When I first learned I would be visiting St Petersburg Russia, I’ll admit I had a few apprehensive questions, growing up in a time when the media hammered into my head the image of the big bad USSR, the cold war, and other crazy notions. I quickly found none of my preconceived notions were true. My first foray into the city was with a group of friends from Ukraine who knew their way around the streets…and the language. After a couple of guided journeys with them, I was able to confidently navigate on my own through ten plus visits. There is so much to see and do here, I’m just going to concentrate on the sites around Nevsky Prospekt, the main street running through the historic city center. With just this one street, we’ll have a look at 5 of the main attractions of St Petersburg Russia.
St Petersburg is a big city of over 5 million people. Named after its founder, Peter the Great, it is an incredibly cosmopolitan and beautiful city, filled with canals and is sometimes called the Venice of the North. The architecture here is amazing! There are no skyscrapers because there is an ordinance forbidding high buildings in the historic city center. In 1914, the city’s name was changed to Petrograd, in 1924 to Leningrad, and in 1991back to St. Petersburg.
I arrived via cruise ship several miles from the historic city center. My ritual each visit was to walk the very long dock to the bus stop, where I would take a bus a few miles in to the nearest underground rail terminal. This is the edge of the city, so outside of this terminal are many shops, restaurants and sidewalk fruit vendors selling fresh fruit, corn on the cobb and other street food fare.
Descending down the long escalator into the underground rail line is like many other underground rails, except the one in St Petersburg is deep. Real deep. It felt like the escalator ride down would never end. Once at the bottom, I hopped on the line that takes you to the very center town, Nevsky Prospekt.
Nevsky Prospekt is considered the main street running directly through the heart of it all. My first impression was one of dense heaviness. Since there are no skyscrapers, everything is low, and dense and jam packed, yet very orderly and clean. Criss crossed with canals, bridges and incredible detail in the facade of the buildings. This is a wide and busy boulevard and an endless source of fascinating sites.
Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood:
Sitting on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood is one the main attractions in St Petersburg. This incredible jewel sits on the Griboedov Canal, a cafe and shop lined canal/side street off of Nevsky Prospekt. You’ll see this church walking along Nevsky, as you can’t miss the towering spires and onion domes of different colors. This is the kind of architecture I think of when I think of Russia.
One of the symbols of St Petersburg is an equestrian statue of its founder, Peter the Great. This statue is a symbol of the city in much the same way the statue of Liberty is to the USA. This statue sits on a large stone known as the “Thunder Stone.” This stone is the largest stone ever moved by man without machinery or animals. At over 1200 tons, it was moved 4 miles over land, then sent up the Neva river by barge and placed in Senate Square in 1770’s. The Bronze Horseman took 12 years to complete. The statue was commissioned by Catherine the Great and is near St Isaacs cathedral, another of the city’s main attractions.
St Isaacs Cathedral:
St Isaacs Cathedral is a landmark of St Petersburg. It is the largest orthodox basilica in the world. Its also the fourth largest cathedral in the world. The dome is plated in pure gold. It took 40 years to complete and finished in 1858. This is one of the main tourist stop offs, so the square in front gets busy at times with tourist busses. Behind it sits the Bronze Horseman statue.
Hermitage and Palace Square:
One of the largest and oldest art museums in the world is the Hermitage, housing over 3 million items. The Hermitage spans several buildings, including Peter the Greats former Winter Palace. It Sits on the Neva river near the end of Nevsky Prospekt and opening up to the Palace Square. This is the spot where many events of worldwide significance took place including the October Revolution in 1917, the event that ushered in era of the Soviet Union.
With over ten visits to St Petersburg, I soon discovered a favorite coffee shop where I could hop on free wifi and would always stop in one of several locations up and down Nevsky. I had been practicing my Russian and was confident ordering something simple like a latte! Although, one time I popped in, sat down and without saying a word, the barista started talking to me in English! I guess I just have that English look about me.
Strolling along Nevsky Prospekt, you’ll really get a sense of Russian culture, history and daily life in this incredible city. There is so much to see walking this thoroughfare. Pop into one of the many cafes, coffee shops or shopping centers, or just take in the amazing architecture.