Why visit St. Petersburg? Because it is simply majestic. The Venice of the North, as St Petersburg is known for, is one of the most beautiful and interesting cities we know (we’ve been there twice in less than a year and we are already planning the next visit during the 2018 World Cup). There are so many magnificent buildings all well-preserved over there that it is difficult to decide where to look at.
To complete the picture, the buildings are all low (about 4 floors). You can have a wide view of the city, seeing at the horizon the golden and colourful towers of the many churches and monuments scattered around.
Many people think that the history of Russia comes down to the Soviet Union times but St Petersburg makes clear the existence of a past even more interesting. This was the house of the Russian Tsars for a long time and there is where they built their palaces, cathedrals, museums and opera houses.
Much of the architecture was made by European artists hired by the royal family. They were delegated to build palaces such as Versailles and canals as the ones from Venice. The buildings are so luxurious that you can understand the revolt of the population at such ostentation, which culminated in the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Today, however, St Petersburg has a contemporary atmosphere and is full of trendy bars and restaurants. It seems that the city is undergoing a gastronomic effervescence and, at every corner, you will find a charming restaurant or wine bar to relax and plan the next sights to be visited. The expectations of Russians are high: they want to become an European gastronomic capital, such as London or Paris.
We also found Russia cheaper than the first time we visited the country, in 2013. The economic crisis devalued the Ruble and the prices are more similar to South America than to Europe, as it was back then.
Amongst the programs you have to do are:
Watching a ballet at Mariinsky Theatre:
The Mariinsky is to St. Petersburg what Bolshoi is to Moscow. Over there, most of the famous Russian plays make their debut. Besides the show, you will also be thrilled with the interior of the theatre as well. It is filled with paintings, decorations and chandeliers from the time of the Czars. To check tickets and opening hours: https://www.mariinsky.ru/en/
To visit Peter and Paul Fortress:
The fortress represents the birth of the city. It was right there where the Tzar Peter, the Great found what it would come to be one of the greatest city of Russia. Inside the fortress, you can visit what would be secret detention and torture cells, the mint house operating since 1720s, Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral amongst many others: http://www.saint-petersburg.com/museums/peter-paul-fortress/buildings
A walk through the Hermitage:
The Russian royal family used the palace as a residence before the Revolution. Today, it has been converted into one of the largest museums in the world. It is in the centre of St Petersburg at the Neva River’s bank – the view is wonderful! Besides containing important works of artists from all around the world, you will also be amazed by the Palace’s interior. It is the most luxurious one we’ve ever seen. The museum is open almost every day from Monday to Sunday. The price of tickets varies: https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/ (Free on the 1st Thursday of every month!)
A visit to Catherine’s Palace and Garden:
In Pushkin, the city of the Czars, and 25km from St Petersburg, the palace has a huge garden inspired by Versailles. Peter the Great built the palace to his wife Catherine. The couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, who enjoyed luxuries, ordered to rebuild the whole place like Versailles and she was not joking. Both, the garden and the interior of the house, go toe-to-toe with the French model. The entrance to the garden costs 120 Rubles and the palace, 1000 Rubles. http://eng.tzar.ru/
The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood:
Russian Orthodox Church with a unique architecture. The cathedral was built in 1881 on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. http://eng.cathedral.ru/
Safety! – Avoid catching taxis on the street as much as you possibly can! Local friends warned us about how dishonest they were. We took one taxi and he tried to charge up to 5 times the value. Note, we asked him to turn on the taximeter. The best way would be to order a taxi by phone.