View on the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood.

How to experience Saint Petersburg for free?

Saint Petersburg expensive? Looking at all these luxurious palaces and houses you can really get such an impression. However, this is absolutely not the case, with coffee already selling at € 1.50. What's more, it is even possible to experience the magnificent city on the Neva without spending a single penny! Don't believe us?

Saint Petersburg's massive historical heart

The appearance of Saint Petersburg cannot be confused with anything else. You seem to see the familiar features of European cities, but there is a Russian spirit in everything. This makes it truly unique.

The entire city centre is split by rivers and canals with beautiful and sophisticated houses standing above them. Petersburg is called the Venice of the North for its abundance of curved waterways and mesmerizing bridges. You can estimate the scale of the historic core simply by taking a look at our Travel map of St. Petersburg. Isn't that impressive? And what is even more intriguing, this whole area is UNESCO Cultural Heritage. How is that you may ask?

Historical Centre

With its old mansions, majestic gardens and unlimited water spaces, Saint Petersburg will conquer you with its splendour as one big open-air museum.

Historical Saint Petersburg.

This fantastic cultural and historical landscape was formed in quite a short period of time of only 300 years. It is very young if we compare it to other European capitals. In 1990, UNESCO declared that the historical value of Saint Petersburg goes well beyond the value of its separate parts. This meant that the entire historical core became a sight of UNESCO cultural heritage.

Getting to know this historical landscape is a pleasure. It preserves the memory of the past in the shape of marvelous churches, fantastic palaces, secluded gardens and picturesque streets and corners. You can start your journey with our 3-hour walk through Petersburg that guides you through the heart of the city.

Incredible sights for free

Almost everyone starts their visit to the city on Nevsky Prospect. This is the main street of Saint Petersburg, and arguably one of the most beautiful avenues in the world – especially at night, with beautifully illuminated buildings.

One edifice stands out on Nevsky Prospect, the main Orthodox temple of the city, Kazan Cathedral. Looking at the cathedral's colonnades, you might think that it reminds you of something. And you are not wrong! This is a tribute to the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rome. They seem to hug their parishioners and invite them to come inside.

Kazan Cathedral

Hard to imagine that during Soviet times the magnificent cathedral served as the Museum of Atheism. What an irony!

Kazan Cathedral in Saint Petersburg.

Kazan Cathedral was built in 1811 and directly after the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812 it became a monument of military glory. Besides the tomb of Mikhail Kutuzov – the commander-in-chief of the Russian Empire – you will also find war trophies and keys from the liberated cities in the cathedral. These victorious symbols are exhibited next to old Russian icons. The true embodiment of War and Peace!

The interior of Kazan Cathedral is striking in its majestic severity and elegance. It is especially beautiful when sunlight goes through the windows. Glares play on the gold of the altar and icons, bringing some warmth around. Looking at the dome, you will be able to see a special dazzling effect – rays of sunlight visually seem to increase the height of the dome. Pure magic!

It's nice to know that the entrance to this amazing place is completely free, but according to the rules of the Orthodox Church, women need to cover their heads with a scarf or shawl.

Peter and Paul Fortress

The tradition of firing a cannon on the wall at noon has been preserved since the 18th century. So if you suddenly hear a shot in the centre, do not be alarmed. It is not the beginning of a Revolution.

Peter and Paul Fortress.

Walking along the Neva, it is impossible not to notice a golden spire, rising above concrete walls. This is the birthplace of the city, the Peter and Paul Fortress.

It was where Emperor Peter I started building the pearl among Russian cities in 1703. Initially there were Swedish forests on the site of the present fortress, where the local nobility used to go hunting hares. That is why this area is known as Hare Island. At the main entrance to the fortress, you will find a small statue of the animal. Throw him a coin and your wish will come true!

Today, Peter and Paul Fortress has turned into a historical site and museum complex. Here you will see the places without which the old Petersburg couldn't be imagined. Such as the Mint, where all the money, medals and orders for the whole country were minted until the end of the 20th century. Or the boat house of Peter the Great, which houses a boat that is jokingly called “grandfather”. They say that the great navy of the Russian Empire began exactly with that good old boat.

