Walking along Nevsky Avenue (or Nevsky Prospekt) from beginning to end is the best way to get to know St. Petersburg and to check its pulse, while being able to stop at the many shops and restaurants that you will find on your way. In this article I will take you on a very special tour of one of the streets with the greatest history in the world looking at its most representative buildings and attractions, direct testimonies of the city’s past, present and future.
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1. Nevsky Avenue: the best start for getting to know the city
The first thing you should know is that Nevsky Avenue (or Nevsky Prospect) is no less than 4.5 kilometers long and ranges between 25 and 60 meters wide.
Traveling on foot from end to end without stopping, may take around 60 minutes and I would say it’s the best start for getting to know the city.
It is a very lively place for pedestrians, with prominent buildings and where cars and buses also run. Very crowded with tourists.
It is St. Petersburg’s quintessential avenue, which, if we pay attention to its numbering, begins at the Palace Square, next to the Admiralty Building and the Hermitage, and ends at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.
Even numbers correspond to the sunny area, a popular place for pedestrians, while odd numbers are informally said to be in the “shade”
If you like walking around cities, this walk is, without a doubt, the place for you. And not only during the day, because at night it is also very pleasant to walk along this street full of cafes, restaurants, bookstores and souvenir shops.
2. A little bit on the history of Nevsky Avenue (Nevsky Prospect)
The beginnings of the avenue, around 1718, parallels the birth of St. Petersburg in 1703 under Peter the Great, when it was only a road leading towards Novgorod located in a swampy, wooded area.
After a major fire, in the mid-18th cent. the buildings or mansions of the noble, wealthy people, were already being made out of stone and not of wood.
At the beginning of the 19th cent. the Kazan Cathedral, the city’s main cathedral, was built. Banks and commercial buildings were also starting to spring up.
In the middle of the same century, the popularly called Moskovsky train station, the terminal for trains from Moscow, was built. Today it is also called St. Petersburg-Glavny.
In the early 20th cent. there already were electric lights, replacing the previous oil and gas lamps. The first public transportation also appeared, albeit drawn by animals.
After the October Revolution of 1917, the name was changed to Avenue of the 25th of October (from 1918 to 1944), while in World War II it was bombed several times and many buildings were destroyed. Some warning signs are current reminders of this.
It was during the 1950s and 1960s that construction work on the Metro began and the first two stations appeared. Apartments and residential buildings also multiplied.
Many annual events take place on its pavement: Victory Day (May 9), St. Petersburg Foundation Day (May 27) or the procession from the Kazan Cathedral to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, to commemorate the day of this Holy Prince every September 12, which has seen a great boom in recent years.
Because of all this, the power and beauty of the avenue remain essentially intact.
Who is the person who gave this famous avenue its name?
The avenue is named after Alexander Yaroslavich (Vladimir, 1220 – Gorodets, 1263), prince of Novgorod and Vladimir during the period when Russia was divided into multiple principalities subjected to the hegemony of the Mongols. He stood out in his youth for his military feats, having beaten the Swedes in the Battle of the Neva in 1240, which earned him the nickname of Nevsky.
He was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church after his death and became a symbol of Russia’s national resistance against German power in Eastern Europe.
His memory has been honored by both the regime of the czars, with Peter the Great of Russia founding a convent called Alexander Nevsky in 1712 at the location of his victory against the Swedes, and by the Soviet regime, with Stalin creating a military order in his name in 1942 during World War II.
In addition, the life of Alexander Nevsky was made into a film in 1938 by Sergei Eisenstein. The Soviet director’s first sound film, it starred Russian actor Nikolay Cherkasov and the soundtrack was composed by Sergei Prokofiev.
3. Walking along Nevsky Avenue from beginning to end: what to see
First you have to keep in mind that you will find imposing buildings on both sides of the avenue, as well as bridges with a history, must-see squares and interesting monuments.
The common denominator is the variety and mixture of styles, from the 18th to the 20th centuries, including the Baroque, Classicism, eclecticism, Modernism or Constructivism.
Here is a summary of what I consider most important. I will suggest the route that leaves Palace Square, next to the Admiralty Building, which follows the principle of the numbering of the buildings. However, you can also do the tour in reverse and start at the Alexander Nevsky Bridge.
I’ve placed in parenthesis the number of the buildings on the avenue. Obviously, I will also mention the squares surrounding it.
