10 FREE Things to Do in Saint Petersburg, Russia

De-facto cultural capital of Russia, St. Petersburg is a city of lavish palaces and imperial parks, romantic canals and architectural bridges, art and history, white nights and endless rain. And like many gorgeous European cities, it's quite expensive.

But fear not, my brave voyagers! Visiting St. Petersburg doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. These "travel hacks" will show you how to enjoy one of the world's most sophisticated cities on a budget.

Some Essential Tips on Visiting Russia

  • The Cold War is still on last time I checked, so if you're an American, you do need a visa to visit Russia. Plan to apply at least a month prior to the trip.
  • When in Russia, have your passport with you at all times, or at least a copy of it.
  • You are required to register your visa within 7 days of arrival to Russia, although only if you're planning to spend 7 consecutive days in one city. Many hotels register you automatically, but always confirm, or if you're staying at a private residence, register as soon as you arrive.
  • Try not to look like a clueless American tourist with your big grin and a fancy camera hanging around your neck - people will try to take advantage of you.
  • Don't smile at random strangers out of "politeness" or because you've made accidental eye contact with them - it's not part of Russian culture, and may look weird or suspicious to an average Russian.
  • To that end, don't take Russian stonewall demeanor as unfriendliness. Russians are just not into fake social gestures. But if you've earned their trust, you'll have a friend for life. And if you're genuinely interested in their country, many people will be willing to show you around or help any way they can.

1. Museums

With over 200 museums, St. Petersburg is home to some of the world's most renowned art collections. You'd be remiss not to take advantage of this aesthetic bounty. The key is knowing when.

Most museums have free entrance once a month or on specific days of the year. For example:

If you can't plan your trip according to these dates, you can always opt for less popular but still historically unique no-entrance-fee museums: The State Monument-Museum St. Sampson Cathedral, The Museum of the History of Photography, Saint Petersburg Metro Museum etc.

2. Peter and Paul Fortress

 Peter and Paul Fortress in the winter, Saint Petersburg
Peter and Paul Fortress in the winter, Saint Petersburg | Source

Peter and Paul Fortress is one of the main symbols of St. Petersburg, and it's free to visit.

This historical complex houses many interesting sculptures and memorials. Among them - the Peter and Paul Cathedral which is a burial place of the Russian royalty, and a rather controversial sculpture of Peter I: the czar's head is comically small compared to his gargantuan body and long ape-like arms. Tourists love taking pictures sitting on the czar's lap. And they say that if you touch Peter's finger, it will bring you wealth.

Not only that, every day at 12 o'clock a cannon fires a blank shot from the Naryshkin Bastion - unforgettable. And loud. And be there by 11:45.

Address: metro Gorkovskaya. The fortress grounds are free, and open daily from 6:00 to 21:00. Entrance to the buildings (open from 11:00 to 18:00 Thursday-Tuesday) will cost you a few bucks.

Monument to Peter the Great by M. Shemiakin
Monument to Peter the Great by M. Shemiakin

3. Nevsky Prospect

Early morning on Nevsky Prospect
Early morning on Nevsky Prospect | Source

St. Petersburg Quick Facts

Location: Eastern Europe

Time Zone: UTC+3

City's birthday: May 27, 1703

Population: 5.2 million (as of 2015)

Airport: Pulkovo

St. Petersburg, FL was named in honor of St. Petersburg, Russia

Nicknames: "The Venice of the North," "The Northern Capital of Russia"

Nevsky Prospect, the main artery of the city, is best experienced on foot, and it's absolutely free.

Start early in the morning (to avoid crowds) from Ploshchad Vosstaniya Metro Station and walk towards Palace Square (Dvortsovaya Ploshchad). There's so much to see - Anchikov Palace, Aleksandrinsky Theater, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Belozersky Palace, Bolshoy Gostiny Dvor, City Duma, Stroganov Palace, and other magnificent sights.

The weather in St. Petersburg can be treacherous and windy (think: San Francisco), so although walking is free, periodically stopping to warm up and rest at one of the gazillion Nevsky cafes will cost you a few bucks or more, depending on a place. (Some are expensive tourist traps. If you want a classy café with moderate prices, check out Café Singer on a 2nd floor of “Dom Knigi” bookstore on Nevsky Prospect, 28 - great selection of pastries with a spectacular view of Kazan Cathedral).

