St. Petersburg is known for its beautiful places of worship. There are Buddhist temples, mosques, synagogues, and all kinds of Christian churches.
St. Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great, and it is said that Peter disliked the bridges and churches with domes; instead he introduced boats and churches with spires. Even though the aesthetics changed after his death, the first place of worship in our list is a church crowned with a high spire, the Peter and Paul Cathedral.
- 1 Peter and Paul’s St. Petersburg
- 2 St. Isaac’s St. Petersburg
- 3 The Church of Christ the Savior on the Spilled Blood
- 4 Kazan Cathedral St. Petersburg
- 5 The Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Petersburg
- 6 St. Mary’s St. Petersburg
- 7 Nikolsky Cathedral St. Petersburg (St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral)
- 8 The Mosque St. Petersburg
- 9 The Synagogue St. Petersburg
- 10 The Buddhist Temple St. Petersburg
- 11 Trinity Chapel St. Petersburg
- 12 The Smolny Orthodox Cathedral St. Petersburg
- 13 Summary
Peter and Paul’s St. Petersburg
The cathedral’s exterior witnesses to the appreciation of the European architecture that reigned in Russia during the time of Peter the Great. Peter and Paul differs from old Muscovite churches in a number of ways. Firstly, it resembles a European basilica and not a muscovite church due to its rectangular bell tower and oblong hall. Secondly, it is crowned with an angel: something out of ordinary in Russian architecture of the time. And then, the church’s interior is extremely well lit due to its huge windows, a thing unheard of in Muscovite architectural tradition, where the windows are small, and the churches are usually dark inside.
Even though the exterior is unique, the passage of time changed its appearance to some extent.
In mid 18th century a devastating fire broke out and disfigured the cathedral; the ensuing reconstruction did not reproduce the original appearance. Accordingly, the volutes at the eastern and western ends of the church don’t really match and the drum cuts in the gable-roof quite awkwardly. Before reconstruction the bell tower looked differently, and the eastern end featured vases and sculpture.
The Peter and Paul’s interior testifies to the artfulness of craftsmen and icon-painters: particularly impressive, and highly unusual for Russian architecture, is its main iconostasis, stunning with its opulence and looking like a triumphal arch, a hint at the military successes of Tsar Peter the Great, who conquered the land on which St. Petersburg was built from Sweden.
During the Soviet time the cathedral was secularized, and in mid 20th century was given to the Museum of History of St. Petersburg. It still houses a branch of the museum, even though sometimes services do take place.
The cathedral and the cathedral’s burial vault are famous for sheltering the tombs of most Russian emperors and empresses of the Romanov dynasty and some of their non-crowned relatives.
- You can go on a tour of the cathedral using a Russian travel agency
Admissions: 450 ₽ for adults and 250 ₽ for school children and students.
Address: Sankt Petersburg, Petropavloskaya Krepost (Peter and Paul Fortress)
Note that some of the cathedrals are in fact troves of history or offer great views. If wanting to enjoy a stunning panorama of St. Petersburg head for St. Isaac’s colonnade. If in need of your history fix pay a visit to Peter and Paul’s cathedral, where the Romanovs are buried.
On your visit you can fully immerse into the past of some of the world’s most controversial dynasties. To know about this famous city’s attraction, consider hiring a local private guide in St. Petersburg.
St. Isaac’s St. Petersburg
It is surrounded with porticos upheld by huge columns made of Karelian pink granite, each weighing 120 tones, some scarred by Nazi bombshells.
The St. Isaac Cathedral is also rich in sculpture: it counts around 300 of them. The most famous are by Italian sculptor Ivan Vitali. He produced most of the sculpture, including angels with crowns of thorns and palm branches standing on corners beneath the cathedral’s upper cornice; apostles and evangelists on each pediment, and kneeling angels hugging the lamps festooned with fruit and flowers on corners above the upper cornice. There are other works by the Italian sculptor: two low-reliefs in the pediments, the worship of the Maggi and the meeting of Theodosius and St. Isaac of Dalmatia, and added relief on the doors.
In one of the Vitali-made low-reliefs you can see St. Isaac of Dalmatia meeting the Roman emperor Theodosius. The bas-relief also portrays some important people of the time, including Auguste Monferrand, the architect of the cathedral.
