The Best Free Walking Tour of St Petersburg Russia
Due to the current situation, I advice against travel to St Petersburg and Russia at the moment. All affiliated links related to Russia have been removed. But I have decided to keep my posts about Russia as it remains a beautiful country. I hope that circumstances change and that travel is possible again in the near future.
In this post I will present you a self guided free walking tour of St.Petersburg. The Venice of the north is a huge and beautiful city with a lot of things to see and do. Most visitors are overwhelmed at first and wonder where to start.
This free walking tour of St Petersburg offers you a great introduction to the city and goes through the historic centre of St Petersburg that is a UNESCO world Geritage site. Theregore it is a great way to start your St Petersburg adventures.
The walking tour starts at the Alexander Nevski monastery and then follows the Nevski prospekt all the way to the Hermitage and finally the Peter and Paul fortress. Along the way are some of St Petersburg top attractions and some of the best museums, churches, palaces, canals and bridges.
The total length of this free walking tour of St Petersburg is about 8.5 kilometers, but it can easily take you all day, if not more. It all depends on how many museums you would like to visit or how many churches you want to see from the inside.
I have divided this free walking tour of St Petersburg in 6 different parts so that you can be flexible. If you have limited time I would focus on part 3 to 6. If you have more time, it fits perfectly in a 4 day St Petersburg itinerary, in which case you can spread it out over 2 days.
Walking tour St Petersburg Part 1: Alexander nevski to Ploshchad vosstaniya
2 kilometers – 40 minutes
Alexander Nevski monastery
The St Petersburg walking tour starts at the Alexander Nevski monastery. The Alexander Nevski monastery is the oldest and largest Russian orthodox monastery in St Petersburg. It is a large complex with a cathedral, two churches, a cemetery and a bakery.
It was built by Peter the Great who assumed that this was the location where Prince Alexander Nevski won a battle against the Swedes in 1240. For local people the monastery remains one of the most sacred places in St Petersburg. The graveyards are the final resting place of some famous Russians such as Tchaikovski and Dostoevski.
After exploring the Alexander Nevski monastery you can either walk or take the metro to Ploshchad vosstaniya or uprising square. This large square saw many big protests including the Bolshevik demonstrations that led to the Russian revolution when it received its current name. The Leningrad Hero City obelisk was awarded to St Petersburg on the 40th anniversary of victory day.
Leningrad suffered a lot in the second World war. The siege of Leningrad was the longest and most destructive sieges in history. It started in 1941 and when it was lifted in 1944 more than one million people had died. In 1945 it was the first city to be awarded the title of hero city for its role in the second world war.
Sights: Alexander Nevski monastery, Leningrad the hero city obelisk,
Tip: because there are no major sights on this stretch of the St Petersburg walking tour you can speed up things by taking the metro between the Alexander nevski monastery and ploshchad vosstaniya. St Petersburg metro stations are very beautiful and if you have more time I can recommend my self guided St Petersburg metro tour for another day.
Walking tour St Petersburg Part 2: Ploshchad vosstaniya to Anichkov bridge
1 kilometer – 20 minutes (+ 1 hour to go inside the Fabergé museum)
From Ploshchad vosstaniya the walking tour of St Petersburg continues towards the Anichkov bridge. This is the oldest bridge across the Fontanka river with two horse sculptures on each side.
The bridge was damaged in the second world war when the horses were removed and stored elsewhere to protect them. On one of the horse pedestals you can still see traces of artillery fire. The views on the Fontanka river and Anichkov palace are quite beautiful.
At the Anichkov bridge, you will also find the Shuvalov palace that is now home to the Fabergé museum. This small museum is well worth a visit for its lavish rooms and excellent collection of Faberge jewellery art. Faberge’s unique style was rich in decorations and intricate details. It soon caught the attention of the Royal family who appointed him to be their imperial jeweller.
Most famous are the elaborate Fabergé eggs that the jewellery firm made each year to present to the Tsars during easter. The museum has 9 of them along with other items made for the Romanovs such as clocks, tea sets, silverware etc.
