Here you can view one of the most enormous and significant art collections in the world, cruise canals by moonlight or take in a ballet or opera performance at one of the world’s most famous theaters, once frequented by royalty – the majestic Mariinsky. St. Petersburg could really be described as one big treasure trove from a cultural point of view; here you can find everything from historic statues lining its riverbanks to the glorious 18th century automated Peacock Clock in the Hermitage Museum. You can also sip a coffee in the last cafe which poet and playwright Pushkin visited before he went off to fight in the duel which killed him or visit the notorious jail where famous revolutionary activists such as Maxim Gorky, Leon Trotsky
A huge number of St. Petersburg’s principal gems are clustered together which makes it great to explore on foot. If you prefer to maximize your time to the utmost getting from one glorious sight to another the city has a highly efficient and extensive public transport network.
A Morning in St. Petersburg
Your St. Petersburg day of adventure begins with a walk through history, taking in the very site where it all began on the island of Zayachy. Including a break for coffee your hours until lunch will take you to the prison where first revolutionaries and then the aristocracy were incarcerated, to explore two beautiful cathedrals, visit the humble wooden house which was the city’s first palace and can even take you on a tour of the history of space travel if you choose. Your morning ends with a choice of palaces which were once home to tsars and the city’s most wealthy nobles.
The Peter and Paul Fortress
What better place to start your St. Petersburg explorations than in the very place where the entire story of the city began – Zayachy Island. Directing operations for the construction of this military fortress from his small log cabin, Tsar Peter the Great’s vision began in 1703. The imposing citadel was completed in 1740 and represents the first permanent structure of St. Petersburg – the very seed from which everything you see today grew. Subsequently, it became the final resting place of almost all the tsars of imperial Russia from Peter himself until the very last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II – each interred below grand gold-leaf-adorned sarcophagi inside the fortress’s cathedral.
The Peter and Paul Fortress never did see military action – the feared potential attacks from Sweden and other neighbors never came. However, the fortress was to play a hugely significant role in the Russian story of revolution. Famous revolutionary figures such as Maxim Gorky and Leon Trotsky were imprisoned here and after the Bolsheviks seized the fortress and stormed the Winter Palace in 1917 many top government ministers were then held captive here in a total reversal of power which saw the fall of the tsars.
Today the Peter and Paul Fortress exudes history and is a must visit for anyone interested in the Russian Revolution. There are several things to see inside this vast area – most notably the incredible cathedral and the foreboding Trubetskoy Bastion prison which are both very different attractions. There is also (and somewhat incongruously) the Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology.
The Trubetskoy Bastion, St. Petersburg
Before the fortress was even complete in the mid-18th century it saw use as a prison. A century later, what was to become known as the Trubetskoy Bastion, was set aside as the principal prison area. As the last tumultuous decades of tsarist power were played out this infamous site was to be the prison for many major revolutionary figures such as Mikhail Bakunin, Alexander Ulyanov (Lenin’s brother) and Leon Trotsky as well as the influentially politically active such as the writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Maxim Gorky.
After the revolution government ministers, nobility and church leaders became the new inmates and many executions took place within the prison walls. In 1924 the prison ceased to function in that role and was instead used as a museum and tool to demonstrate the oppression of the toppled tsars.
Visitors pass through a small introduction and exhibit section complete with such artifacts as clothing of both prisoners and guards and can also listen to prisoner audio accounts. A highlight is the photographic exhibition which is not just interesting for the images themselves but also as an historical treasure for photography. Some of the images date back to the 1800s when photography had just been born.
Today you can tour the two corridors and floors of the old solitary confinement and punishment cells, some of them reconstructed as they would have been during their prison era. Outside each cell you will find interpretive panels listing that particular cell’s inmates along with texts describing the lives and deeds of these historical figures and how long they were incarcerated here.
The Peter and Paul Cathedral,St. Petersburg
Constructed in 1712, the richly ornate Peter and Paul Cathedral was once the entire Russian Empire’s principal cathedral. As was befitting, it soared above all else; in fact its elegant 122.5m golden spire and bell tower ensure its place still as the city’s highest building (although not its tallest structure – that honor goes to the 1960s-built TV tower).
Baroque in style and influenced by European architecture, the cathedral’s rich and elaborate interior is a sensational feast for the eyes. Gold glitters off the various moldings, grand pillars painted to resemble marble soar upwards to the roof full of gorgeous frescoes and details while enormous crystal chandeliers hang suspended from their midst.
