St Petersburg is one of the most popular cities to visit in Russia. Built along the Neva River, it is a modern city, fusing elements of east and west. Home to grand palaces, historic museums and world-famous art galleries, the city is a truly wonderful place to explore. Some of the most popular attractions are the various churches and cathedrals which are scattered around St Petersburg, because each has its own character and charm. Stunning architecture and rich histories combine to make them well worth visiting. In this article, we’ll show you five of the best cathedrals and churches in St Petersburg. We’ll also provide you with some handy information about getting to them and about entrance fees, where applicable.
1. St. Isaac’s Cathedral
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the four largest domed churches in the world, along with St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Florence. The church has been rebuilt several times and is now reinforced with solid materials to ensure the current version withstands the test of time.
The interior of the church is beautiful. In addition to the gorgeous frescoes and amazing wall reliefs, there are stunning columns with deep blue Lapis Lazuli stone and malachite. This vibrant colour brightens the entire church and makes visiting it a dazzling experience.
Climbing to the top of St Isaac’s Cathedral isn’t an easy job, but it is well worth it for the vistas from the viewing platform. A narrow spiral staircase winds for 562 steps up to the top, from where you’ll be able to see the Gulf of Finland and most of St Petersburg’s main attractions on a clear day.
Transportation: Metro to Admiralteyskaya station
Admission: 250 rubles for adults, but there is a charge of 300 rubles for a tour up to the dome
Opening hours: Thursday to Tuesday 10:30 – 18:00, closed on Wednesday
2. Kronstadt Naval Cathedral
Kronstadt is a beautiful Russian port city located in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. It is 48 km away from the city centre but is well worth a visit if you’re staying in St Petes. Different to some of the region’s other churches and cathedrals, the white and gold exterior of the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral is fresh and romantic. Many local people get married here, and you will often be able to see wedding parties snapping photos outside. There is a large memorial square in front of the cathedral, which is perfect for enjoying the view.
The cathedral is crowned with a stunning golden dome, but many of its design elements are related to the sea and the navy, with ship-shaped lights, anchor-shaped patterns on the ground floor and depictions of sea creatures all reflecting the military port style of the cathedral. It was completed in 1913 as the main church for the Russian Navy, dedicated to fallen seamen. It was closed in 1929 but once again operates as a cathedral today.
The entire cathedral is quite dark, and it is possible to see the nuns pray in front of the portrait of Our Lady, kissing the edge of the portrait with their hands and giving the impression of great piety.
Transportation: The cathedral is located quite far from the city centre, so taxi is probably the best option
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 09:00 – 19:00
3. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is famous because it is the St Petersburg equivalent to Moscow‘s St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. The gilded “onion head” domes are famous all over the world because of their amazing colour, which radiates around the entire area of the church.
Although this church isn’t as tall as some of the others in the city, the ceilings stretch up very high. And the radiance of the church from the outside is magnified further by its location next to the Griboyedov Canal. On a sunny day, you’ll be able to see the reflection of the church in the water, which is a mesmerizing spectacle.
The interior is home to mosaic puzzles and frescoes which depict scenes and stories from the Bible. When you visit the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood with On The Go Tours, your English-speaking local guide will be able to explain these to you in detail.
Transportation: Metro to Nevsky Prospekt
Admission: 250 rubles for adults, but admission is free for those under 7 years old
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 10:30 – 18:00 (Closed on Wednesday)
4. Smolny Cathedral
Smolny Cathedral is a beautiful sky blue building, originally built as an Orthodox nunnery. It is surrounded by a complex of buildings which were originally planned as a convent, but the cathedral is the magnificent centrepiece. The entire complex was designed by the Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. His other work includes the masterful Winter Palace and the ornate Catherine Palace, also in St Petersburg.
The inside of the church isn’t quite a match for the exterior because Rastrelli fell from favour before he had a chance to finish the work. So, the inside is a rather plain white, although restoration work in recent years has improved things. If you’d like to climb the 277 steps to the top of the cathedral’s Bell Tower then you are able to enjoy wonderful views over the surrounding area.
Transportation: Metro to Chernyshevsky station
Admission: Free, though there is a charge for climbing the Bell Tower
Opening hours: 11:00 – 19:00, closed every Wednesday
5. Peter and Paul Cathedral
The Peter and Paul Cathedral is the dominant building in the impenetrable Peter and Paul Fortress. This was St Petersburg’s original citadel and has never been conquered in its history. It is an early baroque cathedral, not as impressive visually as others on this list, but culturally and historically important to Russians and travellers alike. The majority of the country’s former rulers are buried here, including tsars such as Alexander II and Nicholas II, who was finally laid to rest many years after his brutal 1918 execution at the hands of the Bolsheviks.
As well as the cathedral, the Peter and Paul Fortress is made up of a fortress, prison, and bell tower. The cathedral dates back to 1712 and is one of St Petersburg’s oldest buildings. The interior is modestly decorated, with copper-plated and tinted crystal chandeliers, exquisite wood carvings, gorgeous patterns on the vaulted ceiling and paintings on the windows. By far the main attraction are the royal tombs. All but two of the country’s Romanov rulers are buried here.
Transportation: Metro to Gorkovskaya station
Admission: 330 rubles for adults and 210 rubles for students in the cathedral
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10:00 – 19:00, Sunday 11:00 – 18:45
Visiting these churches in St Petersburg
Many of the churches and cathedrals in this article can be visited on one of On The Go Tours’ Russia trips. They also take in the other highlights of St Petersburg, and the wonderful cities of Moscow, Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and the rural gems of the Golden Ring.
If you are planning a trip to Russia from the USA and need to procure a visa, then why not visit Visa Express to obtain your Russian tourist visa.
Francis Dimaano is a freelance writer and an Info-Tech graduate student. When he’s not writing, Francis spends time reading books, volunteering and travelling around Europe and Asia.