It would probably take a decade to see every work of art in St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum. The collection is enormous – over three million items from throughout the world – and spans history from Ancient Egypt through the early 20th century. But it’s not just what’s inside the Hermitage that is so intriguing. The museum itself is its own collection: A large complex of six historic buildings along the Palace Embankment, including its biggest attraction, the Winter Palace.

The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace was the main residence of the Russian Tsars starting in the 1760s. Built in the lavash Baroque style for Empress Elizabeth, its rooms are grand, pastel painted and glowingly gilded. It’s a stunning backdrop for viewing the renowned works of art, and the best way to hone in on the highlights is with a guide who can get you past the long ticket line and weave your way through the dazzling display.

Winter Palace Jordan Staircase at the Hermitage Saint Petersburg - the modern postcard
Looking up from the Jordan Staircase at the Winter Palace.
Winter Palace Jordan Staircase
 Jordan Staircase detail.
Winter Palace Pavilion Hall
Pavilion Hall in the Winter Palace.
Hermitage Museum Courtyard
This perfectly manicured courtyard at the Hermitage could have been one of the paintings!
St. Petersburg Palace Square
View of Palace Square from a second floor window at the Hermitage.
New Hermitage Stairs
The New Hermitage Grand Staircase.
Hermitage Blue
This Wedgwood blue room reminded me of icing on a cake!

A Fairy Tale Lunch

After a full morning of da Vinci, Monet and Michelangelo, we were ready for a lunch break. Our guide Eugenia from Anastasia Travel had made reservations at a charming café called Masha and Bear, which she told us is a Russian version of The Three Bears. She said she also thought it was an appropriate place for us because Masha is a Russian name for Mary!

St. Petersburg’s Masha and Bear Cafe.
We were served salad, bread and borscht, surrounded by a woodsy fairy tale motif!

Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood

Our afternoon was devoted to St. Petersburg’s grand cathedrals. Our first stop was The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. Constructed between 1883 and 1907, it was closed by the Bolsheviks in the 1930s and later underwent 30 years of restoration before reopening in 1997.

Spilled Blood Exterior
Exterior of The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood.
Spilled Blood Domes2
The design was heavily influenced by the architecture of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

Inside, the walls and ceilings are completely covered in more than 7,500 meters of intricately detailed mosaics. The mosaic pictures were designed to look like paintings and are framed with patterned borders that also are mosaics.

Spilled Blood Interior
From a distance, it was impossible to tell that the paintings were actually mosaics.

Spilled Blood Doors

Spilled Blood Shrine
A shrine marks the spot where Tsar Alexander II was fatally wounded. Four columns of gray violet jasper serve as the base.
Spilled Blood Dome
The light-filled dome created an other-worldly feel, illuminating the surrounding mosaics.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral

The final stop of the day was St. Isaac’s Cathedral and another mosaic-filled world. St. Isaac’s was completed over a period of 40 years, starting in 1818, and is the fourth largest cathedral in the world.

St. Isaac's Cathedral St. Petersburg
Twenty-four statues stand on the roof, and another twenty-four are on top of the rotunda.
St. Isaac's Cathedral St. Petersburg.
The Cathedral features 112 red granite Corinthian columns.
St. Isaac's Dome2
View of the beautiful dome as we walked toward it…
St. Isaac's Dome1
…unaware that something would appear in the dark center…
St. Isaac's Dove
…a dove of peace.

Back outside, we were at the end of our tour. Before returning to the ship, we stopped at several shops, with Eugenia serving as our interpreter and pricing guide. That night at dinner, we opened the bottle of Russian champagne that Anastasia Travel had given us in honor of my birthday, sharing it with friends at the next table as we exchanged stories and toasted St. Petersburg. I’m not sure if it was the extraordinary beauty or the historical perspective or simply the reality of being somewhere I had never imagined I would be, but our brief time in Russia was one of those travel experiences that has stayed with me long after the trip has ended.


  • I have really enjoyed reading your blog. I’ll be taking a Baltic cruise this summer with my family. This has been so helpful. Your writing is so clear and your positive energy shines through. I love your photographs. I can only hope the skies are as blue for us. As a travel guide this was such a big help. I got a real sense about how much is reasonable to plan for a day and seeing the other tourists in the pictures, reminded me to be realistic about crowds.

    Thanks again for putting your work out there to share. Sue

    • Sue, thank you so much for your kind words! I really appreciate the feedback, and I’m happy to know that the blog has been helpful. You will love the Baltic ports – especially sharing the adventures with your family. Wishing you happy travels and blue skies!

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