Dominating all is the golden iconostatis dating from the 1720s. Typically this common feature is simply a screen wall with doors which divides the main body of the church from the inner sanctuary however in this cathedral it is a fantastic 20m tall tower-like structure, carved from wood and then gilded.
Around the nave can be found the imperial sarcophagi marking the final resting place of the Russian tsars.
The Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology, St. Petersburg
In almost incongruous contrast to the fortress’s other historical features is the cosmonautics museum. Here you can find models of rockets and spacecraft including an original space capsule, a variety of early space travel engine design displays, a reconstructed space station and the reconstructed workshop and office of Glushko – the principal rocket engineer of his time.
The main focus of the museum is its recounting of the Cold War-era Space Race with sections dedicated to the dog Laika – the first animal ever to travel into space – and Yuri Gagarin – the first human to do the same.
The Peter and Paul Battlements,St. Petersburg
If you want a really great view over the river taking in the Winter Palace and the Hermitage across the water among other landmarks, pay a small extra fee and head up to the fortress’s battlements.
It is possible to walk to the Peter and Paul Fortress from the center of the city and doing so will give you great views as you cross the bridge to the island. If you prefer to save time however both trams and buses will bring you right to the fortress gates.
You can enter the grounds of the fortress for free but if you wish to enter the museum, prison or stroll the battlements they each attract a separate fee.
Tsar Peter’s Cabin
If you want to have a look at the 3-room cabin in which Peter the Great lived for 5 years while his fortress was being constructed you can find it 200m from the Peter and Paul Fortress, across the Ioannovskiy Most foot bridge. Officially this humble ‘palace’ is considered the building which founded the city.
The brick casing you see today was set in place by Tsar Peter himself in 1723 so it could be preserved and serve as a demonstration of his humility. The cabin is now a museum complete with Peter the Great artifacts, personal possessions and household objects.
Morning Coffee in St. Petersburg
Once you have made your way back over the Troitskiy bridge from the Peter and Paul Fortress you are within close distance to a rather special place to take your mid-morning coffee break. The Eliseyev Emporium (which it is worth noting has at least ten alternative spellings) is in essence a food hall but in reality that is like calling the Eiffel Tower a tall piece of metal.
This vast emporium is a glittering wonderland which is going to make any food lover feel as if they have arrived in heaven. Here you can find everything from connoisseur chocolates to caviar and macaroons to mouth-watering cheeses with the displays works of art in their own right. As if this wasn’t enough the early 20th century Art Nouveau building itself with its incredible décor is exquisite and worth a visit just to gaze upon even if you have no intention of buying anything.
Gilded ceilings, opulent chandeliers, Art Nouveau-design stained glass and many original features make this one of the most photogenic spots in the city.
In the center of one hall is a giant palm tree completely encircled by a plush red sofa over which it spreads its fronds. Around this are dotted a few tables which make up the seating for the emporium’s coffee shop. The coffee here is freshly ground, the tea menu extensive and the sweet accompaniments of the most tempting variety. Be sure to try the gourmet macaroons which come in a vast variety of flavors including champagne and essence of rose.
An alternative spot for a morning coffee pause, also within easy reach of your last stop of the Peter and Paul Fortress, is the Civil Coffee Bar. Where the emporium is glamour and glitz, this venue is quaint and cozy with armchairs or wooden tables, exposed brick walls and one entire side of the room taken up with floor-to-ceiling books. There is also balcony seating which gives you lovely views over the Fontanka River. Well known for its warm welcome and atmosphere, the Civil Coffee Bar has decent coffee and has a reputation as serving the best syrnky in the city. If breakfast feels like a long time ago order one of these sweet pancakes to keep you going until lunchtime.
If you are one of those types of travelers who enjoys experiencing the real culture of places you visit you might like to consider one of the city’s anticafes for your coffee break. While anticafes can now be found around various European cities the concept was born in Russia and involves a free space where you pay per minute for your time there. Within that cost is typically included coffee, tea and snacks or sweets along with internet usage while a variety of extras such as video games, cinemas, kitchens, board games, lounges and hookahs are also all possible. While everyone is welcome at such places, in St. Petersburg the anticafes often provide working space for artists, writers and musicians to practice their arts so in visiting them you may find yourself involved in a poetry reading or listening to a local musician performing. The concept is highly unique and gives you an opportunity of meeting with locals in an authentic form.
