About St. Petersburg

Sights and tourism

St. Petersburg is Russia’s second largest city and one of its biggest industrial, research, and cultural centres. It is also the world’s northernmost metropolis.

Historic traditions and the city’s unique architecture are carefully preserved here to this day. The historic centre of St. Petersburg is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Every year, the city attracts tourists from all over the world, who come here to admire paintings and other treasures of the Hermitage and the Russian Museum, spectacular operas and ballets in the Mariinsky Theatre, the city view from the colonnade of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and the unforgettable parks in the former imperial residences of Peterhof, Tsarskoe Selo, Pavlovsk, Gatchina, and Oranienbaum.

In 2019, St. Petersburg won the World Travel Awards’ the prestigious international prize in the tourism sector in two categories: World's Leading Cultural City Destination 2019 and Europe's Leading City Destination 2019. The city has now won the title of World's Leading Cultural City Destination for four years running.

St. Petersburg has a well-developed tourism and hospitality industry, with an extensive infrastructure and high-quality service. Many hotels are located in historic listed buildings in the city centre.

The city hosts around 100 festivals and competitions in culture and the arts each year, more than 50 of which are international. In 2020, many festivals and contests went online due the spread of the new coronavirus. This format helps ensure the safety of their participants and guests.

Accessibility by transport

St. Petersburg is largest transport hub in Russia’s north-west accessible by sea, river, and land. It promotes the city’s economic ties and boosts its industrial potential. St. Petersburg is a 4–5-hour flight away from most European capitals.

The city’s location on the Baltic attracts tourists travelling by sea. St. Petersburg is among the largest Baltic seaports and welcomes the majority of the world’s leading cruise and passenger lines. According to the law passed in 2009, international tourists travelling by sea can explore the city visa-free for up to 72 hours if on a guided tour.

Industry in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is one of Russia’s largest industrial centres. The city’s industry is responsible for over 20% of the gross regional product and a large share of taxes paid to budgets of all levels. Its output amounts to 9% of the country’s total production volume.

Practically all industries are represented in St. Petersburg. There are over 750 large and medium-sized facilities, some of them being the country’s leading companies. Over 23 thousand small and micro industrial businesses operate in the city.

Innovative activity in St. Petersburg is higher than average in Russia. Over 50% of manufacturing facilities (petroleum products excluded) are involved in high-tech or medium-tech activities.

Shipbuilding market capacity is about 50% of Russia’s total. Local facilities build various class atomic and diesel submarines, ships and vessels that are at the core of Russia’s navy strategic nuclear and general operation forces.

St. Petersburg belongs to the country’s fasted-paced regions in terms of investment potential. St. Petersburg (together with Leningrad Region) ranks second among Russian regions in terms of secured overseas investment and is home to over 1,000 large and medium-sized businesses with foreign capital.

St. Petersburg and the Arctic

St. Petersburg has played an important role in the exploration of the Russian North, as the largest expeditions of the past to the Arctic were discussed, developed and approved in the capital of the Russian Empire. The Great Northern Expedition set off from here in the first half of the 18th century. Groups of Russian mariners and scientists explored the Arctic coast of Siberia and the coastlines of Northern America and Japan under the leadership of Vitus Bering, a Russian naval officer and navigator.

The Expedition explored the whole coast of the Arctic Ocean and prepared a detailed description of its geographical, geological, botanical, zoological, and ethnographical properties.

Mapping of North-Eastern Asia was among the most important achievements of the Expedition. The School of Geography of St. Petersburg State University published the new map in 1754.

In 1764, Russian mariners set off on a new expedition with the purpose of exploring the Arctic Ocean and take the northern route all the way from Arkhangelsk to the Far East. This expedition was masterminded by Mikhail Lomonosov and led by Vasily Chichagov. Chichagov’s team failed to cross the Arctic ice and had to return to Arkhangelsk in 1766. However, they were the first to explore the high-latitude areas of the Arctic and the Island of Svalbard (known as Spitzbergen in Russia).

Exploration of the Northern Sea Route commenced in the early 20th century, after first icebreakers were put into operation. First expeditions were led by Stepan Makarov on the icebreaker Yermak, Ivan Sergeev on Vaygach, and Boris Vilkitsky on Taimyr.  

As early as in 1920s, active exploration of the Arctic brought many prominent polar navigators and scholars to propose a permanent museum of polar research. In 1937, the Museum of Arctic and Antarctic opened in St. Petersburg (Leningrad). It is still open for visitors and offers exhibitions on the nature of the Arctic and Antarctica and the history of their exploration.

St. Petersburg remains a region that plays an important role in the research of Russia’s Arctic territories: the local government established the Committee on Arctic Affairs, while the city develops the industries that are crucial for the Arctic, such as shipbuilding, communications electronics, engineering, and petrochemical industry. In 2019, the St. Petersburg Committee on Arctic Affairs prepared a catalogue entitled ‘The Arctic Potential of St. Petersburg’, which includes information about 85 organizations based in the city.