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Nevsky Prospect by evening light.

The fortress also has a history of being the main prison for political figures. The Decembrists, who had tried to improve the life of simple peasants in Russia in the 19th century, have probably been some of the most famous prisoners here. The Trubetskoy Bastion Prison is one of the places on the island that you can visit only for a fee. Consider buying a combination ticket if you also want to visit the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral and the main museums of the island – note that the museums are closed on Wednesdays.

Walking around the territory of the fortress among the remarkable buildings, bastions and gates is a pleasure, and totally free. Some even dare to sunbathe and swim at the fortress! And would you join them?

Underground glory of Saint Petersburg

Avtovo

The magnificent decoration of the station is a dedication to the heroic deed of people during the defence of Leningrad. What a gorgeous commemoration!

Avtovo Metro Station in Saint Petersburg.

It is impossible to imagine St. Petersburg without its fascinating metro. It is not only a convenient form of transport but also an excellent gallery of soviet art. The most famous and perhaps the most outstanding station among all is Avtovo. Its platform is like a palace hall.

There are 46 pillars proudly standing here, some of which are clad with crystal! In full light, they can shimmer with all the colours of the rainbow. For many years now, Avtovo has been included in the list of the most beautiful stations in the world. Do you agree?

Admiralteyskaya

Descending into the deepest station in Saint Petersburg via two impressively long escalators takes forever, in total almost 5 minutes!

Platform of Admiralteyskaya metro station.

Admiralteyskaya station is no less curious and also should be on your list. The interior decoration is dedicated to the formation of the Russian fleet. Here you will see mosaics about the founding of the Admiralty by Peter the Great and panels representing the city river “Neva” and the god of water “Neptune”.

The track walls are clad with blue marble reminiscent of water, and the floor is decorated with inlaid wind roses. But what makes it truly unique is the depth of 86 meters! This is the deepest station in Russia and one of the deepest in the world! To go down you need to take two very long escalators!

Telling you about the beautiful metro stations in St. Petersburg, we are cheating a bit, as this experience will not be entirely free – indeed, the ticket price of about € 1 cannot be avoided here. If you are intrigued to see more stunning stations, check out our Saint Petersburg guide to see the eight most picturesque of them!

Majestic parks and gardens in Saint Petersburg

Summer Garden

Quite hard to imagine, but once this garden was the very border of the city. It is home to the modest summer residence of Peter the Great, and adorned with fountains and neat alleys, which became the prototype of the future Peterhof.

Summer Garden.

Besides breathtaking architecture, Saint Petersburg also offers magnificent parks and green squares. Quiet corners shaded by lush trees, swan ponds and picnic areas can be found throughout the city centre. Many of these places once belonged to prominent families, and sometimes to the emperors themselves. Such as the Summer Garden.

When you enter the Summer Garden you can clearly see that this is not just a public park, but a real imperial garden. The garden belonged to the Summer Palace, which was the very first palace in Saint Petersburg and served as the humble summer residence of Peter the Great. After a recent reconstruction, the garden regained its original appearance in 2012.

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Autumn in the Summer Garden in Saint Petersburg.

Along the neat alleys, eight historical fountains decorated with sculptures and gilding have been restored according to old blueprints together with the nice Dovecote and the Small Greenhouse with citrus fruits. Nevertheless, the most unusual object of all is the recreated Vegetable Garden. The emperor was fond of being served fresh vegetables grown on this tiny farm. Today you will see here herbs like basil or thyme and vegetables like beetroot or cabbage, and many more curious things.

Enjoying the shade of centuries-old trees, one can imagine how noble persons, eminent writers and artists walked here. And to sit on the benches and admire the view of the river is just a must for everyone!

Strelka

Perhaps this is one of the best places to enjoy the panorama of the city and the wide Neva. Besides, it's great to meet the sunrises here!

Strelka in Saint Petersburg.