One anticafe conveniently close to where you finished the first half of your morning is FD Anticafe which charges 2 rubles per minute (3 US cents). Here, after ascending a beautiful circular staircase, you will find a series of themed rooms for relaxing along with a wonderful roof terrace complete with a view of Nevskiy. Anticafes also allow their customers to bring in their own food and drink so if you prefer to grab a coffee elsewhere and simply enjoy the roof terrace you have that option too.
A Choice of St. Petersburg Palaces
Most cities that have known a royal heritage in the annuls of their history or have an existing royal family can typically boast one palace or very occasionally two. St. Petersburg, however, is very different. Here there are more than 50, most of them exquisitely beautiful or on a grand scale and each of them in some way worthy of a visit. Several are today home to such things as art galleries, museums and theaters.
Even the most conservative lists tend to describe at least six or more of these palaces of pink, yellow or gold and blue as ‘essential’ inclusions in an itinerary which of course is impossible in a day. However, coming to St. Petersburg without including at least one in your schedule is unthinkable. Some of the most spectacular are described here so you can make up your mind which of them is most worthy of your time.
(The Winter Palace – part of the fantastic and vast State Hermitage Museum – has not been included on this list as it is part of your afternoon’s itinerary.)
The Yusupov Palace
Located on the riverside, this late 18th century palace, sometimes called the Moika Palace, is nothing short of spectacular. It passed into the hands of the fabulously wealthy Yusupov family in the 1800s and became their favored residence of the four palaces they owned in total in the city.
Bright yellow and vast from the outside, the interiors are everything the majority of people imagine a palace to be – grand sweeping staircases, gilded chandeliers, incredible frescoes, rich silks and tapestries and furniture of the most sumptuous kind. All of its many, many rooms are very different
and represent some of the best preserved original features that can be found anywhere in St. Petersburg. Highlights include the gorgeous white-columned ballroom, the fabulous glittering Moorish Room which will transport you straight to Morocco, the highly ornate theater and the Turkish Study.
The Yusupov Palace also has a dark chapter in its history – this was where the famous mystic, healer and self-proclaimed monk Grigory Rasputin was murdered (or where his murder at least began as this story remains cloaked in mystery) in 1916 by the then-owner of the house Prince Felix Yusupov and his fellow conspirators.
The Marble Palace
The 18th century Marble Palace is said by many to have one of the most exquisite interiors of any palace found and not just in St. Petersburg but in all of the country. In a city known for its fabulous palaces this claim may give you some idea of what lies in store for you here. Balancing elements from the Baroque and neoclassical architectural styles, this building incorporates more than 30 different types of marble inlaid on walls, paneling and floors and adorned with more marble in the decorative urns.
The Marble Museum is today used as an exhibition space for modern art, taken from the Russian Museum collection on a rotating system.
Charming and elegant, the all-white 19th century Yelagin Palace was originally built as a summer villa for Maria Fyodorovna – the mother of the tsar of the time, Alexander I. It remained as an imperial home for more than a century. Its setting – on a greenery-covered island overlooking the water, makes this palace especially lovely to visit. Besides the tours of the opulent interiors the lovely grounds and palace are also home to a series of cultural events ranging from an annual tulip festival to a weekly-hosted evening of concerts each Wednesday where you can listen to a diverse menu of offerings which include classical, jazz and traditional folk music.
One of the highlights here is the Museum of Art Glass – a stunning
collection of glass art from both Russia and further afield.
Some of the other palaces such as the exceptionally beautiful Catherine Palace with its sky-blue, white and gold exterior and the Grand Palace – which, despite its name is actually one of the smaller offerings – are only open in the afternoons.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
If you happen to have been visiting one of the centrally-located palaces it is worth making time to take in the beautiful and grand-domed St. Isaac’s Cathedral close by and before you break for lunch.
Today functioning as a museum rather than a place of religious meeting, St. Isaac’s was completed in 1858 after 40 years of construction and represents something of an engineering marvel of its time. Raised on marshy ground, a number of innovative techniques were employed to ensure basic structural integrity. Not least of these was the sinking of thousands of tree trunks to ensure the weight of the portico columns could be supported. Inside you can see a fascinating model of this sunken wooden framework and marvel yourself at how such a vast and grand building remains standing at all.
