Traveling to St. Petersburg on a budget or had enough of the classic tourist circuit? Check out these 12 free things to do in the ex-capital city and perhaps discover something off-the-beaten-track.
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Dvortsovaya Ploschad (Palace Square)
At the spot where the Nevsky Prospect meets the Neva River lies one of the most grandiose squares remaining from Russia's imperial times. Walking through the triumphal arch from Bolshaya Morskaya Street you will see the Winter Palace of Peter the Great and the rest of the Hermitage Museum. The column in the center commemorates the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812. This is a great place to start your free tour of St. Petersburg.
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Many songs, poems, stories and book scenes have been written about Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street. This is the heart of St. Petersburg history but also the heart of the city’s shopping and nightlife. Walking along Nevsky Prospekt you will find the Kazan Cathedral (also free), Dom Knigi (a fantastic bookstore), Gostiny Dvor (a 19th-century shopping mall), and a monument to Catherine the Great, among many other amazing sights.
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The Bronze Horseman
This statue of Peter the Great was commissioned by Catherine the Great. It was very controversial because Catherine the Great ordered the inscription to say “To Peter I from Catherine II, 1782”, thus attempting to legitimize her place on the throne. She actually had no legal claim to the throne as she was a German princess, and this statue was an attempt to represent herself as his “heir”. The Bronze Horseman became a symbol of the city when Pushkin, one of Russia’s greatest poets, wrote a famous poem about it in 1833.
Pl. Dekabristov, Metro Admiralteyskaya
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Bridge of Kisses (Поцелуев Мост, “Potseluyev Most”)
This bridge crosses the Moika River and offers a lovely view of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. More importantly, its name means it is known as the official bridge of lovers in St. Petersburg so it’s a great place to go with that special someone. It is said that lovers who kiss on the bridge will definitely be happy together – and the longer the kiss, the greater the happiness that awaits them in the future!
Ulitsa Glinki at the Moika River Ulitsa, Metro: Sadovaya or VasileostrovskayaContinue to 5 of 12 below.
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Alexander Nevsky Monastery (Lavra)
This monastery, named after the patron saint of St. Petersburg, is the city's oldest and one of its most revered holy places. It is still a functioning monastery, which is free to tour and well-worth a visit. Many famous artists are buried in the cemetery grounds, but you have to pay to enter the graveyards.
Naberezhnaya reki Monastyrki 1, Metro: Aleksandra Nevskogo II
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Strelka ("The Arrow")
Visit the eastern tip of Vasilyevsky Ostrov for a breathtaking view of the city of St. Petersburg. This was one of Peter the Great’s favorite parts of St. Petersburg, and one of the focal points of the city’s maritime trade. Now it is decorated with two large columns with depictions of Russia’s four greatest rivers, and in the summer you can see fountains “dancing” to classical music... but trust me. Just go and check out the view.
Metro: Vasilyevsky Ostrov
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The Peterhof is the Versailles of St. Petersburg, and just like Versailles, you have to pay to enter the buildings, but the royal gardens are free to visit. You can spend several hours wandering around the beautiful parks and admiring the fountains built here for Catherine the Great.
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The Aurora is a battleship that played an important part in the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. It was built in 1900 and is now docked in St. Petersburg, maintained by cadets from the local Naval School, where you can visit it (and the small onboard museum) for free. I really recommend visiting it even if you’re not really into ships – it’s an incredible part of the city’s history (and a very quick tour).
Petrovskaya Naberezhnaya, Metro: GorkovskayaContinue to 9 of 12 below.
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Literally meaning “The Big House”, this building was constructed in 1932 to house the KGB headquarters. President Putin worked here before he went into politics. It is currently a government building (belonging to the Ministry of Internal Affairs), and you can’t go inside, but it’s quite interesting to look at!
Liteynyy prospekt 4, Metro: Chernyshevskaya
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Pushkin Duel Site
The aforementioned Pushkin, one of Russia’s greatest, most famous and most-studied poets, was killed in a duel (he quite liked duels; it is said he participated in 29 of them before he finally lost). Georges d’Anthès, the man that struck the fatal blow, had been attempting to seduce Pushkin’s wife. The poet died at the young age of 37, which is still considered one of Russia’s greatest tragedies. You can visit the site of the duel today, which houses a monument to Pushkin.
Novosibirskaya Ulitsa 7(Approximate address: Keep walking along Novosibirskaya and cross the train tracks to find the monument), Metro: Chyornaya Rechka
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Russian National Library
St Petersburg’s biggest library has open reading rooms and plenty of books in languages other than Russian. It’s a great place to spend a rainy afternoon, and it’s free of charge; however, you will need your passport to get in.
Sadovaya Ulitsa 20, Metro: Gostiny Dvor
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During WWII, the Nazis kept St. Petersburg (then called “Leningrad”) under siege for over two years. About half a million people (mostly civilians) who died during the siege are buried in this cemetery. It is one of the most striking testaments to the tragedy of WWII in Russia and absolutely a must-see, although it is slightly off the beaten track.
Prospekt Nepokoryonnykh 72, Metro: Ploshchad’ Muzhestva