Since Peter the Great moved the seat of his young empire from Moscow to the shores of the Baltic Sea, St. Petersburg has been recognized internationally as a crown jewel of capitals. Its architects and planners drew from the majesty of Europe's most breathtaking sites, taking inspiration from the canals of Venice, the Palace of Versailles, the cathedrals of Rome, the streets of Amsterdam, and imbued it all with the aura of Vienna. These aspects have joined together to create a city of unspeakable perfection. However, abundance of historic sights is not the only thing that attracts thousands of visitors here. St. Petersburg tourism infrastructure also meets the highest world standards, and you will be able to choose not just good but 'one-of-a-kind' hotels, dine at fabulous restaurants, and see world-class theater performances.
In the heart of the city stands the Winter Palace, one of the must-sees for practically all St. Petersburg excursions. Its front faces Palace Square with its looming Alexander Column, a monolith of Finnish red granite erected to celebrate the victory of Tsar Alexander I over Napoleon Bonaparte. To the rear of the palace, itself a monument to “the might and power of Imperial Russia,” is the Palace Embankment on the Neva. Just across the river stands the Peter and Paul Fortress, with its crenelated walls designed to hold the guns that would defend the city from water attacks.
A relatively small portion of the Winter Palace houses the world-famous Hermitage Museum, that obtains the biggest collection of Russian art in the world - more than 3 million items. The Hermitage originated as the private art collection of Catherine the Great, with hundreds of paintings now displayed in the Palace's halls. Indeed, many of these halls are works of art themselves.
Another famous sight, not far from the Winter Palace, is St. Isaac's Cathedral. The largest Orthodox cathedral in the world, it was built in a severe classic Roman style (strongly favored by Tsar Alexander I) over the span of 40 years. When it was completed in 1848, the main dome rivaled that of the Pantheon of Paris and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and as with these other great domed structures, it served as the inspiration for today’s dome on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (completed in 1866). The cathedral’s cupolas are decorated with 100 kilograms of pure gold.
A few blocks from the Palace Square, along the Griboedov Canal, stands what appears to be something of an answer to Moscow’s Cathedral of St. Vasily, the Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood. Its name came from the murder of Tsar Alexander II by terrorists. Despite his efforts to reform and liberalize Russia, Alexander was attacked by three anarchists carrying bombs, the second of which succeeded in killing him. The church was erected by his son, Tsar Alexander III, on the assassination site, just a short walk from the bustling thoroughfare of Nevsky Prospect.
The city center contains a number of beautiful sights to see, but the outskirts contain just as many wonders, the most visited being perhaps that of Tsarskoe Selo. After evicting the Swedes from the area, Tsar Peter the Great gave over to his loyal friend Alexander Menshikov the old manor of Sarishoff. Menshikov constructed there a great palace, which he in turn gave over to Peter’s wife, Catherine I, whose rise from a childhood as an orphaned Polish peasant to Empress of Russia is said to have been a story as great as that of the rise of her husband. The resulting ornate Catherine Palace and beautiful Catherine Park, located in the fairy tale Tsarskoe Selo, or Tsar’s Village, in the suburb of Pushkin, are named for her. This is a truly remarkable piece of Russia's Imperial heritage and the absolute majority of our trips to St. Petersburg take you there.
Also at Tsarskoe Selo is the Alexander Palace, built for Tsar Alexander I. It had served as the favorite retreat for many of the great imperial leaders of Russia, including Catherine II the Great and Nicholas II. Its post-Imperial history was a bit more varied, having served as the headquarters for the Nazi German siege of Leningrad, and then an abandoned relic, an “enhancement” to the surrounding Alexander Park. Although still under restoration, it today serves as a museum dedicated to the final days of Tsarist rule in Russia.
There are a number of other beautiful palaces built on the Baltic Sea coast, including Oranienbaum (another of Menshikov’s creations) and Peter the Great’s most famous imperial residence, Peterhof. The latter was at first to serve merely as a gateway for the Tsar for trips proposed into Europe - the harbor of St. Petersburg was yet to be developed, and ships were obliged to anchor off Kotlin Island, today’s Kronstadt, located within sight of the landing area. Later, he created a summer palace at this location that he called “Monplaisir,” or “My Pleasure.” This palace was later decorated with gardens and fountains, the greatest of which was the Grand Cascade. By the time it was finished by Catherine the Great, it had been transformed into what is generally regarded today as “the Russian Versailles.”
St. Petersburg, or “Peter” as it is often shortened, is glorious in the summer, particularly when the White Nights (the nightlong twilight that takes place for a few weeks on either side of the summer solstice) transforms the Neva embankments into one of the world’s longest outdoor parties. For St. Petersburg travel warm summer months from May to August are the busiest season. But the city is also a beautiful winter destination. Indeed, it is said that no one celebrates the Day of the October Revolution, held on November 7, like the people of this city, and of course the city is the backdrop to the classic film “Ironia Sudby” (“The Irony of Fate,” a film that is almost as much a New Year’s tradition as “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a Christmas tradition in the United States). The best way to travel to St. Petersburg is with one of our package tours or St. Petersburg excursions. We often suggest to enhance your Saint Petersburg travel experiences with an extension to one of the Baltic states or combine it with a Moscow tour. Contact our helpful specialists for more information.