Sights: Anichkov bridge, Anichkov palace, Faberge museum
Tip: Pelmenya is a great place for a morning snack or lunch and one of the best places to try pelmeni or vareniki (russian dumplings)
Walking tour St Petersburg Part 3: Anichkov bridge to Kazanski most
1 kilometer – 30 minutes
After the Anichkov bridge you reach one of the most beautiful parts of this free walking tour of St Petersburg. Here you will find some of the most important buildings dating from the 18th and 19th century. Most of them are in a baroque and classical style architecture that fits well with the elegant bridges.
Catherine Park & Eliseyev’s food hall
After you cross the Anichkov bridge you will have the Catherine park to your left and the Eliseyev’s food hall to your right. Catherine Park is scenic with a statue of Catherine the Great herself and the Alexandrinsky theatre in the back.
The Eliseyev’s food hall is worth a visit for the historic architecture and beautiful Art nouveau interior alone, even if the exclusive delicacies for sale are out of your budget. The stained glass windows will draw your attention immediately, but the beauty also lies in the small details.
Don’t miss the small cat statues outside. They were gifts from a historian in 2000 that made them in honor of a cat that supposedly saved workers from a fire. Elisey sits on a pedestal above the street. Locals throw coins at her and if it stays at the pedestal you will have good luck. At the opposite side of the street is another cat statue called Vasilisi.
Bolshoy Gostiny Dvor
A bit further on the St Petersburg walking tour is the impressive facade of the 18th century Gostiny dvor. Most Russian towns used to have a Gostiny dvor that can be translated as covered bazaar. It was not just a market though, it was also a place where traders and merchants could stay, meet each other and store their wares.
Nowadays, the Bolshoy Gostiny dvor is still one of the main department stores in St Petersburg and a great place to go shopping.
Sights: Catherine the Great park with Catherine the great statue and Alexandrinsky theatre in the back, Eliseyev’s food hall, Bolshoy Gostiny Dvor 18th century trading arcade.
Detour: Church of the savior on the spilled blood and Mikhailovski gardens = 1.2 kilometers – 30 minutes (+ 1 hour to go inside the church and gardens + 3 – 4 hours to see the Russian Museum)
Church of the savior on the spilled blood
Once you reach the Kazansky bridge it is possible to make a small detour to the church of the savior on the spilled blood. Despite its appearance, this is a relatively new church. However, its design was made with ancient Russian architecture in mind.
It was built in the early 20th century on the location where Tsar Alexander the Second was killed in 1888. It is worth visiting inside for the lavish decorations containing paintings and mosaics with scenes from the bible.
Behind the church you will find the Mikhailovski garden and the Mikhailovsky palace that is home to the Russian Museum. The gardens are not too big and therefore it is a great place for a small break.
Tip: if you haven’t had lunch yet, Stolovaya no 1 or marketplace are great places to have lunch on a budget. Both are self service buffet style with lots of choice. Choose Stolovaya if you want the cheapest option or Russian food. Market place is slightly more expensive, but has international options as well.
Walking tour St Petersburg Part 4: Kazansky bridge to Hermitage
1 kilometer – 30 minutes
At Kazansky bridge it is hard to miss the huge Kazan cathedral. It is dedicated to our lady of Kazan, one of the most sacred icons in the Russian orthodox church. The design was inspired by the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the bronze doors by the Baptistery in Florence.
The building was meant to impress people with its size. The interior is like a big hall with columns on each side. Look closely and you will see there are numerous sculptures as well as icon paintings to look at. Just opposite the Kazan cathedral is the beautiful Singer building that now houses a large book store worth a quick visit.
Now continue the St Petersburg walking tour towards the Moika river for a beautiful view of the Stroganov palace. This baroque building is one of the few to keep its original appearance. It belonged to the rich Stroganov family that fled Russia after the Russian revolution.
Admiralty & Hermitage
From here you will already see the golden spire of the Admiralty building, the former headquarters of the Russian imperial navy. Just next to the Admiralty lies the winter palace square, home to the Hermitage. One of the largest museums in this world and that requires a full day to see. Therefore I suggest that on this St Petersburg walking tour you enjoy its beauty from the outside on the winter palace square
Sights: Singer building with bookstore, Stroganov palace, Admiralty, Winter palace square
Tip: Shtolle is a great place for an afternoon snack and the best place to try Russian pastries with both sweet and savoury fillings.
