23 Best Sights in City Center, St. Petersburg

State Hermitage Museum

City Center Fodor's choice

Leonardo's Benois Madonna, Rembrandt's Danaë, Matisse's The Dance ... one of the world's most famous museums is virtually wallpapered with celebrated paintings, part of the former private art collection of the tsars. In addition, the walls are works of art themselves, for parts of this collection are housed in the lavish Winter Palace, one of the most outstanding examples of Russian baroque magnificence. The museum takes its name from Catherine the Great (1729–96), who used the palace for her private apartments, intending them to be a place of retreat and seclusion. "Only the mice and I can admire all this," the empress once declared.

Between 1764 and 1775, the empress undertook, in competition with rulers whose storehouses of art greatly surpassed Russia's, to acquire some of the world's finest works of art. Sometimes acquiring entire private collections outright, she quickly filled her gallery with masterpieces from all over the world. This original gallery section of the Hermitage, completed in 1770 by Vallin de la Mothe, is now known as the Maly (Little) Hermitage. It's attached to the Stary (Old) Hermitage, which was built in 1783 by Yuri Felten to house the overflow of art (it also contained conference chambers for the tsarina's ministers). Attached to the Hermitage by an arch straddling the Winter Canal is the Hermitage Theater, built between 1783 and 1787 by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi. Yet another addition, the New Hermitage, was built between 1839 and 1852 under Catherine's grandson, Nicholas I; it became Russia's first public museum, although admission was by royal invitation only until 1866. Its facade is particularly striking, with 10 male figures cut from monolithic gray granite supporting the portico. Today's Hermitage is one of the world's richest repositories of art; it was continually enlarged with tsarist treasures and acquisitions, all later confiscated and nationalized, along with numerous private collections, by the Soviet government after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

The entrance to the museum is through the main gates on Palace Square; during peak tourist season and at times of special exhibitions you may encounter long lines. Note that ticket-takers are strict about checking oversize bags and about foreigners trying to enter on Russian-rate tickets. Those experienced employees can easily tell foreigners even if you try to keep silent.

With more than 400 exhibit halls and gilded salons, it's impossible to see everything here in a single day. Since you probably only have a few hours, be sure to take in the major attractions, which include Egyptian mummies and Scythian gold; the splendid halls of Russian tsars; the Peacock Clock; the great paintings of Leonardo, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Velázquez; and the outstanding collection of Impressionists and Postimpressionists.

The museum's eight sections are not clearly marked, and the floor plans available are not very useful, though they are in English as well as Russian. To orient yourself before your trip, you can go on a virtual tour of the museum on the website. Don't be shy about asking the guards to point you in the right direction. There's also a helpful information desk in the main hall, before you go into the museum, where you can ask specific questions.

On the second floor, you can start with the French art of the 19th century, where you'll find Delacroix, Ingres, Corot, and Courbet. You then come to a stunning collection of Impressionists and Postimpressionists, originally gathered mainly by two prerevolutionary industrialists and art collectors, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov. They include Monet's deeply affecting A Lady in the Garden, Degas's Woman at Her Toilette and After the Bath, and works by Sisley, Pissarro, and Renoir. Sculptures by Auguste Rodin and a host of pictures by Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh are followed by Picasso and a lovely room of Matisse, including one of the amazing Joys. Somewhat later paintings—by the Fauvist André Derain and by Cubist Fernand Léger, for example—are also here. Rounding out this floor is the museum's collection of Asian and Middle and Near Eastern art, a small American collection, and two halls of medals and coins.

The best deal is to buy a two-day combined-entrance ticket, which allows you to visit the State Hermitage Museum and three other museums: the original, wooden Winter Palace of Peter the Great, accessible through a tunnel from the museum (historians believe this tunnel is the site where Peter died); the General Staff Building; and Menshikov Palace.

Tours in English (of several sections of the museum or just the Treasure Gallery) are available. Tours are normally given once or twice a day around noon, 1, or 2 pm, but make sure to call a day before to figure out the exact time. Tours tend to be rushed and you may want to return on your own. Consider hiring a private guide from outside the museum instead—their licensing requires a year of study and training and they'll take their time explaining the artwork to you.

