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Palace Square 2, Saint Petersburg 190000, Russia

GPS: 59.94015515037, 30.314739429763

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The Hermitage Museum is a fabulous state art museum located in the heart of Saint Petersburg on the banks of the Neva River. It is housed in a complex of imposing city buildings, including the Winter Palace, built in 1762 for Empress Elizabeth of Russia (daughter of Tsar Peter the Great). It is in this palace, which once served as the main residence of the Tsars of Russia, that the main artistic jewels of the Hermitage Museum are stored.

Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great (niece by marriage of Elizabeth of Russia), the Hermitage Museum aims to embody the greatness of Imperial Russia in the eyes of the whole world. Initially, the museum housed the large private collection of paintings assembled by Catherine the Great (consisting of 4,000 elements, it was one of the largest in Europe at the time). A few years later, the Hermitage Museum began to bring together the finest pieces of the Russian imperial collection with works by world-renowned European artists. With its 17,000 paintings, it has the biggest collection in the world. But it was not until 1852 that this cultural institution became the first public museum in Russia. It is the largest museum on the planet in terms of surface area, along with the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1,000 exhibition rooms). The Hermitage Museum contains an incredible range of art objects: 65,000 works are on display to the public and nearly 3 million are kept in the estate’s countless reserves. The buildings are interconnected around the magnificent Palace Square. From here, the Alexander Column dominates the area at a height of almost 50 metres (when it was built in 1834, it was one of the highest towers in the world). Other exhibition halls of the Hermitage Museum are detached from this great architectural ensemble and require a visit of several days to appreciate its many treasures.

In 2014, the Hermitage Museum celebrated its 250th anniversary with great pomp and circumstance, making it one of the oldest museums in the world. It houses a variety of major collections such as imperial porcelain, paintings by Rembrandt, impressionist paintings by Gauguin and Matisse, contemporary art and marble sculptures by Canova. In a brilliant setting of marble, precious stones and gilding, the State Hermitage Museum organizes a variety of exhibitions that alone justify an initiatory trip to Saint Petersburg.

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  • A gigantic palace-museum embodying the grandeur of the country and the emblem of Russian civilisation; the endless collections représenting the finest human achievements in many fields
  • The splendour of Russian Baroque architecture of the museum buildings (the Little Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the Hermitage Theatre, the General Staff Building and the Winter Palace); the 200 columns and 150 sculptures adorning the green and white façade of the Winter Palace (this three-storey building contains more than 500 exhibition rooms); the huge square next to the Hermitage Museum (Palace Square)
  • The monumental aspect of the site and the sumptuous decorative elements of the interior rooms
  • The Knights’ Hall, the St George Hall, the Pavilion Hall and the Arsenal collection of arms and armour; the salons of the Winter Palace
  • The impressionist and post-impressionist paintings; the thousands of sculptures; the one million numismatic works (coins and medals); the famous Fabergé eggs
  • The hundreds of thousands of prehistoric and archaeological objects; the collections of Greek and Roman antiquities (more than 100,000 objects from this period); the rooms dedicated to Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Byzantine art
  • The artistic collections of Asia and Siberia; the tapestry heritage and the traditional costumes
  • The series of ornamented staircases, including the Winter Palace staircase; the profusion of columns, vases, chandeliers…
  • The view from the windows of the museum; the Peter and Paul Cathedral (Baroque style) housing the necropolis of the former Russian monarchs on the opposite bank; the White Nights Festival (late May to early July) in Saint Petersburg; walks along the Moyka River
  • The city of Saint Petersburg is home to a total of 250 museums and almost 4,000 of its monuments are protected. It was founded in 1703 by Peter I (Peter the Great) on a vast swampy area that was occupied by the Kingdom of Sweden. This tsar built several palaces and designated St Petersburg as the capital of Russia in 1712 at the expense of Moscow. Crowned Emperor of Russia in 1721, Peter the Great had the ambition to bring his country closer to Europe and to make this new capital a window on it. The city has inherited several names in its recent history: Saint Petersburg at the beginning (in homage to its founder), Petrograd (during the First World War) and then Leningrad (just after Lenin’s death in 1924). It will finally recover its historical and original name following a referendum organised in 1991.
  • A total of six buildings are attached to the Hermitage Museum: the Winter Palace, the Old Hermitage, the Little Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the Hermitage Theatre and the General Staff Building. A local legend says that it takes about ten years to discover the complete collections of the museum. The name “Hermitage” can be explained by the fact that this museum was originally private and only tsars or empresses were able to enjoy its richness (a kind of imperial hermit).
  • Catherine II is better known as Catherine the Great. According to the Russian writer and former diplomat Vladimir Fedorovski, she was the empress who collected the largest number of works of art in the Hermitage Museum with the contribution of her favourite lover Grigory Potemkin. To satisfy her desires, she would have spent a colossal fortune estimated at 12% of the national budget of the Russian Empire.
  • Facing the Winter Palace, the Alexander Column is a red granite monument commemorating the victory of the Russian Imperial troops over Napoleon’s Great Army during the Russian military campaign in 1812.
  • It was after the October Revolution (1917) that the museum’s collections became the property of the Russian state. During the conflicts of the two world wars, the collections of the Hermitage Museum were transferred to Moscow or hidden in the Ural Mountains. Some of the buildings were turned into hospitals to care for civilians and soldiers from the front. In the 1930s, Stalin who was not known to be a great lover of art, disposed of a number of works to finance his major industrialisation projects across the country.
  • For centuries, the management of the Hermitage Museum has relied on a colony of cats to protect its art works from rodents. These animals, which have been present since the reign of Catherine II, have taken up residence in the basement and are cared for by the staff. There is even an exhibition dedicated to them inside the museum. Each year, the Hermitage Museum organizes a special day to encourage the inhabitants to adopt one of their four-legged friends and regularly calls on the services of a veterinarian. At the end of 2020, a French citizen bequeathed a certain amount of money to the museum to help improve the living conditions of this population of felines, estimated at around 50 cats.
  • The Hermitage Museum is a 3-minute walk from the Admiralteyskaya metro station (line 5).
  • The best time to see its fabulous collections is in winter or spring when it is less crowded (the museum is closed on Mondays). Spending Christmas on site to enjoy the snowy St Petersburg landscapes or visiting the place at nightfall creates a magical atmosphere.
  • If you are short of time, opt for a guided tour so that you don’t miss out on the most remarkable works.
  • The Hermitage Museum has created a virtual tour to discover its works of art from the comfort of your own home. You can also view a 5-hour film dedicated to the museum’s rich collections. Shot in a single sequence shot by the Apple brand, it travels through 45 exhibition rooms covering nearly 600 works of art. In addition, the website of the Hermitage Museum allows visitors to discover its digitized collections (paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures, art objects…).
  • A 20-minute walk from the museum, you can join the Moika Palace (or Yusupov Palace). This is the place where Grigory Rasputin (a former councillor of the imperial court) was murdered in 1916 by members of the Russian aristocracy. The palace contains an interesting museum if you want to know more about the lifestyle of the Russian nobility before the revolution.

Where to eat

  • Clean Plates Society
    (gourmet burgers)
  • Sicaffe
    (coffee and pastry break)
  • Percorso
    (romantic setting)

Where to go out

  • Russian Museum
    (the excellence of fine arts)
  • Saint Isaac's Cathedral
    (magnificent orthodox building)
  • Gostiny Dvor
    (historic shopping galleries)

Where to sleep

  • Soul Kitchen Junior Hostel
    (youth hostel)
  • Old Vienna Hotel
    (very good compromise)
  • Domina Prestige St.Petersburg
    (modern and colourful)

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