If you’re planning to visit the Northern Capital of Russia and you’re interested in art, culture and sightseeing, this post is for you. In this post, you will learn about the best museums to visit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Why Northern Capital of Russia? Isn’t Moscow the capital of Russia?
Did the beginning of this post confuse you? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many people get confused when they hear about the Northen capital of Russia because to them, it doesn’t make sense. Well, let me explain to you where did this phrase come from and why St. Petersburg is often referred to as to the Northern Capital of Russia. St. Petersburg is an imperial city that used to be the capital of Russia for more than 200 years. St. Petersburg was built to be the capital. Even though Moscow regained its capital status in 1918 (and it used to be the capital for almost 350 years before St. Petersburg), Saint Petersburg still plays a very important role in Russia. It’s the second biggest city and well, President Putin is also originally from St. Petersburg.
Other nicknames for Saint Petersburg include “the Venice of the North” – St. Petersburg was originally intended to look like Venice, in some parts at least; Piter (just short for Saint Petersburg), SPB – you might see it a lot on the Internet.
Where to stay in St. Petersburg, Russia?
I’ve got a separate post about the best areas to stay in Saint Petersburg. The city is not small at all (hey, the population is more than 5 Mio people, that makes St. Petersburg the 3rd biggest city in Europe). There are plenty of properties available all around the city and it’s worth mentioning where to stay and where not to stay. So if you’re looking for a good hotel/apartment in St. Petersburg and not sure, where to stay, head to THIS post.
The best museums to visit in St. Petersburg, Russia
Before we start with the best museums in Saint Petersburg, I just quickly wanted to mention my post about the best places to see ballet (and opera) in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Read it here if you’re interested. I really recommend you to watch a ballet in Russia, as it’s a unique experience. Read my post about where to see ballet in Saint Petersburg here >>>
Also, if you are interested in learning more about the history of the city, I recommend taking this tour of St. Petersburg (check the availability and prices here) >>>
Okay, without further ado, let’s start with the best museums to visit in St. Petersburg:
1. Hermitage Museum
Okay, I won’t reinvent the wheel here and tell you something you haven’t known before (probably), but the absolutely best museum to visit in St. Petersburg is the Hermitage museum. The Hermitage museum is one of the biggest and also the most famous museums in the world. The main exposition is located in the gorgeous Winter Palace building located on the main square of St. Petersburg – Palace square. Sometimes the queues are quite long, so you can skip the queues and buy the ticket online instead. The tickets are sold on the official website of the museum and you can access it here.
What’s remarkable about the Hermitage? The Hermitage has a huge collection of paintings (featuring some famous works of Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Monet, Renoir, Raphael and more). Moreover, Hermitage has a lot of sculptures, furniture, ethnographic collections (e.g. the one of the Scythians is particularly impressive), the famous peacock clock and overall, incredibly beautiful rooms that are worth visiting on their own.
Would you be interested in taking a tour / excursion in St. Petersburg? Check my post about the best tours to take in St. Petersburg >>>
2. The Russian Museum
One of my favourite museums of St. Petersburg and the one I visited more than 20 times (not always voluntarily though, but I was 10-13 years old back then, you’ve got to understand). If you’re interested in the art of different eras and you would be interested in knowing and seeing more of Russian art, definitely head to the Russian Museum. It’s located in the heart of St. Petersburg on the Square of Arts and there’s always a queue for visiting the museum, although not as long as the one for the Hermitage. The museum is also very beautiful and impressive inside.
Head there to see some of the best artworks of the best Russian artists including Aivazovsky, Vasnezov, Bryullov and Repin.
If you want to visit both St. Petersburg and Moscow in one trip, here you can read about the best ways to get to Moscow from St. Petersburg and vice versa >>>
3. Petrovskaya Akvatoria
If you’re looking for an interactive museum and would like to learn a bit more about the history of St. Petersburg, I’ve got a perfect museum for you. Petrovskaya Akvatoria is located in the heart of St. Petersburg, near the Admiralteyskaya metro station. Basically, it’s a miniature view of how St. Petersburg looked in 1720-1740 and why was it built like it was built. This museum was interesting even for me, as I thought I knew all about my hometown. It turned out, that there were quite a few things I didn’t know. So well, I definitely recommend you visiting Petrovskaya Akvatoria if you have a couple of hours of spare time.
Did you know that many metro stations in St. Petersburg are gorgeous! Read my guide to the best metro stations to visit in St. Petersburg >>>
4. Peter and Paul’s Fortress
Yes, there is a fortress in the city centre of Saint Petersburg. However, not sure if it’s fortress you just imagined (nothing like a proper medieval fortress, you know). Peter and Paul’s fortress is a place where St. Petersburg was founded in 1703. You can now enter the fortress and wander around visiting the first church in St. Petersburg and also the first boat the Peter the I (the first emperor of Russia) built himself (it was his hobby).
And of course, every day at 12 pm a cannon fires (be prepared, as it’s really loud and some tourists get pretty scared).
5. Russian vodka museum
The Russian vodka museum is all about vodka (as you could have guessed). I haven’t visited this museum myself, but I know quite a few people who did and the majority found it interesting. The most popular part of the museum is probably the sampling room and that’s why most foreigners actually visit this place. Russian vodka museum is a great place to learn more about vodka and try a couple of vodkas that you won’t see abroad.