The buildings and bridges are described in order of appearance as you walk, not by their sequential numbering, since the even numbers are not correlated with the odd ones on the opposite side, something that happens on many city streets. On the map below you can see the route, as well as each of the buildings or monuments that I will mention. Let’s get to it!
3.1. Alexander Column (Palace Square)
This is an unbeatable place for you to start (or end) your trip to Nevsky Prospekt without going anywhere else.
It is located in the center of the square and is dedicated to Emperor Alexander I (1801-1825). It was built between 1830 and 1834, after the Russian victory in the war against Napoleon’s invasion.
Made from red granite and the highest of its kind in the world, it is 47.5 meters high and weighs about 600 tons. It is so well grounded that it does not need to be attached to its base. The Hermitage is in this square.
Starting the tour of the avenue, it should first be noted that at number 14 there is an inscription warning of the risk of bombing during the siege of the city in World War II: “Citizens! During the bombing this side of the street is the most dangerous ». It is part of other inscriptions scattered throughout St. Petersburg.
3.2. Literary Café (No. 18)
Nevsky Avenue has been a great source of literary inspiration in the work of the great Gogol, Dostoevsky, Gorky or Leo Tolstoy.
Nikolai Gogol even has a short story that bears the name of the avenue which represents a character in itself.
The Literary Café, now a charming restaurant, is still standing (at number 18 Nevsky Avenue) and was frequented by these writers, prodigies of the Golden Age of Russian literature in the 19th cent.
I would also like to point out that on the musical side, the Italian interpreter Franco Battiato dedicated a song to the avenue entitled “Prospettiva Nevski”.
3.3. Stroganov Palace (No.17)
As soon as you cross the Green Bridge (Zelenyy) over the Moyka River, you will reach the Stroganov Palace from the mid-18th cent. It is one of the best illustrations of the late Russian Baroque. It is located at the intersection of the avenue and the Moyka River. It was built for the richest family in all of Russia at that time.
It is currently part of the group of buildings of the State Russian Museum and hosts different exhibitions and musical programs. It also serves as a convention center.
The State Russian Museum, whose main building is close to the Stroganov Palace, is one of the must-sees of St. Petersburg. Established in 1895 in St. Petersburg by decree of Emperor Nicholas II, this museum collection contains more than 400,000 exhibits covering the entire history of Russian art from the 10th century to the present.
3.4. Dutch Reformed Church (No. 20) and the Lutheran Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Nos. 22-24)
Facing the Stroganov Palace is the Dutch Reformed Church that was built between 1834-1839 for the Dutch community in St. Petersburg. Russian classicist style. It was nationalized and closed in 1927 and today the building is used for institutional, commercial and residential purposes.
For its part, the Church of the Lutheran German Community was built between 1883 and 1888 with an important restoration completed in 1997.
3.5. Singer House, now the House of Books (No. 28)
The Singer House is one of the largest bookstores in Europe and the largest in St. Petersburg.
The building, constructed in 1902-1904 in the Art Nouveau style, was the headquarters of the Singer House, known for its sewing machines, which also made uniforms for the Russian army.
After the October Revolution, it started being the headquarters of several publishers and a cultural center related to the world of books.
3.6. The Kazan Cathedral (Kazan Square, 2)
In front of the Singer House is the Kazan Cathedral. This architectural jewel, in the Neoclassical style, is the city’s main cathedral as it is the seat of the Orthodox Bishop of St. Petersburg. It is dedicated to the Virgin of Kazan, the most revered icon of Russia.
Emperor Paul I ordered the cathedral to be built following the model of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The construction was carried out over 10 years (from 1801 to 1811). Created by the architect Andrey Voronikhin, in a Neoclassical style, it is striking with its large colonnade formed by 96 columns that overlook the avenue itself.
Incidentally, in 1932 the cathedral was closed and the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism in the Academy of Sciences of the USSR was opened there.
3.7. Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria (No. 32-34)
Of the Roman Catholic faith. The original Basilica of 1763-1783 with subsequent restorations.
3.8. Town Hall Tower (No. 33)
Located on the corner of the avenue and Dumskaya Street, it has a pentagonal shape and its style is Classical. It was built between 1799 and 1804 and is very beautiful at night.
3.9. Grand Hotel Europe (No. 36)
In front of the Town Hall Tower is the Grand Hotel Europe. Opened in 1875, it is a replacement for a previous hotel establishment. Its Art Nouveau style was designed in the 1910s.
