Built, thought and kept as the symbol of Russia’s europeanness, St Petersburg has always been completely different from Moscow. Indeed, St Petersburg emerged under the Romanov, following the dream of Peter the Great, as the capital of a Russian Empire expanding towards the East but living and thinking as a European power. That’s why St-Petersburg, despite not being similar to any city in the world, tends to be considered as a European one. This is mainly due to its Italian-styled palaces and church. But above all, the atmosphere of St Petersburg reminds every visitor that Peter the Great’s city is and remains a city of culture and arts.
One would think that “Peter” (as called in Russian) is a ghost city all about past and faded imperial dreams. But this is a mistake.
First because despite having been the capital city of the Russian Empire, St Petersburg isn’t so old. Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, the city therefore only has 3 centuries. Which is why all the stunning sights such as the Peter and Paul fortress, all the impressive cathedrals such as St Isaac and Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood, and all the marvellous palaces have a sweet taste of historical modernity.
Second because St Petersburg has always been and remains today probably more than ever a city for and of the intelligentsia, prompt to expend new artistic and intellectual trends. That’s why if visiting the Hermitage is a must-do, looking for new places, such as the newly opened New Holland, is also a good one!
Moscow and St-Petersburg are big cities with cars and peoples everywhere. Noises, grey buildings, pollution, crowds are all usual aspects of living in a city. Moreover, being an inhabitant or a tourist, you spend your days walking (if not running) in city centers, public transports and famous sights. So why not taking a deep and relaxing breath in one of Moscow and St Petersburg’s amazing parks? Indeed these two cities hosts absolutely stunning parks and gardens that you must have a walk in!
Gorky Park (Moscow)
My favorite so far…and all year around! In winter (i.e almost all the time) Gorky park, covered of snow (and ice), is magical. For the time of a walk you’re escaping Moscow city center and enjoy a timeless moment in a snowy and welcoming forest. But above all, in winter Gorky park allows you to walk along the iced Moskva river, which is absolutely priceless (and freezing). Hopefully there is also lots of caffé and restaurants! When summer finally comes out of the corner, Gorky park becomes more crowded than the Red Square but the friendly atmosphere (and the sun!) worths the walk…or ride one of the available bikes! And when fall arrives, Gorky park wears is absolutely stunning orange and yellow outfits which makes you understand why Russians call autumn the “golden season”.
VDNKh Park (Moscow)
As Gorki park, the VDNKh Park has the greatness of being interesting all year around. Which to be honest is not a small thing when you try to go outside during a fierce winter. The VDNKh park was a an exhibition center to show the efficiency of the Soviet economy. That’s why today VDNKh is more of a recreational complex attracting thousands of people each year. It’s one of Moscow’s most famous and popular park mainly due to its skating-rink in winter, the largest of Russia, and its pavillons, celebrating the USSR glories.
Teply Stan Park (Moscow)
Huge landscape reserve located south of Moscow, the Teply Stan Park is a famous and very popular park in Moscow. Preserved as a mixed Russian forest, it offers to its visitors some very needed fresh air. It also takes you to typical Russian woods, and allows you to, for a day, feel somewhere else…which is a relief when you’ve been staying in Moscow for a while. But more, in the Teply Stan Park you can walk alongside it’s tiny river, rest near its pound, discover the paleontological institute or even, in summer, go sailing! And who doesn’t like to pretend to be a pirate?
Sokolniki park is one of the oldest park in Moscow and one of the largest in Europe (of course). Sokolniki park is considered as one of the oldest park in Moscow because before being a public one, it was a hunting ground for Princes and Tsars. A bit later it became a traditional meeting point for gatherings and festive events. The park benefited from public founding which gave Sokolniki a new youth. Currently the park is divided in 9 sectors, each hosting pavillons and a specific biodiversity. Plus, if you’re kind of a bird-fanatic (aka amateur ornithologists) Sokolniki park also has an ornitary with exotic birds to admire!
Neskuchny Garden (Moscow)
Another “one of the +superlative” park in Moscow (ie one of the oldest). Neskuchny Garden is located closer to the city center than the previous ones. In line with the famous Gorky park, the Neskuchny Garden is beautiful (especially in autumn). You should go there. It’s great. And beautiful.
Botanical Garden (St-Petersburg)
Being the oldest botanical garden of Russia (seriously, again?), the Botanical Garden of St-Petersburg is now quite significant and hosts numerous plants. It first has been used as the Tsar Apothecary’s Garden, but later transformed in a center for horticultural research. As a result you can explore charming indoor and outdoor gardens and learn more about various plants and biodiversities.
Yusupov Garden (St-Petersburg)
St Petersburg is a lot about canals, tiny streets and palaces. But as a result there isn’t much of green spaces to chill, play or picnic on. That’s why the Yusupov Garden is very popular and important. Located in St-Petersburg city center, the Yusupov garden was a significant part of the Yusupov Palace and so remains today a piece of history. This gem really worth the visit and you definitely have to take time to picnic in this imperial garden!