From the exterior the cathedral is gorgeous to gaze upon with its neoclassical design, grand bronze doors covered in relief art, sculpture-filled facades and pure gold-plated dome.
Inside the cathedral is majestically cavern-like, originally able to accommodate 14,000 worshippers. Everywhere you look is a feast for the eyes but some exceptional highlights include the exquisite mosaics and the iconostasis flanking columns of semi-precious stone such as lazurite and malachite.
If you make your way to the top of the cathedral your reward is some stunning St. Petersburg views.
Lunch in St. Petersburg
If you are one of those who think the St. Petersburg food scene is a little dull and dreary you are somewhat behind the times. While this reputation may once have been true it is certainly not the case anymore and it appears the quality and diversity already established is also an ever-growing phenomenon. Traditional Russian dishes are being reinvented with sensational twists to satisfy the modern market while international cuisine types available are plentiful and all-encompassing.
Italian, Armenian, Chinese, Mediterranean, American, Japanese, French, Indian, Mexican….and so the list goes on.
Perfectly placed for your afternoon’s visit to the Hermitage Museum, the Literary Cafe offers you a choice of dining venues so you can pick your own lunch ambience. Downstairs you will find a lovely casual cafe space which surrounds you with eclectic and quirky vintage décor complete with old portraits and a stuffed bear. Head upstairs for a more formal lunch in elegant surroundings intended to evoke the aristocratic salons of the imperial era. The cuisine is a combination of European and Russian and the restaurant is well-known for its excellent service.
It is also known as the place where Russian poet, playwright and novelist Alexander Pushkin had his final refreshment in 1837 before heading out to the duel in which he sustained the fatal wounds from which he died.
Head here in the evenings and enjoy the entertainment of the cafe’s musical and literary programs which offers grand piano performances and poetry readings.
Another lunch spot which places you almost next door to the Hermitage Museum and on the riverbank is Yat. This is an ideal place to head if you want to sample some traditional Russian cuisine such as blini (savory pancakes), pelmeni (dumplings) and the kind of soups Russian grandmothers would cook up. From the moment of arriving at the charming and rustic exterior of this country-style
With European dishes on offer as well, Yat offers a selection of small and large tasting plates ideal for sharing which offer an easy way of sampling a bit of everything for those who aren’t familiar with Russian food. For a lunch with style order the caviar tasting plate.
An Afternoon in St. Petersburg
While museum’s often typically feature on a visitor’s itinerary as they explore the world’s cities in St. Petersburg, it is an essential inclusion. Here, although the city has a wide offering of museums, there is one which soars above all others and not just with regard to St. Petersburg but on a global scale. The magnificent State Hermitage Museum is so vast that simply listing its highlights could take up a small book. As several days could not do this mammoth jewel justice almost your entire afternoon will be given to walking the magnificent palace halls and discovering the dazzling exhibitions, treasured art works and ancient artifacts of this amazing place.
The State Hermitage Museum
It would be absolutely unthinkable to come to St. Petersburg and not visit the mind-blowingly fantastic State Hermitage Museum. Founded in 1764 and open to the public since the mid 1800s, the Hermitage is one of the world’s oldest museums and as an art museum second only in size to the Louvre in Paris.
Combining the most incredible elements of art, imperial history and sensational architecture and majestic interiors, it is almost impossible to exaggerate the quality of this remarkable institution which is packed with treasure. The museum’s inventory lists more than 3 million items made up of photos, paintings, sculpture, rare books, documents, archaeological artifacts, arms and armory, coins and medals. You could spend many days at this glorious place and still only scratch the surface. There are hundreds of rooms to explore in total: the Winter Palace alone has 1,500 rooms and more than 100 staircases (although not all of them are open to the public). You can even visit the Hermitage Storage Facility in which are kept any items not currently being exhibited.
The collection was begun by art collector Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia and then subsequently added to by the tsars who succeeded her. The entire collection exploded in size following the revolution when the new state seized the collections of the former nobility. For the art passionate this museum is going to feel like unearthing the greatest treasure trove of all time. Representing a living who’s who in the entire history of art the priceless exhibitions here date from the earliest days of man and go on in an endless and unbroken series from there.
