What began as a simple dirt track through swampy forest has grown into St Petersburg’s most famous thoroughfare, steeped in history and lined from top to bottom with architectural wonders and cultural institutions. Nevsky Prospekt’s carefully curated and stately appearance reflected the Tsars’ designs for their capital, and a stroll along this wide avenue today provides a glimpse of imperial glory. Nearly all of St Petersburg’s landmarks and hotspots lie within walking distance of Nevsky Prospekt, and it is gorgeous in every season – bustling with people in the magical White Nights, and glimmering with elegant lights during Christmastime. What is the history of Nevsky Prospekt, and what can you find there today?
Nevsky Prospekt was founded in 1710 to connect the Alexander Nevsky Monastery with the Admiralty. A glade was cleared in the swampy forest and wooden bridges built over the rivers. Slowly, government buildings, churches and small settlements grew up along the new road. Already in these early days, the road was renowned for its landscaping, good upkeep, and the incredible vista along its length.
Did you know? Nevsky Prospekt was supposed to be a straight avenue between the Admiralty and monastery. Construction began at both ends, and a slight miscalculation has left a kink in the road.
After fires devastated the historic centre of St Petersburg in 1736 and 1737 and the first serious city plans were devised, Nevsky Prospekt’s development was overseen by renowned architects such as Bartolemeo Rastrelli, Mikhail Zemtsov, and Andrei Kvasov.
Did you know? Nevsky Prospekt’s reputation as the city’s most fashionable road was so important, that Empress Elizaveta forbid local people from drying their clothes on trees nearby.
Over the next few decades, courtiers, merchants, military and government leaders commissioned grand mansions along Nevsky Prospekt. Construction was permitted only according to strict designs, to ensure a harmonious appearance across the entire avenue. Each building had to have one impressive façade facing the street and not exceed a certain height – no building, other than a church, could be taller than the Winter Palace.
Did you know? St Petersburg’s distinctive appearance, with uninterrupted walls of buildings lining its streets and tiny courtyards like deep wells concealed inside, began with the design of Nevsky Prospekt.
Nevsky Prospekt really started to take shape at the turn of the 19th century, at the height of Classicism. Many landmarks were constructed at this time, including architectural monuments such as the Kazan Cathedral and General Staff arch, and important infrastructure such as the first public library and Moscow train station.
By the early 1900s, Nevsky Prospekt had emerged as St Petersburg’s centre of commerce, finance, and entertainment, home to the majority of the city’s banks and bustling with shops, restaurants, clubs, and even 17 cinemas! The development of Art Nouveau added to the fusion of architectural styles, especially the construction of the famous Dom Knigi and the Eliseev Emporium. Nevsky Prospekt was paved, cleaned multiple times a day, and even had electric lighting illuminating its opulent buildings – in short, it was the glittering front that the Tsars wanted to portray to the outside world.
After the October Revolution, Nevsky Prospekt was renamed ‘25th of October Prospekt’ and fell into disrepair. The grand apartment buildings were turned into kommunalka (communal apartments) and the avenue’s many beautiful churches were turned into museums. The situation reached its nadir during the Siege of Leningrad, as artillery bombardments and infernos engulfed many buildings and the street was covered in rubbish.
In the post-war period, the avenue was returned to its former name, and huge renovation works were undertaken. New metro stations popped up along the length of Nevsky Prospekt, and an enormous obelisk celebrating Leningrad’s bravery in the war was erected on Ploshchad Vosstaniya.
Did you know? You can still see traces of the Blockade today. At 14 Nevsky Prospekt, a blue stencilled sign remains on the building reading ‘Граждане! При артобстреле эта сторона улицы наиболее опасна’, meaning ‘Citizens! During artillery bombardment, this side of the street is the most dangerous’.
Overall, the Soviet period did not impose many architectural changes to Nevsky Prospekt, and it has remained remarkably preserved to this day. The section from the Admiralty to Ploshchad Vosstaniya is particularly opulent, a kilometres-long vista lined with the most intricate and beautiful buildings.
Nevsky Prospekt bustles with people day and night, and comes alive most of all during national holidays and city celebrations such as the military parades on Victory Day (9th ofnMay) and St Petersburg City Day (27th of May), when Nevsky Prospekt is closed to vehicles and people wander and cycle freely.
Did you know? The even-numbered side of Nevsky Prospekt gets more sun than the odd-numbered side, and therefore is usually busier. What’s more, Nevsky Prospekt is the warmest part of the city – it can be 10 - 12°C warmer in wintertime than St Petersburg’s outskirts!
To make the most of a visit to Nevsky Prospekt, we have a comprehensive guide of the most fascinating sights to look out for and where to find them.
