Saint Petersburg: The history of Russian science

8 days 27 August 2021 for £2,195 and 8 October 2021 for £2,045

Explore the history of Russian science, from Peter the Great’s visionary creation of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1755, through the fraught years of Soviet transformation, to a present-day dominated by thoughts of space exploration and settlement. Led by art and architecture expert Andrew Spira with Simon Ings, author of Stalin and the Scientists, and New Scientist writer.

Visit museums, cathedrals and sites made famous by the likes of Pavlov, Vavilov, Dokuchaev and Mendeleev, and discover the often overlooked achievements of Russian scientists, who did pioneering research on extending human lifespan as well as on language, brain function and child development; explored the effect of living matter on rocks and minerals while building a model of the evolution of the biosphere; showed how Darwin’s theory of natural selection could be reconciled with the findings of genetics; invented the modern conservation movement; and devoted decades of international exploration to amassing a seed collection that was one of the scientific wonders of the day.

Petersburg, Peter the great’s “Venice of the North”, was Russia’s imperial capital for two centuries, led the scientific community into the maw of revolution, provided a counterbalance to the increasingly dogmatic scientific community in Moscow, and is once again beginning to reacquire its reputation as Russia’s cultural centre. 

Discover where, among rich cultural treasures (including the second-largest art museum in the world!) where modern genetics was born, how the periodic table was invented, where Pavlov developed the concept of conditioning, and much more.

In conjunction with Travel Editions


Fly into Pulkovo airport, a short journey from the heart of this stunning city to check in to and relax at the Ambassador Hotel. 


After breakfast, there is a guided city orientation tour with entrance to St Isaacs Cathedral, with tour leader Andrew Spira. In the evening you will step back in time to the evocative vintage restaurant Severyanin. Where Andrew and New Scientist writer Simon Ings will host a welcome dinner and set the scene for the days ahead with introductory talks on the history of Russian Science.


You will start today with the Arctic and Antarctic Museum which tells the dramatic story of Russia’s polar exploration from the 1800s onward. From the first steps in the Russian far north to modern day research stations in Antarctica.

Then you will step into the floating C-189 submarine museum. Launched in 1954, it saw 35 years active service before being sank then rescued. It provides hands-on insight into the technology of and life aboard a submarine. 

The third of today’s visits is to the Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology located on the Peter & Paul Fortress island. It includes rocket engineering items, reconstructed constructor’s laboratories, space suits and a landing section of the Soyuz 16 space craft.

Dating back to 1872, the Popov Central Museum of Communications houses over 8 million items related to the fields of telegraphy, telephony, and post. All essential for holding together a territory as large as the former Soviet Republic.

In the evening, enjoy dinner and a second talk with Simon at the art nouveau 1913 restaurant.


The first visit today is to the Museum of Hygiene, a cornucopia of germs, disease and filth. Originally intended to educate the populace about good health it is now a fascinating window into biological scientific curiosities.

Then onto the Zoological Museum, an enormous natural history collection dating back to 1716 when it was started by Peter the Great. It has over 30,000 exhibits including a blue whale skeleton, dissected animals, and several ancient Siberian mammoths.

Your afternoon will focus on the work of Ivan Pavlov. A physiologist known primarily for his work on classical conditioning. The visits are to his apartment and then the Institute of Physiology named after him. The apartment contains all the original belongings from Pavlov’s occupation in the 1920s, so provides not just a memory of Pavlov but also a typical example of a flat of the intelligentsia during the start of the last century.

In the evening you will take a short drive out of the city to visit the Pulkovo Observatory, built in 1839, destroyed during the Second World War then rebuilt. It is the principal astronomical observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where you will experience live observation through one of their telescopes and learn about their current research activities.


After breakfast you will visit the All-Russian Research Institute of Plant Industry where Vavilov changed the face of agricultural science and genetics, established in 1921 and housing the world’s largest seed bank. 

From here, you will take a short walk over to Vasilyevsky Island to visit the Geological Museum F.N. Chernyshev. The second largest geology museum in the world with a pristine collection of semi-precious and precious stones on display, as well fossils and fragments from mammoths, dinosaurs and other extinct animals.

A few blocks away is a hidden gem, the Mendeleev Apartment Museum, celebrating the life and work of this Russian scientific hero, as the inventor of periodic table in 1869. It is small but has several exhibits including some of his original notes when sketching out the periodic table.

Finally, onto the Central Museum of Soil set up by V.V.Dokuchaev in 1902. He is commonly regarded as the father of soil science and the museum was set up to collect and study soil monoliths from all points of the globe.

In the evening there is a talk from Andrew at the hotel and then dinner at Khochu Kharcho, which serves Georgian and Caucasus cuisine.


In the morning, you will travel to town of Pushkin, a former imperial residence and town for the elite. Here you will visit the stunning Catherine Palace, the summer residence of the Russian Tsars.

Then you will explore the Tsarskoselskaya Amber Workshop, one of the biggest scientific-restoration centres in Europe that specializes in research, reconstruction and restoration of amber items and objects made of hard semi-precious stones, wood and nacre. 

Returning to Saint Petersburg in the afternoon, you will start with the Kunstkamera, otherwise known as the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. Russia’s first museum, completed in 1727 and with over 2 million items. Then you will explore the State Hermitage Museum. Set over five buildings, it is the second largest art museum in the world and contains everything from prehistoric antiquities to European fine art.


Today is a day of contrasts starting with the Scientific Centre for Robotics and Technical Cybernetics. As one of the leading research institutes in Russia it has developed a broad range of applications including the landing control for the spacecraft Soyuz 16 and recognisance robots for Chernobyl.

The final visit is to the grand State Russian Museum, the world’s largest depository of Russian Art housed in a unique architectural complex in the centre of Saint Petersburg. It is a leading restoration centre and an authoritative institute of academic research.

In the evening, Andrew will host a farewell dinner at the charming and highly rated restaurant Vincent.


After a farewell breakfast, depart for your journey home.

Should you wish to stay longer in Saint Petersburg, our tour operating partner Travel Editions can arrange the accommodation for you.

Please note: The opening hours of some of the museums and institutes in the tour are liable to change. Some of them are private viewings arranged in advance. Travel Editions will endeavour to deliver the tour as scheduled but a degree of flexibility will be required and the schedule is subject to change.