Each of the five linked principal buildings which house and exhibit the museum’s treasures – and which together make up the Hermitage – are all significantly historic and worthy of visiting for themselves alone. They are –
- The Winter Palace – dating from 1754
- The Small Hermitage – dating from 1764
- The Great Hermitage – dating from 1771
- The New Hermitage – dating from1842
- The Hermitage Theater – dating from1783
Besides the five main buildings the museum also has other elements. These are: – the General Staff Building which faces the palace and is home to Impressionist and post-Impressionist art works; the Menshikov Palace located on Vasilyevsky Island; the Winter Place of Peter I and the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory
The Winter Palace
Serving as principal home to the Russian Empire’s tsars for 150 years, the elegant Winter Palace was converted into a museum following the 1917 October Revolution’s storming of the palace. Baroque in style, each beautiful facade of this majestic building is different and include the exquisite grandeur of its frontage complete with triumphal arches overlooking the square and the seemingly endless colonnades of the side facing the River Neva. A wealth of ornamental architectural features unite to make its overall appearance nothing short of breath-taking and magnificent.
The opulent interiors are simply dazzling with several rooms restored to the appearance they would have had when the tsars lived here. The principal sections of the museum’s collection housed here include antiques, artifacts, paintings and sculptures of ancient Eurasian and Eastern origin along with European paintings and decorative arts.
The Small Hermitage
Constructed next door to the Winter Palace in the mid 18th century on the orders of Catherine the Great, the Small Hermitage is the museum’s original building and once its only one. Mixing Baroque and neoclassical features, the Small Hermitage is home to the Western European fine art collections and where you will find the fantastical Peacock Clock.
This large glittering piece which depicts an owl, a rooster and a peacock perched in a tree inside a large glass case is exquisite enough as an art piece to gaze upon. However, its importance goes way beyond purely its aesthetic value. Created in 1777, this is actually an automated timepiece and today the only robotics example of its kind to exist in the world. If you want to see the bronze and silver clock in action you will have to be here on a Wednesday.
The Great Hermitage
Added seven years after the Small Hermitage and larger in scale (hence the title), the Great Hermitage was also constructed on the orders of Catherine the Great. Rather more austere in style than either the Winter Palace or the Small Hermitage, the Great Heritage houses the museum’s collection of Italian Renaissance art.
The New Hermitage
At more than 170 years old the New Hermitage is hardly ‘new’ but compared to its other sister-buildings is indeed the youngest of the additions. This 19th century building was purpose-built on the orders of Nicholas I for the collections which were to be exhibited inside. This element considerably enhances the displays of European paintings, ancient art, sculptures and decorative art found here.
The Hermitage Theater
Gorgeous both outside and in, the Hermitage Theater is another Catherine the Great commissioned building, considered an exceptional example of Russian neoclassicism of the 1700s. Ground floor exterior architectural detailing includes several lion masks while the upper level has statues of ancient Greek playwrights and poets.
The lovely interior amphi-theater with its bench rows has carved theatrical masks adorning its grand columns with sculptures depicting Apollo and the Muses. Performances have been held here since the 1700s and the Hermitage Theater still functions as a theater more than 200 years after its conception.
Overall, even listing the highlights of this magnificent museum would take up some considerable space and as it is impossible to see even a fraction of the whole in one afternoon you will have to plan your visit according to what most interests you.
The following is a very brief overview of the museum’s principal collections.
Egyptian Antiquities – the highlights here include a mummy more than 11,000 years old and a tablet section which dates back to the 13th century BC.
Classical Antiquities – this collection includes ancient Greek treasures and sculptures in marble and bronze from ancient Rome.
Prehistoric Art – a multitude of artifacts taken from archaeological digs in Russia and the former U.S.S.R. One of the highlights here is the highly significant collection of nomadic tribe artwork along with an ancient 4th century BC carpet – the oldest of its kind on the planet – and a 3rd century BC chariot.
Weapons and Armory – housed within the Knights Hall at the New Hermitage can be found this collection of European armor and ancient weapons which date from the 1400s to the 1600s.
Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque – among the masterpieces found here are those of Van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt.
Fine Art from Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland and France – found within the Winter Palace these collections hold artworks dating from the 15th century onwards. Among the long list of famous names works displayed here are Poussin, Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds.
French Neoclassical, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist Art – also within the Winter Palace, this collection includes pieces by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne and Degas.
Modern Art – this large collection is house within the General Staff Building with famous works by Picasso, Matisse, Petrocelli and many more.