Called the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe since 2004. Very elegant five-star accommodation.
Since the 19th cent. it has attracted important personalities, such as the composers Tchaikovsky, Debussy or Stravinsky, Gustaf V of Sweden, Elton John or Jacques Chirac, former president of the French Republic.
3.10. Gostiny Dvor (No. 35)
Gostiny Dvor is the city’s oldest shopping mall and one of the oldest in the world. It has a department store with a rich history whose origins date back to the 18th century. It overlooks several streets. Neoclassical style
Integrated Metro station with the same name added since 1967.
On Dumskaya Street, very close by, there is an underground pedestrian crossing for going to the other side of the avenue.
3.11. St. Catherine’s Armenian Apostolic Church (Nos. 40 y 42)
This church dates back to 1770-1772 and was built at the request of the Armenian community. Returned to its original use in 1993.
3.12. Passage (No. 48)
It is, as its name suggests, an old passage and covered shopping mall with a lot of charm, where you will enjoy the pastry and coffee shops and stores.
Its origins date back to 1848, when the city was in full swing. Its architecture featuring a glass roof is striking.
3.13. Elisseeff (or Eliseyev) Emporium (No. 56)
In the Elisseeff Emporium you can find Russian products such as caviar, vodka, infusions and other deli items. It is quite a touristy place and prices tend to be higher, but on the other hand these are shops that you will come upon in passing and where you can shop in greater comfort. Very nice décor.
These are located in an Art Nouveau-style building dating back to 1902-1903 and currently a commercial and entertainment complex. Architecturally, the Emporium stands out with its façade consisting mainly of an arch that is a very remarkable, huge stained glass window.
On the second floor of the Elisseeff Emporium is the Nikolay Akimov Comedy Theater of St. Petersburg (No. 56, corner of Malaya Sadovaya Street).
At the corner of the Eslisseeff Emporium is the beautiful Malaya Sadovaya pedestrian-only street, ideal if you want to take a break, have coffee, eat or enjoy one of its terraces. Has small sculptures and fountains.
3.14. Monument to Catherine II or Catherine the Great (1, Ostrokvsky Square)
In front of the Elisseeff Emporium, on the other side of the avenue, is the Monument to Catherine the Great, built in 1873 and located in one of the city’s most spectacular and solemn squares.
The statue of the empress is 13 feet tall and on the pedestal there are nine bronze figures of famous contemporaries.
3.15. National Library of Rusia (18, Sardovaya St.)
The National Library of Russia also faces Ostrovsky Square, although its registered office is at a different location. In addition, it has other locations. The building dates back to 1795, and was opened to the public in 1814 on the visit of Emperor Alexander I. It was formerly called the Imperial Public Library.
It is one of the largest libraries in the world and the second largest in Russia. It has about 38 million documents, among which there are 17 million books.
Nearby, on the same Sardovaya Street, there is an underground pedestrian crossing to get to the other side of Nevsky Avenue.
3.16. Alexandrinsky Theater (6, Ostrovosky Square)
The Alexandrinsky Theater was founded in 1756 by the daughter of Peter the Great, Empress Isabel, as one of the first theater companies in the country.
The theater’s current headquarters building dates back to 1832 and is the work of the renowned Carlo Rossi.
A dazzling façade and interior décor in a distinct imperial style. It has provided many glory days for the Russian performing arts.
Also known as the Russian State Pushkin Academy Drama Theater, in honor of this famous poet, playwright and novelist born in Moscow who died in St. Petersburg.
3.17. Anichkov Palace (No.39) and Anichkov Bridge
Built between 1741 and 1754, the Anichkov Palace was conceived in the Baroque style, but it soon became Neoclassical. It was the place where Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, spent his childhood.
The Palace is part of a historical and architectural complex that includes a scientific high school as well as an important children’s and youth educational center.
The Anichkov Bridge crosses the Fontanka River on Nevsky Avenue. It allows vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
It contains four incredible statues of horses tamed by a human being, which were installed on the bridge in 1851. They were the work of Pyotr Klodt who also created the equestrian statue of Nicholas I in St. Isaac’s Square or the sensational quadriga on the porch of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.
In the Second World War, its four statues were protected from German bombing by being buried in land near the Anichkov Palace.
