempt your palate and give you a real taste of unique Russian delicacies.

    1. Georgian food. Russia and Georgia may still be in tense arguments about breakaway regions on their shared borders, but they both agree that Georgian food is some of the best in Europe. Be sure to try the cheese pie, called khachipuri.
     
    2. Pelmeni. Sometimes referred to as Siberian pelmini, the tasty dumplings are filled with meat and best served with a dollop of sour cream on top.
     
    3. Zakuski. Russian starters are a staple of the traditional meal. Salads such as olivie (made with potatoes, pickles, boiled eggs, green peas and mayonnaise) and the layered herring shuba salad (layers of herring, boiled eggs, beets, carrots, potatoes and mayonnaise) are typical fare on a Russian table.
     
    4. Caviar. Russians prepare caviar on a buttered piece of bread, and you won’t have any trouble finding red caviar in most Russian eateries. The more expensive black caviar from Caspian Sea sturgeon is served at some of the more expensive restaurants and can be bought in small tins at supermarkets.
     
    5. Blini. You can find Russia’s tasty version of pancakes stuffed with anything from cheese and ham to caviar in many places in the city.
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  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    Where is the best nightlife in St. Petersburg?

    While Moscow is the place for exclusive clubs and famous DJ names, St. Petersburg has its fair share of nightlife, albeit perhaps a bit more casual. You’ll find more student cafés and hangouts with open mics than lavish, overpriced dance clubs. A few favorite bars with both locals and expats: Datscha, The Office Pub, Begemot and Fish Fabrique.
     
    Locals are known for being proud of their city and for being more than happy to talk to visitors about all the great aspects of St. Petersburg. You won’t find it hard to strike up conversations with the younger generation, many of whom will be pleased to practice their English.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    What is the best way to see St. Petersburg in one day?

    To see the best of St. Petersburg in one day, start the morning with a canal cruise, which will give you an excellent panorama of the Russian city’s main attractions. Then stroll along Nevsky Prospect and wind up in the Palace Square to reflect on the grand Tsarist past of St. Petersburg. If you have time, don’t miss the Hermitage collection.
     
    In the afternoon, take a hydrofoil trip out to Peterhof Palace to see why it’s sometimes called the Russian Versailles. Afterward, return to the city and wander along the embankments of the canals to take in the local custom of just strolling the scenic city’s unique pathways. In the evening, catch a ballet or opera at the famous Mariinsky Theatre and enjoy a late dinner at one of St. Petersburg’s restaurants with a modern Russian menu.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    Where is the best shopping in St. Petersburg?

    St. Petersburg is not the shoppers’ paradise of Russia (Moscow fits that bill). But travelers will find plenty of upscale brands and smaller boutiques on Nevsky Prospect, the main drag of the city. The city’s oldest shopping center, Gostiny Dvor, is located in the center of Nevsky Prospect and is an arcade-like shopping venue. Its historical significance has a bigger draw than the shops inside — the building dates back to the 18th century and is a good place for finding souvenirs. St. Petersburg does have some large brand-name shops on Nevsky Prospect, such as Zara and Benetton, and there are smaller boutiques scattered throughout the city.
     
    For a book to commemorate your visit (or if you’re just looking for something to read on the trip), Dom Knigi (House of Books) in the old Singer building on Nevsky Prospect has a good selection of English-language books, including coffee table books about St. Petersburg. Since natives of St. Petersburg consider themselves the literary elite of Russia, you’ll find that the local bookstores are usually crowded with locals.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    What are the best things to do with kids in St. Petersburg?

    Like Moscow, St. Petersburg doesn’t have many specific venues for kids. However, the younger set will be impressed with the grandness of the Russian city’s various imperial palaces, as well as some of the city’s museums and cultural offerings. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ suggestions for the five best things to do with kids in St. Petersburg.
     
    1. Peterhof Palace. In the summer, take the hydrofoil to Peterhof Palace. While the adults appreciate the historical aspect of the trip, the kids can enjoy the extensive park area and layers of fountains.
     
    2. Kunstkamera. For older kids, there’s the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, more commonly known as the Kunstkamera. The museum is a vault of biological curiosities, though keep in mind that some of the exhibits might not be appropriate for very young kids.
     
    3. New Holland island. For some outdoor fun, check out the recently rebuilt New Holland (Novaya Golandiya) island. Private investors have taken over what was a rundown former Russian Naval shipyard and turned it into a family-friendly venue for art exhibits, art classes and activities for kids. It’s also a pleasant place for a family picnic.
     
    4. Ballet or opera. For young travelers able to sit still long enough, a ballet or opera at the grand Mariinsky Theatre is unforgettable.
     
