Romance, revolution and literature; St Petersburg’s history is as complicated as it is beguiling. Immerse yourself in the stories of the city on a historical walking tour. Retrace the steps of Russia’s greatest literary figures, discover the pivotal sites of the 1917 revolutions and admire the neo-classical palaces along the canal. This selection of historical walking routes will introduce you the best things to see in St Petersburg, from famous landmarks to hidden sites.
Starting at St Isaac’s Cathedral (Russia’s largest), admire the dazzling golden dome and neo-classical façade before crossing St Isaac’s Square to reach the Monument to Nicholas I. Depicting the former Tsar of Russia riding a horse in military dress, the statue was unveiled in 1859 and balances only on the rear hooves of the horse (an innovative technique at the time). From here, cross the distinctive Blue Bridge—its blue hue comes from a 19th century initiative that saw the bridges along the Moika River colour coded. On the other side of the river, you’ll find the Mariinsky Palace, a grand neo-classical palace built by Tsar Nicholas I as a wedding present for his daughter Maria. From here, walk alongside the canal until you arrive at Yusupov Palace. Once home to the illustrious Yusupov family, the palace now houses a museum dedicated to the murder of the mysterious Russian character, Rasputin. Walk further along the canal and cross the water to reach the Central Naval Museum, one of the longest established and comprehensive nautical museums in the world. Cross back over the canal and head to the famous Mariinsky Theatre, which dates back to 1793 and is St Petersburg’s most important venue for theatre, opera and dance. One of the best things to see in St Petersburg, the Mariinsky has hosted world premieres for the likes of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, and is also home to the renowned Mariinsky Ballet.
St Petersburg has a rich literary history that’s best experienced on foot. Start your walk at the Vladimir Nabokov Museum to learn more about one of Russia’s most iconic and controversial 20th century writers. Nabokov was born in this house in 1899 and lived here until he and his family were sent into exile in 1917. Expect to get up close to Nabokov’s own personal library alongside his drawings and infamous butterfly collection. From here, proceed towards the Bronze Horseman—the famous statue of Peter the Great that Alexander Pushkin wrote about in his poem of the same name. Walk around the Admiralty to reach the Monument to Vasily Zhukovsky, an eye-catching bronze tribute to the great Russian romantic writer. Stroll down Nevsky Prospect before turning left to find the Monument to Pushkin in Mikhailovsky Square, which was unveiled in 1957 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of St Petersburg. From here, walk across the Fontanka to find the Museum of revered Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, which is located in the house that the poet lived in for 26 years and the site where she wrote her masterpiece, Poem Without A Hero. Visit the lodgings of another Russian literary legend nearby at Dostoyevsky House Museum, which recreates the writer’s family home and also has an adjacent theatre that stages poetry readings and live performances.
The revolutions that took place in Russia in 1917 shaped the nation and had a profound effect on the rest of the world. Explore these seismic events by beginning at Cruiser Aurora, said to be the location of the first shot fired, which signalled the start of the revolution in October 2017. Walk onwards to Finlyandsky Rail Terminal, where Lenin arrived back in Russia to start the revolution. Head across the Liteynyy Bridge and turn left to reach the Tauride Palace, the site of the one and only meeting of the Constituent Assembly in 1918. From there, take a 15-minute amble to the Lenin Memorial Museum at the Smolny Institute, the building that served as the makeshift headquarters for Lenin and the communist party during the revolution. Visitors can wander around Lenin’s carefully preserved office and living rooms, in addition to the assembly hall where the victory of the revolution was declared in 1917. Your next stop should be the Apartment Museum of the Alliluev, which served as a hiding place for both Lenin in July 1917 and also Stalin who stayed here for over a year. End your tour in Vosstaniya Square, which literally translates as “Uprising Square”, and served as the site of numerous political demonstrations.
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.