You will find the Peter and Paul Fortress from St. Petersburg in all of the city’s tourist guides. Let’s discover together what we can see inside!
Peter and Paul Fortress: Origins
The Peter and Paul Fortress is located on Zayatchy Island, the French word for hare island. For a long time, we thought it was for the shape of the island. In fact, it is a translation error from Finnish. This does not prevent us from seeing many rabbits running all around the island.
The founding of St. Petersburg
The city of St. Petersburg was born with the first stone laid on this island on May 27, 1703. Peter the Great has just won these lands to Sweden. He built fortresses there. The future Peter and Paul Fortress is one of them. Its location was chosen by Peter the Great himself, his close advisor Menchikov and a Frenchman – General Joseph-Gaspard Lambert de Guerin.
Pierre the Great wanted a quick result. The loss of life is significant. Soldiers, prisoners of war, peasants. The first wooden and earthen construction was completed in October 1703. The stone construction began in 1706.
St. Petersburg grew and spread around the Peter and Paul Fortress from the end of the war with the Swedes in 1710. Catherine II ordered the walls of the fortress to be covered with granite in 1779.
The functions of the Peter and Paul Fortress
Opening up to Europe. Peter the Great travels to Europe and notes the delay of Russia. The rapid construction of the fortress, only in five months, proved its willingness to mark the new territory and settle there permanently. The opening towards the Baltic Sea allows maritime exchanges with other European countries. This is why St. Petersburg is considered a European city.
Defense. First, in the event of a Swedish attack. Actually, the fortress has never been attacked in its entire history. Other fortresses defended St. Petersburg upstream, including the Krondstadt Island.
Burial place of the Romanov dynasty. In the Peter and Paul Cathedral are the tombs of all the tsars of Russia and all the members of the Romanov dynasty. You will find more information about the Peter and Paul Cathedral below.
Prison. The fortress lost its defensive utility at the end of the war and the expansion of the city. The stronghold is used now as a prison. The conditions of detention are deplorable. Political prisoners are also locked up here. The longest recorded holding period is 20 years. The writer Chernychevsky wrote his novel “What to do?” in this prison.
Museum. Peter and Paul Fortress became a museum in 1924.
Why visit the Peter and Paul Fortress?
When I went to school, the visit of the fortress was mandatory for the whole class. This place is considered one of the most important for the citizens of St. Petersburg. But why is it interesting to visit during a trip to St. Petersburg as a tourist?
See the Romanov tombs
The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia for three centuries. Although not all Romanovs are known abroad, some of them have left their mark even beyond Russia’s borders: Peter the Great, Catherine II, Nicholas II.
Peter the Great. Tsar reformer. Founder of St. Petersburg. Known for his strength of character and his willingness to open Russia to Europe. In the latest news: in 2017, Macron invited Putin to Versailles for the anniversary date of the first meeting between Peter the Great and Louis XV in the castle. Peter the Great was inspired by the Palace of Versailles for the construction of the Palace of Peterhof.
Catherine II or Great Catherine of Russia. Born in Prussia, Sophie Auguste d’Anhalt-Zerbst married Peter III, the heir to the throne. She wants to be accepted by her adopted country. Becomes Catherine, learns Russian, is baptized and takes the Orthodox religion. Tsar Peter III is unloved by the people. Catherine’s lover, Count Orlov, led a revolution against the tsar. Peter III died a week after his abdication. Catherine II took the power. It expands the territory of the country by third parties. Until the French Revolution, it left certain freedom of expression in Russia and corresponded with Voltaire, Kant, Diderot.
Nikolay II. The tsar and his family were murdered near Ekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks in 1918. After the fall of the USSR, the excavations began. The DNA from the bones found matches the Romanovs’. In 1998, they were transferred to Peter and Paul Cathedral. Nicholas II was the cousin of King George V of England. The family link is visible in the picture.
Walking on the ramparts
The route follows the ramparts of the fortress. To climb the ramparts, you will need 300 rubles / 5 USD per person. You are not accompanied during the tour. The visit itself is free. You can see the Flajnaya tower from the inside and watch a 12:00 cannon fire at the Narychkin bastion. This tradition of the cannon fire remains from the time of Peter the Great. It marked first the workers’ day, then the important events in the Romanovs’ lives. The cannon fire at 12:00 allowed from 1873 to 1934 to synchronize the watches of the city’s inhabitants.
