The Hermitage is a must-see for anyone planning a trip to St. Petersburg! Founded in 1764, it’s the second-largest art museum in the world.
The Hermitage is huge—the five buildings in this sprawling complex occupy almost 720,000 square feet! Home to over three million pieces of art, it would take you almost six years to see everything if you just spent a minute looking at each piece.
Thankfully, you don’t need to dedicate several years of your life to a rewarding visit to the Hermitage. You can actually see the highlights of the Hermitage in one (long) day. Here’s how.
A quick history of the Hermitage
The Hermitage, which has been open to the public since 1852, was originally founded by Catherine the Great in 1764. Building on a smaller collection begun by Peter the Great, the empress began by buying a huge collection of paintings from Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky.
Throughout her life, Catherine continued to add to this impressive collection, contributing to her reputation as a spendthrift.
The complex gets its name from the French word for the dwelling of a hermit or recluse, though not because of Catherine—she wasn’t considered to be reclusive.
But the Winter Palace, one of the buildings that makes up the Hermitage complex, was the seasonal home of the Russian royal family for almost 200 years. For the first century of that time, entry to The Hermitage was only granted to a select few. That exclusivity is what led to the unusual name.
Tip: In English, you don’t need to pronounce the Hermitage with a silent H or a French pronunciation—it’s simply The HERM-it-idge.
Fun fact: The Hermitage has employed cats since the time of Peter the Great, when his daughter Elizabeth brought them in to control the rodent population. Today there are between 50 and 70 kitties living and working in the Hermitage complex.
What is the Hermitage famous for?
When most people talk about visiting the Hermitage, it’s because of its massive art collection. With over three million paintings, artifacts, arms, and crafts, this world-class museum is a must-see for any art lover.
The collection includes works by the best of the best, including da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet, and Pissarro. The list goes on—including works by Van Gogh, Matisse, Gaugin, and Rodin.
What are the most famous artworks at the Hermitage?
Although you’ll see so much priceless art at the Hermitage, there are ten key pieces you’ll want to see during your visit. But be warned! Much like at any other museum housing incredibly rare art pieces, there’ll be huge crowds around the most famous paintings. Here’s what everyone wants to see:
10. The Return of the Prodigal Son—Rembrandt
9. The Madonna Litta—possibly da Vinci (or his pupil)
8. The Conestabile Madonna—Rafael
7. Apostles Peter and Paul—El Greco
6. Thatched Cottages—Van Gogh
5. The Woman Holding Fruit—Gauguin
4. The Boulevard Montmartre in Paris—Pissarro
3. Two Sisters (Meeting)—Picasso
2. Portrait of a Lady in Blue—Gainsborough
But it’s not just about the art pieces—the buildings housing the Hermitage museum are architectural masterpieces in their own rights, dating to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Where is the Hermitage located?
The State Hermitage Museum is located at 2 Palace Square, St. Petersburg. The complex is in the Central District of St. Petersburg in Dvortsovaya Square (Palace Square) close to several other tourist faves including the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Pushkin Apartment Museum.
From the main cruise port in St. Petersburg, it’s only about a 10-minute drive.
If you’re taking the Metro, Admiralteyskaya is the closest station to the Hermitage, at about a 5- to 10-minute walk away.
You could also use the Metro stations Gostiny Dvor or Nevsky Prospect, both of which are about a 15-minute walk via Nevsky Avenue.
Visiting the Hermitage
As of summer 2021, Russia’s borders are now open again to visitors from many countries, and the State Hermitage Museum is once again open to tourists!
When is the Hermitage open?
The Hermitage is open Tuesdays through Sundays, and is always closed on Mondays. Hours of operation on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday are 10:30 AM until 6:00 PM. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the museum is open 10:30 AM to 9 PM.
Holiday hours are 10:30 AM until 6:00 PM, and on the day before each holiday the museum closes one hour early. The Hermitage is closed every year on January 1st for the New Year and on May 9th for Victory Day.
How much are tickets for the Hermitage?
If you’re planning on buying tickets for an independent visit to the Hermitage, you have several options. A self-guided ticket for the main complex is 500 roubles (about $7 US or £5). A guided tour, including the entrance fee, is available through the museum for 1000 roubles.
Travelers to St. Petersburg who want to visit the Hermitage independently should check out the museum’s extensive list of ticket prices. This page includes pricing for individual exhibits as well as how to book discounted and free tickets for families, young children, students, and other select groups.
Guided tours of The Hermitage in St. Petersburg
If you don’t have a lot of time but still want to see the highlights of The Hermitage, taking a tour with a local guide is your best bet.
Unless you don’t mind standing in line for half the day (when I visited, the walk-up wait time for tickets was six hours!) consider booking a tour. Most tour groups include a skip-the-line ticket which is worth every penny, even for die-hard DIYers.
Note: Due to the pandemic, walk-up tickets for the Hermitage are not currently available. However, this policy is subject to change at any time.
When you’re choosing a Hermitage tour, make sure you pick the right kind of tour—many are specifically for cruise passengers! These tours meet right at the cruise port and include visa-free entry.
Visitors who already have a visa should steer clear of the cruise passenger tours. Tours for independent travelers usually pick up at a more central location (and you won’t have to pay any extra for visa-free entry if you already have one).
Best Hermitage tours for cruise passengers
- St Petersburg 2-Day Private Flexible Tour for Cruise Ships
- St. Petersburg Visa-Free 2-Day Shore Excursion
- 2-Day Private St. Petersburg with Imperial Residences Visa-Free
- St Petersburg 3-Day Visa-Free Cruise Shore Excursion
Cruising to St. Petersburg? Make sure you read my tips for visiting St. Petersburg, Russia on a cruise. I share everything you’ll need to know for a successful visit, including how to avoid shelling out lots of money for an expensive visa!
Best Hermitage tours for independent travelers
Rules you might not expect at the Hermitage
When I visited the Hermitage just prior to the pandemic, there were a few rules that surprised me. Although so much has changed about travel in such a short period, these rules might surprise you too.
- You need to wear protective booties over your shoes during your entire inside visit to the Hermitage. This helps protect the beautiful wooden floors of the buildings. Lightweight disposable booties are provided to each guest at no charge.
- You’ll need to check any bulky outer garments at the main entrance to pick up after your visit to the museum. I was wearing a medium-weight cardigan over my t-shirt during my visit, and I was told I needed to check it. So be sure to dress comfortably in case you have to shed a layer or two!
- Checking bags: I only had a small bag, but many of my group members had to check their larger bags and backpacks as well.
- Flash photography is frowned upon. Although that’s not exactly a strange rule for an art museum, photography in general is allowed in some areas and not others. Just keep an eye out for signs that say photos are prohibited.
Have you visited The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia? What did you think of the museum? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!