An Essential Guide to 24 hours in St Petersburg
24 hours is not enough to absorb everything that St Petersburg has to offer, but you can certainly make a start on the major sights and get a feel for this elegant city and former capital of Imperial Russia. Even if you’re in St Petersburg on a short stay or layover, there’s still plenty to see and do in the time you have. We’ve rounded up some of the city’s main highlights to help you make the most of your visit.
Rather than spending time transporting your luggage back and forth to the airport, stay at the Park Inn by Radisson Pulkovo Airport, St Petersburg, so you’re conveniently placed for your next flight. That leaves you free to hop on the shuttle or take a taxi into the town centre, which is less than a half hour’s drive away.
Visit the historic Peter and Paul Fortress
History fans in particular will enjoy a visit to the city’s original fortress, founded by Peter the Great at the turn of the 18th century. Throughout its history it has served as a military and government headquarters, as well as a jail which housed many well-known prisoners, including the likes of Trotsky and Dostoyevsky; today it is the home of the St Petersburg Museum of History, with an excellent selection of temporary and permanent exhibitions. The magnificent Peter and Paul Cathedral, located within the fortress walls, is also the final resting place of many generations of the Russian royal family, including the final Tsar Nicolas II and his family.
Soak up some culture at The Hermitage
One of the top art galleries in the world, The Hermitage is home to works by the likes of Rembrandt, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso and Van Gogh, to name just a few. You could easily spend weeks exploring its treasures, but even a short visit is worth it to catch some of the highlights and appreciate the extravagant baroque architecture of the six historic buildings that make up the complex – especially the fairy tale-worthy Winter Palace, with its glorious, gilded interiors.
Take a canal cruise
If you’ve already visited most of the major sites or you’d prefer to spend your day in the open air, consider taking a canal boat tour during the summer months. St Petersburg very much reflects the vision of its founder, the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, who built his capital to rival the great European cities of the Enlightenment. In particular, he imagined the city becoming the Amsterdam of Russia, with canals rather than streets serving as the primary thoroughfares. Hence, a sightseeing boat cruise is a great way to gain an overview of the city’s layout and beautiful architecture.
Catch a world-class performance at the Mariinsky Theatre
Aside from wining and dining in one of the city’s many excellent restaurants, the best way to spend an evening in St Petersburg is attending an opera or ballet at the world-famous Mariinsky Theatre. Catch one of the great Russian classics, such as The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, or discover a new modern favourite. Be sure to book in advance, however, as despite the grand auditorium’s size, performances frequently sell out.