One of the best ways to first appreciate St. Petersburg’s greatest avenue, Nevsky Prospekt, is to walk straight up it on the shady side (south) and then back down on its sunny side (north). And, since this is a city of contrasting seasons and light, this walk can be taken at any time and on any kind of day.
Start from under the gilded spire of the (1) Admiralty, the organizing point of the city (built 1806-1823). Cross the (2) Alexander Garden (worth relaxing in) and join Nevsky Prospekt at its start. Negotiate the streams of shoppers and notice the former (3) Wawelberg Bank (7 Nevsky Prospekt) with its sidewalk arcade, which looks like a heavily rusticated Renaissance Palazzo. It marks the part of the city that was the pre-Revolutionary financial hub.
Further up on the right at number 18 is the (4) Kotomin house, the café that housed confectioners Wolf and Béranger and where many famous Petersburg literary figures socialized. It was from here that Pushkin, after a stiff drink, set out with his second for his fateful duel at 4 p.m. January 27, 1837. The Literary Café upstairs renders a bit of the old atmosphere.
Opposite the Kotomin house at number 15 is (5) the former mansion of the St. Petersburg Chief of Police Nikolay Chicherin. Note its two tiers of columns wrapped around the street corner. Stretching along Bolshaya Morskaya Street and the Moika Embankment, this palatial house became home to a variety of leading entertainment clubs and artistic institutions before and after the revolution. Its conversion into the luxury Taleon Imperial Hotel is to be completed in 2008.
After crossing the River Moika by (6) the Green (or Police) Bridge, you pass the (7) Stroganov Palace on the right. The elegant mid-18th century home of Russia’s wealthiest salt barons is now part of the Russian Museum (www.rusmuseum.ru). Opposite at number 20 is the multifunctional house of the (8) Dutch Church.
Nearby, look at the (9) F. L. Mertens building (number 21). As home to the most fashionable of furriers, this building made a huge statement about modern style in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg. While its three great arches hint at classical tradition, its use of reinforced concrete and expanses of windows ushered in the new.
From here, leave Nevsky and walk up the center of the tree-lined Bolshaya Konushennaya (Great Stables) Street. Stop at the (10) DLT department store with the spire on the left (21-23 Bolshaya Konushennaya Street). As the Retail House of the Guards’ Economic Society this was the city’s largest retail operation of the early twentieth century. For its time it had remarkably large and open interiors. A little further along at number 19 is the (11) Meltser House, which looks like a quirky interpretation of a northern castle, full of different textures, colors, and materials.
You are now entering the old Swedish quarter. After passing the (12) Finnish Church on the right (number 6a), turn down Shvedsky Pereulok (Swedish Lane) and enter a world of Scandinavian decorum.
As the lane ends and turns into Malaya Konushennaya Street you walk into a newly pedestrian zone. Take in the neo-Romanesque Swedish Church and (13) Lidvall’s Nordic art nouveau apartment house for the church on your right (nos. 1-3). At the center of the street, stop to check the temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind direction, or time on the elegant (14) Meteorological Pavilion and Clock.
Take the short lane to the Griboedov Canal Embankment where you’ll find an extremely picturesque view of the polychromatic, multi-domed neo-Russian (15) Church of the Saviour On Spilled Blood. The church is known by this name as it stands on the spot where a Nihilist threw a bomb at Tsar Alexander II, killing him.
Walking up the embankment brings you back to the sunny side of Nevsky. At the corner (number 28), admire the art nouveau (16) American Singer Sewing Machine building with its regulation–height-exceeding globe. Note the modern sewing accoutrements of the sculpted, winged female figures on the prows of ships that jut out of the building’s facade.
As you start to walk back down Nevsky toward where you began there’s a twin-towered neo-Romanesque church set back from the line of the street. This was the German (17) Lutheran Church of St Peter (22-24 Nevsky).
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