If you are looking not only for solitude but also for a great place for pictures, then you should definitely go to Strelka on Vasilievsky Island. This place is associated with the historic port, which was located here. The two Rostral columns remind of this past. For a long time they served as a beacon for arriving ships, and today they are a symbol of Saint Petersburg. On big holidays like the City Day, they get a spectacular look when their tops are lit with fire.

From Strelka, the entire Hermitage is perfectly visible on the right side and a stunning view of the Peter and Paul Fortress opens up on your left. Time for a great shot!

More amazing green spaces in Petersburg

How to find the perfect spot for a little rest in the city? With our interactive map of Saint Petersburg you can easily locate the greatest parks and gardens in and around the city centre. Whether that would be Mikhailovsky Garden with its sweeping lawns, or the secluded Yusupov Garden, where it is simply impossible not to have picnics on the shore of the pond.

Shopping with a historic touch

Shopping in modern St. Petersburg is rather a prerogative of young people, who closely follow trends and really pay lots of attention to the way they look. Therefore, you will find quite some shopping centers in the city. But there are a couple of places which offer more than just that shopping experience.

Singer House

The Singer company originally wanted to build a skyscraper here, but the city has a rule – no building can be higher than the Winter Palace. The company had to settle for the little glass tower, which is beautiful.

Singer House at Nevsky Prospect.

The Singer House is one of the most iconic buildings in Petersburg, once the Russian headquarters of the Singer sewing company. After the revolution of 1917, the company was forced to move and the building became the oldest bookstore in the city, still called “Singer” by locals.

It was created in the Art Nouveau style, characteristic of European art of the early 20th century. The rich decoration and huge windows, intricate ornaments and intricate figure of the tower emphasize the peculiarity of this style. In Saint Petersburg the style got its own distinctive name, Northern Modern. Unlike its European Art Nouveau brothers, abundant floral ornaments are much less common here. Maybe because of the weather?

Passage

In this atmosphere of the past, a pleasant comfort reigns, as if you were an aristocrat of the 19th century and came to buy new gloves or perfume.

Passage shopping arcade in Petersburg.

Nevsky Prospect offers one more amazing place but not so obvious and noticeable. This is the Passage, one of the oldest trading houses in the city, which opened in 1848. It is a charming indoor gallery with small boutiques that reminds a bit of Parisian arcades. The glass roof makes this place especially attractive, bringing about some kind of airy atmosphere. Not to mention the historical signs of the shops that were once located here.

Today you can buy here exquisite accessories like gloves, scarves or a bag, as well as expensive jewellery and clothes. Easily find this hidden place with our travel map of Petersburg.

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Lakhta Center in Saint Petersburg.

Imperial Heritage on the streets of Petersburg

Looking at the abundance of palaces in Saint Petersburg, one would not think that the Russian Empire had already sunk into oblivion. Famous families have always competed here for having the most fashionable and chic home. But certainly, nothing could surpass the residences of the emperors.

Winter Palace

The buildings of the Winter Palace have changed colours several times throughout its existence, having been yellow, pink and red. It acquired the current green tint just after WWII.

The Winter Palace seen from Palace Square.

The mother of all Russian palaces is undoubtedly the Winter Palace, the main residence of the Russian Imperial family. But it represents not only the Russia of Tsars, as it was also here where the Russian Empire fell in 1917, as marked by the Aurora shot and the famous assault on the Winter Palace.

Located on what must be one of the widest squares in the world, Palace Square, you will have every opportunity to inspect the Winter Palace from the outside. But in addition to that, you can also visit the courtyard of the palace without a ticket – just enter the main gate, recognizable by a golden eagle. There, sitting on benches under old trees, you can see the features of two architectural styles that were so loved by the emperors and empresses. The graceful Baroque details are harmoniously complemented by the elegance and simplicity of Classicism.

Today, the Winter Palace is home to the renowned Hermitage Museum. With millions of exhibits stored across 365 rooms, the Hermitage is overwhelming, as you will literally need years to see the entire collection. With our free guide to the Hermitage you will get totally ready for a visit to this fantastic museum, as you will learn more about the greatest masterpieces and areas of the museum and get some free tips and tricks to make your visit more comfortable. And if you insist on not spending a penny, we can already say that there is also free admission once per month.