2 pl. Dvortsovaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191186, Russia
812-710--9625-recorded information in Russian
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Rate Includes: 700R, 2-day combined ticket 1020R (purchased only online), personal guide 8000R, Treasure Gallery 700R, Closed Sun. and Mon.

State Museum of Russian Art

City Center Fodor's choice

In 1898 Nicholas II turned the stupendously majestic neoclassical Mikhailovsky Palace (Mikhailovsky Dvorets) into what has become one of the country's most important art galleries. He did so in tribute to his father, Alexander III, who had a special regard for Russian art and regretted, after seeing Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery, that St. Petersburg had nothing like it.

The collection at what's sometimes just called the Russian Museum is now four times greater than that at the Tretyakov Gallery, with scores of masterpieces on display. Outstanding icons include the 14th-century Boris and Gleb and the 15th-century Angel Miracle of St. George. Both 17th- and 18th-century paintings are also well represented, especially with portraiture. One of the most famous 18th-century works here is Ivan Nikitin's The Field Hetman. By far the most important works are from the 19th century—huge canvases by Repin, many fine portraits by Serov (his beautiful Countess Orlova and the equally beautiful, utterly different portrait of the dancer Ida Rubinstein), and Mikhail Vrubel's strange, disturbing Demon Cast Down. For many years much of this work was unknown in the West, and it's fascinating to see the stylistic parallels and the incorporation of outside influences into a Russian framework. Painters of the World of Art movement—Bakst, Benois, and Somov—are also here. There are several examples of 20th-century art, with works by Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich. Natan Altman's striking portrait of the poet Anna Akhmatova is in Room 77. The museum usually has at least one excellent special exhibit in place, and there's a treasure gallery here as well (guided tours only; you need a special ticket that you can only get before noon). The Marble Palace, Engineer's Castle, and Stroganov Palace are all branches of the museum.

The square in front of the palace was originally named Mikhailovsky Ploshchad for Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich (1798–1849), the younger brother of Alexander I and Nicholas I and resident of the palace. The square's appearance is the work of Carlo Rossi, who designed the facade of each building encircling it as well as the Mikhailovsky Palace. Each structure, as well as the plaza itself, was made to complement Mikhail's residence on its north side. The palace, which was built between 1819 and 1825, comprises a principal house and two service wings. The central portico, with eight Corinthian columns, faces a large courtyard now enclosed by a fine art nouveau railing, a late (1903) addition. The statue of Alexander Pushkin in the center of the plaza was designed by Mikhail Anikushin and erected in 1957.

4/2 ul. Inzhenernaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191186, Russia
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Rate Includes: 400R, Closed Tues.

Winter Palace

City Center Fodor's choice

With its 1,001 rooms swathed in malachite, jasper, agate, and gilded mirrors, the residence of Russia's rulers from Catherine the Great (1762) to Nicholas II (1917) is the grandest monument of Russian rococo, that eye-popping mix of the old-fashioned 17th-century baroque and the newfangled 18th-century neoclassical style. The palace is now part of the State Hermitage Museum, and the only parts you may tour are the relatively few rooms open to museumgoers. Among these are three of the most celebrated rooms in the palace: the Gallery of the 1812 War, where portraits of Russian commanders who served against Napoléon are on display; the Great Throne Room, richly decorated in marble and bronze; and the Malachite Room, designed by the architect Alexander Bryullov and decorated with columns and pilasters of malachite.

The exterior—adorned with rows of columns and outfitted with 2,000 heavily decorated windows—is particularly successful and pleasing; note the way the enormous horizontal expanses of outer wall are broken up by vertical lines and variations of lines, pediments, and porches, all topped with a roof balustrade of statues and vases.

