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The hidden gems of St Petersburg

22/09/2016

Lonely Planet author and St Petersburg expert Tom Masters suggests some lesser-known sights to help you get to the heart of Russia’s second-largest city

The interior of the St Petersburg Mosque

The St Petersburg Mosque is full of striking colours. Picture by Shelly Cornick

Overnight stays are a great way to really experience a city, from dawn to dusk. Our cruises to St Petersburg include an overnight stay, giving guests two full days to explore all of the treasures on offer in this Russian city. After all, the ‘Venice of the North’ deserves nothing less.

 

This captivating city has some major must-see sights that will leave you reeling with their beauty: the Hermitage, St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood and the Peter and Paul Fortress are among the most popular attractions. But if you’d like to explore further off the beaten track during your two days there, where next? Writer Tom Masters suggests five of his favourite lesser-visited spots in this grand city.

 

St Petersburg Mosque

‘This Central Asian-style stunner on the north bank of the Neva River is Russia’s most northerly mosque,’ says Tom. ‘It’s a gorgeous and very unexpected addition to the rich architectural ensemble of St Petersburg’s river embankments.’ The mosque, with its stunning blue dome and 49m-tall minarets, was built in the early 20th century and modelled on the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Just a short walk over the river from the Summer Garden, the mosque can easily be visited on the St Petersburg Explorer shore excursion, which gives you free time at three locations around the city. The interior is well worth a visit if it is open. As a working mosque, visitors are only permitted outside of prayer times; you will need to remove your shoes and women must cover their heads.

 

Fabergé Museum

‘This excellent new museum displays the work of the city’s most famous jeweller, and includes nine of his fabled jewelled eggs – created as Easter gifts for the last two tsarinas of Russia,’ says Tom. The museum is located in the 200-year-old Shuvalov Palace, set on the banks of the Fontanka River, and was opened to the public in 2013 following an impressive restoration project. You can visit the museum and hear how these exquisite masterpieces tell the story of the fall of the Romanov dynasty on the Fabulous Fabergé shore excursion. As well as the famous eggs themselves, you’ll also see some of the museum’s wide collection of Russian art and explore the palace’s grand interiors. You can even buy your own replica egg at the end.

 

Summer Garden

‘An elegant strolling ground surrounded on all sides by water,’ is how Tom describes St Petersburg’s oldest park. Designed in the early 18th century as a private retreat for Peter the Great, the park is a beautiful example of baroque style, with fountains, pavilions and an ornate cast-iron fence. ‘It was fully renovated a couple of years ago and is now a gorgeous place to wander, full of statues and even Peter the Great’s first palace.’  The Summer Garden is another option that can easily be visited at your own pace on the St Petersburg Explorer shore excursion. ‘Take a walk down the gorgeous River Moyka from the Hermitage to get there,’ suggests Tom.

Avtovo metro station in St Petersburg

Avtovo station: the St Petersburg metro stations are an impressive sight. Picture by Shelly Cornick

A trip on the metro

A world away from the public transportation systems of most cities, the St Petersburg metro is a grand affair. ‘The metro line is also one of the deepest in the world, and the stations are on a similarly impressive scale,’ says Tom. The grandest stations – with features including chandeliers, marble walls and ornate ceilings – are located along Line 1, which was opened in 1955. ‘The intricate decoration dates from their creation as “palaces of the people” under Stalin,’ explains Tom. A trip on this unique metro system is included on several St Petersburg shore excursions, including Hidden Scenes, Russian Home Visit, Simply St Petersburg and Splendour of St Petersburg. It’s a great way to get an insight into everyday life for the population of this city.

 

Nikolsky Cathedral

St Petersburg’s rich history has left it with a wide collection of magnificent religious buildings and, according to Tom, the Nikolsky Cathedral must be one of the most stunning. ‘Its golden domes combine with its ice-blue walls to make an unforgettable impression,’ says Tom. Nicknamed the ‘Sailor’s Church’, this beautiful building also has a picture-perfect setting, flanked on three sides by canals. Theatre-lovers may like to combine a visit to the cathedral with a show at the nearby Mariinsky theatre. You can visit these attractions if you explore St Petersburg independently. But remember – if you’d like to go ashore independently you must have obtained a Russian visa before the cruise.

Find out about visa requirements here.

 

Tom Masters

Berlin-based Tom writes widely about Russia and Eastern Europe, including as an author of Lonely Planet’s St Petersburg and Russia guides, and has always enjoyed a great relationship with Russia’s former imperial capital. 

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