4. Kazan Cathedral

The Kazan Cathedral (during reconstruction in 2011)
The Kazan Cathedral (during reconstruction in 2011)

Now that you're rested and pleasantly full from all those sweet Russian blinis, it's time to visit another one of Saint Petersburg's gems - Kazan Cathedral. Built to resemble St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Cathedral is home to a famous Orthodox icon of Our Lady of Kazan. And like St. Peter's Basilica, Kazan Cathedral features beautiful sculptures, mosaics, paintings and frescoes.

Tip: although not a requirement, most Russian women cover their hair inside the Cathedral. I suggest that you put a scarf or a hat on out of respect. And don't take pictures during the service.

Address: Nevsky Prospect, 25. Admission is free, 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

5. The Bronze Horseman

The Bronze Horseman, St. Petersburg
The Bronze Horseman, St. Petersburg

The Bronze Horseman refers to the statue of Peter the Great - the founder of St. Petersburg, as well as the eponymous poem by Pushkin. It's one of the most recognizable symbols of the city.

Perched on a single piece red granite pedestal, Russian czar is depicted on a horse stumping out a snake (Russia's enemies), his glare transfixed on some site in the distance, perhaps, Russia's glorious future.

Address: Senatskaya Ploshchad, Metro Admiralteyskaya.

Pushkin statue in Tsarskoye Selo (now called Pushkin) in Saint Petersburg.
Pushkin statue in Tsarskoye Selo (now called Pushkin) in Saint Petersburg.

6. Site of Pushkin's Duel

Poet and national treasure Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was shot in a duel with the Frenchman Georges d'Anthès on a cold January morning of 1837.

In response to vicious rumors that d'Anthès was courting his beautiful wife Natalia, Pushkin had to challenge the Frenchman to a duel to defend her honor. "It is my misfortune to be a public man," lamented the poet.

He was only 37 at the time of his death. It pains to think how much more sublime poetry he would've written if his heart wasn't stopped by that lethal bullet.

"Baron d'Anthès - may his name be triply cursed," wrote Pushkin's contemporary Smirnov. And it still is. Pushkin was the greatest Russian artist, and his death still looms over Chyornaya Rechka (Black Creek), where the duel took place.

The site is marked with a monument which you can visit for free at the following address: Kolomyazhsky pr, metro Chyornaya Rechka.

Pushkin's duel with d'Anthes, atrist A. Naumov, 1884
Pushkin's duel with d'Anthes, atrist A. Naumov, 1884 | Source

7. The Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center

The Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center is an internationally-known art cluster of galleries, museums, concert venues, clubs, studios, and a theater.

It also contains the Museum of Non-Conformist Art, which houses a collection of alternative contemporary art, and is free to visit.

The Beatles fans will be delighted to find The John Lennon Temple of Love, Peace and Music on Pushkinskaya (open every Friday), while the rest can enjoy a number of free exhibitions.

Address: Pushkinskaya 10, metro Ploschchad Vosstaniya.

The John Lennon Temple of Love, Peace and Music on Pushkinskaya.
The John Lennon Temple of Love, Peace and Music on Pushkinskaya.

8. Peterhof

The singing gold fountains of Peterhof
The singing gold fountains of Peterhof

Your Opinion

How Would You Spend Your Time in St. Petersburg?

  • Soaking up all the culture you can.
  • Strolling up and down Nevsky.
  • Throwing pennies at Chizhik-Pyzhik.
  • Bar-hopping.
  • Taking selfies.
See results without voting

For 200 years Peterhof ("Peter's yard") was the summer residence of the Russian royalty, and as such, it's an important part of history. The palace was built as a monument to Russia's victory in the Northern War that gave Russia a much needed access to the Baltic Sea.

Because of its unique cultural significance Peterhof was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and in 2008 it was recognized as one of the 7 Wonders of Russia.

You can admire the royal gardens for free anytime except May to October when the fountains work (otherwise it's about $3), and if you want to visit the Grand Palace of Peterhof, you'll have to pay the entrance fee.

Tip: if possible, pick a warm sunny day to fully enjoy the experience, get there early (by 11 am) and bring some snacks and water with you - everything's expensive at Peterhof!

Address: Razvodnaya ulitsa, 2, about 29 km from the city.

