What’s there to see in the second largest museum in the world?Next to works by Rembrandt, Raphael, Degas, and Leonardo da Vinci, you’ll find pieces from the Imperial Russian court, including thrones and other items from the treasury of the Tsars. The Hermitage Museum’s collection is vast, and its almost 3 million objects and artifacts cover almost all eras of European art history, in addition to art from Asia, Africa, and South America. The collection of art and archaeological pieces which was founded by Catherine the Great is housed in 5 buildings: the Winter Palace, the Great (or Old) Hermitage, the Small Hermitage, the New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theater. Particular highlights include the collections of Spanish and Dutch art, as well as some individual pieces such as the 18th-century Peacock Clock.
What’s the story behind the Winter Palace?The Winter Palace, one of the buildings housing the Hermitage, is full of history! It was the main residence of the Russian Imperial family when they were in St. Petersburg. It was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, among others, in 1754 and its style later became known as Elizabethan Baroque after Empress Elizabeth. The palace wasn’t always painted in its iconic pale green color, it began life yellow and was even once a dull red. The color is a matter for debate, as the green used was the standard color the Soviets used for Baroque buildings and might not be considered representative of how the building was intended to look. After the October Revolution, the Winter Palace became a part of the neighboring museums of the Hermitage, and the building was most recently renovated in 2005. Inside are opulent rooms and chambers, such as the Malachite Drawing Room, where visitors can view the personal belongings of the Imperial family.
Should I take a guided tour?A tour with an experienced guide is rarely a waste of money if you want to learn as much as possible about the historical background of the artworks on display. However, since there can be congestion as a result of larger tour groups, it might be best to visit the highlights on your own and then take a guided tour through some of the less well-known parts of the collection. The sheer number of exhibits to explore will mean you probably won’t be able to see everything in a single day, so it’s advised that, if you’re visiting without a guide, you should research the parts of the collection that interest you the most and plan your route accordingly. Of course, if you just want the highlights and an overview, then you can book a guided tour and be confident that they’ll show you the most interesting things to see.
How long does it take to visit the Hermitage Museum?Since there’s so much to see inside the Hermitage Museum complex, even in the Winter Palace exhibitions alone, you can easily spend a whole day or many days discovering everything. Guided tours usually take around 4 hours and move at a brisk pace through a range of exhibits. Art lovers will probably want to take more time than that, but you’ll want to prioritize the works you want to see in order to make the most of your ticket. If you’re visiting with a family, especially with small children, you’ll probably want to plan a whole day with plenty of short stops so that the children don’t get overtired.