Although Moscow now serves as Russia’s political center, St. Petersburg is still considered the country’s cultural capital. Art enthusiasts will have no difficulty finding world-class museums, theaters, and churches to explore whilst visiting this historic, storied city. Here are a few of the must-see attractions visitors have to add to their St. Petersburg itinerary.
1. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Top Pick: Russia's Realist Masterpieces
The most famous painting in the museum’s collection is artist Ilya Repin’s Barge Haulers on the Volga. Completed in 1873, this huge oil on canvas received mixed response at the Vienna World Exhibition but now remains one of the most famous paintings on social injustice.
Another masterpiece by Repin at the State Museum is his portrait of author Leo Tolstoy. It took Repin an entire decade to complete this painting of the novelist behind War & Peace.
2. State Hermitage Museum
Top Pick: The Largest Vase in The Largest Museum
The museum is particularly famous for its feline residents. Approximately 70 cats live and ‘work’ in the museum as official rodent catchers, and there is a whole department of the museum dedicated to caring for its four-legged population.
As well as trying to spot the museum's furry residents, you have to see the massive Kolyvan vase (1843), which was carved out of three jasper stones. Weighing almost 20 tons, this impressive work of Russian stone cutting took workers at least 14 years to complete.
3. Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art
Top Pick: Creative Cartoons on Contemporary Art
To help make art more engaging for a wider audience, Erarta has collaborated with animators Dmitry Visotskiy and Andrey Sikorskiy on a cartoon called “The Adventures of BB Square.” In this cute and colorful series, Malevich's Black Square, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Vincent Van Gogh, and more artistic masterpieces literally spring to life.
In addition to exploring art history, “The Adventures of BB Square” demonstrates how art can be used to address a wide range of contemporary issues.
4. Mariinsky Theater
Top Pick: The Epicenter of Russian Ballet
Although Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was first performed in Moscow in 1877, most people associate this famous ballet with the Mariinsky. Choreographers at Mariinsky heavily edited Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and presented it to great acclaim in 1895. This revised version of Swan Lake is the one more commonly performed today.
5. Street Art Museum
Top Pick: The Art of Russia’s Youth
Recent exhibitions at the Street Art Museum explored complex issues such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the migration crisis. One representative work exploring the complexity of globalized immigration is Kirill Kto’s colorful mural Incomprehensible.
6. Church of the Savior on Blood
Top Pick: St. Petersburg’s Most Sacred Spot
Sometimes called the “Museum of Mosaics,” the Church of the Savior on Blood contains 7,500 square meters of Biblical mosaics on the church’s walls and ceilings.
7. Russian Museum of Ethnography
Top Pick: Celebrating Diversity in Central Asia
The most famous room in the Russian Museum of Ethnography is the stunning marble hall, which contains a 96-meter long bas-relief championing Russia’s ethnic diversity.
When Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg, he hoped his city would become a cultural capital on par with the great sites of Western Europe. Today, nobody doubts St. Petersburg’s role as one of the greatest artistic cities in the world.