9. The Summer Garden

Statues in the Summer Garden in Saint Petersburg
Statues in the Summer Garden in Saint Petersburg | Source

Useful Russian Vocabulary

Yes – Да (da)

No – Нет (nyet)

Hello (informal)! – Привет! (priVET)

My name is ... – Меня зовут ... (meNYA zoVUT...)

Thank you – Спасибо (spaSIbo)

Please (and "you're welcome") – Пожалуйста (poZHAlusta)

I’m sorry – Извините (izviNIte)

I don’t understand. – Я не понимаю. (ya ne poniMAyu)

I don’t speak Russian. – Я не говорю по-Русски. (ya ne govorU po RUSski)

Do you speak English? – Вы говорите по-Английски? (vi govoRIte po angLIski?)

Help me! – Помогите! (pomoGIte)

Where is the bathroom? – Где туалет? (gde tuaLET?)

One ticket, please. – Один билет, пожалуйста. (oDIN biLET, poZHAlusta)

The Summer Garden is a magnificent park complex in the center of St. Petersburg. Initially conceived by Peter I as a garden of fountains, the Summer Garden boasted a sophisticated fountain system that rivaled that of Versailles.

Unfortunately, Peter's fountains didn't survive the flood of 1777, but the Garden is still one of the most beautiful places in St. Petersburg.

Address: metro Gostiny Dvor, next to the Field of Mars and St. Michael's Castle. Open daily 10 am to 9 pm in the summer, 10 am to 7:30 pm in the winter, except Tuesday.

10. Chizhik Pyzhik

Beloved Chizhik Pyzhik, only 11 cm (about 4 inches) tall, is the smallest monument in St. Petersburg, and something of a local legend.

This bronze statue of a siskin, considered the city's good luck charm, is often overlooked or simply unknown to the average tourist. But it's immensely popular among the Russians. So much so that the city has multiple replicas of Chizhik to quickly replace the statue when it's stolen, and it's stolen A LOT.

Statue of Chizhik-Pyzhik in St. Petersburg
Statue of Chizhik-Pyzhik in St. Petersburg | Source

Why are people zealously stealing a small bird statue? The answer lies in the mysterious Russian soul and, therefore, cannot be clearly communicated nor understood by normal logic. One thing is certain: it is not the statue's value that inspires the thieves, but rather the humor of the situation.

Not only that, Chizhik Pyzhik is a very apolitical, anti-ideological statue in the country that had monuments to political leaders on every corner for 70 years. People appreciate Chizhik's simplicity and happy-go-lucky spirit that is said to help "students to get through unhappy love-affairs and get around on public transport without having tickets." And if you toss a coin and it lands next to Chizhik, it'll bring you good luck. So this quirky attraction is almost free.

Address: embankment wall of the Fontanka river, close to the Summer Garden.

Climbing the rooftops of St. Petersburg isn't everyone's glass of vodka, but it is free!
Climbing the rooftops of St. Petersburg isn't everyone's glass of vodka, but it is free!

Copyright Notice

All images in this article are my intellectual and creative property, and cannot be used without my permission and an appropriate credit.

More by this Author


22 comments

Chantelle Porter profile image

Chantelle Porter 9 months ago from Chicago

I will probably never get to Russia but a girl can dream.


srsddn profile image

srsddn 9 months ago from Dehra Dun, India

Nicely described, Lana. These ten site really seem to be great and Sait Peterburg looks to be very rich in culuture. Thanks for sharing these beautiul spots.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 9 months ago

Lana, you probably remember that I said I went to Leningrad (St Petersburg) during Perestroika. I went as part of an academic tour when I was taking Russian history at the university, so we were able to go places and see things that weren't on the Tourist List. You mentioned a few things and places here that we weren't familiar with. I don't recall the little bird statue. Also, some of the cafes you mentioned probably weren't around then, but I do remember going to a dinner theater, but I can't remember its name. The entertainment and the food were great.

I agree, the Hermitage and Peter and Paul's Fortress are spectacular. Since we were there during the winter and everything was covered with snow, most of it looks different to me. I think I remember going someplace where we had to walk at least a half mile from the bus. A young man approached me selling fur hats (black market, of course), and we walked into the woods to complete the transaction. Does that place sound familiar. It may have been Peterhof, but I don't remember a fountain. One thing I loved most was seeing the ice fishermen, since I'm a Southern gal and had never seen that in person. I found the people to be very warm and friendly when you got to know them, but they could be unfriendly just walking down the street. I learned four or five Russian words, including sabaka, kot, and skolka. We rescued a little homeless black kot that was trying to stay warm under a bus and was suffering from carbon monoxide poison. It was probably no more than a couple of months old. A woman in the hotel said she would adopt it.