Standing proudly at the head of Nevsky Prospekt, the Admiralty is one of St Petersburg’s oldest and most recognisable buildings. The nucleus of Peter the Great’s fleet in the 1700s, today its golden spire is visible from any point along the first section of Nevsky Prospekt.
One of Nevsky Prospekt’s most atmospheric side-streets is Bolshaya Morskaya. Following it to the south you’ll reach St Isaac’s Cathedral, and to the north, Palace Square. As you approach Palace Square you’ll see an enormous triple archway curving through the General Staff Building and, on emerging through the archway, can admire the Winter Palace in all its glory across the square.
This famous café is the place from which Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s favourite poet, set out to the duel which ultimately claimed his life.
Walking from the Admiralty down Nevsky Prospekt, the first bridge you’ll encounter is the Green Bridge over the River Moyka. Enjoy the picturesque views over the river or admire the surrounding palaces - the early-Classicist Dom Chicherina at House no. 15, and the Neo-Baroque Stroganov Palace at House no. 17.
Dedicated to the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812 and modelled after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Kazan Cathedral is one of Nevsky Prospekt’s most striking buildings. General Kutuzov, one of Russia’s finest military officers, is buried there, and a statue dedicated to him stands in front of the cathedral.
Directly opposite the Kazan Cathedral is Dom Knigi, a marvel of Art Nouveau architecture and St Petersburg’s most famous bookshop. It is adorned with ornate features and topped with a glass dome constructed in defiance of St Petersburg’s height restrictions.
From Kazansky Bridge, look east down the Griboedov Canal for the best possible view of the Church on Spilled Blood, with its unique architecture and enamelled domes.
The aptly named ‘Square of Arts’ lies in an illustrious location just off Nevsky Prospekt. In its centre stands a statue of Alexander Pushkin, to the west lies the Mikhailovsky Theatre, to the north the Russian Museum and Ethnographic Museum, and to the south Nevsky Prospekt and the St Petersburg State Philharmonic.
The most famous shopping destination in St Petersburg in the late 19th century, Passage has not lost any of its charm. Today it is packed with all kinds of boutiques set off a long, glass-ceilinged passage.
The Duma Tower sits on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and Dumskaya Ulitsa, its bright red colour and height visible from anywhere along the avenue.
The first commercial enterprise built on Nevsky Prospekt, Gostiny Dvor is today St Petersburg’s largest department store. Pop inside to look around or just admire its beautiful Classicist architecture, with a colonnade stretching for over 200m along Nevsky Prospekt.
The Fortnum and Masons of St Petersburg, and another of St Petersburg’s most outstanding Art Nouveau buildings, commissioned by one of Russia’s richest merchant families. The Eliseev Emporium is fronted by a stained-glass window nearly 5 storeys tall and houses an incredibly opulent interior.
A lush square in the midst of busy streets, the Ekaterinsky Garden is the perfect place to take a break during your stroll. Benches surround the enormous central monument to Catherine the Great, and the picturesque Alexandrinsky Theatre and Dom Basina stand at the garden’s edges.
One of Russia’s oldest bookshops and registered as an important site of cultural heritage. Russia’s creative geniuses were frequent patrons in pre-revolutionary times, and the bookshop was described as a literary ‘mecca’ even during Soviet times. Nowadays, it sells books with an arts and culture focus, publications by local writers, and has a coffee shop inside.
This famous bridge spans the wide Fontanka river and formerly marked the city boundary. The bridge is decorated with four enormous horse statues, and two beautiful palaces sit either side. The Classicist Anichkov Palace at House no. 39 was Nevsky Prospekt’s first palace and is the oldest surviving building on the avenue. Conversely, the Neo-Baroque Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace at House no. 41 was the last private palace built on Nevsky Prospekt.
The huge square connecting the two sides of Nevsky Prospekt is a busy junction rather than a pedestrian square, and is home to Moskovsky Vokzal, the rail terminal serving the Moscow – St Petersburg train route. A 36-metre granite obelisk celebrating ‘Hero City Leningrad’ stands in the centre of the square, and is visible from any point of Nevsky Prospekt, mirroring the Admiralty’s spire.
At the eastern end of Nevsky Prospekt lies the oldest and largest monastery in St Petersburg. It is an important religious site with beautiful architecture, leafy surroundings, multiple churches, and graveyards where Russia’s most intelligent and influential figures rest.
Nevsky Prospekt is served by a number of metro stations: Admiralteyskaya, Nevsky Prospekt, Gostiny Dvor, Mayakovskaya, Ploshchad Vosstaniya, and Ploshchad Alexandra Nevskogo.
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