For first-time travellers to Russia, the palpable thoughts about how to discern the names of the streets, restaurants, shopping centres and sight attractions in the Cyrillic alphabet are surely daunting. But one might beg the question, which city will induce the inner wanderlust? Look no further and venture to the most acclaimed vantage points of Saint Petersburg. Essentially known as the ‘city built on bones’ since the reign of Peter the Great, or 'Venice of the North,’ as the canals run through its core, St. Petersburg’s resilience to stand against all odds during the Revolutionary and Soviet eras is beyond impressive. The city harbours grandiose, neoclassical architecture that resembles European standards and interweaves with modern buildings of elegant Russian charm. Let this metropolis allure you to discover five noteworthy places that will capture magnificent views from above.
1. Climb up the colonnaded walkway of St Isaac’s Cathedral
Best View for: Saint Petersburg’s Layout and Architecture.
As the largest and most significant monument to the Orthodox religion in the city, St Isaac’s Cathedral stands as a national icon for it continues to captivate its visitors and passers-by in admiring its imperial grandeur, neoclassical facades and golden-gilded dome. Although it was recently planned to be handed over to the church authorities, it is still open to the public. The best months to view are between May to early June when the skies are clear and before crowds start shuffling in during the White Nights period. Alternatively, you can also visit inside the Cathedral to delve into its history and art. Climb up 300 steps of this cathedral’s spiral stairway and you will step into one of the most breathtaking spectacles in the city.
St. Isaac's Cathedral's colonnaded walkway
Address: St Isaac’s Square, 4, Saint Petersburg, 190000
Price: 150 RUB (3 USD) from 10:30am to 5:30pm; 300 RUB (5.30 USD) from 6pm to 10:30pm between May to October; and 400 RUB (6.80 USD) from 10:30pm to 4:30am during the White Nights between June to August.
Opening Hours between November 1 to April 30: 10:30am - 5:30pm; Closed on the third Wednesday of the month
Opening Hours between May 1 to October 31: 10:30am - 10:30pm; Closed on Wednesdays during White Nights
Opening Hours between June 1 to August 20: 10:30am - 4:30am; Closed on Wednesdays
Access: 8 minute walk from Admiralteyskaya metro station
Website: St. Isaac’s Cathedral
2. Visit the rooftop at Loft Project Floors Etagi
Best View for: St. Petersburg’s Skyline.
As the name of this artistic centre suggests, the building holds one of the most spacious exhibition galleries that specialises in loft designs at Saint Petersburg. Prior to its establishment, it was a bakery until 2007. Located on one of the most bustling streets of the city, Loft Project Floors Etagi offers contemporary art exhibitions, lectures, discussion seminars and film screenings. It also advocates collaborative and social change through a European art association. Other than this cultural hub, the building consists of two other business operations: the Green Room Cafe, along with a small terrace to unwind and the LOCATION Hostel with three Design rooms.
To gain access to the rooftop, there is a narrow staircase from inside the main exhibition gallery. When you buy the ticket from the main entrance, request access to the roof. The best time to visit the rooftop is between April to mid-June as it is closed to public during the winter and restricted during the summer weekends as they tend to organise live music events.
Loft Project Etagi
Address: Ligovsky pr., 74 Saint Petersburg 191040
Price: 150 RUB (2.60 USD)
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday, 9am - 9pm. Closed on public holidays.
Access: 7 minutes walk from Ploshchad Vosstaniya Metro Station
Near by Food: Green Room Cafe
Website: Loft Project Etagi
3. Revel in the atmosphere of the Hermitage Museum
Best View for: St Petersburg’s Landmarks such as the Neva River, Vasilievsky Island and the Palace Square.
The Hermitage is currently one of the world’s oldest and largest museums, which contains over 3 million works of art such as classical paintings, antiquities and sculptures. It comprises six historic buildings, including the infamous Winter Palace, the main residence for the Imperial Russian family. Not only will you admire the royal grandeur and celestial opulence of its interiors, the systematic organisation of its artworks, but also take the bird’s eye view of St. Petersburg’s iconic landmarks such as the Neva River, Vasilievsky Island and the Palace Square. To get a glimpse of this picturesque scene of the Palace Square, go up to the second or third floor of the gallery rooms comprising French artwork between the 19th and 20th centuries. The Neva River and Vasilievsky Island can be spotted from the Palace Interiors Gallery, where you will also face the throne of the Romanov Dynasty.
Queues to the Hermitage can be insanely long, especially during the Christmas and summer periods, therefore we recommend buying tickets from their official website prior to visiting the museum.You will skip those dreaded waiting lines! But if you are patient, we also recommend you visit on the first Thursday of any month when the Hermitage provides free access to all visitors.
The Hermitage Museum
Address: Palace Square, 2, Saint Petersburg 190000
Price: (Online) 18 USD for a 1-Day Access to the Museum or 23 USD for 2-Day Access. Additional charges may apply for transaction fees. (Ticket Offices) 600 RUB to all buildings of the Hermitage. It is free for students who show their student cards from any country and free on the first Thursday of the month and on December 7th.
Opening Hours: 10:30am - 6pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. 10:30am - 9pm on Wednesdays and Fridays. Closed on Mondays, January 1 and May 9.
Access: 10 minute walk from the nearest metro station, Admiratelskaya
Website: The Hermitage
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4. Organise a rooftop tour with a local guide
Best View for: St Petersburg’s main streets.
If you are an adventurer, with a dark side of an adrenaline junkie, then you will love this activity! A local guide elevates you to walk up on the roofs with him/her and teaches St. Petersburg’s history, which covers how the city was founded and how the main streets like Nevsky Prospekt, the longest shopping avenue was built. There are a few guides to choose from, but we recommend to book a tour with BeAbo, as the Guardian had endorsed it, for their English-spoken guides.
Address: Kronverkskaya str., 25. 197101 St. Petersburg, Russia.
Price: 42 USD (single or couple) to 167 USD (maximum of 8 people)
Opening Hours: 24/7 (please call or e-mail to arrange a meeting time at the office)
Duration: approximately 1.5 hours
Access: Meeting points vary from time to time
Phone Contacts: (Office) +78124497788, (Mobile) +78129848488 and (UK + Overseas) +442030512871
E-mail Contact: [email protected]
Best View for: St. Petersburg’s Skyline too, St. Isaac’s Cathedral and Alexander Column.
Situated at the top of Kempinski Hotel Moika 22, Bellevue Brasserie is open for everyone and especially suited for either fine-dining enthusiasts, businessmen who need to unwind from their hard day’s work or visitors who need to sit back from a long walk around the city. The restaurant promises a 360-degree view, surrounded by contemporary decor with a bright ambience as the natural light strikes to all corners during the day and a romantic feel at night. With professional and high-quality staff serving Russian and French cuisines, the prices of dishes range from a diverse array of choices such as the Signature Dish Kamchatka crab and the Russian pancakes (blini) with caviar. An alcohol beverage can cost from a minimum of 10 USD and a non-alcohol drink around 7 USD. Whatever suits your fancy, the experience at Bellevue Brasserie is commendable for its scenic views of the whole city.
St. Petersburg is more than meets the eye
While taking unfiltered snapshots of this eccentric metropolis, you will sometimes forget that you are at the land of Tsars. Each of the five vantage points affirms how both old and new, neoclassical and modern architecture, can fuse together as one convivial entity. With that said, the closer you look at St. Petersburg from above, the more you find that it truly stands as a diverse city.
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