St. Petersburg is Russia's most accessible, most European and most touristy city. During the Soviet era, the city was called Leningrad. Its striking beauty of today is even more remarkable when you know that During World War II this place was devastated by a 900-day Nazi siege.
Today's restored palaces, statues, gardens, and arched bridges remind of the time of the czars. As if the time is back and the city once again goes by its original name. Today St. Petersburg sparkles with architectural trends, graceful waterways, and boulevards. Two world-famous museums top it off.
St. Petersburg was Russia's capital from 1712 until 1918. The fabulously wealthy Romanov monarchs were in power for all that time, and the imposing buildings they erected were a symbol of their power.
You can trace the city's history through the architectural legacy of its great rulers and their favorite designers.
Many of these architectural trends are mirrored in St. Petersburg's great Russian Orthodox churches. Under the communists, however, countless churches got no respect. They were destroyed or repurposed.
Nowadays, Russians have developed a nostalgia for the art and architecture of the imperial days. They and the tourists who visit St. Petersburg appreciate the legacy of Peter the Great and the greatness added to the city by his successors.
Tourists from all over the world arrive to see first-hand the former Russian capital, its mysterious White Nights and winding canals which inspired literary geniuses, Nikolai Gogol and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
You can stay in St. Petersburg for weeks or even months, and you will still have lots to see and experience. The biggest challenge for travelers is to work out the itinerary not missing the main highlights. St. Petersburg is one of Europe's largest cities, its historical center alone covers several square kilometers. Therefore, it is important to set the priorities.
The main highlight not to be missed
The Hermitage (The Winter Palace)
The Hermitage Museum or Winter Palace is the crucial component of any St. Petersburg cultural program. Here you'll find rich collections of European fine art, Greek and Roman antiquities, renowned collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art, and astonishingly opulent 18th and 19th-century state rooms of Russia's imperial family.
The Mariinsky Theatre
St. Petersburg's internationally renowned cultural institution recently became the undisputed preeminent musical theatre in modern Russia.
The Mariinsky Theater is a world-class venue for ballet and opera, beautifully designed inside, with state-of-the-art acoustics and stage technology.
Rivers and canals of St. Petersburg by boat
From May to October, it is fun to explore the city by boat. You can take the hydrofoil to the suburban palace and park at Peterhof or enjoy dinner and live music on an evening cruise along the Neva. Even a short visit to St. Petersburg in summer should include one boat trip along the city's central rivers and canals.
Peterhof is a town in the Petrodvortsovy district in St. Petersburg located about 30 kilometers from St. Petersburg. Its palaces and gardens are famous all over the world. If you are in St. Petersburg, you can’t miss Peterhof. It is also known as the “Russian Versailles". These series of palaces and gardens were the residence of the Russian czars. Every day, during the summer season, at 11:00 am the most famous set of fountains the Great Cascade, is launched, comprising of 64 different fountains set among over 200 bronze statues. It is truly spectacular and worth seeing.
St. Isaac's Cathedral & Colonnade
You will be stunned by the grand gold dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral, the life's work of French architect Auguste de Montferrand. It is the city's largest and most beautiful religious building completed in 1858. Its facades and colonnades are made of red Karelian granite combined with semiprecious stones from all over Russia. Besides visiting the Cathedral interiors, visitors can buy an extra ticket to climb the 300 steps up to the colonnade from where you can enjoy some of the best views of St. Petersburg available.
The Peter & Paul Fortress
The Peter & Paul Fortress is the place where the city of St. Petersburg began. The Fortress never actually served for military action but it has been used as a burial place for the Romanov Emperors and Empresses and as a political prison.
Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood
The Church on Spilled Blood is one of St. Petersburg's most recognizable landmarks. Its colorful Russian Revival architecture marks a contrast to the elegant neoclassicism of the State Russian Museum next to it.
Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin)
Tsarskoye Selo is a testimony of the immense wealth and lavishness of the Romanov Imperial family. It is particularly famous for the extraordinary Amber Room.
State Russian Museum
The Russian Museum's main collection is a treasury of the Russian visual art throughout the ages. The visitors can marvel at medieval icons, atmospheric late-19th-century genre paintings, and modernist masterpieces.
Carlo Rossi's Petersburg
The Italian-born architect Carlo Rossi, unknown outside Russia was the dominant creative force building central St. Petersburg. His most famous buildings are the General Staff Building on Palace Square, the Senate and Synod Building, the Alexandrinsky Theatre, and the Mikhailovsky Palace (the State Russian Museum). It's hard to take more than a few steps without finding Rossi's work.
When to go to St Petersburg
In summer the best time is during the White Nights when the sun barely sets. It is from around June 10 to July 2. For a real Russian winter, December and January is your best bet.
All western visitors to Russia need a visa.
Emergency numbers: 01 (fire), 02 (police), 03 (ambulance)