On the face of it, going for a wander on Vasilevsky Island is difficult. The straight, flat, and broad lines (avenues) and prospekts (streets) militate against the discovery of hidden corners or picturesque surprises. And yet, in typical St. Petersburg fashion, there is much more here than first strikes the eye.
In pre-1917 Revolution times many Petersburgers regarded Vasilevsky Island as a German quarter, and a walk through its eastern parts today can still reveal why.
Start at the east end of Bolshoy Prospekt. Number 1 is the modest single-domed Lutheran (1) Church of St Catherine. After years of serving as a recording studio for the Soviet record company Melodiya, the church was returned to the Lutheran parish in 1992. It has a high-quality (German) organ and, if you time your visit right, you can catch one of its regular recitals of ecclesiastical music.
Head west along the wide tree-lined boulevard of Bolshoy Prospekt. At the corner with Fourth Line divert a few yards to your right and you’ll see an (2) art nouveau mansion with spire and very fine stone- and metalwork.
Further along Bolshoy Prospekt is the picturesque pink-and-white (3) Cathedral of St. Andrew with its famous baroque iconostasis. Opposite you’ll see the low-slung arcades of (4) Andrew’s Market, which, along with its separate food hall, is the liveliest place on the street.
Turn right (north) along the pedestrian-friendly section of the Sixth and Seventh Lines. Behind the cathedral is the humble-looking Georgian Orthodox (5) Church of the Three Prelates. The street is where Vasilevsky society congregates to stroll, mingle in the cafés, and shop. This is the best place on the tour for fortification. Two good choices for a quick snack or lunch are the Chintamani vegetarian café and the Biergarten at no. 15.
After refueling, turn right at Vasileostrovskaya Metro station, the bustling intersection with Srednyi Prospekt. Just before the junction with the Second and Third Lines you’ll see the Gothic Revival style (6) St Michael’s Church. After visiting the church, turn right down Repin Street and walk to its end. You’re now in the district where most of Russia’s famous artists and architects lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
At the bottom of Repin Street, cross the small garden with the (7) Rumyantsev Obelisk and join University Embankment with its great views over the River Neva. Enter the monumental (8) Academy of Arts on your right. This birthplace of modern Russian art holds interesting exhibitions and has lavish ceremonial rooms.
From the Academy, walk east along the embankment toward the inimitable Strelka. You’ll pass (9) Menshikov’s Palace, built for Peter the Great’s right-hand man and now part of the Hermitage (www.hermitagemuseum.org). Then comes (10) St. Petersburg University, where Russian leaders from Vladimir Lenin to Vladimir Putin have headed for lectures. The imposing red-and-white university building is actually 12 buildings constructed side by side.
Pass the weighty monument to Mikhail Lomonosov, and stop at the (11) Kunstkammer (www.kunstkamera.ru). This early mix of observatory, museum, and laboratory contains some startling exhibits from Peter the Great’s “Cabinet of Curiosities,” as well as the rich Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography.
End your tour a bit further along the embankment at the tip of the Strelka. Enjoy the water and city views from the twin red rostral columns in front of the old (12) Stock Exchange, now the Central Naval Museum (www.museum.navy.ru).
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