Summer Garden (St-Petersburg)
St-Petersburg’s summer garden comes straight from the Imperial Russian standards of the 18th century. Similar to French gardens of that time, the Summer Garden has been built on geometrical principles. It also hosts many marble statues representing antic subjects, fountains and rare plants. The summer garden is a real breath of fresh air in the city!
Pavlovsk Palace’s park (St-Petersburg)
The Pavlovsk Palace’s park is a famous park close to the city. I already wrote a lot about it but this park worth the visit (even more than the Palace itself?). Stroll along the tree-lined avenues of this English park, and enjoy the various pavilions dotting it, and be transported to the Imperial Russia!
Tips: take a good camera and you’ll manage to shoot stunning pics of the park and the palace
Tavrichesky park (St-Petersburg)
As the Pavlovsk Palace’s park, the Tavrichesky park is an English-style park…but in the city center! Built by Catherine the Great around the Tavrichesky manor, it includes pavillons, greenhouses (to take care of rare and uncommon plants) and ponds. It’s a famous park for those who (unlike me) spend their weekends playing chess or doing sport!
We know you, you’re in Moscow and Petersburg for few days and you want to come back home with pictures to brag about. Don’t worry follow this list and in two days you’ll be able to see everything that matters to the eyes of those you’ll tell your travel about!
Obviously the first one can’t not be the Kremlin and the Red Square. But to be fair, it’s always something when you arrive on this famous place. We you stand in the middle of the Red-Square, St Basil in front of you and the Kremlin on your right, you truly realize where you are. This place is the place of all fantasizes and it’s definitely the place you want to be when traveling in Russia (well not so long because in winter it’s really cold).
The Hermitage is another place to be/go when traveling to Russia. For the sweet taste of imperial Russia or its marvelous cats, you have to go to the Hermitage! The Hermitage will help you in showing to Janet from the accounting that you experienced all facets of Russia. On the plus side, the Hermitage is big and hot, so perfect to protect you from Petersburg freakily cold winter.
The Tretyakov Gallery is a world-known museum that has the advantage of presenting an insight on every Russian schools of art. In a single museum you’ll be able to discover the Russian art from its beginning to the revolution of 1917. Icons, portraits, landscapes and masterpieces from Russian famous artists are all in this museum. So if you manage it well, you’ll be able to pretend that you visited a dozen of museums while travelling in Russia!
In case Janet isn’t impressed by the Hermitage, show her some pictures of Peterhof. Peter the Great’s palace is kind of a Russian Versailles (where Janet spent an hour of her honeymoon) created to astonish visitors from all over the world. If you want a tip, go there in summer when the palace shines and the fountains are working and purposely spray water on visitors (the cold water will calm down your children).
Walk in St-Petersburg’s city center (St-Petersburg)
Petersburg is wonderful city to walk through. Along the canals and the palaces, you’ll be able to shoot a city between West Europe and Russia, with great colors and amazing buildings from the XIXth and XXth centuries. More, you’ll find many great places to eat and drink. And because the exception doesn’t make the rule, St-Petersburg’s city center is small so easily done by foot!
Did you know? Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood isn’t an usual church (despite its name) but rather a memorial! Do you struggle identifying Church on the Savior on Blood and Saint Basil’s Cathedral? Well, no worries, in fact the architecture of the first mentioned was inspired by the lattest, which explains why they resemble each other so much. You’ll get more comfortable with it by reading about both of them.
The Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood cathedral has been built in 1907 following the orders of Tsar Alexander III. However, it has been erected as a memorial and mourning place following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, the Liberator, on March 1st 1881.
In fact, and even if weekly requiem and sermons are given to remember Alexander II, Christ the Savior on the Spilled blood became a cathedral only in 1923. It has been closed about nine years later on the orders of the Soviet leadership to become a garbage dump. Nowadays Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood is an annex of St Isaac’s museum due to its stunning mosaics. That’s why if many believes that this world-known building is one of the most important church of St-Petersburg, it rather is, due to its history and architectural style, a memorial symbolising the Russian dilemma between liberalism and conservatism. And of course, it demonstrates (if needed) the Russian savoir-faire when it comes to architecture and religious art.
Want to know more about Russia? Read more on our Travel Blog!
Children are nice and cute when they’re not yours (some people say), but they can be real monsters (when not a mortal plague to be honest). As we don’t want to ostracize parents, and help you in raising smart kids, here is a top of things to do in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. Go for these and you’ll enjoy good quality time with your children away from the cold and the overcrowded antic museums!
