The Hermitage fully lives up to its sterling reputation. You can be absorbed by its treasures for days and still come out wanting more. The enormous collection (over three million items, only a fraction of which are on display in 360 rooms) almost amounts to a comprehensive history of Western European art. Viewing it demands a little planning, so choose the areas you’d like to concentrate on before you arrive.
Catherine the Great, one of the greatest art collectors of all time, began the collection. Nicholas I also greatly enriched it and opened the galleries to the public for the first time in 1852.
It was the post-revolutionary period that saw the collection increase threefold, as many valuable private collections were seized by the state, including those of the Stroganovs, Sheremetyevs and Yusupovs. In 1948 it incorporated the renowned collections of post-Impressionist and Impressionist paintings of Moscow industrialists Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov.
The State Hermitage consists of five linked buildings along riverside Dvortsovaya nab. From west to east they are: Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Great (Old) Hermitage, New Hermitage and Hermitage Theatre. The Hermitage's excursions office is the place to contact to arrange a guided tour.
As much as you see in the museum, there’s about 20 times more in its vaults, part of which you can visit at the Hermitage Storage Facility. Other branches of the museum are the east wing of the General Staff Building (home to the Hermitage's amazing collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works), the Winter Palace of Peter I, the Menshikov Palace on Vasilyevsky Island, and the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory in the south of the city.