St Petersburg is a city of stunning vistas and grand buildings. The Hermitage & the old winter palace are just two of the places we visited but they alone would be reason enough to make the trip to the Russian Embassy to collect your visa.
In St Petersburg you will be captivated by Dutch-style canals, spanned by charming bridges and palaces with phenomenal fountains and unbelievable art collections.
Our trip started with a very easy BA flight out of Terminal 5 that had us arriving into St Petersburg Mid-afternoon. We were met by our guide and enjoyed a brief orientation tour before being transferred to our hotel the Astoria. It goes without saying that a good guide is a must in a city where it is hard to navigate unless you happen to speak Russian. Aside from ensuring you don’t get lost your guide will open closed doors and bring the city’s fascinating history to life.
Above: ‘Room View’ from Hotel Astoria’
The Astoria is steeped in history with multiple brass plaques adoring the lift displaying the names of the various VIP guests that have stayed over the last century (est 1911). Situated directly across from St Isaac’s Cathedral and a short walk from leading attractions such as Nevsky Prospect, Palace Square and the Mariinsky Theatre it is a great base from which to explore the city. The Deluxe Junior Suites offer wonderful views of St Isaac’s and the image above was the view from my suite on the first evening.
There are of course other hotels you could consider and to name but a few we visited the Four Seasons, Grand Hotel Europe (a Belmond hotel) & the Kempinski Moika 22. Each has their perks and we can discuss which would work best for you.
Above: Peter & Paul Fortress
The first morning saw us visiting the Peter & Paul Fortress which was the cities original Fortress founded by Peter The Great. For a building that shares it city with so many great palaces you could be forgiven for not remembering the architecture and facades (that is perhaps not entirely fair, as you can see the glittering spire is one of the cities iconic landmarks) but it does give you a great introduction to the creation of the city and its rich history.
A quick hop across the river saw us entering the Hermitage Museum. As we waited outside our guide casually explained the Museum houses over three million pieces and it would take 9 years to see each piece. We had but a few hours…..so slightly intimidated we set off for whistle stop tour and every minute was spent learning and admiring countless masterpieces. For those that are able to dedicate a full day to the Museum I would recommend taking lunch in the Kempinski which is just a short walk across the square and offers great views from its top floor restaurant.
Above: Hermitage Museum tour – every minute was spent learning and admiring countless masterpieces.
In the evening we had dinner at L’Europe which is Russia’s oldest continually serving restaurant. Not only was it the best food we had in Russia there was very good live music (not too overpowering). For anyone in town on a Friday night a booking here is a must since they run Tchaikovsky Nights where you can enjoy an outstanding ballet show.
The next morning we travelled out of St Petersburg to Pushkin where we visited the Catherine Palace. For anyone that thinks palaces don’t come better than those found in the UK you might want to think twice since Catherine’s Places is truly stunning with a history to match any UK stately home. One does have to slightly go with the flow of tour guides in the palaces but you will have time enough in each room to get an insight to the history and appreciate the art adorning each room. Beyond the palace there are beautiful formal gardens in which you could stroll for hours. We spent so long at the palace that we ran out of time to visit the Pavlovsk Palace in the afternoon but for those under less time pressure it works well with Catherine’s Palace as a day trip out from town.
Above: Catherine’s Places is truly stunning with a history to match any UK stately home.
In the evening we visited the world famous Mariinsky Theatre for an evening of excerpts from ballets by Fokin. I am embarrassed to admit that most theatre productions struggle to hold my attention for more than an hour, but even I was held in rapture by the spectacles performed on the stage. So if I was entertained for nearly 3 hours it is safe to say that the Ballet is a must for everyone.
For our final morning we had a very busy itinerary but having heard wonderful things about the city subway we managed to persuade our guide to squeeze in a quick visit. As we descended 86m to the deepest subway in the world you could not help be struck by the beautiful polished marble & the ornate lighting (barely a dust molecule in sight let alone any chewing gum). Once down at the station level the subway tunnels were huge and beautifully decorated.
Above:The subway with beautiful polished marble & the ornate
From the subway we visited St Isaac’s Cahtedral which itself is an architectural marvel. Built by the French-born architect Auguste Montferrand it took him 40 years to build. To put your finger on just one or two noteworthy points is not easy but I was struck by the simplicity of the dove that hangs in the main dome and the complexity of the mosaic’s that adorn every wall.
Above: St Isaac – I was struck by the simplicity of the dove that hangs in the main dome and the complexity of the mosaic’s that adorn every wall.
The final stop before our dash for the airport was the Church of the Spilled Blood, which is undoubtedly St Petersburgs finest example of traditional Russian architecture with more dazzling Mosaics and colourful domes.
Above: Church of the Spilled Blood, which is undoubtedly St Petersburgs finest example of traditional Russian architecture
My final tip would be to avoid high season; as soon as the cruise ships start docking and the weather warms the tourist ranks swell dramatically and you will find yourself jostling for position at ever picture and site! If you embrace the cold you can expect to see the city under a blanket of snow from Jan-March. For those less hardy you might consider visiting in the early spring or late autumn.
St Petersburg is the least Russian of Russian cities. But it is the place where it is easiest to fall in love with Russia; 3 nights was nice but not enough….I will be back.