3rd January 2017: I've just returned from Saint Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia also known as the 'Venice of the North'. Founded by Peter the Great, Saint Petersburg is a Baltic city unlike any other in Europe. The palace lined waterways, architectural splendour and rich history make it an unforgettable trip. Here are my top tips for visiting this wonderful city.
When to Go
October is a lovely month to visit Saint Petersburg, as it’s known as golden Autumn, with beautiful colours and it was not too cold. June to September is also ideal, as it has the 'white nights', days of hardly any darkness, similar to many other Baltic cities.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Belmond Grand Europe, situated on the main street called Nevsky Prospekt. It really is the perfect place to stay, similar to the Champ Elysées in Paris or Oxford Street in London. We were close to all the sites, with a choice of restaurants and shops, so it was a great base for exploring.
What to See and Do
Saint Petersburg has plenty of iconic sites to discover, and here are just a few of my favourites.
The Winter Palace - Now the Hermitage Museum, these five splendid buildings, built along the River Neva are home to a vast collection of paintings, graphic works, sculptures and archaeological artefacts. Our guide gave us an interesting tour of some of the exhibits from all over the world, and he even showed us the sculpture of a dog with a face resembling President Putin!
Peter & Paul Fortress - The oldest building in the city, it’s home to the tombs of almost all of the Russian leaders and Royal Family from Peter the Great onwards. Even from the outside, this impressive structure is a wonderful example of architecture of the 18th and 20th centuries.
Catherine Palace - Our last visit was to the imperial estate of Pushkin, 25km south of Saint Petersburg, where we visited Catherine Palace. Named after the Empress Catherine, second wife of Peter the Great, it houses some beautiful baroque interiors and the very famous amber room.
The Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood - This beautiful domed Church is similar to St Basil’s in Moscow, built to commemorate Emperor Alexander II. This iconic structure is decorated inside and out with detailed mosaics, designed by some of the most prominent artists at the time, and it’s definitely not to be missed.
Where to Eat
There are plenty of great places to eat in Saint Petersburg. I dined at the Grand Europe Hotel, at the Tchaikovsky Evening in the L’Europe Restaurant. This restaurant has plenty of atmosphere and every Friday the Hotel hosts an evening with Ballet, Opera and an Orchestra and a set five course meal.
I also enjoyed an Imperial Brunch at the Grand Europe Hotel, consisting of an impressive buffet with wine, caviar and an international menu served from 13:00 to 16:00. It is definitely advisable to pre-book.
For a more laid back meal, we enjoyed the Ivan & Maria’s Gastro Pub on Nevsky Prospekt. With a great selection of traditional Russian food and excellent beer, it’s definitely worth looking out for. I had fried cheese, sour cream and candy floss!
St. Petersburg is full of charming architecture, wonderful food and incredible culture, and with just three-hour non-stop flight, it’s the perfect place for a short city break.