Heading to St Petersburg? You’ll likely make The Hermitage one of your first stops. We imagine you’ll also be stopping by the Romanov palaces and the ballet…? But what comes next, after you’ve (rightly) seen the city’s most famous and beloved sights? If you ask us, it’s time to venture to the less explored parts of town. Explore hidden Russia, from the captivating Russian Museum of Ethnography to the moving Piskariovskoye Cemetery, the creative Loft Project Etagi to the lavish SPB Opera. These lesser-known sights offer another, beguiling window into the heart of St Petersburg culture.
Though it technically ranks amongst Russia’s largest museum collections, the Russian Museum of Ethnography is often overshadowed by showier neighbours like the Hermitage. But no longer: this beloved institution, which boasts over 500,000 exhibits, is a fascinating stop for visitors. From traditional costumes and jewellery to historic photographs, sourced from locations as far-flung as modern-day Siberia and Kazakhstan, it offers a fascinating look at the country’s past.
Away from the crowds in central St Petersburg – and a fair distance from nearby metro stations – is the historic Kolomna District, which falls off most visitors’ radars. Time to explore this side of hidden Russia. The city’s Jewish Quarter circa the 19th century, and once home to Alexander Pushkin, the Kolomna District is today famous for its historic architecture and its unspoiled character. Some even label this neighbourhood ‘the soul of St Petersburg.’
It’s not most libraries that can claim imperial origin – but then again, most libraries certainly aren’t the National Library of Russia. This one, located in an impressive building off the Nevsky Prospect, was first founded by Catherine the Great, and her private collections are still held here. These days, you aren’t likely to encounter any royalty when wandering through its shelves, though the building’s architecture and collection of more than 17 million works (not all in Russian, mind), makes it a particularly appealing retreat on rainy days.
A powerful reminder of the impact of WWII on the city of St Petersburg – particularly during the siege of Leningrad – Piskariovskoye Cemetery is a sobering and deeply moving landmark. Officially opened in 1960, just 15 years after the conclusion of the war, it should be an essential stop for all visitors looking to learn more about the city’s past.
You’ve been to the Mariinsky and attended the Mikhailovsky. Now what? Continue your cultural tour of St Petersburg at the lesser known but no less worthy SPB Opera, which performs a classic repertoire against the intimate, highly ornate backdrop of the company’s home theatre. On the local scene since its founding in 1987, the company’s upcoming season includes favourites like Lucia di Lammermoor, Eugene Onegin and Don Giovanni.
One part exhibition space, one part cultural centre, one part shopping destination and one part café, the miscellaneous Loft Project Etagi may not have an easily identifiable specialty, but therein lies its appeal. Favoured by the city’s young and artistic set, this hub occupies what was once a five-storey bread factory, profiting from its slick industrial vibe. On sunny days, follow the locals up to the rooftop to catch some rays.
Do you think “Russia” when you hear “donuts”? Perhaps not. But venture to local favourite Psyhechnaya Donut Bar and you’ll discover one of the most beloved sides of hidden Russia. Unadorned, unfussy, and virtually unchanged since the Soviet era, this donut shop is always full of long queues awaiting icing sugar-covered confections (along with a companion cup of coffee).
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.