The architect was depicted as a half-naked man standing before the saint, more or less upright whilst others were respectfully prostrate. Monferrand in relief’s apparent lack of piety resulted in Monferrand the man’s falling out of grace; at the cathedral’s opening ceremony the tsar did not shake his hand. Disgraced and publicly humiliated the architect died soon after. Also the French architect is believed to have made it his final wish to be buried in the cathedral; he was denied this honor, too.
The cathedral’s sumptuously rich interior is ornamented with 600 sq. meters of mosaics, 14 kinds of marble, 16 tones of malachite, and an 816 sq. meters ceiling painting by Carl Bryulov.
Under the Soviet regime the St. Isaac Cathedral was secularized, and is currently functioning as a museum. It is expected to be handed back to the Russian Orthodox Church: a transfer of property causing much controversy citywide.
You can go on St. Isaac Cathedral tour using the services of the best Russian travel agency.
- Address: Sankt Peterburg, Isaakievskaya Ploschad, 4
Ticket: 250 ₽ full price; if you wish to get to both, the colonnade and the cathedral, it is 400 ₽ per person.
In an active Russian church, one is supposed to wear clothes that cover almost all your body when visiting active places of worship in Russia. For women, the dress code is a head-scarf and a skirt. For men, head must be uncovered and trousers, not shorts, worn. Turn off your mobile phone before entering a place of worship and keep silence whilst there. St. Isaac’s cathedral is a museum nowadays, that means there is no special requirements in terms of clothing, however services occasionally take place there: when they do, it is advisable to stick to the dress-code.
The Church of Christ the Savior on the Spilled Blood
The Church of Christ the Savior on the Spilled Blood (sometimes called as Spilled Blood Church St. Petersburg) harks back to the old Muscovite church architecture. It calls to mind St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and churches in Yaroslavl. It reminds of the tragic relationships between the Russian autocracy and the underground political activists known as the Russian nihilists.
One day in March 1881, emperor Alexander II was riding in his carriage near Mikhailovskiy Garden, when a bomb-blast ripped through the area. Alexander was not hit, but some people were: the emperor and got out to help the wounded. He then was killed by another blast.
His son Alexander III ordered a church to be built on the spot of his father’s assassination. The new church was commissioned from relatively unknown architect Alexander Parland and was completed only in 1907 during the reign of Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia and Alexander II’s grandson.
For a while, it served as a memorial church, closed to public, and then after the Bolshevik revolution it was ransacked, gutted and in the 1930s eventually secularized. It became first a mortuary then a warehouse and then a museum of mosaics. It remains a museum and is frequented both by locals and tourists.
The Church of Christ the Savior on the Spilled Blood original interior was designed by famous Russian artists, such as Mikhail Vrubel, Mikhail Nesterov and Viktor Vasnetsov. It contains more then 7000 sq. meters of mosaics, one of Europe’s largest collections. Its exterior amazes with the artfulness of the mosaic work. On the façade you can see a mosaic for the Russian Empire’s every province and Biblical scenes.
- You can book a tour of Spilled Blood Church from a Russian travel agency.
Address: Sankt Peterburg, Naberezhnaya Kanala Griboyedova, 2b
Ticket: 250 full price
Kazan Cathedral St. Petersburg
The Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg gets its name from Our Lady of Kazan, one of Russia’s most venerated icons. It is one of the main tourist attractions in Russia. Commissioned by Paul I, shortly before his assassination, from a Russian architect A. Voronikhin, it bears some resemblance to St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome. Its appearance suggests that Emperor Paul intended to either unite Catholicism and Orthodoxy or to make Orthodoxy more Catholic-like.
Apart from religious significance as the city’s most important functioning Orthodox church, it is also known for its being the burial place of the great Russian field-marshal Mikhail Kutuzov.
Address: Sankt Peterburg, Kazanskaya Ploschad, 2
Ticket: Free entrance
The Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Petersburg
The Church of St. Catherine is Russia’s only minor basilica and one of its oldest Catholic churches.
It was built in the second half of 18th century; such architects as J.V. De La Mothe, A.Rinaldi and D.Trezzini worked on the church.
