Many describe St. Petersburg as the quintessential Venice of the north. This magnificent city, with its wild nightlife and architectural monuments is a gold mine for any traveler, sightseer, historian or adventurer, to experience.
The City which is bathed in extraordinary history; celebrates and shares its affluent artistic and enriching traditions, which have moved and influenced some of the finest visual art, literature and music the world has known. From its captivating Palaces and world-famous Cathedrals, to its summer phenomenon, known as The White Nights, a trip to this wonderful city is sure to amaze and delight all who encounter it.
St. Petersburg, located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, stretches across 42 islands. Due to the city’s many islands, rivers and bridges, St. Petersburg is often times referred to as a ‘museum of bridges.’ The city’s “wow” factor makes for an unforgettable and ultra-dynamic travel experience.
Let’s take a storybook tour through this incredible and picturesque city.
Saint Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great on May 27, 1703. From 1713 to 1728, and then again from 1732 to 1918, St. Petersburg was the Imperial capital of Russia. St. Petersburg is Russia’s second largest city after Moscow with almost 5 million residents.
Originally St. Petersburg was made up of 100 islands. As a result of engineering work to develop the marine’s public image, their number has been reduced to 42. Many compare the city to Venice as it is almost entirely built across a series of islands spanning the delta of Neva River. The city is separated by narrow canals or rivers and connected by the city’s 580 bridges to form unbroken strips of land.
The Cabin of Peter the Great
The first residential building to be built in the newly founded city of St. Petersburg was a wooden house or cabin, built for Tsar Peter himself. Only 60 square meters, Peter lived in this house between 1703 and 1708. The living room, bedroom and study, are still filled with Peter’s original belongings. Protected from the elements, the first house built in the city of St Petersburg is still open to the public.
The White Nights
Imagine taking a romantic stroll along the banks of the city’s rivers and canals no matter what time of day it is. From late May to early July the night skies display a unique phenomenon known as the White Nights. St. Petersburg is the world’s most northern city, and it stands at such high latitude that the sun does not descend below the horizon enough for the sky to grow dark. During the summer months, night and day are one, and locals and visitors are able to experience a lively, friendly and romantic atmosphere sure to set your sights on a return trip. No other major European city can equal this experience or the atmosphere on the streets of St. Petersburg!
The Peter and Paul Fortress
When Peter the Great re-claimed the lands along the Neva River in 1703, he decided to build a fort to protect the area from possible attack by the Swedish armed forces. The fortress was founded on Zayachii Ostrov Island in the Neva delta on May 27, 1703 which also became the birthday of the city of St. Petersburg. Within the fortress stands a high security jail which housed some of Peter’s opponents including his rebellious son, Alexei. Parts of the former jail are now open to the public.
In the center of the fortress stands the middle of the striking Peter and Paul Cathedral, the resting place of all Russian Emperors and Empresses from Peter the Great to Alexander III. The church was one of the first to be built of stone during the 1700’s.
The fortress is also home to the City History Museum and, the Mint, one of only two places in Russia where coins and medals are minted.
While visiting St. Petersburg, a must-see are displays for wealth and sophistication driven by the Emperors of Russia beginning with Peter the Great. Prosperity and power are in the form of great estates, known as the Imperial palaces. These extraordinary estates boast sumptuous palaces, extensive landscape gardens, and a treasury of art and history. There are numerous palaces to see. Some must-sees include:
The Summer Palace, located across the river from the Peter and Paul Fortress, is a small estate built between 1710 and 1714. The palace had no heating and was intended only for summer time use, hence its name “Summer Palace.” The Summer Palace, a small two-storey yellow building, has 7 rooms on each floor. The Summer Palace is surrounded by what is known as The Summer Garden; a wonderful garden with trees and bushes that are immaculately trimmed in the most elaborate ways. Imagine strolling down the Summer Garden’s allies taking in the decorated marble statues and fountains.
The Winter Palace – undeniably the finest. The green and white structure which was built around the 1700s, houses the world’s largest art museum with at least three million pieces of art.
Peterhof is a vast, luxurious and beautifully maintained estate. It combines several ornate palaces, a number of beautifully landscaped parks and a dazzling array of magnificent statues and fountains.
Menshikov Palace, built by Peter’s good friend and companion, Alexander Menshikov (1673-1729), this large palace built on Vasilievsky Island, is the most lavish estate built in the city thus far. It currently houses a collection of Russian cultural artifacts from the early 18th century.
Pushkin, a small town near Saint Petersburg, used to be known as Tsarskoye Selo. The town boasts a number of amazing parks and palaces that are definitely must-see visits. One of the most famous and impressive palaces in Pushkin is the Catherine Palace, home to the Empress Catherine the Great.
The Mariinsky Palace, situated just across the square from St. Isaac’s Cathedral, is known today as the seat of the local Legislative Assembly (i.e. the City Council.) Built between 1839 and 1844, the palace is filled with glorious interiors and furniture and even features an enormous greenhouse, where it was said that pineapples grew relatively well.
The Mikhailovsky Castle (St. Michael’s Castle) is both a beautiful and unusual architectural phenomenon for St. Petersburg. Catherine the Great’s son, Paul was so paranoid of assassination, shortly his mother passed in 1796; he built a fortified palace surrounded by deep ditches. In 1801, Paul was assassinated in his bed.
The Cathedrals in St. Petersburg are some of the oldest in the world, beautifully preserved and are the tour de force.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is an elaborate genius with its dome dominating the skyline of St. Petersburg. Climb over 300 steps to the observation walkway at the base of the cathedral’s dome and enjoy the breathtaking views over the city. When you enter the cathedral you pass through one of the porticos; columns made of singular pieces of red granite and weigh 80 tons each. Inside the church many of the icons were created using mosaic techniques. The cathedral, which can accommodate 14,000 worshipers, now serves as a museum and services are held only on significant ecclesiastical holidays.
Kazan Cathedral (The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan) was constructed between 1801 and 1811, and boasts an impressive stone colonnade, encircling a small garden and central fountain. Regular services are held.
Smolny Cathedral’s stunning blue and white building is indeed an architectural masterpiece. Today Smolny Cathedral is used primarily as a concert hall and the surrounding convent houses various offices and government institutions.
Opera and Ballet
Enjoy world-renowned opera and ballet courtesy of the celebrated Mariinsky Theater. This 1625-seat auditorium has been under the leadership of many great conductors such as: Yuri Temirkanov, Leonid Yakobson and Valery Gergiev.
Restaurants and Night Life
You will be able to find wonderful 5-Star restaurants and pubs throughout St. Petersburg. Staraia Tamozhnia (Old Custom’s House), Kavkaz Café and Restaurant, James Cook Pub, Camelot, 1913, Troitskii Most, and Amadeus, are all amazing restaurants which offer delectable, well-priced, European cuisine and pleasant ambiance.
St. Petersburg’s night life is known for boozing, boogieing and binging (if you’re into that sort of thing!) The city’s live music and dance scene is high energy within a friendly environment. For students, expats and all who want to get their groove on, try: Idiot, Metro Club, Griboedov, Tunnel Club, Pier, Luna, Cynic Bar, and Fish Fabrique,
If you’re looking for something a bit more laid back try: James Cook and Shamrock.
Jazz lovers, Café Clue Che may be the place for you.
Culture, adventure, history, architecture, entertainment and excitement – is all that defines St. Petersburg, Russia. This incredible city is vibrant, fresh, historic and audacious, ready for you to explore! Наслаждайтесь! (Enjoy!)