The palace was created by the Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli and stretches from Palace Square to the Neva River embankment. It was the fourth royal residence on this site, the first having been a wooden palace for Peter the Great (today, a remnant of this palace exists and has been restored; it can be visited separately within the State Hermitage Museum). Oddly enough, the all-powerful tsar had to observe some bureaucratic fine print himself. Because it was forbidden to grant land from this site to anyone not bearing naval rank, Peter had to obtain a shipbuilder's license before building his palace. The current palace was commissioned in 1754 by Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth. By the time it was completed, in 1762, Elizabeth had died and the craze for the Russian rococo style had waned. Catherine the Great left the exterior unaltered but had the interiors redesigned in the neoclassical style of her day. In 1837, after the palace was gutted by fire, the interiors were revamped once again.

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34 pl. Dvortsovaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191186, Russia
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Rate Includes: 700R (Winter Palace only); 1020R (2-day combination ticket with State Hermitage Museum, bookable online only), Closed Sun. and Mon.

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Alexander Column

City Center

The 156-foot-tall centerpiece of Ploschad Dvortsovaya (Palace Square) is a memorial to Russia's victory over Napoléon, commissioned in 1830 by Nicholas I in memory of his brother, Tsar Alexander I, and designed by Auguste Ricard de Montferrand. The column was cut from a single piece of granite and, together with its pedestal, weighs more than 650 tons. It stands in place by the sheer force of its own weight; there are no attachments fixing the column to the pedestal. When the memorial was erected in 1832, the entire operation took only an hour and 45 minutes, but 2,000 soldiers and 400 workmen were required, along with an elaborate system of pulleys and ropes. Crowning the column is an angel (symbolizing peace in Europe) crushing a snake, an allegorical depiction of Russia's defeat of Napoléon.

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Alexander Pushkin Apartment Museum

City Center

After fighting a duel to defend his wife's honor, the beloved Russian poet Alexander Pushkin died in a rented apartment in this building on January 27, 1837. The poet lived out the last act of his illustrious career here, and what a life it was. Pushkin (b. 1799) occupies in Russian literature the position enjoyed by Shakespeare and Goethe in the respective literatures of England and Germany. He is most famous as the author of Eugene Onegin, the ultimate tale of unrequited love, whose Byronic hero is seen more as the victim than as the arbiter of his own fate (a new sort of "hero" who cleared the path for the later achievements of Tolstoy and Chekhov). At the heart of this story—which involves a young genteel girl who falls in love with Onegin only to be rejected, then years later winds up rejecting Onegin when he falls in love with her—is a sense of despair, which colored much of Pushkin's own life and death. The poet was killed by a dashing count who had openly made a play for Pushkin's wife, Natalya Goncharova, reputedly "the most beautiful woman in Russia."

Pushkin actually lived at this address less than a year (and could afford it only because the palace owners, the noble Volkhonsky family, were co-sympathizers with the poet for the Decembrist cause). The apartment museum has been restored to give it the appearance of an upper-middle-class dwelling typical of the beginning of the 19th century. (Pushkin had to support a family of six with his writing, so his apartment was less luxurious than it looks now.) Although few of the furnishings are authentic, his personal effects (including the waistcoat he wore during the duel) and those of his wife are on display. Recently, St. Petersburg forensic experts verified that the bloodstains on the sofa here were indeed left by the poet's gunshot wound. The library, where Pushkin actually expired, has been rebuilt according to sketches made by his friend and fellow poet Vasily Zhukovsky, who was holding vigil in his last hours. A moving tape-recorded account leads you through the apartment and retells the events leading up to the poet's death.

12 nab. Moika, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 190121, Russia
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Rate Includes: 100R, Wed.-Mon. 10:30--5, Closed last Fri. of month

Anna Akhmatova Literary Museum

City Center

The famous St. Petersburg poet lived for many years in a communal apartment in a wing of this former palace of Count Sheremetyev. Akhmatova was born in 1888 in Odessa and was published for the first time in 1910. She did not leave Petrograd after the October Revolution, but remained silent between 1923 and 1940. She died in 1966 and is remembered as one of the greatest successors to Pushkin. Her museum is also the venue for occasional poetry readings, other literary events, and temporary exhibitions—in short, a slice of the old-style Russian intelligentsia.