Interesting facts about the city

  • St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Russia’s first Emperor Peter I. In 1712–1918, it was the capital of Russia. In 1914, the city got the name of Petrograd, while in 1924 it was renamed as Leningrad. It got its historic name back only in 1991. Nowadays, it is Russia’s second largest city after Moscow in terms of population.

  • The Neva is one of the most affluent rivers in the European part of Russia. When it comes to average annual flow, it is only behind the Volga, the Pechora, the Northern Dvina and the Kama. The Neva flows out of Lake Ladoga. Over 30 rivers flow into this lake, however it is only the Neva that starts there.

  • St. Petersburg is located almost precisely at 60°00′N and 30°00′E. The main astronomical observatory of the Russian Academy of Science is located in Pulkovo, a suburb of St. Petersburg, and bears its name. The meridian upon which the observatory is locates is eponymous with the suburb and was used as a zero meridian in the Russian Empire, instead of the Greenwich.

  • St. Petersburg is the world’s largest, most northern city: the 60th parallel, on which the city lies, passes through Greenland, Anchorage, Alaska, Magadan, and Oslo, the capital of Norway. The city is famed for its white nights, a major tourist attraction. However, geography-wise the white nights latitude is north of 60°34′, which is almost a whole degree away from St. Petersburg.

  • The Blue bridge over the Moika River is the widest in the world. It was constructed in the 19th century by William Heste, a Russian architect. The width of the bridge is 97.3 metres. It got its name from its wooden predecessor, which was painted blue. This bridge is all but invisible, as it became an integral part St. Isaac’s Square and barely stands out.

  • The subway in St. Petersburg is the deepest in the world, with tunnels located 70–80 metres below the ground. The deepest station is Admiralteiskaya, with a record of 86 metres.

  • St. Petersburg is 317 years old, however its oldest artefacts are Egyptian sphynxes in the University Embankment. Their approximate age is 3,500 years. The pink granite sphynxes were discovered during archaeological excavation in the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III in Thebes. The sphynxes were brought to St. Petersburg through the efforts of Aleksandr Murav’ev, a traveller and member of the Academy of Sciences. He set off on a pilgrimage and saw the sphynxes in Alexandria, which were brought there for sale.

  • The Lakhta Center skyscraper (462 m) became the tallest building in Europe as of October 2017. The previous record setter is the Federation Tower in Moscow (374 m). Construction of Lakhta Center is completed. At this moment, works on its interiors and décor are under way.

  • Peter and Paul Fortress is St. Petersburg’s oldest architectural structure. It was founded on 27 May 1703, which is used as the city’s foundation date. The Fortress was never involved in any battle, though its garrison was on high alert for centuries and was initially created to defend the lands Russia acquired in the Northern War. At the same time, it has been perfectly preserved and now is a truly unique historical monument.

  • St. Isaac’s Cathedral (constructed in 1818–1858 by Auguste de Montferrand) is the biggest cathedral in Russia and the fourth biggest in the world (it’s the world’s third largest among the single-domed ones). Its colonnade is a popular viewpoint, one of the tallest in St. Petersburg.

  • Nevsky Prospekt is the city’s main street and its warmest part. Compared to suburbs, its temperature is 2–3 degrees higher in summer and 10–12 degrees higher in winter.

  • Architect Rossi Street (Ulitsa Zodchego Rossi, previously known as Teatralnaya Ulitsa) is unique because of its proportions: it’s 22 m wide, while its buildings are 22 m tall. The length of the street is precisely 10 times bigger (220 m). Besides, it looks like there’s just one building on each side of the street, while in reality it’s five different buildings with the same design and a shared façade.

  • Alexander Column in the Palace Square weighs 613 tonnes. It stands under its own weight and took less than 2 hours to get installed. The Column was put in the square in 1834 to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon and was purposefully designed to be taller than the Vendôme Column in Paris. This is the world’s tallest monument among those out of solid granite and third tallest victory column. The column shaft is the tallest and heaviest solid block ever installed as a column or an obelisk and one of the biggest monoliths ever displaced by people (the fifth biggest of all times and the second biggest in modern age – after the Thunder Stone under the Bronze Horseman).

Information portal for tourists

Visit Petersburg is St. Petersburg’s official online guide for tourists, created with the support of the city government. The portal’s NewsEvents, and Leisure sections feature information about festivals, theatre productions, concerts, and exhibitions in St. Petersburg, as well as the latest events in the life of the city. These sections are regularly updated and include information about the city’s cultural life online), which helps tourists get better prepared for their trip to St. Petersburg.

The Routes section includes ideas for themed walking and water tours, as well as routes for tourists who prefer to explore by car or bike. In the Audioguides section you can find guides to some of St. Petersburg’s most popular sights.

Visit Petersburg, a free mobile app is available in Russian and English in App Store and Google Play.

Twelve information centers are located throughout the centre of St. Petersburg and near major transport hubs, with staff on hand to provide useful information about the city, sightseeing, and upcoming events. Here tourists can also find reference materials and brochures about St. Petersburg, as well as tourist maps, and obtain postcards and souvenirs.