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Pocket Guide: St. Petersburg

A Visit to St. Petersburg

Hotels ranging from luxury five-star establishments in the centre of the city to the three-star accommodation tucked off the main drags, St. Petersburg welcomes visitors as a cosmopolitan hub that doesn't shy away from its past. St. Petersburg offers a rich mix of decadent architecture, ubiquitous history and a buzzing nightlife. This grand Imperial city is no longer just a playground for the Russian tsars, and tourists will find places to stay to suit every budget.

Home to just over five million people, St. Petersburg has an extensive public transport network, which makes exploring this vast city easy. Said to be built over forty-two islands, St. Petersburg has waterways snaking through it, offering a plethora of boat tours and floating restaurants.

St. Petersburg’s History Today

Over the centuries, the Romanovs built up St. Petersburg with cathedrals and palaces – some now exquisite hotels – to create a cultural metropolis. Once Moscow became the capital city after the February Revolution, St. Petersburg retained its reputation as an Imperial city and to this day, wandering through the city centre and along the banks of the Neva, it’s easy to think you’re back at the turn of the 20th century.

The history of St. Petersburg is one of the biggest attractions for tourists, and there's no bigger memory of Russia’s Imperial Age than at Palace Square. It’s here you’ll find the Winter Palace. This former residence of the Russian monarchs now dominates the regal square, and towering over the palace, the red granite Alexander Column commemorates Russia’s defeat of Napoleon's army.

Things to See and Do in St. Petersburg

There are more tourist spots and places to stay along the embankments of the River Neva, all within walking distance of Palace Square. While the gilded dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the most prominent features of the St. Petersburg's skyline, a sumptuous stained-glass Christ looks down from behind the altar at the mosaic icons and elaborate paintings adorning its interior.

Inspired by the grand palace at Versailles, the coastal estate at Peterhof makes a perfect day trip away from the city hubbub. Significantly damaged during World War II, the palace is still flanked by a variety of buildings, all of which are surrounded by leafy gardens. The centrepiece is no doubt the Grand Cascade, an artificial grotto surrounded by 140 ornate fountains.

While you’re in St. Petersburg, don’t forget to sample a shot or two of Russia’s famous vodka. Head to the Russian Vodka Museum to learn more about the country’s national tipple. English-speaking guides lead you through exhibits that shed light on the modern vodka industry, as well as offering plentiful samples throughout. For more vodka, jump on the Metro to Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main boulevard and a magnet for nightlife aficionados.

St. Petersburg’s winters may be bitterly cold, but they add a magic to its streets and help you appreciate the vodka. Most tourists visit during the spring and summer, though, especially from the end of May until early July, a period known as the White Nights. During this time, the sun never dips below the horizon and the days and nights blur together.