Also known as the Museum of Ethnology and Anthropology, this is the city’s first museum, founded in 1714 by Peter himself. It is famous largely for its ghoulish collection of monstrosities, preserved ‘freaks’, two-headed mutant foetuses, deformed animals and odd body parts, all collected by Peter. While most rush to see these sad specimens, there are also interesting exhibitions on native peoples from around the world.
Peter's aim in setting up the museum was to demonstrate that the malformations were not the result of the evil eye or sorcery, but rather accidents of nature. This fascinating place is an essential St Petersburg sight, although not one for the faint-hearted. Think twice about bringing young children here, and consider giving Kunstkamera a wide berth if you are pregnant yourself. Indeed, where else can you see specimens with such charming names as ‘double-faced monster with brain hernia’?
Yet the famous babies in bottles make up just a small part of the enormous collection that also encompasses some wonderfully kitsch dioramas exhibiting rare objects and cultural practices from all over the world, and you can easily spend an hour or two picking through these. The 3rd floor of the museum is given over to an exhibition about polymath Mikhail Lomonosov, with a recreation of his study-laboratory.
The top floors of the museum are only open as part of a guided tour (in English; for up to four people R2700, call in advance to book), and include the great Gottorp Globe, a rotating globe and planetarium all in one.