St. Michael's Castle

This palace is unique not only because it was built like a fortress, but also because of its facades. They are all made in different styles to match the surrounding space.

St. Michael's Castle.

Not all palaces look the same. This couldn't be confirmed more than by looking at St. Michael's Castle. Indeed, it looks more like a fortress, which is exactly what it was meant to be. Being convinced that he would get killed, Emperor Paul I decided that he needed a place like St. Michael's Castle. To be on the safe side, he also surrounded his new home with moats.

But you know what? Emperor Paul lived only for 40 days in his new residence, before he got murdered inside. They say that his soul did not find rest and still wanders through the rooms of the palace.

St. Michael's Castle is located in the very centre of Saint Petersburg, surrounded by splendid gardens and winding rivers. Walking around this palace, you will realize that all four facades are designed in a different style. The unusual square building also has an intricate octagonal courtyard that can be seen after walking through the central gate.

More stunning palaces in Petersburg

If these two palaces taste like more, we have good news, as Saint Petersburg has plenty of them. To help you on your way, we have selected the finest palaces in our travel guide to Saint Petersburg. Typically these palaces are accompanied with phenomenal gardens and squares, which you can sometimes even visit for free.

With our free map of Saint Petersburg you can easily find out which palaces are located within walking distance in the centre of the city. Other magnificent palaces like Peterhof Palace, Catherine Palace or Gatchina Palace typically require a daytrip for a good look around.

Magical White Nights

White Nights

The annual Scarlet Sails festival is the climax of the White Nights season. All people of Saint Petersburg seem to be outside on this magical night with colorful fireworks.

Fireworks during the Scarlet Sails festival.

With half of the year frozen rivers, being able to navigate a boat through Saint Petersburg is already worth a celebration. But that is not all, as the city is well known for being on a very interesting geographical position that allows people to admire the so-called White Nights. During this period from late May to mid-July, the sun practically does not set and evening twilight smoothly turns into morning.

But White Nights in Saint Petersburg aren't only about magical evenings full of light, as you will also notice that all the drawbridges in the city are being raised. These metal beasts come to life every night, allowing large ships to pass through, and for us to enjoy this magnificent view.

The climax of the White Nights season is the Scarlet Sails festival, which is organized for school graduates, every last week of June. During this special event, the ship with scarlet sails reaches the Winter Palace after navigating down the Neva river, representing the end of childhood and the beginning of maturity for the newly graduated youngsters – just like in the book Scarlet Sails by Alexander Grin. But note that in reality the Scarlet Sails festival, as well as the White Nights, are just a very good reason for anyone in Saint Petersburg to be out all night. The magic is not reserved for school graduates only.

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Flowers and Singer House in Saint Petersburg.

Making the most of your visit to Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg is a magical city of which you can truly say that it fits any type of visitor, no matter your age, or what interests you have. If you are looking for culture and history, or for street art and bars, Saint Petersburg will never disappoint.

With about 200 museums to choose from, it may get a little hard to oversee. What about a visit to the Hermitage, or the Fabergé museum with its curious Fabergé eggs, or perhaps the historical museum devoted to the Siege of Leningrad?

To help you keeping track of all the fantastic places you must consider visiting, we have made the Saint Petersburg travel map. There you will find the greatest museums, the most beautiful gardens and the nicest areas to go for drinks with your friends. But also surprising places, like the small café Pyshechnaya.

Soviet delight

This simple Leningrad dessert called ‘pyshka’ has been prepared according to the same recipe for over 50 years. Tasty as before!

Dessert called ‘pyshka’.

Upon entering Pyshechnaya, it feels like you travel back in time and step into the everyday life of a Soviet person. At this place they serve an unusual Leningrad dessert called ‘pyshka’, which looks like a kind of donut. The recipe of this dessert hasn't changed, and neither has the appearance of the café, which still looks approximately the same as when it opened in 1958.

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