There are also collections of jewelry and decorative art along with collections of Italian Renaissance and Spanish and Italian fine art.
While it is highly unlikely you will have either the time or the inclination for any other museums St. Petersburg is home to some exceptional places. Were many of these to be found elsewhere and not totally eclipsed under the shadow of the mighty Hermitage they would certainly merit a visit.
The Faberge Museum is home to nine of the fabled and fantastical Faberge eggs while the Aurora is historically important museum ship moored in the St. Petersburg waters. The State Russian Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Russian fine art while the Museum of Political History can be found instead the gorgeous Kschessinska Mansion and was once operations central for the revolutionaries following the 1917 toppling of the nobility.
Like most large cities St. Petersburg is also home to some more unusual and niche museums which include the eerie Freud’s Dream Museum, the Museum of Sound with its hand-crafted musical instruments and the Russian Vodka Museum where visits include tasting sessions.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Compared to many of the other St. Petersburg landmarks this church is a newcomer – only 100 years old – but remains one of the city’s most iconic structures. Its distinctive appearance with its highly decorative and multi-colored dome ‘hats’ is, for many visitors who have only ever seen photographs of Moscow’s romantic nationalism architecture before arriving, rather closer in style to what they expect in Russia. It is certainly very different to the rest of St. Petersburg’s architecture.
The church – now a museum – stands on the exact site where Tsar Alexander II fell after attack by anarchists in 1881. The interior is exceptionally beautiful and best known for its vast multitude of mosaics which, it is sometimes claimed, is the largest collection found within a church anywhere in the world.
Pre-dinner Drinks and Dinner in St. Petersburg
As the country’s second largest city you can expect a vast variety of choice when the time arrives to relax somewhere with a drink before you head off to dinner. St. Petersburg also happens to be the country’s brewing capital so craft beer fans are going to be well-catered for. Likewise, dining venues are almost without number, offering something for everyone no matter what your taste or budget.
Bar culture is well-established in St. Petersburg which offers a plentiful supply of general-taste places which can serve up any drink you care for to those which are more focused on beer, cider, wine or cocktails. Cocktail fans particularly are not going to struggle to find somewhere to relax and sip on high-quality mixes. In fact, the competition here is especially is high to establish a reputation as the city’s most sought-after cocktail joint. One choice in this category is Apotheke which is very tucked away, adding some mystique to the whole experience. Located only by way of a red cross sign on the exterior, this small space is one for the cocktail connoisseur who enjoys serene surroundings and a background soundtrack of jazz.
Those who enjoy cider can check out the charmingly cave-like Sideriya which offers both Russian and international cider brands while wine fans looking for an elegant bar should head to the Wine Cellar 1853. Wine bars are something of a developing concept here in St. Petersburg so the variety is still quite small but this sophisticated spot located inside the high-end Kempinski Hotel Moika 22 is a real gem. The ambiance in this brick-walled cellar is enchanting and the imported wine and champagne choice exceptional.
If you want sundowners with a view check out the lovely Azimut Sky Bar and Lounge where St. Petersburg and all its historical glory is laid out before you as you indulge in cocktails, Russian or international beers or fine wines. You will find this beautiful venue atop the Azimut Hotel where an almost complete lack of high-rise buildings allows for far reaching panoramas which take in many of the famous landmarks.
Dinner in St. Petersburg
As you will have already discovered at lunch, the city’s reputation for having a fairly underwhelming dining scene is now part of history. Dining in St. Petersburg today is both dynamic and diverse with venues offering everything from cozy and traditional to the highest heights of luxury and fine dining surrounded by the kind of opulent décor so beloved by the city’s 19th century aristocracy.
As practically the entire center of the city is historically significant enough to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dining with views of this splendor may be something of a priority and you have plenty of choice if so. One option here is the understatedly elegant Mansarda Restaurant which perches six floors up on the Quatra Corti business center.
Surrounded by glass on all sides and above you, the views are the focus here and what views they are. The beautiful St. Isaac’s Cathedral is literally next door
Views of a totally different kind can be had by booking onto a river dinner cruise. Criss-crossed with canals and rivers, traveling by boat in St. Petersburg gives you a plethora of opportunities for taking in the beautiful and historic from an entirely different perspective. The majority of the cruise/dine options fall within the fine dining category. Typically they take you up the Neva River so your view as you dine will be constantly changing and taking in such sights as palaces, monuments, islands and churches.
