24 Hours in St Petersburg For Wanderers

24 Hours in St Petersburg For Wanderers

St Petersburg rarely gets the love it deserves among travellers. Whether that’s a function of the difficulty of getting a Russian visa or its location far on the fringes of Europe, is anyone’s guess. Either way, skipping out on St Petersburg is a huge mistake: it could be one of the best Eastern European cities you’ve never thought of visiting.

Most visitors rush into St Petersburg on a cruise from Tallinn or Helsinki, snap some pictures, and set off on their merry way. But I’d never recommend skimping your time in St Petersburg. More is always better.

Stay for one week, or stay for two; it wouldn’t matter: You’ll never run out of things to do in St Petersburg. If you’re a serious wanderer, there are few better ways to spend your first 24 hours in St Petersburg than meandering through the city’s historical centre in search of these suggestions:

History and Architecture. Russian Style. (For Wanderers.)

Nevsky Prospect

Most trips to Russia’s former imperial capital start on Nevsky Prospect, the main avenue surging through St Petersburg’s historical core. Bump elbows with well-to-do Russian fashionistas as they skillfully balance on stilettos, zig-zagging among street-side cafés and historical buildings, on their way to work. Stop in and get your morning coffee fix with a canal or river view before continuing along Nevsky Prospect towards St Petersburg’s most famous historical sites.

Building at Malaya Sadovaya and Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg, Russia

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

No church on earth has a more bad-ass name than St Petersburg’s most iconic site: Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. And no matter how many times I wandered back to this famous Russian Orthodox church, I was mesmerized by all of it, from the studded, spiralled and golden domes to the intricate details on the church’s façade. Check it out from all angles, from close and from far—I guarantee you’ll never tire of the view.

Church on Spilled Blood and Griboyedov Canal in St Petersburg, Russia

Kazan Cathedral

The Romanesque colonnade and patina-covered dome of the Kazan Cathedral are worth the short walk along the Griboyedov Canal from the Church on Spilled Blood. Quirky street performers and musicians grace Kazanskaya Square in front of the cathedral while families frolic in the mist of the central fountain. Grab a seat and enjoy the show.

Colonnade at Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg, Russia

St. Isaac’s Cathedral

Make your way further down Nevsky Prospect, turning left at Malaya Morskaya Ulitsa on route to St Isaac’s Cathedral. Lovers of Russian culture should keep their eyes peeled along Malaya Morskaya for the former homes of authors Nikolai Gogol and Fyodor Dostoyevsky and composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky. If you learn to read Cyrillic script, you’ll notice that St Petersburg rewards wanderers with surprises like this: anyone who’s anyone in Russian culture seems to have laid their head in Petersburg at one time or another!

While St. Isaac’s Cathedral might not possess the (un)orthodox design of the Church on Spilled Blood, this massive cathedral is no less impressive—inside and out. Don’t skimp on entering St. Isaac’s, even if just to climb up the tower for the 360-degree views of St Petersburg.

Dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral in St Petersburg, Russia

New Holland Island

When New Holland Island transforms into one of the hippest attractions in St Petersburg, remember: you heard it here first.

What on the surface resembles a crumbling industrial wasteland is poised for an epic redevelopment project that’s bound to turn heads in Russia and beyond.

Access to New Holland Island is limited now, but come late 2015, expect to find a hub of all things culture—from film and art to fashion and food—that locals and tourists alike will love.

Love Locks on the Moika River in St Petersburg, Russia

St Nicholas Naval Cathedral

From the canals surrounding New Holland Island, cross over the Moika River sauntering down on ulitsa Glinki past Theatre Square, home of the world-famous Mariinskiy Theatre and the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory.

Mariinskiy Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia

Pay quick homage to the man who defined Russian nationalist music composition before seeking out St Nicholas Naval Cathedral, a Baroque Orthodox cathedral decked out with golden domes and pastel blue highlights and sheltered from the city in an oasis of greenery.

St Nicholas Naval Cathedral in St Petersburg, Russia

Sennaya Ploshchad

Wander in the footsteps of Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky’s murderous anti-hero from Crime and Punishment, at Sennaya Ploshchad, a 18th century market square once St Petersburg’s most infamous slum. Of Sennaya Ploshchad Raskolnikov laments:

The heat in the streets was stifling. The stuffiness, the jostling crowds, the bricks and mortar, scaffolding and dust everywhere, and that peculiar summer stench so familiar to everyone who cannot get away from St. Petersburg into the country, all combined to aggravate the disturbance of the young man’s nerves. The intolerable reek from the public houses, so numerous in that part of the city, and the sight of the drunken men encountered at every turn, even though this was not a holiday, completed the mournfully repellent picture.”
Crime and Punishment

Much has changed since Dostoyevsky’s time, but Sennaya Ploshchad is still a fascinating glimpse into Central St Petersburg’s grittier side. Explore the market stalls and grab a beer at a street-side bar off of Sadovaya to watch Sennaya Ploshchad in action.