Interested in trying Russian food as well? Here’s a post about 10 Russian dishes that you should definitely try in your life >>>
6. Peterhof Palace and the Fountain Park
My favourite place near St. Petersburg and the place I recommend to visit in summer is definitely the Peterhof Palace and its marvellous fountain park. Located outside St. Petersburg, in the suburbs, the Peterhof museum can be easily reached by a combination of metro & minibus (would take 1h 15 to 1.5 hours depending on where you’re departing from). I recommend visiting this place in late spring – all summer simply because the fountains are only open in summer. St. Petersburg is a Northern city and has pretty unpleasant weather (8 months of snow, who would like that?), but it’s usually lovely in summer (not always, though, we had summers when the average temperature was around 15 degrees Celsius).
The palace, however, is beautiful all year long. The Peterhof Palace is a typical Imperial palace and inside you can see the actual interior of the rooms, where the Tsars and their help lived. The interiors are very well preserved, so there’s a lot to see and admire.
Read my post about 1/2 day trip to Peterhof: how to get there >>>
7. Catherine Palace
My second favourite palace in St. Petersburg is the Catherine Palace, located in Tsarskoe Selo. Tsarskoe Selo or Pushkin is a small town outside St. Petersburg, just about 20-30 minutes driving from Moskovskaya subway station. The city is rapidly expanding, so soon Tsarskoe Selo will become just one of the districts of the city (I suspect). If you watched the animated movie “Anastasia” about the princess of the Romanov Tsar family, this was the palace where the ball took place. The interiors of this palace are really impressive and it’s the most lavish palace I visited in my life. So if you like visiting palaces and admiring what’s inside, this place is for you.
The part outside the palace is also very beautiful, so Catherine palace is perfect for a half a day trip from St. Petersburg.
8. Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines
Okay, enough classic museums for now, let’s talk about something fun for a second. A great and “cool” place to visit in St. Petersburg is the museum of Soviet Arcade Machines. The arcade machines are there not only to look at, but you can also actually play yourself and have a lot of fun. At the entrance, you get something like 15 old Soviet coins and you can use them to play. It’s not like a proper museum per se, but it’s definitely fun to visit with friends.
Looking for a good and cheap place to eat in St. Petersburg? Here are five great places where you can eat in St. Petersburg >>>
9. Faberge Museum
Okay, back to classics. Another one of the museums you should definitely visit in St. Petersburg is the Faberge museum. Have you heard of the famous Faberge eggs? Well, you can see plenty of those in the Faberge museum and on top of it, some really beautiful glassware, cutlery and more. The museum is also open until 9 pm (except for Friday), so it’s a good place to visit if everything else already closed or you don’t want to travel far.
10. Isaac’s Cathedral
The Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the most important landmarks of the city and even though it’s a Cathedral, it’s not a functioning one (though it does hold some masses, e.g. on Christmas eve). Inside the Cathedral there’s actually a museum, but it looks just like a normal Cathedral. Russian Orthodox cathedrals are generally very impressive with drawings all around the walls. While Isaac’s Cathedral is not as impressive as the Main Cathedral in Moscow (The Cathedral of the Christ the Savior – read my post about the best itinerary for Moscow in 2 days), it’s definitely the most beautiful Cathedral of St. Petersburg.
You can also purchase a separate ticket for the Colonnade of the Cathedral. You will need to climb more than 200+ steps, but the view is definitely worth it.
11. Pushkin Museum (Former apartment of A.S. Pushkin)
If you’re familiar with Russian literature, you know, that A.S. Pushkin is one of the most important figures of the Russian poetry and prose. Pushkin was originally from Moscow, but he studies in St. Petersburg (Tsarskoe Selo) and later moved to St. Petersburg. The museum of Pushkin is located in his former apartment, where he lived until his death from a shot gotten in a duel.
12. Dostoevsky Museum
Another literary museum that you might be interested in visiting is the Dostoevsky museum. Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of the most famous writers in Russia and the entire world and he lived and worked in St. Petersburg. Dostoevsky used to rent this apartment (where the museum is currently located) twice and lived there for quite a while. The interiors of the apartment changed since the death of the great writer, however, the flat was recreated according to the memories of the friends and his wife.
13. Yusupov Palace
This gorgeous palace is worth visiting on its own, however, I visited it as part of a mystery of Rasputin death tour. We also had a short ballet performance in the small theatre located inside the palace. (What a palace, right?). Overall, I really liked the palace from the inside and would definitely recommend visiting it, however, it’s probably not one of the top things to do in St. Petersburg for a first timer.
14. The Church on the Spilled Blood
Just like in case with Isaac’s Cathedral, the Church on the Spilled Blood is not a functioning church, but rather a museum. It looks better from the outside than inside and if you went inside the St. Basil’s Cathedral on the Red Square in Moscow, there’s probably no need to go inside this one as well.
15. Russian Museum of Ethnography
If you’re interested in the way different folks and nations live and used to live on the territory of Russia, head to the Russian Museum of Ethnography. I’ve been there ages ago, so my memories are somewhat vague.
There are more interesting museums in Saint Petersburg, however, they are designed for locals rather than tourists. There are plenty of museums dedicated to science, hygiene, water, manufacturing and so on. In case you’d like to visit some of them too, you can check some other museums on Tripadvisor, for example.
If you want to read more about St. Petersburg and the best things to do, head to my Russia category >>> – I’ve got a lot of posts there. Should you have any questions about the best museums in St. Petersburg, Russia, don’t hesitate to ask!