The River Neva

Probably any Russian schoolkid could tell you which river St. Petersburg stands on. It's the River Neva – not only a sightseeing attraction, of Russia's northern capital, but one of its main city components. Thousands of tourists arrive in St. Petersburg every month, just to see the Neva – and perhaps take a trip on it. Russia and Sweden fought wars for it, it's been a major transport artery, and today it's one of the symbols of St. Petersburg.

Fascinating Facts

  • Once a year, there are two huge ice-breaker trips up the Neva. The first is in April, to push the Neva's ice towards the Gulf of Finland. The second happens just a few weeks later, on the return journey to Lake Ladoga.
  • The colour of the water in the Neva changes several times a day. By the light of noon, the water takes on leaden shade, but by the evening it turns grey, while it can even seem rosy in the mornings.
  • The pollution in the river doesn't dampen the enthusiasm of the hundreds of fishermen who line its banks. The most well-known local catch is smelt.
  • For many years, the River Neva was the main waterway linking the Russian Empire to Europe.
  • The main attraction of the Neva for tourists are its granite-clad embankments, which stretch for over 100 kilometers. Tourists also love to watch the raising of the suspension bridges on the Neva.


Settlement of the land around the Neva began in ancient times, soon after the retreat of the glaciers. In the 9th century AD the river was known as the Vodskaya Pyatina, and belonged to the Kingdom of Novgorod. By the 12th-13th centuries the river was already coming within the sphere of Swedish influence.

But it was not until the 18th century and the founding of St. Petersburg that extensive building development occurred along the Neva's banks, and the Russian Empire began to grow – with St. Petersburg as its capital city. Even so, no bridges appeared along the river – since Tsar Peter the Great thought they posed a hindrance to shipping. Bridges on the Neva only appeared in the 19th century – although it was only in 2004 that a new suspension bridge on the Neva was built, with a second one coming into use three years later.

What to see

  • The Oreshek Fortress on the Neva banks, located near the town of Schlusselburg.
  • The banks of the Neva are home to many churches and historic monuments. The best way to see them all is to take a boat trip along the Neva – some excursions offer views of the raising of the bridges, as well as the chance to admire the riverside architecture of St. Petersburg.
  • Another amusement along the River Neva is fishing. The favoured places for angling is around the Peter and Paul Fortress; near to Pirogovskaya Embankment, Kutuzov Embankment and Lieutenant Schmidt's Embankment. You might be lucky and catch sterlet, bream, pike, or trout in the River Neva.
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