With its ornate domes and soaring views across the Neva, St Petersburg is a city that’s primed for pedestrian forays. However, its climate is notoriously quixotic, and exploratory expeditions can be punctuated by an occasional shower. Fortunately, the city is well-prepared for such spells, and it has just as much to admire indoors. Here are the best things to do in St Petersburg when the heavens open.
Topping any list of things to do in St Petersburg when it rains is the Hermitage. The grand, gilded palace-turned-museum is home to a multitude of treasures that would take the most efficient gallery goer weeks to get around. However, it’s likely you won’t be the only visitor ducking into these opulent interiors, and there are much lovelier places to be in St Petersburg than standing in a queue beneath the drizzle. The State Russian Museum has much to offer culture buffs—and queues are rare. Its collections canter through history, from ancient Russian icons to edgy new installations. Inspired? Contemporary art lovers can discover plenty more in the cutting-edge interiors of Erarta, while historians can step onwards to the Fabergé Museum.
Speaking of the Fabergé Museum, its collection of precious eggs and other treasures is beautifully presented within the Shuvalov Palace. All regal staircases, glittering chandeliers and impossibly extravagant décor, it’s a rewarding glimpse of imperial Russia. For variations of Rococo opulence, St Petersburg is liberally peppered with palaces. Peterhof is best saved for more clement weather, as its gardens, designed by André Le Nôtre of Versailles Gardens fame, deserve more than a cursory glance from a condensation-misted window. A stroll through Catherine Palace, however, is the perfect thing to do when it is wet in St Petersburg. The tsars’ summer retreat is embellished with more than enough gold to brighten a rainy day.
Kunstkamera’s vast collections of taxidermy, cultural artefacts and macabre scientific discoveries certainly make this one of St Petersburg’s more eclectic museums. Also known as the Museum of Ethnology and Anthropology, it’s not for the squeamish.
The faint-hearted should rather visit ArtMuza, an abandoned factory restored to one of the city’s edgiest art spaces. It’s a hive of culture, with art studios and galleries sharing the floor with fashion boutiques, designers and performance artists. Once inspired, seek out Fonoteka, the city’s coolest record store. Browse rare vinyl and old classics, beautifully preserved and presented.
All that exploring is thirsty work, and St Petersburg has plenty of excellent watering holes in which to refuel while keeping warm and dry. Leading the list is Commode, a cocktail bar that serves all the classics against a backdrop of live jazz and poetry readings. For great music in chic, contemporary surrounds, Redrum has a DJ on the decks when there’s not a live gig. This bright little bar specialises in draft beer—take your pick from 24 craft beers on tap. For an afternoon shot of vodka, meanwhile, it has to be Russia Vodka Room No1 at the Russian Vodka Museum.
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.