Modeled on the basilica de Sant’ Andrea in Mantua, it functioned as a Catholic church from late 18th century to early 20th century and served as a burial place for Auguste Monferrand, the architect of St. Isaac’s, Jean-Pierre Moreau, a famous French general, and Stanislaw Poniatowski, a Polish king.
Then, under the Bolshevik regime, it was secularized and was used as a warehouse, and later a museum of atheism. It was returned to the Catholic Church after Perestroika, but it took some time for it to become quite suitable for holding church services and for sightseeing in St. Petersburg. Currently it is the main place of worship for the city’s Catholic community.
Address: St. Peterburg, Nevskiy Prospekt, 32-34
Ticket: free entrance
St. Mary’s St. Petersburg
This beautiful and architecturally simple St. Petersburg church belongs to the Church of Ingria, one of Russia’s largest and oldest Lutheran communities.
The Church of Ingria dates back to the early 17th century, when Russia had lost control over the area where St. Petersburg is located and ceded it to Sweden. Its congregation includes many of the area’s ethnic minority, known as Ingermanlandtsi or Inkeri Fins. St. Mary’s remains a link between St. Petersburg, built by Russians and the land of their ancestors, Ingermanland or Inkeri-maa, and serves as a rallying point for the community.
The building itself dates from 1805. Designed by Gottlieb Christian Paulsen, it functioned as a church up till 1938, when it was secularized. It was used as dormitory and was given back to the Church in 1990s. It has been the main gathering place for St. Petersburg Lutheran community and one of the places in the city where you can hear organ music.
The Church of Ingria is in possession of the building; the official name of the building is St.Mary’s
Address: St. Peterburg, Bolshaya Konyushennaya, 8a
Ticket: free entrance
Bordered on two sides by canals, the light-blue Nikolsky Cathedral is one of the city’s most picturesque. People of St. Petersburg love it for its truly Russian domes, beautiful Petrine baroque spire and its location in one of the St. Petersburg’s most scenic areas, Kolomna.
Its history also fascinates. It was one of the few places of worship that managed to operate during the era, when religious gatherings were virtually prohibited. It is said to be have been the center of soviet “Red Church”, a network of priests who worked for the secret police and reported what they were told during the confessions by the trusting members of congregation.
The church is associated with the sailors and the Russian Navy due to the fact that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors. It houses many icons originating in 18th century and a beautifully carved wooden iconostasis.
St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral is situated above the Griboyedov Canal, spanned by Staro-Nikolskiy Bridge. Standing on the bridge you can see seven other bridges, more than from any other place in St. Petersburg.
Address: St. Peterburg, Nikolskaya Ploschad, 1/3
Ticket: free entrance
The Mosque St. Petersburg
There are many legends about the mosque. Funded by Said Abdul Akhad Khan, the Emir of Bokhara, it is said to be connected with his beautiful house few blocks up Kamenoostrovskiy Prospekt by an underground secret passage. Also it is believed that one of the architects who worked on the place of worship was poisoned by the Emir; a very old way of preventing an architect from building new beauties, often encountered in the East and a testimony to some rulers’ jealousy.
The St. Petersburg Mosque was first opened after the Russian Revolution, functioned for a little while and was secularized. It was reopened at the request of the president of Indonesia Soekarno in 1950s. From then on it has been the place of prayer for the city’s Muslim community.
Address: St. Peterburg, Kronverkskiy Prospekt, 7
Ticket: free entrance
You can see the tiles once decorating the Mosque’s dome on display at the Museum of Architectural Ceramics at Peter and Paul’s fortress’ Gosudarev Bastion, which opened on October 5 2018.
The Synagogue St. Petersburg
It testifies to Russian autocracy’s change of attitude towards the Jewish community during the reign of Alexander II. The tsar lessened the restrictions on the Jews’ residence in St. Petersburg, allowing more Jews to live there. A large place of worship for the community was needed. At that time the city had some minor Jewish houses of worship but no synagogues. The appearance of the synagogue became a milestone and may be regarded as legitimization of the community’s presence in the city.
Today the St. Petersburg Synagogue is the heart and soul of the city’s Jewish community. Unlike many other places of worship it continued to work for the most of the Soviet period.
