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Inhabitants of St Petersburg proudly call their city the cultural capital of Russia. And rightly so – St Petersburg was the centre of court life for most of the imperial rule, and remains an important centre for the arts. If you’re an art lover planning a trip to Russia, check out our need-to-know guide.
The Hermitage remains an unrivalled art collection in Russia. Millions upon millions of exhibits are displayed in the halls of the former Winter Palace imperial residence. The collection features the works of many famous artists, including Da Vinci, Titian, and Rembrandt among others. Many rooms boast an exquisite interior and impressive decorations, such as a hall with an exact replica of the Raphael Loggias in the Vatican. The slightly overwhelming collection is arranged according to time period and country of origin – although there is little chance you’ll see it all in one go, the two best options are either to take a highlights tour (recommended for first-time visitors), or to focus on a few schools of art that interest you most.
Insider tip: During the summer, the queue tends to get crowded at the start of the day. The best time to visit is in the evening, after lunchtime, or even after dinner if you come on a Wednesday, when the museum is open until 9pm. The latter is also a good time to visit as the famous peacock clock, an engineering marvel, is put into action at 7pm every Wednesday.
2 Palace Square, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 710 90 79
The Russian Museum
The Russian Museum, as the name suggest, is dedicated solely to the works of Russian artists. It is the perfect place to get acquainted with the national art with works dating back to the 10th century. Some of the famous artists to look out for here are Aivazovsky, Repin, Kustodiev, and Brullov among others. The main collection is located in the former Mikhailovsky Palace, but the Russian Museum also includes a number of exhibition grounds around the city, many situated in former royal residences. These usually host temporary exhibitions as well as visiting collections from overseas museums. The best place to look out for them is on the website.
Insider tip: As with any museum, the best time to go is in the evening, or later on in the day when the crowds have died down. The museum is open late on Thursdays – it’s also good to be aware that unlike many museums that are closed on a Monday, the Russian Museum is closed on a Tuesday, so visiting here on Monday may be a good choice when all other museums are shut.
4 Inzhenernaya Street, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 595 42 48
General Staff Building
The General Staff Building is located just in front of the Winter Palace on Palace Square. The building was used to house ministries and government offices in the past, and now the extensive collection of modern art has been moved from the Hermitage into the building. The permanent exhibition includes works of Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Matisse to name a few.
Insider tip: A ticket to the Hermitage includes a visit to the General Staff Building on the same day. The entrance to the museum is located on the left-hand side of the curved building, if facing from Palace Square.
6/8 Dvortsovaya Square, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 495 71 71
This establishment has existed since the start of the 19th century. It was considered one of the best bakeries in the city, and was frequented by big names in literature such as Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Lermontov. The café maintains a 19th century interior and has an artsy vibe that has been preserved over the centuries.
Insider tip: There is a wax figure of poet Pushkin sitting at one of the tables – climb the stairs to pay him a visit.
18 Nevsky Avenue, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 312 35 50
Stray Dog Café
This café was one of the centres of the literary movement during the Silver Age of Russian poetry, from the end of the 19th century through the first few decades of the 20th century. This meeting place was operational between 1911 and 1915 and among its patrons were Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakovsky. Anna Akhmatova even mentioned this café in some of her poems, as a place where she met with her friends and found inspiration.
4 Italyanskaya Street, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 312 80 47
Erarta is one of the largest privately-owned spaces for contemporary art in St Petersburg. The permanent collection brings together the works of over 250 artists from around the country. There is also an continuously changing selection of temporary exhibitions. The rooms of Erarta also host intimate concerts of Russian artists coming from all sorts of backgrounds.
2 29th Line of Vasilievsky Island, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 324 08 09
Marina Gisich Gallery
Established almost twenty years ago, the Marina Gisich Gallery has become an important instrument in promoting contemporary Russian art. The gallery works towards supporting upcoming Russian artists and collaborates with galleries overseas to bring their work abroad.
121 Fontanka River Embankment, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 314 43 80
EM restaurant brings art onto the plate. Everything on the menu of this establishment is made from scratch right in the open AGA kitchen in the hall of the restaurant. The building that now houses EM is also historically significant to the city. It was originally built as the home of a Russian prince, and later was used to be a secret meeting place for the Decembrist groups in the 19th century. The restaurant managed to restore the room while keeping as much of the original decor as possible.
84 Moyka River Embankment, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 921 960 21 77
Cococo provides a new outlook on traditional Russian cuisine. The dishes are all experimental, but pay special attention to the use of fresh produce from local farms. The menu changes throughout the year to adapt to the availability of products, but stays true to the principle of fresh ingredients. The interior also doesn’t disappoint – modern with an obvious Russian influence, thought through to the smallest detail.
6 Voznesensky Avenue, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 418 20 60