34 nab. Fontanki, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191104, Russia
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Rate Includes: 120R, Tues.-Sun. 10:30--6:30, Wed. 12--8, Closed Mon.

Bolshoi St. Petersburg State Circus

City Center

Though not as famous as the Moscow Circus, St. Petersburg's version of this popular Russian form of entertainment dates from 1867 and remains a popular treat for children. Avid young circus fans get a kick out of its adjacent Circus Art Museum, founded in 1928.

3 nab. Fontanki, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191023, Russia
812-570--5666-Ticket Office
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Rate Includes: 500R–7,000R

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

City Center

The highly ornate, old-Russian style of this colorful church seems more Moscow than St. Petersburg, where the architecture is generally more subdued and subtle; indeed, the architect, Alfred Parland, was consciously aiming to copy Moscow's St. Basil's. The drama of the circumstances leading to the church's inception more than matches the frenzy of its design, however. It was commissioned by Alexander III to memorialize the death of his father, Alexander II, who was killed on the site in 1881 by a terrorist's bomb. The height of the cathedral, 81 meters, symbolizes the year of Alexander II's death.

The church opened in 1907 but was closed by Stalin in the 1930s. It suffered damage over time, especially throughout World War II, but underwent meticulous reconstruction for decades and finally reopened at the end of the 20th century. The interior is as extravagant as the exterior, with glittering stretches of mosaic from floor to ceiling (70,000 square feet in total). Stone carvings and gold leaf adorn the walls, the floors are made of pink Italian marble, and the remarkable altar is constructed entirely of semiprecious gems and supported by four jasper columns. Blinded by all this splendor, you could easily overlook the painted scenes of martyrdom, including one that draws a parallel between the tsar's death and the crucifixion of Christ. Across the road there's an exhibit that takes a compelling look at the life of Alexander II.

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Griboedov canal embankment, 2б, А, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191186, Russia
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Rate Includes: 250R, Thurs.–Tues. 10:30--6, Closed Wed.

Dom Knigi

City Center

This is where you'll find Petersburgers engaged in one of their favorite pursuits: buying books. The city's largest bookstore, which offers more than 150,000 titles, occupies one of the most exquisite buildings on Nevsky Prospekt. Until 1917 it belonged to the Singer sewing-machine company, for which Russia was the biggest market after the United States. In the first decade of the 20th century the company wanted to erect a skyscraper similar to the one it was building at the time in New York City, but in old St. Petersburg no structure other than a cathedral could be taller than the Winter Palace. To solve the dilemma, Singer's architect erected an elegant tower above the six-story building and topped it with a glass globe nearly 10 feet in diameter.

28 Nevsky pr., St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191186, Russia
812-448--2355-Information Service
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Rate Includes: Daily 9--1

Dvortsovaya Ploshchad

City Center

One of the world's most magnificent plazas is a stunning ensemble of buildings and open space, a combination of several seemingly incongruous architectural styles in perfect harmony. It's where the city's imperial past has been preserved in all its glorious splendor, but it also resonates with the history of the revolution that followed. Here, the fate of the last Russian tsar was effectively sealed, on Bloody Sunday in 1905, when palace troops opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, killing scores of women and children. It was across Palace Square in October 1917 that Bolshevik revolutionaries stormed the Winter Palace and overthrew Kerensky's Provisional Government, an event that led to the birth of the Soviet Union. Almost 75 years later, during tense days, huge crowds rallied on Palace Square in support of perestroika and democracy. Today, the beautiful square is a bustling hub of tourist and market activity. Horseback and carriage rides are available for hire here. A carriage ride around the square costs about 300R per person. A 20-minute tour of the city in the direction of your choosing costs about 3,000R, for up to six people.

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St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 198324, Russia

Ethnography Museum

City Center

Costumes, crafts, and other artifacts provide a look at the various ethnic groups of the former Soviet Union. If you're traveling with kids, the best time for a visit may be Sunday afternoons, when they can attend workshops and learn how to paint on wood and clay, model something out of birch bark, or make folk dolls.