3.18. Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace (No. 41)
The Beloselsky Palace is neo-Baroque with a Rococo interior whose origins go back to 1747. It is situated at the intersection of the avenue and the Fontanka River and just past the Anichkov Bridge.
With a purplish pink façade, it was renovated in the 19th century as an architectural mirror of the Stroganov Palace. It is currently used as a municipal cultural center, it hosts small-scale chamber concerts.
3.19. Moskovsky or St. Petersburg-Glavvny train station (No. 85 or Vosstaniya Square)
The Moskovsky train station dates back to 1844-1851 and is the main station in St. Petersburg, the first thing many first-time visitors to the city come into contact with. Its appearance is linked to the first rail route between the two most important cities in Russia.
Up until 1924 it bore the name Nikolayevskiy, in honor of Nicholas I of Russia.
Today, for example, it’s the end of the line for “Sapsan”, the high-speed day train which covers the nearly 700 km between Moscow and St. Petersburg in about 4 hours or the terminal of the Red Arrow sleeper train.
Connected to the St. Petersburg Metro at the Mayakovskaya and Ploshchad Vosstaniya stations.
Next to the train station, although on Ligovsky Avenue, is one of the largest shopping centers in the city, Galeria St. Petersburg, with lots of shops and restaurants.
Two accommodations that I recommend and that will not disappoint you, in the middle of Nevsky Avenue and just 5 minutes from Moskovsky Station, are the Park Inn by Radisson Nevsky (4 stars) and the Radisson Royal Hotel St. Petersburg (5 stars).
3.20. Leningrad Hero City Obelisk (Vosstaniya Square)
In front of the train station in Vosstaniya Square you will find the Leningrad Hero City Obelisk, a granite monolith with a total height of 36 meters.
It was installed in 1985 to commemorate the Russian victory over German forces in World War II. It is topped with a gold star. Leningrad was the official name of St. Petersburg from 1924 until 1991.
From here you have to turn a little to the right to continue along Nevsky Avenue and in about 25 minutes you will reach Alexander Nevsky Square.
3.21. Alexander Nevsky Monument (Alexander Nevsky Square)
In Alexander Nevsky Square you will find the monument to the guardian prince of St. Petersburg, an equestrian statue weighing nine tons and almost nine meters tall, which was erected in 2002.
3.22. Alexander Nevsky Lavra Monastery (Monastyrki Embankment, 1)
The Alexander Nevsky Monastery was the city’s first monastery. It is located a few minutes from the avenue, going towards the Monastyrka River. It is an Orthodox monastery for monks.
It dates back to the 1710s when the Church of the Annunciation, the embryo of the future monastery, started. A clear example of the Petrine Baroque.
The two patrons of St. Petersburg are Peter the Great and St. Alexander Nevsky. The monastery is available for visits and is a center for pilgrimages. In the cemeteries attached to it rest public figures in Russian history such as F. Dostoevsky or P. I. Tchaikovsky.
3.23. Alexander Nevsky Bridge
The Alexander Nevsky Bridge beyond the avenue will mark the end of your tour (or the beginning if you start there). It is situated next to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery and was completed in 1965.
Absolutely functional design and nothing significant to note except its length of 906 meters that up until 2004 made it the city’s longest bridge. It was surpassed by the Great Obukhovsky Bridge.
4. Riding along Nevsky Avenue in public transportation
If you don’t want to tour the entire avenue on foot (I know it’s very long), you have the option of using public transit that runs along it and that connects the whole city, by Metro, bus and trolleybus, as well as with the Moskovsky train station already mentioned. Taxis are also available.
4.1. Public and tourist buses
Bus routes 24 and 191, as well as trolleybuses 1 and 22, run along the entire avenue. There used to be a tram and the possibility of re-introducing it is being studied.
It is also travelling that route is the city’s tourist bus, for which you can buy tickets on this website.
4.2. El Metro
The 5 lines of the St. Petersburg Metro pass along or cross Nevsky Avenue, although the line that runs along the avenue from beginning to end is Green Line number 3, with three stops:
- Nevsky Prospekt, more towards the beginning of the avenue (near the Kazan Cathedral).
- Mayakovskaya, near the Moskovsky train station.
- Ploshchad Alexandra Nevskogo, right at the end of the avenue.
I hope this article has helped you to get to know better one of the avenues with the greatest history in the world. You can help me by sharing this article on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you very much for reading!