The Top 10 Things to Do and See in St Petersburg's Vasilievsky Island

Photo of Marianna Hunt
9 February 2017

On the opposite banks of the Neva River, Vasilievsky Island offers unparalleled views of the tsarist Winter Palace and the glistening dome of St Isaac’s cathedral. Its location, away from tourist traps and the hustle and bustle of Petersburg‘s main streets, lends it peaceful views and tranquil hideaways. Explore the fantastic cultural experiences, breathtaking architecture, and hidden gems of this Russian island.

Vasilievsky Island, St Petersburg | © Larry Koester/Flickr

Walk along the strelka

Vasilievsky Island‘s strelka is the easternmost tip of the island which juts out into the Neva River and is lined by some of St Petersburg‘s oldest and most important buildings. The embankment is bordered by fascinating museums, historic colleges, and fine examples of 18th century architecture. Gazing out over the Neva from this idyllic spot offers panoramic views of the Admiralty, Winter Palace, and St Isaac’s – the city’s most striking landmarks. Enjoy the beauty of St Petersburg from the tranquillity and charm of Vasilievsky Island. Or alternatively: soak up the breathtaking views while enjoying a delicious dinner or cocktail at restaurant Bellini, with its enormous windows and fabulous balcony.

Strelka Vasilyevskogo ostrova, Birzhevaya Ploschad, 4, St Petersburg, Russia

The Rostral Columns

The Rostral columns, dating back to 1810, at the edge of the strelka are an iconic symbol of the city. For over two centuries these monumental landmarks have towered over the island as a celebration of victory over Sweden and the might of the Russian fleet. Their intricate decoration is a sight to behold with statues representing the four great rivers of Russia. These 32m high columns are particularly impressive on public holidays when their beacons are lit and 7m high flames flicker from top. Both these columns and the nearby Old Stock Exchange are wonderful examples of Greek revival architecture that certainly merit a visit.

Strelka Vasilyevskogo ostrova, Rostral Columns, Birzhevaya Ploschad, 4, St Petersburg, Russia

The Kunstkamera

The Kunstkamera museum houses Peter the Great‘s collection of anthropological exhibits and artifacts. The collection is exceptionally diverse, ranging from exhibits on indigenous peoples, to exotic wildlife specimens, to a huge collection of Peruvian watercolor paintings. But the main attraction is the gruesome artifacts that are the result of the tsar’s special interest in deformities. This bizarre museum’s collection therefore houses 300 year old malformed foetuses pickled in jars, skeletons of Siamese twins, deformed preserved animals, the severed human head of a tsarist mistress’s brother, and even the skeleton of Peter the Great’s giant man-servant. Come and peruse the human curiosities of the Kunstkamer, the oldest museum in Russia. Its fabulous Baroque building, constructed in 1714, is itself deserving of a visit.

Kunstkamera, University Embankment 3, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 328-14-12

The Best of St Petersburg’s Food Scene

The fantastic restaurant scene of Vasilievsky Island is certainly capable of rivaling any in the world. Avoid the gimmicky tourist traps and hiked-up prices of the city’s center and discover the hidden unspoiled Russian gems of Vasilievsky Island. The island is known as the place to eat with the locals. Most notable is Café Old Tbilisi: you are unlikely to hear one foreign voice in this local hot-spot, with its unassuming entrance that hides the haven of superb Georgian cookery, considered to be the most authentic in Petersburg. Also worthy of a mention are Staraya Tamozhnaya (The Old Customs House) where diners can enjoy French haute-cuisine of the highest quality and restaurant Dans Le Noir, a unique dining-in-the -dark experience which aims to heighten the other senses and the diner’s perception of their food.

The Raising of the Bridges

Two of St Petersburg’s most famous bridges connect Vasilievsky to the mainland. The humongous Palace Bridge, almost 30 m wide, and Blagoveshchensky Bridge, the first permanent bridge across the Neva, are landmarks in their own right. The Petersburg bridges are drawn up by night and the sight of this ritual raising of the bridges is unmissable for those wishing to gain a true taste of Petersburg life. This activity is most popular during the city’s famous White Nights phenomenon, when Petersburg is bathed in 24-hour sunlight. Special night cruises are organised for the purpose of viewing the bridge raisings. Remember to make sure you’re on the right side of the river and not stranded for the night! A time table of the bridge raisings can be found here.

The raising of Troitsky bridge | © Fotorus/Flickr

Menshikov Palace

This Baroque palace was designed for Grand Prince Menshikov, a close friend of Peter the Great and the first governor of the city. On its completion in 1714 it was the first stone building in St Petersburg and it is the only private structure in the city to have survived from its era. Transformed into a museum, Menshikov palace is linked to St Petersburg’s world-famous Hermitage museum and now houses displays of 18th century art. Lavish interiors, gleaming marble, and a palatial exterior provide awe-inspiring views. The decor has been preserved in its former glory, with many of the Prince’s possessions still on display.

Menshikov Palace, University Embankment 15, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 323-48-00

The Zoological Museum

This museum of natural history is one of the world’s largest and boasts of around 30,000 specimens preserved in many different ways. Highlights include the 27 m long complete blue whale skeleton, dinosaur bones, and the world’s only stuffed mammoth. The museum is almost 200 years old and the collections from the age of expeditions and discovery have earned it an impressive pedigree among the city’s museums. Specimens have been gathered from all four corners of the world with everything from Antarctic penguins to African lions. Come and be amazed by the fascinating diversity of natural life in this engaging museum.

Zoological Museum, University Embankment 1, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 328-03-11

Ancient Egyptian sphinxes

Approximately three thousand years older than the city itself, these colossal granite statues originate from 14th century BC Egypt. They stand guard on either side of the Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, a stunningly palatial building that is one of the earliest examples of Neoclassical architecture. The sphinxes once stood outside Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s tomb in the Alley of the Sphinxes, Egypt. These statues are widely regarded as the some of the best examples of colossal sculpture from the Ancient Egyptian era to be kept outside Egypt outside.

Ancient Egyptian Sphinxes location, University Embankment 17, St Petersburg, Russia

Erarta museum of contemporary art

Restaurant, Russian
Map View
A fairly recent project, Erarta’s extensive collection has already earned itself a prestigious reputation. With over 2,000 exhibits, Erarta is Russia’s largest private museum of modern art. Within merely the first year of its creation the museum was nominated for Russia‘s museum of the year award. The project aims to create a new, more interactive approach to viewing art with the aim of increasing interest in contemporary art. The Erarta stage is an 800-person hall which hosts musical and theatrical performances as well as lectures, fashion shows, and workshops.

St Petersburg State University

Map View
Boasting of famous graduates such as Dmitri Mendeleev, creator of the periodic table, and Vladimirs Lenin and Putin, as well as eight Nobel Prize winners: the University of St Petersburg has a prestigious reputation. One of the oldest and largest universities in Russia, the bulk of the university’s campus is based on Vasilievsky Island. This lends the island an atmosphere of creativity and learning that buzzes with life. Trendy hang-outs, quirky shops, and lively bars, rub shoulders with historic institutions and sweepingly elegant classical-style architecture on the streets of Vasilievsky. Join the student population in one of the local bars to enjoy the animated atmosphere, stimulating conversations, and great music that define them.

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