Visit a museum or exhibition
- Troubetskoy Bastion Prison;
- The Museum of Astronautics and Rocket Technology;
- Exhibitions on the history of the fortress and the city of St. Petersburg;
- The Museum of Medieval Instruments of Torture;
- Private exhibitions such as “The Secrets of Da Vinci” and “Prisoners of the Russian Bastille”.
All those who wish to visit the Fortress Peter and Paul and find out more about its history will need a guide. Indeed, there is no audioguide and few things are obvious at a glance. For private exhibitions on the territory of the fortress: according to the comments I have read on Russian sites, they would not be interesting for the quality/price ratio.
Enjoy a beautiful view
A beautiful view of the city opens from the Peter and Paul Fortress! If you do not wish to climb the ramparts, you can walk in front of the walls of the fortress and go around the island.
It is also possible to enjoy the view from the Koryushka restaurant. It has an excellent grade on Tripadvisor. The menu is in English and Chinese. A very wide choice of dishes. The prices are above average. Count 800 rubles / ~13 USD for a simple dish. The restaurant specializes in koryuchka fish.
The inhabitants of St. Petersburg are very fond of this fish. It is often eaten fried. A Koryuchka festival is organized by the city every year on May 11 and 19, the time of year when fish return to the surface.
Climb on the bell tower of the Peter and Paul Cathedral
New and little practiced yet. From May 1 to September 15, visitors can access the bell tower of Peter and Paul Cathedral. However, you must be accompanied by a guide. The excursion in English must be booked in advance by phone.
Can you sneak into a group of Russians? Not sure, it all depends on who you come across in the cash registers when you buy tickets.
Yes, I would advise that. And not just in the summer. From the beginning of March, you can see many St Petersburg citizens in bathing suits against the walls of the fortress!
It’s a tradition. It’s not known for how long it’s been around. But we can see photo testimonies as early as the 1960s. A friend whose father considers himself to be a “true” St Petersburg saint told me the secret. The sun’s rays in March and their reflection on the walls of the fortress would give a more durable tan.
I’m not going to hide from you: I’ve never tried. On the other hand, if you want to live this experience, don’t hesitate: you will blend in!
Fortress Peter and Paul: Opening hours and entrance tickets
The territory of the Peter and Paul Fortress is accessible every day from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm. Final closing at 10pm. However, the hours of the cathedral and the museums are different.
- Click on schedules to see all schedules on the official website in English.
- Click on rates to see all rates: state and private exhibitions, museums.
Peter and Paul Cathedral Opening Hours
|10:00 – 19:00||10:00 – 18:45||11:00 – 19:00|
|450 rub / ~ 7 USD|
- You cannot buy tickets online. You have to buy them at the fortress cash registers.
- Audio guide in English. There is an audioguide in English. It is distributed with a map of the fortress operating with an optical scanning system. It’s well done, you can ask for it from the same place as the tickets. Price: 500 rubles / ~ 8 USD
- Admission tickets for Peter and Paul Cathedral and the prison are included in the City Pass. With a ticket pickup at the checkouts.
Map of the Peter and Paul Fortress in English
1 – Peter and Paul Cathedral
2 – The gates of Peter the Great
3 – The Grand-Ducal Mausoleum of St. Petersburg
6 – The Bronze Statue of Peter the Great
7 – Troubetskoy Bastion Prison
8 – The crates
10 – The ascent to the ramparts
11 – Daily cannon fire from 12:00
Guided tour of the Peter and Paul Fortress
At the cash registers, the place where you buy tickets, you will usually find some English-speaking guides. Usually, the lady at the cash registration will ask you whether you need a guide, if you do – feel free to get one.
Ice sculpture festival
It’s more of an exhibition than a festival. It now settles each year in a temporary pavilion on the territory of the fortress. The sculptures change each year according to the chosen theme. We went to see the one in 2017. Unbelievable, but the theme was… ice-cream! The temperature in the pavilion was higher than outside.
From June to the end of September, there is the festival of sand sculptures. It is located outside the walls.
Peter and Paul Fortress is a large historical complex with many events and temporary exhibitions. It is, of course, one of the places to visit in St. Petersburg. However, in terms of priority, the Saint-Sauveur-sur-le-Sang-Versé Cathedral or the Hermitage Museum should be visited first.