Per the suggestions of Jay, a young Australian man I met back in Moscow, my first day in St. Petersburg was spent at the Hermitage Museum. People don’t go to St. Petersburg and skip the Hermitage is what I kept hearing. Well as the weather Gods would have it, it was overcast and threatening to rain on my first day in the city so the Hermitage it was.
For the true art fanatics, it takes a good 2-3 days to see the entire museum and really appreciate the pieces of art that pique their interest. What I learned, however, is that I am, by no means, an art lover or art buff aka I’m not a museum person. I have a tremendous amount of respect for artists of all kind, but it’s just not my calling. I’m more of a mass transit and mountains kind of gal. I’d rather be outside amongst the people and nature.
That said, I only ended up spending a quick 2.5 hours inside, but I do agree that you need to visit the Hermitage even if it’s just to gawk at it’s ornate and stunning beauty.
What is the Hermitage?
The Hermitage is one of the largest and oldest art collections in the world, founded in the 1700s by Catherine the Great. With over 300 rooms in 6 different buildings, you can understand why it takes a few days to see everything, if you so desire.
Where is the Hermitage and how do I get there?
The Hermitage’s main collection is housed in the Winter Palace at the end of Nevsky Prospekt on Neva River. It sits in a huge courtyard across from the General Staff Building, and you’ll know you’re in the right place by the number of tour buses and groups wandering around. To get there, take the metro to the Nevsky Prospekt stop on the blue line or to the Gostiny Dvor stop on the green line. You’ll have to walk a bit further down on Nevsky Prospekt to get there, but it’s not far.
A tip on buying tickets
Don’t stand in the long line to get your tickets. When you enter the main gate to the Winter Palace, there are 2 automated ticket machines off to either side where you can slide your card and be done. Then you get to bypass everyone waiting in line for the main ticket office and hopefully get ahead of some of the herds of tour groups.
What do I need to know?
The museum is closed on Mondays, and there is free admission to all on the first Thursday of every month. It’s also free for students with presentation of valid school id. The regular entrance fee is 400 roubles (about $12), and it’s another 200 roubles (about $6) to take photos & video.
There are cafes on the first floor of the museum so you can take a lunch break during the day, and huge bags are not allowed inside so you will have to leave them at coat check.
So how do I enjoy myself if I’m not an art lover?
To start, get an audio guide (150 roubles) in your language of choice and a map so you know where you’re going and you can have some clue of what you’re looking at. Walk around at your own pace, and read the little signs next to each piece so you have a better understanding of each artist and era. Take pictures, form your own impressions and just enjoy it. It may be beneficial to listen in on one of the many tour groups every once in awhile just to get a fresh perspective other than the outdated audio guide. Plus, it’s even better if you hear people ask questions so you can humanize what you’re looking at.
When you feel like you’re done, be done. Just because everyone else is spending a full 8 hours there doesn’t mean you have to. It’s not your cup of tea, so be it. There are plenty of things to do in St Petersburg, but the Hermitage is worth scoping out for a bit even if it’s just to say you went.
To me, it felt a bit like textbook history lessons, and after a while, everything started to look the same. I missed the ultimate “wow” factor everyone was talking about, but I suppose I don’t have as strong of an appreciation for that kind of ancient art which is fine.
So for all those who would sell their souls to see the Hermitage, pick your jaws up off the floor, and understand it just wasn’t for me.