Lavish and historic restaurant interiors are also easily found in this city which once was home to the tsars of Imperial Russia and a plentiful population of wealthy aristocrats. Some venues look exactly as they did during that grand epoch while others have opted for a different theme. One such is the L’Europe which can be found within the luxurious Belmond Grand Hotel Europe and is Russia’s oldest restaurant. The glamorous vintage-style here is highlighted by accents of Art Nouveau with a stunning stained glass mural of Apollo dominating one wall and an exquisite carved wooden balcony. The candles and strung lights which set the glass glistening can’t fail to create a romantic ambience while Friday nights raise the sophistication levels up another notch with their classical music and ballet performances.
If you want to make life especially easy for yourself you can simply transition from drinks to dining at either the Azimut Sky Bar or the Wine Cellar 1853.
An Evening in St. Petersburg
The menu of incredible things to see and do in St. Petersburg doesn’t peter out once the sun sinks on the city. In fact, the opposite is perhaps true. As one of Europe’s principal cultural hubs the menu of shows and performances which encompass traditional dance, classical concerts, opera, ballet and theater is extensive. To enhance these experiences even more many of these jewels can be enjoyed in lavish and gorgeous venues once frequented by the country’s imperial elite.
Topping the list of such venues is the world-famous and globally-respected Mariinsky Theater – not just the grandest of the city’s opera and ballet venues but considered the finest to be found in the country. With roots which stretch back to the 1700s and in its present guise opened in 1860, the theater has known a variety of names, typically dictated by the political climate of the time.
The sheer size can be quickly appreciated from its vast elegant green and white exterior while the fabulous interiors have to be seen to be believed. Majestic, grand and multi-tiered, the theater has a beautifully decorated ceiling which appears to soar way overhead for those on the lowest levels. Flanking the enormous stage can be seen the private box where once the tsars would have sat to watch performances.
As you might expect all performances here are world-class, arguably the best of their kind you will see anywhere on the planet and since its very beginning such a boast has always been the case. In almost 200 years of history, the Mariinsky has played host to some of the most famous singers, dancers and performers of all time while also staging the original premieres of some of the world’s most famous operas and ballets such as Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet along with Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov masterpieces.
Today the Mariinsky is home to a second stage – the Mariinsky II – which with all the grandeur and style associated with the original has created an opera house for the 21st century
If you would prefer to watch performances of traditional styles which bring together folklore, dance and song with some fabulous costumes these are also not hard to find in St. Petersburg. The most famous of the folk-shows (and by some margin also the oldest) is the ‘Feel Yourself Russian’ staged at the beautiful Nikolaevsky Palace. There are other alternatives however such as that staged at the Mansion of Countess Sofia Panina while smaller and more intimate venues can also be found.
Typically shows incorporate the traditional music and dance of various regions of the country or those of the rich folklore traditions belonging to the military Cossacks of Southern Russia.
For those that would prefer to be outside during the evening hours there are also options. For something completely free you can simply stroll amid the buzzing atmosphere of the city’s main street – the Nevsky Prospect. Stretching for more than 4km, this royal avenue is the focus of the city’s shopping and nightlife. It is also however liberally dotted about with many landmark sights such as churches, palaces, monuments and a plethora of historical buildings, many of which become fantastically lit once the sun sets. Fans of Dostoevsky novels such as Crime and Punishment will already be familiar with this historical street as it features time and again in his works.
If you haven’t already done so during your day be sure to drop into the glittering Art Nouveau marvel of the Eliseyev Emporium which will take your breath away. There are all kinds of food treats and souvenirs to buy here but even if you are not looking to purchase the amazing interiors and displays are worth your time alone.
Another alternative for enjoying the evening alfresco is to take a canal tour. It is said that St. Petersburg is a city which was deliberately built to be most appreciated from the water and as many of its palaces and other historical building line the banks you might well agree after a boat trip. The city is home to many hundreds of bridges which are raised to allow craft to pass beneath – a spectacle which is often heavily featured on night canal tours.
Night canal tours are repeatedly described as magical and enchanting by those who have experienced them while the city’s geographical location also adds something special. As St. Petersburg is so far north, from May to July it experiences what is known in the city as ‘White Nights’. This refers to the fact that the sun never really sets but remains light almost the entire time while for a few short hours it basks in a dusky glow. The most extreme period for this is from
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