4/1 ul. Inzhenernaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191186, Russia
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Rate Includes: 300R, Tues.– Sun. 11--6, Closed Mon. and last Fri. of month

General Staff Building

City Center

The eastern side of ploshchad Dvortsovaya (Palace Square) is formed by the huge arc of this building; its form and size give the square its unusual shape. During tsarist rule this was the site of the army headquarters and the ministries of foreign affairs and finance. Created by the architect Carlo Giovanni Rossi in the neoclassical style and built between 1819 and 1829, the huge assemblage is actually two structures connected by a monumental archway. Together they form the longest building in Europe. The arch itself is another commemoration of Russia's victory over Napoléon. Topping it is an impressive 33-foot-tall bronze of Victory driving a six-horse chariot, created by the artists Vasily Demut-Malinovsky and Stepan Pimenov. The passageway created by the arch leads from the square to St. Petersburg's most important boulevard, Nevsky prospekt. Part of the Hermitage, the building has a permanent display on its history and architecture, plus temporary exhibits of local and international artwork.

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pl. Dvortsovaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 190000, Russia
812-710--9079-information desk
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Rate Includes: 700R for multi-access ticket to several branches of State Hermitage Museum; 300R for each branch, Closed Mon., Free for all visitors on the first Thursday every month and December 7

Gostiny Dvor

City Center

Taking up an entire city block, this is St. Petersburg's answer to the GUM department store in Moscow. Initially constructed by Rastrelli in 1757, it was not completed until 1785, by Vallin de la Mothe, who was responsible for the facade with its two tiers of arches. At the time the structure was erected, traveling merchants were routinely put up in guesthouses (called gostiny dvor), which, like this one, doubled as places for doing business. This arcade was completely rebuilt in the 19th century, by which time it housed some 200 general-purpose shops that were far less elegant than those in other parts of the Nevsky. It remained a functional bazaar until alterations in the 1950s and 1960s connected most of its separate shops into St. Petersburg's largest department store. Today Gostiny Dvor houses fashionable boutiques, and you can also find currency-exchange kiosks and ATMs here. On its ground floor there is a sovenier shop where you can buy all kinds of Russian traditional soveniers such as matryoshka dolls, khokhloma painted bowls, spoons and cutting boards, as well as magnets with St. Petersburg sights and many other things to bring home as gifts. Virtually across the street, at 48 Nevsky prospekt, is the city's other major "department store," also an arcade, called Passazh, built in 1848.

35 Nevsky pr., St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191023, Russia
812-710--5408-information desk
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Rate Includes: Daily 10--10

Kazan Cathedral

City Center

After a visit to Rome, Tsar Paul I (1754–1801) commissioned this magnificent cathedral, wishing to copy—and perhaps present the Orthodox rival to—that city's St. Peter's. You approach the huge cathedral, erected between 1801 and 1811 from a design by Andrei Voronikhin, through a monumental, semicircular colonnade. Inside and out, the church abounds with sculpture and decoration, including statues of such sanctified Russian heroes as Grand Prince Vladimir (who advanced the Christianization of Russia) and Alexander Nevsky. The enormous bronze front doors are exact copies of Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise in Florence's Baptistery.

The cathedral was closed after the revolution and turned into the Museum of Religion and Atheism, with an emphasis on the latter. Religion was presented from the Marxist point of view, essentially as an archaeological artifact. It's once again a place of worship.

At each end of the square in front of the cathedral are statues of military leaders Mikhail Barclay de Tolly and Mikhail Kutuzov. They reflect the value placed in the 19th century on the cathedral as a place of military tribute, especially following Napoléon's invasion in 1812. Kutuzov is buried in the cathedral's northern chapel, where he's supposed to have prayed before taking command of the Russian forces.