The acoustics of the place is perfect, if you whisper at one end of the main hall, your words can be heard at the other.
- Note: even though Russian travel agencies have not made this site mainstream yet, the beauty of the synagogue promises a bright touristic future for the location.
Address: St. Peterburg, Lermontovskiy Prospekt, 2
Ticket: free entrance
If tired of walking around St. Petersburg’s cathedrals in peace and other places of worship, head to Top 8 Military Attractions In St. Petersburg, to come to grips with war. There you can gain knowledge about hard-fought battles and heart-rending sacrifices the city has gone through.
The Buddhist Temple St. Petersburg
The idea to build the temple originated with one of the fathers of independent Tibet, a staunch ally of Russian monarchy and Dalai Lama’s teacher, friend, and envoi A. Dorhziev.
It was constructed in early 20th century to a design by G. Baranovskiy, with stained glasses by famous Russian painter N. Rerich and a statue of Buddha given by the King of Siam, Rama Vth. A promising start did not translate into future prosperity and peaceful functioning.
It operated until 1916, when the funding stopped and a period of decline set in. It was looted by the Soviets, and few Buddhists who continued to live on the premises were arrested by the NKVD, suspected of espionage in favor of Japan. Some of them were executed, amid the growing persecution of worshippers throughout the Soviet Union.
It housed many different organizations, before being restored to the St. Petersburg Buddhist community at the time preceding the fall of the USSR.
The atmosphere inside the temple is extremely casual, the only thing you need to do when entering is to take off your shoes.
Today, the temple represents one of the most interesting places in Russia for its unique exterior and an impressive sculpture of a lion before it.
Address: Sankt Peterburg, Primorskiy Prospekt, 91
Ticket: free entrance
Trinity Chapel St. Petersburg
A tiny brown-colored chapel sits in the middle of the Trinity Square. Its appearance is traditionally Russian, but the fact that it has been built fairly recently is obvious due to its somewhat Nouveau Russe finish.
In fact, this place of worship is of no little significance. It is built in place of the city’s oldest (!) cathedral, where Peter the Great was proclaimed the Emperor of Russia, young Peter II was announced the heir to the throne, and the burial service was performed over Alexis, the son of Peter the Great, killed by his father.
Whilst the Peter and Paul Cathedral was under construction, this place of worship functioned as St. Petersburg main church and for some time in early 18th century contained one of Russia’s most revered icons Our Lady of Kazan.
It was eclipsed by the city’s new cathedrals and was pulled down by the Soviets in 1933, in a bid to eradicate organized religion and all its attributes. In 2000s in its place was built a small chapel, that comes into view once you cross the Troitskiy Bridge.
- Both the Troitskiy Bridge and Troitskaya Square get their name from the original church.
At the time of Peter the Great the church overlooked the marketplace of the newly built and still half-fledged city: the harbor where trade ships moored, one of the first taverns, called Austeria, the customs office and the old building of Senat and Sinod.
Address: Troitskaya Ploschad
The Smolny Orthodox Cathedral St. Petersburg
After the Bolshevik revolution, it was secularized, housed a museum and then functioned as an organ concert hall until 2015, when the organ was torn out and the place was restored to the Russian Orthodox Church. The cathedral is at the center of what is in fact a university yard, the adjacent ice-blue buildings housing the SPSU’s Faculty of Foreign Relations, so it is literally steeped in mirth and laughter.
John Reed described it as “having graceful smoke-blue cupolas of outlined in dull gold”. He noticed its beautiful exterior on the way to the Smolny, the heart and brain of the Bolshevik revolution; the fires were lit and crowds of the people’s delegates and young Red Guards circulated around the area. The majestic cathedral witnessed the darkest hours of Russian history and the most determined political fighters of the time and is truly one of the most interesting places to visit in Russia.
Address: St.Peterburg, ploschad Rastrelli, 1
Ticket: free entrance
For sure there are many more places of worships worth visiting in St. Petersburg, but the ones mentioned above are mostly located in the city center, and offer a splendid opportunity to plunge deep into the city’s past.
Note that the best time to visit churches is in the afternoon, then for sure they will be open and sometimes you may even be able to get a glimpse of religious worship. Stay respectful and you will definitely feel the multi-cultural vibe of Russia.