Take the road (or canal) less travelled in St. Petersburg and discover what Russia’s second capital has to offer
While St. Petersburg has no shortage of impressive sights – it is, after all, Russia’s cultural mecca – there are a few specialty spots that remain a little more under the radar, and reveal much about the city’s tumultuous, fascinating history.
Swing by the underrated Kolomna District – a beautiful remnant of the city’s old Jewish Quarter – or check out a Soviet-era doughnut shop, the Psyhechnaya Donut Bar, a beloved local favourite, for coffee and a snack.
Literature nerds should seek out the collection of Vladimir Nabokov’s butterflies, tour locations from Tolstoy’s novels, or the Dostoyevsky Literary Memorial Museum housed in the late writer’s flat.
Here, a few of our picks:
1. Cabin of Peter the Great
The oldest building in the city is largely considered to be the diminutive Cabin of Peter the Great, which is a modest wooden izba (country house) originally constructed for the tsar. It was eventually protected with a red brick outer layer by order of Peter himself, to preserve the home in memory of his humble roots. It was from this small summer home that Peter oversaw some of the city’s greatest construction projects.
2. Summer Garden
Another of Peter’s favourite projects, the Summer Garden is located on a small island among the city’s canals. Peter built the garden in 1704, but over the years, it has been enhanced by international experts like the Dutch garden designer Jan Roosen, and French architect Jean-Baptiste Le Blonde. The garden is home to some of Russia’s finest statuary and fountains – the latter are said to be the oldest in the country.
3. Fields of Mars
Marsovo Polye wasn’t named for the planet, but for the Roman god of war, because of its role as a military parade and training ground in the 18th century, and later, as a burial site and memorial for 1917 revolutionaries. In the following century, the park reverted back to civilian use, hosting small markets and leisure activities for the city’s residents. When St. Petersburg underwent the Siege of Leningrad, the field functioned as a wartime vegetable garden. It is one of the oldest sites in the city, almost as old as the city itself. The park is also home to Russia’s first Eternal Flame, which burns in honour of those lost in the revolutionary war.
4. Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood
In March 1881, along the emperor’s usual Sunday route on Gribodev Canal, revolutionary terrorists from the organisation Narodnaya Volya or The People’s Will attacked his carriage with bombs. The emperor was brought to the Winter Palace, where he succumbed to his extensive injuries. Eventually, a permanent memorial was constructed in the form of the mosaic-filled Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, which stylistically echoes the exterior of Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral; inside the distinct onion-domed building is a ciborium (a type of church canopy) placed over the exact spot where he fell – the floor features the original cobblestoned street.
This is one of the most elaborate and classically romantic churches in the city, and has undergone extensive restoration work.