This is Russia’s most charming city, its laidback and relaxed pace of life a welcome change from the country’s frenetic capital. Whether you’re visiting during the World Cup or still considering a trip, here’s everything you need to know before you go:
Despite its short three-hundred-year-old existence, St Petersburg oozes history and culture: its museums house some of the world’s most important works of art, its tsarist palaces harbour invaluable riches, and its elegant buildings were once home to some of Russia’s greatest writers. Its relatively small size and simple layout makes it easy to navigate too, with most of the city centre easily explorable on foot.
One of the best times to visit is between mid-June and mid-July during the White Nights, the northern midsummer eves when the sun always glows and darkness never falls. During these few weeks, locals fill the streets enjoying the warm weather by day, before partying the night away.
For gorgeous views of the palace, head across the river to the Peter and Paul Fortress, today a tourist complex with museums, galleries and an important cathedral. The highlight of the fortress is the panoramic riverside vista, best enjoyed from the Nevksaya panorama walk that takes you along the rooftops of the fortifications.
Art lovers shouldn’t miss a visit to the State Russian Museum, which displays a fine collection of Russian art spanning over one thousand years. Spare some time for the Fabergé Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Fabergé eggs, along with all manner of handmade items that once belonged to the nobility and the tsars, including jewellery, silverware and porcelain.
A trip to St Petersburg wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the imperial palaces of Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo, which both make for wonderful day trips. Located on the outskirts of the city, the Peterhof is renowned for its elaborate fountains and cascades, while at Tsarskoye Selo, the blue and white Russian Baroque Catherine Palace is immersed in a gorgeous landscaped park.
St Petersburg’s nightlife scene is fun and laidback, and is decidedly more sedate than Moscow’s. Tucked away along its canals are elegant bars and laidback student joints where youngsters gather over a few beers. For top-notch cocktails head to Poltory Komnaty, a small and intimate spot where experienced mixologists shake up creative cocktails served on little wooden boards. If live music is more your thing, The Hat Bar offers lively jazz jam sessions in cosy 1940s-50s American-style surrounds, with dozens of types of whisky and bourbon served until the wee hours.
For a treat, bed down at Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, one of the city’s most luxurious hotels featuring elegant marble interiors with stuccoed ceilings and stained glass windows. Classically styled rooms are adorned with Russian paintings, antiques and plush fabrics, while plenty of cultural activities keep guests busy, from boat and city tours to caviar master classes where you are taught how to pair Russia’s much loved delicacy with vodka.