The Smolny was a ballerina’s palace until the summer of 1917, when the ballerina sensed which way the wind was blowing and left town. It was occupied by revolutionary parties and became a hub of organizing, printing and administration. Lenin had his office there. I’ve read about the Smolny in Victor Serge and John Reed’s work, stories of smoke-filled rooms, corridors filled with sailors and soldiers, and of course Lenin speaking from the balcony to crowds below. This is the nearest thing to a pilgrimage I’ll make (next to Highgate cemetery in London, of course.)
Today it’s the State Museum of the Political History of Russia, which gives an unwavering look at Soviet political history. Its weakness is that it treats the USSR as solely a political entity, not looking at the material stuff of class and culture that gave the dictatorship such longevity. So there are lots of displays of Stalinist posters and pins along with explanations of the terror that underlay them, but no explanation of the new class of bureaucrats whose material privileges sustained the regime. Still, it was a fascinating look into the daily life of Stalinist Russia. It also devoted a display case to the Oppositionists, which I thought was brave: most histories of the USSR, both for and against, need to rely on the myth of the unbroken line from Lenin to Stalin, because it means the USSR was entirely evil or entirely good. But the Bolshevik Party that made the Revolution ended up largely opposing the regime that came out of it.