Bistros and Bars in Sennaya Ploshchad in St Petersburg, Russia

Soviet Café Kvartirka

Sure it’s a bit touristy, but what’s 24 hours in St. Petersburg without a meal at a Soviet-style café? And for Russian cuisine with a Soviet twist, few places are more venerable than Soviet Café Kvartirka on Nevsky Prospect.

Tables at the Soviet Café Kvartirka in St Petersburg, Russia

Feeling as if you’re enjoying an intimate summertime dinner at a Russian dacha isn’t hard in this little basement café. Watch classic Soviet movies as you gulf down traditional Russian dishes like borsch and vareniki, washing it all down with a Russian beer or the deliciously syrupy green Soviet lemonade.

Would you like to visit St Petersburg, Russia? Which of these suggestions for your first 24 hours in St Petersburg would you be most interested in?

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Comments

  1. says

    A great intro to St Petersburg!
    I loved it, it’s such a fabulous place to start a trip through Russia, I fell for it on a cold October day last year, although my first 24 hours were spent wallowing in self-pity, severely hungover from the overnight train from Lithuania. Oh Vodka, I had so much to learn….

    • says

      I agree: St Petersburg is the best place to start a trip through Russia! And so much easier (and more pleasant) to walk around than Moscow, in my opinion.

      I took the fast train from Helsinki and would highly recommend it to anyone worried about how far off-the-path St Petersburg is. Even if you only visit St Petersburg while in Russia, it’s totally worth the cost and difficulty of getting a Russian visa if you can managed to stick around there for a week or so. I stayed for 5 days and feel like I could have spent several more and not run out of things to experience!

      As for the vodka, I somehow managed to stay away from it while travelling over there; there’s enough of that at home when I hang out with Ukrainian friends :) I could only imagine how awful that hangover must have been! Hopefully you cured it with a little Georgian khachapuri—I’m convinced that little grease-laden snack of the gods would work some serious magic. Thanks for commenting, Rachel :)

  2. says

    The architecture is phenomenal in St. Petersburg! The Church of Spilled Blood would make a killer name for a death metal album \M/

    I’m lovin the photography my friend, you really know what you’re doing, I wish you lived nearer I get some lessons from you.

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words, JP! Still learning more and more about photography myself all the time; have a long way to go still. I just happen to get lucky sometimes ;)

      I’d totally buy a metal album called Church on Spilled Blood! Haha. It would even fit as a song title on just about any Slayer album. It’s great that the name reflects how completely bad-ass the architecture is too. The only other church I’ve seen that came close to being as unique in design was St Basil’s in Moscow, and even then, Church on Spilled Blood might have a slight advantage because of the exterior details (both are amazing though). Thanks for commenting, JP :)

  3. says

    So much to see in St. Petersburg that I wouldn’t know where to start. Of all the churches, probably “The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood” is one of my favorite. Love all the architecture and artwork on each of the buildings. Thanks for linking up to #WeekendWanderlust.

    • says

      The Church on Spilled Blood really stands out for me too—it’s one of my favourites, not only in St Petersburg, but in the whole world! Glad we could connect through #WeekendWanderlust :)

    • says

      Oh, wouldn’t St Petersburg be magical in winter! I know most people wouldn’t even dream of it because of the cold, but what kind of a Canadian would I be if I let a little dip in the mercury keep me away? And I’d love to walk around Russia in a fur hat too. I actually bought one a few years ago in East Berlin, decked out with a Soviet pin and everything. Soooo warm. Winter hasn’t been the same since; I feel like I’ve been living in the topics! Thanks for commenting, SJ :)

  4. says

    Wow, St Petersburg is visually stunning! I don’t see many articles about it, so it’s nice to see this one.
    Fantastic photography by the way :)

    Cheers,
    Natasha

  5. says

    Russia has always fascinated me and I would love to visit one day!
    I followed #WeekendWanderlust to your post, and loved it. Absolutely stunning pictures.

