Mariinsky theater in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

© Mistervlad/Shutterstock

Mariinsky Theatre

Top choice in St Petersburg

The Mariinsky Theatre has played a pivotal role in Russian ballet ever since it was built in 1859 and remains one of Russia's most loved and respected cultural institutions. Its pretty green-and-white main building on aptly named Teatralnaya pl (Theatre Sq) is a must for any visitor wanting to see one of the world's great ballet and opera stages, while its newer second stage, the Mariinsky II, is a state-of-the-art opera house for the 21st century.

The building you see today opened its doors in 1860, and was named in honour of Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of Tsar Alexander II. Since its inception, the Mariinsky has seen some of the world's greatest musicians, dancers and singers on its stage. Petipa choreographed his most famous works here, including Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, and the premieres of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades and Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet were held here. The Soviets initially closed the Mariinsky down, but as the renamed Kirov Ballet it became a major force in promoting the Soviet Union abroad, and is still the main reason that ballet and Russia remain synonymous worldwide.

The best way to experience the building as its designers intended is to see an opera or ballet here.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby St Petersburg attractions

1. Small Synagogue

0.16 MILES

Behind the Grand Choral Synagogue, this red-brick synagogue is generally open for guided tours only. Make inquiries via the website.


0.16 MILES

This multi-floored gallery near the Griboyedov Canal stages intriguing exhibitions that showcase the talents of Russian artists of the 20th and 21st…

3. Grand Choral Synagogue

0.17 MILES

Designed by Vasily Stasov, the striking Grand Choral Synagogue opened in 1893 to provide a central place of worship for St Petersburg’s growing Jewish…

4. Lviny Most

0.22 MILES

Four majestic white lions – two on either end – guard this photogenic bridge, which was built in 1826.

5. Yusupov Palace

0.24 MILES

This spectacular palace on the Moyka River has some of the best 19th-century interiors in the city, in addition to a fascinating and gruesome history. The…

6. Nikolsky Cathedral

0.26 MILES

Surrounded on two sides by canals, this ice-blue cathedral is one of the most picture-perfect in the city, beloved by locals for its baroque spires and…

7. St Isidore's Church

0.27 MILES

The last great church to have been built in St Petersburg before the revolution, this neo-Byzantine beauty dates from 1907 and creates one of the most…

8. New Holland

0.36 MILES

This triangular island was closed for the most part of the last three centuries, and has opened to the public in dazzling fashion. There's plenty going on…