Moskvarium ‒ The Largest Oceanarium in Moscow
This one will entertain you and your kids at least for a day, away from the cold, and keep them smart. The Moskvarium aims at presenting Russian aquatic inhabitants but also species from all over the world. This oceanarium, located in VDNKh in Moscow, is a living encyclopedia of the underwater world which was thought both for children and grown-ups with shows of killer whales, dolphins belugas and walruses. Perfect to entertain your children and let them know more about marine animals… and don’t tell them but you can also swim with dolphins!
Ice-Skating at VDNKh (Moscow)
One of the top Russian activities, ice-skating is a traditional, children-friendly and fairly cheap outdoor activity. You’ll surely be ashamed when you’ll realise that even a 4yo kiddo is ice-skating better than you, but don’t let it stop you from expressing your very personal style. In winter there are many ice-skating rinks inside Moscow but the best (and biggest) one is definitely the ice-skating rink of VDNKh! You can alsoskate at the 354 (divine) but it’s a bit less children-friendly.
Izmaylovo Kremlin & Market (Moscow)
Izmaylovo Kremlin is something between Wonderland and a Russian Disneyland. This colorful wooden kremlin is a good way to spend a half-day with your children, you may also want to have a walk in the Izmaylovo forest just nearby. In Izmaylovo Market, you’ll be protected from the wind while discovering the Russian craft & antiques (and also many mainstream souvenirs). Kids are always hungry, and always when it’s not time to eat, but this is not a problem as you’ll find delicious shashliks (meat skewers) and many different Russian meals. Though Izmaylovo Market entrance is free, you’ll face much temptation to treat yourself and your family!
NB: don’t hesitate to negotiate prices, this is part of the game and an interesting experience for your children!
Tickets for the Bolshoi are expensive and kids can’t cope with opera, ballet or theater for more than 5 minutes (if so, how the hell did you manage to do that?). If you still want to enter this world-known cultural house but can’t handle the embarrassment that would cause your own blood, you have another option! Indeed, it’s possible to visit the Bolshoi backstages and historic scene with a guide. Lucky you! Cherry on the cake you may have the chance to watch some rehearsals.
Cruises in the Venice of the North and on the Moskva River (Saint-Petersburg & Moscow)
Children have small legs, energy when they should be sleeping, and interest for things they can’t have. Based on that, visiting the city center of a Russian city can become “Mission: Impossible”. Hopefully, there is another way. A way that would blow your kids’ mind and offer you some peace and time to discover Russia. This secret transmitted generations after generations is called cruises. While cruises in Saint-Petersburg’s are very famous for the canals and the Neva River (that’s one of the reasons why it’s also called the Venice of the North), cruises in Moscoware famous for the Moskva River from where you can admire the most beautiful places in the city!
Submarine Museum (Moscow & Saint-Petersburg)
In the same way, children can’t cope with museums. Seriously, why? We all try to improve their knowledge and prepare them for the future, but no, they simply don’t care. Anyway, be ready to appear as a super-parent. Bring them to the Submarine Museum in Moscowand they will be amazed, feeling like a real sailor under the USSR. On the plus side they, and you, will learn a lot on the Russian Navy, submarines and Soviet times! Are you in Saint-Petersburg? Then, the C-189 Submarine Floating Museum is made for you!
Nikulin Circus (Moscow)
Another Russian tradition, often forgotten, is the circus. Animals, clowns (not the scary American ones), magicians and acrobats are all part of the Russian circus. Of course, children are more than welcomed and everyone will be amazed. But to be sure to enjoy the show, you have to pick the good one, which means Nikulin’s Circus.
The Bunker 42 of Taganka (Moscow)
As for the Submarine Museum, and even if it’s is a real labyrinth, the Bunker 42 of Taganka is a great museum, aka the Cold War Museum. As you’ll stroll down the steps and floors into the depth of the earth, you’ll dive into the Soviet era and learn how the USSR was preparing itself for a nuclear conflict. It’s an exceptional opportunity to observe old objects, movies, documentaries, weapons, bots… that all come from Stalin’s ruling of the Union, and which will please everyone!
Babayevsky Chocolate Factory (Moscow)
No matter if your child is an Augustus, Violet, Veruca, Mike or a Charlie, you can go and discover the Babayevsky Chocolate Factory, it’s gonna be safer than in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the most important: tastier. Clearly, kids will be amazed by all the tasty konfety or konfetki produced over there, everyone will love these lil chocolate candies, and also learn about the chocolate-making process. And best of all, you can try Babayevsky konfety at any time during your visit which means your kids will stay calm and you probably won’t have to struggle finding a meal to please them for dinner.
Sokolniki Park: Sledding Race and Ice-Sculpting (Moscow)
Once a year, always on the Defender of the Fatherland Day, i.e. 23rd February, Moscow organizes a sledding race in Sokolniki Park. But this isn’t just a race. Indeed, what matters the most is the originality of the sledge and the final fall! Each year a new theme is settled for the greatest pleasure of all. Lucky you, it’s often held at the same time than the ice-sculpting competition. Don’t miss these two events, your kids will love them!