Some day I'm going to have to write about my experience as a student on tour in Russia (then Soviet Union). Your wonderful articles bring back so many fond memories.


jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 9 months ago from Yorktown NY

Thanks for a great hub and a reminiscence. I was there two time in the 1990,s and got to visit most of what you listed and the State Hermitage Museum. I will always treasure those memories and the wonderful people I met there.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a great article. I loved exploring St. Petersburg via your hub. I will probably never get there in real life, so I appreciate your photos and descriptions very much.


jmark13 profile image

jmark13 9 months ago from Dallas

This reminds me that I need to get a replacement passport. I hope Vladimir doesn't poison me with polonium 10, putting it in my tea.

Which I don't drink anyway cause, I don't want to be poisoned. I drink beer. Or at least I DID, before I just realized they'll probably want to poison that now. Oh boy. Okay, I won't eat or drink anything while I'm there! Sheesh! Tough crowd!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 9 months ago from The Caribbean

Thanks for the tour of beautiful Saint Petersburg. Rich history, art and architecture all make it inviting. I find the Lennon Temple and the Summer Garden very interesting.


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 9 months ago from California Author

Chantelle, you never know!

srsddn, thank you very much. It means a lot coming from a fellow travel buff :)


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 9 months ago from California Author

MizBejabbers, of course I remember! I'm glad this is bringing back some cherished memories for you :)

I think the bird statue is relatively new, and it's not a big tourist attraction, just a local inside joke :)

I agree, everything looks very different covered in snow, I only saw Petersburg in the summer. The place you're describing might have been Peterhof, because the fountains don't work in the winter. Do you remember taking a train there, or a metro? It's quite far from the city. Although you could have taken a bus, too.

I think you definitely have a story to write about here! I'd love to read about your experiences in then-Leningrad.


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 9 months ago from California Author

I didn't know that, Jack. Must have been very memorable, huh? Russia always is, for better or for worse :) But St. Petersburg is just breathtaking. I'm glad this read brought back some good memories!


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 9 months ago from California Author

Thank you Alicia, and never say never! Many of the places I've visited are the ones I thought I'd never get to go to.


jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 9 months ago from Yorktown NY

Check out my photo here - part of my memoir recently completed.

http://hubpages.com/business/My-Career-At-IBM-Rese...


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 9 months ago from California Author

Jon, as far as being paranoid about your food or drinks, you have a better chance of being poisoned in America. Russia put a ban on chemically altered or genetically engineered food :)


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 9 months ago from California Author

Thank you MsDora, you must be a Beatles fan :) There's also a John Lennon Street in Saint Petersburg. And many many beautiful gardens :)


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 9 months ago from San Diego California

Wonderful place. I never knew who Alexander Nevsky was, until I read a recent article on Wikipedia about his famous Battle on the Ice against the Teutonic Knights. A lot of history, culture, and all around mystique associated with this place. I would love to go there. Great hub!


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 9 months ago from California Author

Oh yes, Alexander Nevsky..."Whoever will come to us with a sword, from a sword will perish." The name Nevsky is so ubiquitous, it took me a second to connect the dots. I hope one day you'll get a chance to visit, especially since you're a Dostoevsky fan :)


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 9 months ago from Massachusetts

Great job Lana. I don't know if I'll ever make it to St. Petersburg but I'll certainly add it to my list. It looks like a fascinating city to explore. Have a wonderful weekend.


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 9 months ago from California Author

Thank you Bill! I hope you do get a chance to visit some day. It is such a beautiful city. I miss it so much.


Alexis Cogwell profile image

Alexis Cogwell 9 months ago from Indiana/Chicagoland

Free fun is always good fun. Great hub.


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 9 months ago from California Author

Thanks Alexis! Free fun is the best kind :)


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 8 months ago from Oklahoma

Wonderfully done!


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 8 months ago from California Author

Thanks Larry!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    kalinin1158 profile image

    Lana Zakinov (kalinin1158)268 Followers
    81 Articles

    Born and raised in Russia but educated in the United States, Lana is the fusion of the "mysterious Russian soul" and American sensibility.



    Click to Rate This Article
    working