The jewel in the Baltic crown and Russia's most European city, elegant St Petersburg was the imperial capital for two centuries, and Tsar Peter the Great's 'Window on the West'. The sheer grandeur of the city, and its revolutionary spirit, never fail to impress.
Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great – immortalised by the city's iconic Bronze Horseman statue – St Petersburg remains Russia's cultural centre. The Mariinsky Theatre hosts world-class opera and ballet, and the State Russian Museum showcases a wide collection of superb Russian art.
St Petersburg is utterly captivating, with baroque palaces, wide elegant streets, ornate bridges and broad curving canals – the city is built on 40 islands at the mouth of the River Neva. The main street, Nevsky Prospekt, is 5km long and lined with cafés, bars and restaurants mixed in with upmarket hotels and sumptuous shops.
On Neva embankment, the Winter Palace, with over a thousand rooms, is the most magnificent of six buildings that make up the Hermitage Museum. It is one of 125 museums and galleries, including the imposing seafront Peterhof Royal Palace and Park. The city is enchanting during the “White Nights” of midsummer, when a brief twilight blends into dawn, and street entertainment lasts throughout the long days and short, white nights.
One of St Petersburg’s most visited attractions, the Hermitage was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 after she acquired a collection of paintings. Today the Hermitage is home to over three million works of art and artefacts, including paintings, sculptures and archaeological items, making it the largest art gallery in Russia and one of the biggest in the world. It is said that visitors would need 11 years to fully explore every single exhibit.
The Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood
The impressive Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood is one of the most iconic sites in St Petersburg, renowned for its elaborately decorated onion domes. This lavish church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. Construction began in 1883 and took 24 years to complete.
St Isaacs Cathedral
The large golden dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral dominates St Petersburg’s city skyline. Construction on this impressive building was ordered by Tsar Alexander I, and it took over 40 years. Today the building – the largest cathedral in Russia – is open as a museum, with services taking place on important religious holidays, while the colonnade offers breathtaking views over the city.
Named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, Catherine Palace was originally a modest two-storey building, however Empress Elizabeth, Catherine’s daughter, ensured it would be much more lavish. The former summer residence of the Tsars, known as the 'Russian Versailles', is home to the impressive Amber Room, which took over 20 years to create and cost more than $12 million. The remaining interior of the palace is no less spectacular. The Great Hall, often referred to as the 'Hall of Light', measures almost 1,000 square metres, occupying the full width of the palace.