Russia remains an enigmatic and fascinating country – much like it has done for its long, often-fraught history. And no city within its vast borders is more interesting than the port city of St Petersburg.
Quite possibly the most Western of all the major Russian cities, St Petersburg has a long, fascinating history of revolution, rulers and rebranding (it has had three names over the course of its existence: St Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and back to St Petersburg again). This city is truly captivating.
The port itself is situated on Vasilyevsky Island which is about 6km away from St Petersburg’s main highlights and takes roughly 15-20 minutes to reach by car, depending on traffic.
Visitors need a visa to enter the city (which costs £70 per person).
However, cruise passengers booked on a guided excursion (either privately or with the cruise line), are granted a temporary three-day visa, although that comes with the caveat of staying with the tour group at all times.
NEED TO KNOW
It is advisable to get a Russian visa as early as possible. If left to the last minute, the price will go up and it takes roughly eight weeks before travel to guarantee approval.
The main shopping street is Nevsky Prospekt, lined with cafes, shops and restaurants, while the city’s oldest shopping centre is the Gostiny Dvor, dating back to 1785.
The Church on Spilled Blood also has a street market nearby.
WHAT WE LOVE
Hermitage Museum: The famous Hermitage Museum – the second largest of its kind in the world – sits in the heart of St Petersburg. Encompassing six buildings (including the Winter Palace – the former residence of Russian rulers) and with a collection of over three million items, there is some serious artistic pedigree on display, including works by Rembrandt, Picasso and Van Gogh.
Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood: If there is one sight which Russia is most commonly associated with, it would be the multi-coloured onion domes which adorn their magnificent churches. And St Petersburg is no different, with its iconic Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood visited by thousands of tourists every day. The exterior is traditional Russian baroque architecture.
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral: Known for its gleaming golden dome, Saint Isaac’s is the largest cathedral in St Petersburg and the fourth largest in the world. Its exterior is an imposing spectacle framed by giant red granite columns, while its interiors are adorned in gold plating. The top of dome also provides some fantastic views of the city.
Peter and Paul Fortress: This fortress is known as the birthplace of St Petersburg, as it was the first structure to be built in the city. It has been the home of government departments, the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, and a jail for Russian political prisoners. Today, the fortress is a tourist hotspot, with many flocking to the area to see the Peter and Paul Cathedral.
- St Petersburg is the most Western of Russian cities
- The Hermitage Museum will speak to all art lovers
- Awe-inspiring churches and cathedrals