10 Facts You Never Knew About St Petersburg

Become an expert before you visit   |   July 2017

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From the missing contents of the Amber Room to the stopped clock of the Hermitage, St Petersburg is full of eccentric facts and foibles

Peter and Paul Fortress | iStock © romanevgenev

From Slavic Petrograd to Communist Leningrad, St Petersburg has had as many names as it has identities. Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great as a “Window on the West” during a great period of upheaval in Russian history, the city has always been a sophisticated capital, proud of its history but looking squarely in the face of the future. Here, we look at some of the more surprising facts about St Petersburg ahead of your next trip.


St Petersburg is the seventh largest city in Europe after London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid and Manchester. It’s also the most northern city in the world, with a population of over one million.


There’s a chain of cafés (Ziferblat) in St Petersburg where you pay per minute rather than for what you eat and drink.


The city has its own beach next to the Peter and Paul fortress. Often as popular in winter as it is in summer thanks to the presence of “walruses” (those that believe in the health effects of very cold water), we’d recommend wearing a wetsuit!


St Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island contains rare treasures, including anatomical oddities collected by the Dutch anatomist Frederick Ruysch.


In the White Dining Room of the Hermitage Palace the clock is stopped at 2:10am. This is when the Provisional Government of Russia came to an end, after being arrested by the Communists on 25th October 1917.


The fate of the fabulously opulent Amber Room (full of amber panels, gold-leaf and mirrors) at the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo is still unknown. Raided by the Nazis during WWII and since restored, its contents are still officially missing.


Designed to accommodate 14,000 standing worshippers, Isaac Cathedral’s dome is plated with pure gold.


At the centre of St Petersburg, the 48-metre Alexander Column is not fixed into the ground but stands straight, entirely thanks to its own weight.


Some of the city’s most famous residents include artists like Marc Chagall and Ilya Repin; writers like Nikolai Gogol and Fyodor Dostoevsky; and musicians such as Peter Tchaikovsky and Dmitri Shostakovich.


To many Russians, St Petersburg is synonymous with its sugary treat: the Pyshki. Visitors can get hold of these scrumptious doughnuts from famous places like the Sever bakery, or join the queue at one of the many street stalls.


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