  6. says

    It looks fantastic! I love all of the beautiful buildings and would just love to walk around and explore, snap photos… is it difficult getting around speaking only English? The Church of Spilled Blood is an incredibly awesome name. Thanks for linking up with #WeekendWanderlust!

    • says

      That was my favourite thing to do in St Petersburg too: just wander! I learned a smattering of Russian before I left and it helped out quite a bit, especially learning to read Cyrillic script since not all signs are romanized. English is hit or miss in Russia, but compared to Moscow, I found St Petersburg to be much easier to get around if I wasn’t able to get my point across in Russian. Next time I go, I’d really like to build on my Russian knowledge though. Although it’s not entirely necessarily in St Petersburg or Moscow, if you get outside of these cities, I think it would make your trip much much more satisfying! Glad to link up on #WeekendWanderlust, Lauren :)

  7. says

    Such a great introduction to St. Petersburg! We cannot wait to go to Russia as the last leg of our Europe trip next year. We definitely want to spend some serious time exploring. And we will have to add The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood to our list!

    • says

      Thanks, Ashley and Alex! I really hope you manage to sneak Russia into your trip, especially St Petersburg—it’s a great city worth spending some quality time in. (Moscow is cool too, but my heart goes out to St Petersburg for so so many reasons.) I guarantee you’ll love it!

  8. says

    Hey Ryan, popped over from #WeekendWanderlust :)
    I want to go St. Petersburg because….. Anastasia.
    As in the cartoon movie, and obviously because of the actual Tzars, but my first real reason was because of watching Anastasia (you would be surprised how much of my travels are based on cartoons… Hawaii? Lilo & Stitch).
    I want to go to Russia, in general, but I don’t want to put money into that country right now for various reasons (not limited to, but including the problems at Sochi regarding homosexual athlete’s getting in and out of the country and the whole Ukraine thing that I am not happy about).
    Beautiful post, gorgeous photo’s.

    • says

      Hey Sammi, thanks for popping by :)
      Never heard of that cartoon actually, but I can relate: Inspector Gadget sold me on Tibet in the one episode where he was trying to stop Dr Claw and his MAD henchmen in front Potala Palace in Lhasa. Still haven’t been though :P
      Much has happened since I visited Russia last year and I’ve held off of writing about it lately for the various reasons you mentioned. But I couldn’t hide my fascination with the country much longer—despite its obvious flaws. I totally understand why people wouldn’t visit for political reasons; I truly hope things get sorted out in the next couple years because it really is an interesting country worth exploring!

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words, Esther—glad you were able to find me through #WeekendWanderlust! Would love to hear about your experiences when you get over to St Petersburg :)

  9. says

    Hi Ryan, thanks for your post. I’ve always wanted to visit St Petersburg even though I don’t know much about it so this is a fantastic article to make me want to go even more and the photos are amazing.

  10. says

    I think I just sighed about ten times. St. Petersburg looks amazing and you’re right, for some reason it does get as much attention as other cities. I only had time for Moscow when I went to the Olympics but St. Petersburg near the top of my list: I will visit and hopefully soon. This is a great intro to the city and this is a must-see list. And just think this is just the tip of the iceberg: so many other amazing sights to see. Mmmm someday soon! And your photography is wonderful; love it!

    • says

      Thanks, Marsha! Shame you missed out on Petersburg when you were in Russia—I know it would be right up your alley with all of the history there! From music to literature to politics, you’re right: I really couldn’t get it all into one article—and you certainly can’t see all of it in the first 24 hours. Hope you’ll get there soon enough on your travels, Marsha :)

  11. says

    I have to admit, Russia is not one of the countries that I have much interest in visiting EXCEPT for St Petersburg. All the pictures I’ve seen of the city look absolutely GORGEOUS and I think it would be a fascinating place to just wander and explore and get lost! The architecture looks so striking and I love that it is so colorful… For what ever reason, the vision of Russia that I always draw up in my mind is bleak and gray, but St Petersburg truly looks anything but!

    • says

      I don’t think that vision is so far off, Steph! I went though quite a few bleak and grey neighbourhoods on my trip—that boring communist-style block architecture that you’re probably thinking of is all over the place, even in smaller cities in the countryside. But you’re right: St Petersburg doesn’t have that same sombre feeling. I personally found it to be a more enjoyable city than Moscow; quite a bit friendlier and certainly prettier. I would definitely visit both again, but if I had to split my time differently, I’d favour spending more time in Petersburg; it’s a worthwhile place to explore for more than just a couple days! Thanks for commenting, Steph :)

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