A visit to the Petrogradsky District must start with the Peter and Paul Fortress, the place where the first brick of St Petersburg was laid. The fortress was once the stronghold of the city and also served as a political prison and torture chamber (the latter can still be admired at a permanent exhibition). The centre of the fortress now is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, which is the final resting place of the whole Romanov dynasty, including the last Tsar who was assassinated with his family following the Revolution.
Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 (812) 230-64-31
This museum is housed in the former residence of famous ballerina and lover of Tsar Nicholas II, Mathilde Kschessinska. After the Revolution, she fled the country to France, and her luxurious home was taken over by the Bolsheviks. Lenin himself set up an office here and gave speeches from the balcony of the mansion. Its history made it the perfect location for a museum, and the venue proudly takes visitors through a detailed account of Russia’s twentieth century. This is a real treat for history junkies.
The Leningrad Zoo may not attract visitors with an astonishing animal collection, but it does attract with its history. It is still the only zoo in the city and one of the oldest in all of Russia. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the zoo has remained operational, even during the multi-year Siege of Leningrad. The zookeepers managed to keep the animals healthy and happy and even care for the young during the siege winters, when food and water were scarce. To honour the heroism of these workers, the zoo still holds the name of Leningrad even after the city adopted the name St Petersburg.
Leningrad Zoo, 1 Aleksandrovsky Park, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 (812) 232-82-60
These botanical gardens are considered to be among the oldest in the whole country. It was first ordered by Peter the Great, a few years after founding the city, that a garden was to be set up for the purpose of growing medicinal herbs. The garden continued to grow and was utilized by scientists specialising in botany. Room was also left for growing decorative plants. Over the centuries the collection has grown, and now there are numerous galleries of curious plants to be viewed. Even for those not particularly passionate about gardening, these gardens make for a pleasant stroll.
A passerby may not give this small, two-story building a second glance. What resembles more of a modest home is, in fact, the cabin of Peter the Great and the first building erected in St Petersburg. The cabin was built in the three days leading up to the founding of the city and served as the tsar’s residence as he oversaw the construction of his new capital. Inside you can find artifacts of that era and the personal belongings of Peter the Great.
Cabin of Peter the Great, 6 Petrovskaya Embankment, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 (812) 595-42-48
Stepping aboard the Aurora battleship is like stepping aboard history. This majestic cruiser lived through both the Russo-Japanese War, the Second World War and took part in the October Revolution. The ship recently underwent extensive restoration work and was returned to the city in 2016. It is open as a museum where visitors can explore all the decks and learn about the historical events that this vessel has been a part of.
Cruiser Aurora, Petrogradksaya embankment, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 (812) 303-85-13
This mosque is the largest of its kind in Europe (if you don’t count Turkey as Europe), and is fairly impressive. It is also the only mosque in St Petersburg hosting many worshippers during religious celebrations. The mosque was first opened at the start of the twentieth century when St Petersburg saw a growing Muslim population. The Soviet authorities closed the mosque in 1940 using it as a storehouse for medical equipment. It was returned to the religious community in 1956 and restoration work was carried out in the 1980s. This building is a true wonder as both the exterior and the interior are decorated in beautiful calligraphy and covered in mosaic ceramics.
St Petersburg Mosque, 7 Kronverkskiy prospekt, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 (812) 233-98-19