Forget all you know about Russia for one moment and rediscover it through the majestic St Petersburg. The former capital of the Russian Empire, St Petersburg is a precious jewel on Europe’s map. Built out of marshland in 1703 by Peter the Great, St Petersburg looks as splendid today as it did back at the beginning. The emperor called architects from all over Europe to fill the city with decadent palaces and splendid Baroque cathedrals creating a fantasy land as Russia’s heart. Cause if Moscow is Russia’s head, St Petersburg is undoubtedly its beating heart.
The realm of rich museums, grandiose buildings, and extravagant residences, St Petersburg gravitates around its cultural legacy. For 300 years this has been the cultural capital of Russia, the land of poets, artists, and playwrights. All arts are represented in St Petersburg, from literature and painting to rock and street theatre.
A city famous for its White Nights, when the sun barely sets from mid-June to the beginning of July, St Petersburg is now a popular tourist destination and a modern metropolis. It is home to some of the deepest and most beautiful metro stations, alternative cafes, and a brand new 69,000-seat football stadium built especially to host the 2018 World Cup.
Straight to the museums
While the city keeps up with the times, many come here to discover its past. St Petersburg is a city rich in fascinating museums that tell stories about Russia’s imperial period, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the city’s 900-days Nazi occupation. It also enchants visitors with some of the finest art collections in the world housed inside grandiose buildings.
The Hermitage museum is the most famous museum in the city and the second-largest art museum in the world. It was founded in 1754 by Catherine the Great and has more than three million works of art by artistic geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Titian, Rubens, Goya, and Picasso. You’ll also discover ancient art collections, and rooms and items that tell stories about the Romanovs. The Hermitage is housed inside the glorious baroque Winter Palace of Empress Elizabeth.
Living in the shadow of the Hermitage but as interesting and fascinating, the Russkiy Muzyei (Russian Museum) is home to some of the most precious Russian paintings in the world. Its fine art collection includes from 1,000-year-old masterpieces created my old masters to modern pieces, like the ones of Chagall, Kandinsky, and Malevich.
Head to the Fabergé Museum situated in the splendid Shuvalovsky Palace to admire the largest collection of Fabergé eggs in the world or discover the cabinet of curiosity put together by Peter the Great during his tour of Europe at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology.
Mesmerized by the holy places
Russia is a religious country and its devotion is beautifully illustrated through spectacular places of worship. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the most beautiful churches in Russia. Modeled on St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, this church is the perfect example of Russian dedication and artistic talent. Its superb collection of tiled onion domes and the stunning interior dominated by marble and glittering mosaics create a memorable architectural masterpiece. Admire it from across the canal to truly capture its splendor.
St Isaac’s Cathedral is a marvelous imperial cathedral commissioned by Tsar Alexander I. An engineering masterpiece crowned by a gilded dome, the cathedral dominates the city’s skyline. The interiors are spectacular and if you climb to the colonnade of the dome, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of St Petersburg.
Fascinated by the past
One of the first buildings erected in the city was the impressive Peter and Paul Fortress. The fort dates back to 1703 and it was built to defend the area against the Swedes although it soon became a political prison. You’ll find here the cells were the revolutionaries were held during the Tsarist era, including famous figures like Dostoevsky, Trotsky, and Gorky, as well as Peter’s son, Alexei.
The complex also houses the beautiful baroque Peter and Paul Cathedral and the statue of Peter the Great. For more beautiful views of the city, over the Nera River to the Hermitage, and St Isaac’s Cathedral, ascend the bell tower of the Peter and Paul Cathedral. However, your exploration can be just an aimless walk through the cobbled grounds not expecting anything but being surprised by everything.
Charmed at the opera
Housed inside a late-19th-century neoclassical building, the splendid Mariinsky theatre is worldwide famous. Its reputation for opera and ballet productions is unparalleled. This was the scene of premiers by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. The theatre has two new buildings, the Mariinsky Concert Hall and Mariinsky II theatre, both hosting wonderful productions.
If the tickets at the Mariinsky are too expensive or you can’t get them in time, you can always try to book tickets for a performance at the elegant Hermitage Theatre or the Mikhailovsky or Aleksandrinsky theatres.
Day trip to Peterhof
Don’t leave St Petersburg without visiting the majestic baroque buildings of Peterhof. The ensemble is situated 20 miles from the city and includes beautiful palaces and gardens that remind visitors of the spectacular Versailles. If you happen to be visiting during the summer, you’ll have the chance to admire the splendid collection of fountains and the ensemble’s superb gardens.
Before you go…
Walk along the three-mile-long Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s grand boulevard. Filled with cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops, the boulevard will also guide your steps toward cultural monuments like the National Russian Library, the Stroganov Palace, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.
Stop at the beautiful Art Nouveau Singer Building too, built for the sewing machine manufacturer, and known in the Soviet era as the House of Books. You can still find a large book store there and a bohemian literary café.