Winter Palace and Main Museum Complex

Sprawling across the connected buildings of the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage and the Old Hermitage, this vast, chaotic and incredibly rich collection is unquestionably the biggest draw for visitors to St. Petersburg. Founded by Catherine the Great, who bought up artwork en masse from European aristocrats, embellished by each of her successors, and then massively enriched by Bolshevik confiscations and Red Army seizures in conquered Germany, the Hermitage collection is incredibly varied, ranging from ancient Siberian artifacts to post-impressionist masterpieces by Matisse and Picasso. Equally impressive are the lavishly decorated State Rooms of the Winter Palace, testament to the incredible wealth and extravagant tastes of the Romanov Tsars.

Portico of the New Hermitage with marble atlantes in St Petersburg, Russia
Portico of the New Hermitage with marble atlantes

Visiting this remarkable collection can be a daunting experience, particularly if you are not planning on booking a guided tour. With 350 rooms of exhibits and over 2.5 million visitors per year, the museum can be crowded and overwhelming. It pays to plan ahead to get the most out of your visit to the Hermitage and to ensure that you see the parts of the collection of most interest to you. To help you do this, we have split our Hermitage guide to cover each section of the exhibition separately, with details of the highlights in each section. One ticket covers all parts of the collection in the Winter Palace complex, except for the Treasure Galleries, which can only be entered as part of a guided tour. Separate tickets have to be bought for video and camera photography within the museum. It is also possible to pre-book tickets over the Internet, which is more expensive, but helps to avoid queues, which can be a problem for visitors during peak tourist season in the summer.