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2 pl. Kazanskaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191186, Russia
812-314--4663-information desk
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Rate Includes: Daily 7--7

Maly Zal

City Center

A smaller hall, the Maly Zal, around the corner, is also part of the complex

Mikhailovsky (Inzhenernyi) Castle

City Center

This orange-hued building belonged to one of Russia's strangest and most pitiful leaders. Paul I grew up in the shadow of his powerful mother, Catherine the Great, whom he despised; no doubt correctly, he held her responsible for his father's death. By the time Paul became tsar, he lived in terror that he, too, would be murdered. He claimed that shortly after ascending the throne, he was visited in a dream by the Archangel Michael, who instructed him to build a church on the site of his birthplace—hence the name of this landmark: Mikhailovsky Castle. Paul built not just a church but a castle, which he tried to make into an impenetrable fortress. Out of spite toward his mother, he took stones and other materials from castles that she had built. The Fontanka and Moika rivers cut off access from the north and east; and for protection everywhere else, he installed secret passages, moats with drawbridges, and earthen ramparts. All of Paul's intricate planning, however, came to nothing. On March 24, 1801, a month after he began living there, he was suffocated with a pillow in his bed. Historians speculate that his son Alexander I knew of the murder plot and may even have participated. After Paul's death, the castle stood empty for 20 years, then was turned over to the Military Engineering Academy. One of the school's pupils was Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who may have absorbed something of the castle while he studied here: as a novelist he was preoccupied with themes of murder and greed. The castle is now part of the State Museum of Russian Art; it houses temporary exhibits from the museum, plus an exhibit on the history of the castle.

2 ul. Sadovaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191186, Russia
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Rate Includes: 450R, Mon. 10--8, Wed, Fri-Sun 10--6, Thurs 1--9, Closed Tues.

Mikhailovsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet

City Center

This historic theater, built in 1833, is St. Petersburg's second-most-important opera and ballet theater after Mariinsky. The repertoire is conentrated on the most important works of European opera and ballet theater of the 19th and 20th centuries. The theater also pays significant attention to works composed for children.

1 pl. Iskusstv, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191011, Russia
812-595--4305-Ticket Office

Nevsky Prospekt

City Center

St. Petersburg's most famous street, the Russian Champs-Élysées, was laid out in 1710, beginning and ending at different bends of the Neva River and just short of 5 km (3 miles) long. The street starts at the foot of the Admiralty building and runs in a perfectly straight line to the Moscow station, where it curves slightly before ending a short distance farther at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Because St. Petersburg was once part of the larger lands of Novgorod, the road linking the city to the principality was known as Great Novgorod Road; it was an important route for trade and transportation. By the time Peter the Great built the first Admiralty, however, another major road was needed to connect the Admiralty directly to the shipping hub. Originally this new street was called the Great Perspective Road; later it was called the Nevskaya Perspektiva, and finally Nevsky prospekt.

On the last few blocks of Nevsky prospekt as you head toward the Neva are some buildings of historic importance. No. 18, on the right-hand side, was once a private dwelling before becoming a café called Wulf and Beranger; it's now the Literary Café. It was reportedly here that Pushkin ate his last meal before setting off for his fatal duel. Chicherin's House, at No. 15, was one of Empress Elizabeth's palaces before it became the Nobles' Assembly and, in 1919, the House of Arts. Farther down, at No. 14, is one of the rare buildings on Nevsky prospekt built after the Bolshevik Revolution. The blue sign on the facade dates from World War II and the siege of Leningrad; it warns pedestrians that during air raids the other side of the street is safer. The city was once covered with similar warnings; this one was left in place as a memorial, and on Victory Day (May 9 in Russia) survivors of the siege lay flowers here.

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St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191186, Russia

Russian National Library

City Center

Opened in 1814, Russia's first public library is still known fondly as the "Publichka." It holds more than 20 million books and claims to have a copy of every book ever printed in Russia. Among the treasures are Voltaire's library and the only copy of Chasovnik (1565), the second book printed in Russia. The main section, on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and ulitsa Sadovaya, was designed by Yegor Sokolov and built between 1796 and 1801. Another wing, built between 1828 and 1832, was designed by Carlo Rossi as an integral part of Ploshchad Ostrovskovo. The facade is adorned with statues of philosophers and poets, including Homer and Virgil, and the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva. Using the library requires a passport, registration note (a note from a hotel, in the case of tourists), and two photos, which can be taken during the registration in the library. You may be able to get in for a quick look if you show your passport and ask nicely.

