City hub dominated by the Alexander Column, celebrating Tsar Alexander I and victory over Napoleon; surrounded by the immense Winter Palace and General Staff buildings, which house The Hermitage Museum; open-air venue for concerts, parades, political meetings, and occasional sporting events. Fee for museum. Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya 38; tel. 7 812 311 3420, 110 9625 or 571 3420. www.hermitagemuseum.org
Peter and Paul Fortress
Final resting place of many of the tsars; Peter the Great’s wooden fortress marks the 1703 beginning of modern Russia and its new capital city; occupies all of Hare Island; includes a cathedral, prison, mint, and various museums. Petropavlovskaya Krepost 3; tel. 7 812 498 0511, 498 0243 or 232 9454; fee. www.spbmuseum.ru
St. Petersburg’s signature thoroughfare; considered Russia’s most famous street; upscale shopping and restaurants; grand palaces, museums, and cathedrals; luxury condominiums and apartment buildings; stretches three miles (4.5 kilometers); accessed by five metro stations and four bridges.
St Isaac’s Cathedral
Focal point of the city’s second center; 333-foot-tall (102-meter-tall) gilded dome rises high over the city skyline; built as a national monument after the Napoleonic Wars; a wonderland of semiprecious stones, metals, and decorative arts. Isaakievskaya Ploshchad 4; tel. 7 812 315 9732; fee. www.cathedral.ru
The spit of Vasilevsky Island; historic economic heart of St. Petersburg; marked by its twin red rostral columns and white colonnade Stock Exchange building; offers excellent views of Peter and Paul Fortress and the Hermitage Museum. Tip: Visit the Anthropology and Ethnography Museum and the Tsar Peter’s disturbing anatomical collections in the Kunstkammer. Tel. 7 812 328 1412; fee. www.kunstkamera.ru
Alexander Nevsky Monastery
Prime monastery of Peter the Great’s Russia; named for the city’s spiritual protector of St. Petersburg; includes Trinity Cathedral, Church of Annunciation, and the Tikhvin and Lazarus cemeteries—final resting places of many famous Russians. Aleksandra Nevskogo Ploshchad 1; tel. 7 812 274 2635 or 277 1716; fee for church. www.saint-petersburg.com/cathedrals/alexander-nevsky-monastery
World’s largest permanent collection of Russian art; 400,000 exhibits from 10th-21st centuries; complex includes St. Michael’s Castle, the House of Peter the Great, three gardens, and the Marble, Stroganov, and Summer Palaces. Inzhenernaya Ulitsa 4; tel. 7 812 595 4248; fee. www.rusmuseum.ru
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Church of the Savior on the Blood
“The most beautiful vision of ‘Ancient Russia’ before St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg.”—Sergei Kuznetsov, historian and curator, Stroganoff Palace. Memorial church built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881; incredible mosaics and stonework. Kanala Griboedova Naberezhnaya 2a; tel. 7 812 315 1636; fee.
Romantic setting; shaded paths, baroque sculptures, and waterways; perfect spot for a leisurely stroll; home to Peter the Great’s cozy Summer Palace. Tel. 7 812 314 0374; fee. www.rusmuseum.ru
The Neva Embankments
Elegant, granite barriers built to control flooding along broad River Neva feature elaborate architectural details, such as sphinx and lion sculptures; paths along the top popular with walkers, especially during summer “White Nights” (late May to mid July) when the night sky stays light; parallels river, providing close-up views of water and passing ships.