The Hermitage museum is a must-see for all first-time travellers to St. Petersburg as is the city's most popular visitor attraction.
Founded in 1764 by Russian Empress Catherine the
Great, the State Hermitage Museum is the richest, finest, and biggest museums in the world. It is a place of great beauty inside, as it is the home of the city’s Museum of Art and Culture, and out, because of the architectural grandeur of the buildings that make up the complex.
With over three million works of art and treasures housed in five connected building along the Neva River, the museum can't fail to impress. A tour inside the Hermitage Museum is a unique cultural experience introducing you to the history of art from the 25th century B.C. to the current days.
Viewed from across the Neva River, the buildings could have and can still inspire a variety of emotions: fear and possibly anger in the old days, awe and amazement today. Regardless of the emotions felt, anyone who has seen the complex would have to admit that the buildings are works of art as beautiful as those works found inside the museum.
For your information, the Hermitage Museum complex includes five main buildings: Winter Palace; Small Hermitage; Great (Old)
Hermitage; New Hermitage; and Hermitage Theatre. Several other buildings are also part of the complex and worth visiting, such as the
General Staff Building, the Menshikov Palace, and the Imperial Porcelain Factory.
Walking through the stunning rooms of each exhibition of the Museum is an experience of a lifetime, which should not really be missed. If you are keen to know what you can find inside the Museum before going, then keep reading below.
The main displays of one of the world's largest museums are located in five buildings facing the Neva and Palace Square. They form a single palatial main complex that was roughly a century in the making (from 1754 to 1852), and are referred by locals too as "Winter Palace". This main complex is what you see on typical photos of the Hermitage and postcards.
The Winter Palace is a huge three-story Baroque-style building. It contains 1500 rooms, 117 staircases, and a total floor of about 46,000 square meters. The palace was constructed in 1754-1762 by Bartolomeo Rastrelli for Empress the Elizabeth. In the past, it was a residence of the Russian emperors and the seat of the Russian Provisional Government for a short time following the Revolution of 1917. Some of the magnificent interior features include the Jordan or Ambassador Staircase, the large Throne Room, and the War Gallery of 1812, including the superb Malachite and Gold Drawing Rooms.
The Small Hermitage comprises two pavilions on the north and south that are linked by galleries and Hanging Garden. The architectural design combines features of the Late Baroque and Early Classicism periods of art. This was the original building built during the reign of Catherine the Great. The word “hermitage” means a hermit’s home, but popular parties of Catherine’s time featuring games and performances were known as “small hermitages”. Catherine’s parties were held in the northern pavilion and works of art were displayed in the side galleries. These artworks were the first pieces of the collections of the Imperial Museum.
The Great (Old) Hermitage was put up between 1771 and 1782 to the design of Yury Velten and was built to naturally complete the existing palace ensemble and accommodate Catherine II's collections and libraries. Of the many
amazing rooms inside, the Room of the Italian Renaissance, where the works by Leonardo da Vinci
are displayed, is the most attractive.
The New Hermitage building was designed by Leo Von Klenze, the creator of the Bavarian museum, and constructed to the south of the Great (Old) Hermitage for the Tsar Nicholas I. Inspired by the famous Pinakothek, the pride of Munich, this part of the museum opened in 1852 with 18 impressive halls housing interesting pieces of Ancient Art. For example, one of the halls contains a gigantic vase (4.5 meters in diameter) that was cut from a single piece of Revno Jasper by the craftsmen of the Kolyvan Lapidary Works in the Altai.
The Hermitage Theatre is one of the oldest theatres in St Petersburg and in Russia. Built for Catherine II by Giacomo Quarenghi, the old foundations of the palace are still visible on the ground floor. The theatre is viewed as a rare monument to Catherine’s personal tastes and affections. It features a semi-circular auditorium surrounded by ten niches holding statues of Apollo and the muses and is richly decorated in the Roman style.
The Hermitage Museum has also other well known branches worth visiting, such as the General Staff Building, the Menshikov Palace, and the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory.
The General Staff Building is one of the world's largest architectural compositions and, arguably, the finest creation of one of St Petersburg's foremost 19th century architects Carlos Rossi. Located opposite the Winter Palace, across the huge and beautiful Palace square, the building hosts temporary exhibitions about post-impressionist art. A large arched opening separates the east and west wings. The arch is topped by a triumphal chariot.
The Menshikov Palace constructed on the bank of the Neva River is the best and sole-surviving residence of General Alexander Menshikov. Founded in 1710 by Giovanni Mario Fontana, the palace was the first stone building in the city and has been a part of the Hermitage museum since 1981. It has been restored several times over the years, and today it hosts a constant exhibition about the life of early years of the history of St Petersburg.
The Imperial porcelain factory is one of the oldest factories in Russia producing ceramic porcelains. Today it also houses exhibitions about the history of porcelain, which consists of more than 30,000 items including porcelain, glass, drawings, photographs and rare publications.
The Hermitage Museum is home to one of the most significant art collections in the world (numbering around 3 million items), presenting the history of art from the Egyptian and Roman times, way through Medieval and Renaissance times up until the classical modern period and the present. Most famous are the displays of Western European art and the Treasure Gallery. But there is more!
If you are wondering what type of collections you may find inside the museum, below is a short summary of the most interesting exhibitions currently on display.
With over 30.000 exhibits on display you can easily get a sense of overload and feel lost, if you visit the Hermitage museum unprepared. If you would like to know what to skip and what to keep during your visit at the Hermitage Museum take note of our hand-picked list of must-see collections below. Come prepared and you will have fun!
The ticket office for the Hermitage Museum can be found inside the main building. Just walk through one of the three big arches facing Palace Square, then move all the way through the courtyard and enter the building through one of the two sides of the main entrance. You will see a big reception where you can ask questions and buy your tickets.
You can also buy tickets at the Hermitage Museum Official Hotel. The biggest advantage of staying there is that you can buy your ticket in the lobby and save a lot of time at the museum. The hotel also provides a shuttle service to and from the museum twice a day, which is not bad!
Alternatively, you can also buy tickets online via the museum official website (highly recommended). Lastly, if buying tickets online is not an option for you, then you can even take advantage of a couple of self-service ticket machines in the courtyard before the main entrance.
Address: 2, Dvortsovaya Ploschad (Palace Square)
Open: Daily 10:30 am to 6 pm. Last admission is at 5:30 pm. Wednesday and Friday, till 9 pm. Last admission is at 8:30 pm.
Prices: 600 Rubles - entry ticket to the Main Museum Complex and the branches (the General Staff Building, Winter Palace of Peter the Great, Menshikov Palace, the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory). 300 Rubles - entry ticket to one of the Hermitage branches (Winter Palace of Peter the Great, Menshikov Palace, the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre)
Free admission: Preschool children, school children, students. Free admission to all visitors on the first Thursday of each month.
Best time to visit: Visit in the spring or autumn to avoid the crowds, if you plan to tour alone
How much time to spend: 3-4 hours.
With over 1000 rooms, the Hermitage Museum is the most confusing to find your way around. For this reason we recommend that you hire a local tour guide to save time and nerves. If this is not an option for you, then get a map and/or an audio guide before to enter the museum.
Written by Davide C.