18 ul. Sadovaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191069, Russia
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Rate Includes: Mon.-Fri. 9--9, Sat.-Sun11--7, Closed last Tues. of the month

Shostakovich Philharmonia

City Center

What was once the Nobles' Club before the revolution is now home to the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Its main concert hall, the Bolshoi Zal, with its impressive marble columns, has been the site of many celebrated performances, including the premiere (in 1893) of Tchaikovsky's Sixth (Pathétique) Symphony, with the composer conducting. (This was his final masterpiece; he died nine days later.) More recently, in 1942, when Leningrad was completely blockaded, Dmitri Shostakovich's Seventh (Leningrad) Symphony premiered here, an event broadcast in the same spirit of defiance against the Germans in which it was written. Later the concert hall was officially named for this composer.

2 ul. Milkhailovskaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191181, Russia
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Rate Includes: Daily 11--3

Square of the Arts

City Center

If you stand in front of the magnificent State Museum of Russian Art and turn to survey the entire square, the first building on your right, with old-fashioned lanterns adorning its doorways, is the Mikhailovsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Bordering the square's south side, on the east corner of ulitsa Mikhailovskaya, is the former Nobles' Club, now the Shostakovich Philharmonia, home to the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. The buildings on the square's remaining sides are former residences and school buildings.

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pl. Iskusstu, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191011, Russia

St. Petersburg City Duma

City Center

The city hall under the tsars has a notable red-and-white clock tower, meant to resemble those in Western European cities and erected by Ferrari between 1799 and 1804. It was originally equipped with signaling devices that sent messages between the Winter Palace and the royal summer residences.The tower looks particularly beautiful when illuminated.

1 ul. Dumskaya, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191023, Russia

Summer Garden

City Center

One of Peter the Great's passions was inspired by Versailles. When first laid out in 1704, the garden was given the regular, geometric style made famous by Louis XIV's gardener, Andre Le Nôtre, and decorated with statues and sculptures as well as with imported trees and plants. Grottoes, pavilions, ponds, fountains, and intricate walkways were placed throughout, and the grounds are bordered on all sides by rivers and canals. In 1777, floods did so much damage (entirely destroying the system of fountains) that the Imperial family stopped using the garden for entertaining, and the fountains were not restored. When the family decamped for environs farther afield, they left the Summer Garden for use by the upper classes. Today it's a popular park accessible to everyone. The graceful wrought-iron fence that marks the entrance to the garden was designed in 1779 by Yuri Felten; it's supported by pink granite pillars decorated with vases and urns.

Just inside this southeastern corner is Peter's original Summer Palace, Letny Dvorets. Designed by Domenico Trezzini and completed in 1714, the two-story building is quite simple, as most of Peter's dwellings were. The walls are of brick covered in stucco and painted primrose yellow. Open since 1934 as a museum, it has survived without major alteration. Currently the palace is closed for a long-needed restoration that is expected to last for several years. Two other attractive buildings nearby are the Coffee House (Kofeinyi Domik), built by Carlo Rossi in 1826, and the Tea House (Tchainyi Domik), built by L.I. Charlemagne in 1827. Neither of them serves the beverage they are named for: they're both used for expositions these days. As you walk through the park, take a look at some of its more than 80 statues. Peace and Abundance, sculpted in 1722 by Pietro Baratta, an allegorical depiction of Russia's victory in the war with Sweden, is one of the two original statues left in the garden after a recent renovation; the others are in Mikhailovsky Palace. The other original statue, just off the main alley, is of Ivan Krylov, a writer known as "Russia's La Fontaine." Peter Klodt, who also did the Anichkov Bridge horse statues, designed this sculpture, which was unveiled in 1855. Scenes from Krylov's fables, including his version of "The Fox and the Grapes," appear on the pedestal.

2 nab. Kutozova, St. Petersburg, St.-Petersburg, 191041, Russia
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Rate Includes: Free, Daily 10--9, Winter Daily except Tues. 10--7:30