The 342 bridges of Saint Petersburg

There are only three reasons why tourists wonder through the streets of Saint-Petersburg at night: they’re either drunk, lost, or on their way to the banks of the Neva river to see one of the 22 bridges being drawn. The bridges irrevocably divide the city in two halves for several hours so if you decide to go, make sure you’re on the right side when that happens! 

What you should know before the clock strikes half past one in St. Petersburg, is this. Next to the Dutch language you bump into a lot, the Russian city has something else in common with Amsterdam: bridges! Before this ‘Russian Amsterdam’ became St. Petersburg, it was a swamp area in the northwestern corner of Russia, that belonged to the Swedish. Peter The Great stole the territory from the Swedes to realize his dream: he wanted to found a new city here that would become the most important metropolis of Russia. The megalomaniac Tsar had St. Petersburg built from the ground up, as a kind of 18th century Dubai. After having lived many years in the Netherlands, Amsterdam had clearly made an impression on the tsar: the road and canal system of the Dutch capital served as an inspiration for the construction of Saint Petersburg. Countless meandering canals, islands and bridges make up the map of the Russian city today.

A tourist boat sails the canals in Saint Petersburg
Another trace of Amsterdam is St. Petersburg: in 2009, a Russian brewery launched a series of beers called ‘Amsterdam’. Empty beer, champaign and vodka bottles along the water channels is an everyday scene throughout the city.

Three rivers, 342 bridges
Through the city center, there are three main rivers (the Neva, Fontanka and Mojka) and lots of small watercourses flowing. 342 bridges make sure you can cross the water and all of them are unique and planted in the city at different times through history. A few examples: the Egyptian bridge (with Egyptian sphinxes), the Lion bridge (yes, with statues of lions), the Lantern Bridge and the Singer Bridge (with a small chapel). And of course, Peter the Great wouldn’t be Peter the Great if there wouldn’t be have had a bridge named after himself: the Peter the Great or Most Petra Velikovo. Fun fact: you light think Saint Petersburg was named after him, but it wasn’t! Saint Petersburg is named after the patron saint of the city: the apostle Peter.

The Neva river cuts the city in two halves. The red dot is the Palace brigde

The famous Palace bridge
The one bridge that really stands out is the Palace bridge or Most Dvortsovy in Russian (Most = bridge, Dvortsovy = palace). The drawbridge was the result of a design competition in 1901, but 11 years passed before the actual construction started. It took another 24 years to complete the bridge! The reason for the popularity of the bridge is the strategic location: the drawbridge is very close to the Winter Palace, the Hermitage with the adjacent Palace Square and the gigantic Nevsky Prospekt shopping street (four kilometers long and a real tourist hotspot).

Every bridge has its curfew
Hundreds of tourists (and pickpockets too, so be alert) watch the bridge drawing every night. Cars and buses are parked bumper to bumper, and in the minutes that it takes to fully draw the bridge, dozens of phones and cameras go up in the air. The good thing is that you can’t see the crowd on the photo since they’re all on one side! At around 4:50 am, all 22 bridges are drawn so make sure to be on the right side of the city (or of your hotel). Okay, I’m exaggerating, the opening and closing hours are very well organized: there’s always at least one bridge open for traffic, so that police, ambulances and firefighters can get through. Check the ‘opening and closing’ hours of the main bridges via this link.
People crossing the Palace Bridge
The Neva river from the other side of the Palace bridge.
Souvenir stands next to the bridge.
Romance along the Neva river

A short 360° video along the Neva:

The drawn Palace bridge with the university buildings in the background

Want a unique view of the Palace bridge drawing? Buy a cruise ticket: tourist boats make good money buy sailing through the bridge as soon as bridge is in motion.