Detour: St Isaac cathedral – 1.2 kilometers – 30 minutes (+ 30 minutes to go inside the church)
St Isaac cathedral
Before you reach the Admiralty it is possible to make a small detour to the St Isaac Cathedral. the biggest cathedral in St Petersburg dedicated to Saint Isaac, the patron saint of Peter the Great. It was tsar Alexander the first that wanted to have a large cathedral, but there were concerns about the unstable soil. Construction took 40 years and the foundation was strengthened with more than 25,000 piles.
In Soviet times the church became a museum of the history of religion and atheism. It has remained a museum ever since, nowadays mostly showcasing its lavish interior and golden dome with angels.
Plans to give the cathedral back to the Russian orthodox church met with protests from citizens that want to keep it as a museum. The Russian Orthodox Church itself also hasn’t claimed it back yet. Church services are only held in a small chapel on the left side of the cathedral.
Walking tour St Petersburg Part 5: Hermitage to Vasiliyevski island
1 kilometer – 30 minutes (+ 3 – 4 hours to visit Kunstkamera)
We now leave the Nevski prospekt behind us on this walking tour of St Petersburg and cross the palace bridge to Vasiliyevski island. From the palace bridge you will have beautiful views over the Neva River and the winter palace. Palace bridge is considered one of the most beautiful bridges in St Petersburg and in summer it is a major event to see them opening up at night to let ships pass through.
Vasiliyevski island is one of the oldest parts of St Petersburg. Peter the Great initially wanted this to be the center of his new capital and build several important buildings here such as the state university and the stock market. His successors found it more practical to stay on the mainland and didn’t develop the island further, but it remains a historically important part of the city.
From the Strelka you will have more beautiful views over the Neva and the skyline of St Petersburg. If you have time, consider a visit to Kunstkamera. The Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography was the very first museum in Russia. It was established by Peter the Great who wanted to learn more about humans and the world. He consequently collected more than 2 million items.
Besides the regular cultural exhibitions, there is also a section of the museum focused on natural curiosities. For this collection, Peter the great acquired several human and animal fetuses with abnormalities. He displayed them as accidents of nature to discourage superstitious beliefs.
Sights: Palace bridge, Kunstkamera, Strelka
Walking tour St Petersburg Part 6: Vasiliyevski island to Peter and Paul Fortress
1 kilometer – 20 minutes
Peter and Paul fortress
On this last part of the St Petersburg walking tour we cross the Birzjevoy bridge and head straight to the Peter and Paul fortress. The citadel was the first thing to be built by Peter the Great to protect his new capital against attacks from the Swedes. It was later notorious for its prison where the Romanovs kept political prisoners in harsh conditions. The fort also had its own cathedral where most of the Romanovs are buried.
Sights: Birzjevoy most, Peter and Paul fortress
Tip: It is a bit expensive, but Koryushka is a great place to sit down for a drink and enjoy the beautiful views over the Neva river and the Winter palace
More St Petersburg
This free walking tour of St Petersburg is just the beginning of everything there is to do in St Petersburg. For more inspiration, especially in winter, I can recommend my St Petersburg travel guide or these useful travel tips for Saint Petersburg.
If you are also going to Moscow you can also check out my self guided free walking tour of Moscow.
Where to stay in St Petersburg
Hostel 1703: Hostel 1703 is a great hostel in the center of St Petersburg with female only and male only dormitories
Whisper hostel: Whisper Hostel is a new budget hostel with great dormitories including female only and male only if you prefer. A bit further from the center than hostel 1703, but it is close to a metro station.
Like hostel: Like hostel is a good hostel near the Mariinsky theatre and Nikolski cathedral. It has both private rooms and dormitories.
Pension Marlen: Pension Marlen has excellent private rooms for very reasonable prices, especially considering its central location near the Mikhailovski gardens.
Disclaimer: This post with a free walking tour St Petersburg contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!
Due to the current situation in Ukraine all affiliated links related to Russia have been removed