St Petersburg or “Peter” as the locals call it surely is one of the most interesting big cities in Europe. No skyscrapers but extravagant palaces, magnificent cathedrals and vast museums. What surprised me most is how clean and modern St Petersburg is! Pulkovo airport stands out as impressive as Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport and there is no trash in the streets of the city center. Roads are in good condition and traffic isn’t the mad hell you had imagined. Visiting in winter is a nice way to discover the city with less tourists, and I was lucky to have the best possible weather (snow on the ground, freezing temperatures and some beautiful sunlight!). You need to spend at least a few days in the city to experience a major part of what it has to offer.
I tend to think St Petersburg resembles Helsinki…ten times bigger and with palaces. Massive and very sophisticated palaces.
The most well-known and centrally located one. Also home to the Hermitage museum, clearly one of the world’s most beautiful museums. But don’t expect Russian masterpieces there, as the Hermitage only exhibits foreign art (for Russian art head to the Russian Museum, see below). I highly recommend to hire a guide for your visit, as the size of the place can be overwhelming.
Also very close to the city center, Yusupov is not to be missed. A lot more intimate than the Winter Palace, still as much extravagant. My favorite spots: the small theatre and the Oriental Room. No need for a guide here, audioguides are very informative and included in the entrance fee.
Located south of St Petersburg in a small town called Pushkin. To reach it you need to take the metro and a bus, but the easiest way is to ride a cab. No need for a guide here either, as the palace is easy to visit and mainly about admiring the somptuous interiors around yourself. Top spot: the Amber Room, with amber everywhere (the only place where pictures are for some reason forbidden…). Unfortunately most of the things you see in the palace are only replicas of the original destroyed ones…
Being mainly built on a swamp, St Petersburg has the world’s deepest metro system! The stations on the red line (line 1) from city center to the south are worth a visit. Not as grandiloquent as Moscow’s metro stations, but still quite gorgeous and different from what we are used to.
As extravagant as its palaces are St Petersburg’s many churches.
Church of the Savior on Blood
The most iconic one with its bulbs. Very central location along a canal. Beautiful at any time of the day and better looking from outside to me than inside.
St Isaac’s Cathedral
Central as well and impressive from inside but interesting mostly because of its Colonnade from where you get a 360-degree view of the city, flat and extended in front of your eyes.
St Nicholas Naval Cathedral
Small and intimate, highly photogenic.
Peter and Paul Cathedral
On the other side of Neva river and founded on its own island is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, in a more western style. Also other buildings to visit around it, inside what’s called the Peter and Paul fortress.
St Petersburg definitely is more about what you see than what you taste. I wasn’t very convinced by Russian gastronomy… It somehow lacks creativity and surprising flavors to me. Maybe it’s because I am not a big fan of fish and sturgeon caviar is totally overpriced anyway. A couple of things I liked a lot though: borscht soup and pelmeni (especially those cherry pelmeni for dessert!). To wash down with some ice-cold Russian vodka, of course.
As you know I am not keen on museums, unless they are about something very one-of-a-kind. And there is one like that in St Petersburg: the Fabergé museum.
The Fabergé Museum
Everybody knows Fabergé and its famous eggs. Here you can see some of the very few real ones in the world and they are simply gorgeous masterworks, each of them with a particular feature. Aside from the eggs the museum offers a highly enjoyable visit in a sophisticated yet comfy atmosphere. After your visit head to the very nice museum’s café, all in red tones.
The Russian Museum
Kind of a must-see, though I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Full of Russian art, from early times to the 20th century. Close to the museum you must visit Beluga Deluxe store! It’s the most incredible souvenir shop I’ve ever been in. Everything Russian you can think of is there. From amber jewelry, matrioshkas of all kinds, sturgeon caviar to malachite statues worth thousands of dollars, all presented in a design concept.
Like any city, St Petersburg is best discovered by foot to catch all those important feelings and details. Where Nevsky Prospekt (the city’s main street) is crowded and noisy, the canals are quiet and peaceful.
During my visit I stayed at Pushka Inn, only a couple hundreds of meters from the Winter Palace. Overall this small and modern hotel can be recommended. Towels could be softer, pillows of better quality and a minibar in the room would be nice, but service and helpfulness of the staff were above expectations.