    5. Canal boat ride. A tour with English commentary about the history of St. Petersburg will entertain most young travelers. Many boats have a small snack bar on board, just in case. Look for the advertisements along the canals near Nevsky Prospect and book a few hours in advance during the peak summer season.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    What are the best things to see and do in St. Petersburg?

    There’s so much interesting history and stunning scenery in Russia’s imperial city of St. Petersburg that you’ll rarely be at a loss for something fun to see and do. From royal palaces to guided boat tours, here are our Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ top choices for getting the most out of your trip to this fabled Russian city.

    1. See the Winter Palace. The green and white palace on the banks of the Neva River houses the world-famous Hermitage collection and should be on everyone’s travel list. Art buffs should plan to spend at least half a day here in order to see everything.
     
    2. Stroll along Nevsky Prospect. This is the heart of St. Petersburg and the main thoroughfare from which you can explore the city’s unique pulse.
     
    3. Visit a summer palace. St. Petersburg has more than one option for visiting the summer homes of the former Russian royal court. See both the Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo if you have time; the latter contains the beautiful recently reconstructed Amber Room in Catherine Palace.
     
    4. Stop at the Peter and Paul Fortress. The oldest building in St. Petersburg is recognizable by the 400-foot gold spire that jets into the city’s skyline.
     
    5. Cruise the canals. Small boats, some with running commentary, ply the waterways of the city and are a relaxing way to see the city’s main attractions during the warmer months.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to eat in St. Petersburg?

    St. Petersburg has more a more casual dining scene than Moscow, although there are plenty of upscale options for those seeking a lavish eating experience. The city is a good place to try new Russian cuisine, which has become the trend in restaurants in the last few years — don’t miss the opportunity to try some of the more traditional dishes, such as pelmini and borscht. You’ll be more than satisfied with any of these top places to eat in St. Petersburg, chosen by our Forbes Travel Guide editors.
     
    1. L’Europe. Lunch in the outside café of the luxury Grand Hotel Europe is great for people-watching; dinner is also lavish inside the restaurant’s very elegant dining room. The menu features French and European cuisine, and the Caviar Bar is a good place to try Russian caviar in a sophisticated setting.
     
    2. Stroganoff. The restaurant is a classic St. Petersburg venue for travelers looking for Russian cuisine. The restaurant is famous for its steaks, but the Russian vodka starter is a favorite — it comes with a shot of vodka and a choice of traditional Russian starters, or zakuski, featuring herring, mushrooms and pickled vegetables to chase it down.
     
    3. Taleon. Perhaps St. Petersburg’s most upscale and elite eatery, the Taleon is housed in a former mansion and includes a casino and a cigar lounge. It’s an opulent setting for tasting traditional Russian and European menus with St. Petersburg’s wealthier crowd.
     
    4. 1913. This cozier option also offers traditional Russian fare, but with a smaller price tag. You’ll find fewer tourists here and it’s located close to the Mariinsky Theatre for those who want to eat before or after a show.
     
    5. Restoran. The name translates as “Restaurant,” a simple moniker for a menu that includes traditional Russian cuisine with a modern twist. The Russian dumplings, pelmini, are a favorite.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to stay in St. Petersburg?

    Over the past decade, the variety of places to stay in St. Petersburg has grown to include international brands (with a new Four Seasons hotel opening in late 2012), full-service luxury hotels and design-centric boutique lodgings. Many small boutiques have opened up in renovated apartment buildings, providing a feel for what it might have been like to be part of Russia’s 17th-century aristocracy, just as several of the city’s famous older hotels have been spruced up. Choose any of our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best hotels in St. Petersburg for a vacation you won’t soon forget.
     
    1. Grand Hotel Europe. Just off Nevsky Prospect, this is one of the best choices in town for both its service and location. The hotel has an old European elegance with spacious rooms, high ceilings and grand lounge areas. Plus, hotel staff debunks the notion that Russia doesn’t do good customer service.
     
    2. W Hotel St. Petersburg. Refreshingly stylish compared to the traditional hotels that dot the city, W Hotel St. Petersburg is a contemporary retreat with rooms decked out in B&B Italia furnishings and bathrooms stocked with Bliss spa products. The location, close to the Hermitage, makes this dynamic hotel a convenient choice.
     
    3. Angleterre Hotel. Located right next to the picturesque St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the famous Angleterre was remodeled recently to its former glory as one of the best hotels in Russia.
     
    4. Rocco Forte Astoria Hotel. The Astoria Hotel, as it’s more commonly known, neighbors the Angleterre and has also seen a recent revamp. The interior is lavish and the location is perfect for exploring the city by foot.
     
    5. Corinthia Nevsky Palace Hotel. This is a popular luxe business hotel located right on Nevsky Prospect. Renovated and expanded in 2009, it’s an excellent choice if you want to step out of your door and into the heart of St. Petersburg’s main drag.