Welcome to St. Petersburg!
One of the world’s most beautiful cities, St. Petersburg has all the ingredients for an unforgettable travel experience: high art, lavish architecture, wild nightlife, an extraordinary history and rich cultural traditions that have inspired and nurtured some of the modern world’s greatest literature, music, and visual art. From the mysterious twilight of the White Nights to world-beating opera and ballet productions on magical winter evenings, St. Petersburg charms and entices in every season.
St Petersburg is Russia’s second-largest city after Moscow, with five million inhabitants in 2012, and an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea. It is politically incorporated as a federal subject (a federal city). Saint Petersburg is the most Westernized city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saint Petersburg is home to The Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world. A large number of foreign consulates, international corporations, banks, and businesses have offices in Saint Petersburg.
Some Places to visit
Unlike in Moscow, in Saint Petersburg the historic architecture of the city centre, mostly consisting of Baroque and neoclassical buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries, has been largely preserved; although a number of buildings were demolished after the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power, during the Siege of Leningrad and in recent years. The oldest of the remaining building is a wooden house built for Peter I in 1703 on the shore of the Neva near Trinity Square. Since 1991 the Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments in Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast have been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
State Hermitage Museum
St. Petersburg’s most popular visitor attraction, and one of the world’s largest and most prestigious museums, the Hermitage is a must-see for all first-time travellers to the city. With over 3 million items in its collection, it also definitely rewards repeat visits, and new-comers can only hope to get a brief taste of the riches on offer here, from Impressionist masterpieces to fascinating Oriental treasures. One estimate has it that you would need eleven years to view each exhibit on display for just one minute, so many visitors prefer to organize a guided tour to ensure they have time to catch all the collection’s highlights. Art aficionados, however, may find it more rewarding to seek out for themselves the works that they are particularly interested in.
One of St. Petersburg’s most famous and popular visitor attractions, the palace and park at Peterhof (also known as Petrodvorets) are often referred to as “the Russian Versailles”, although many visitors conclude that the comparison does a disservice to the grandeur and scope of this majestic estate.
Versailles was, however, the inspiration for Peter the Great’s desire to build an imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city and, after an aborted attempt at Strelna, Peterhof – which means “Peter’s Court” in German – became the site for the Tsar’s Monplaisir Palace, and then of the original Grand Palace. The estate was equally popular with Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and greatly extended the park and the famous system of fountains, including the truly spectacular Grand Cascade.
St. Petersburg’s climate gets a pretty bad press, not least in the works of Russia’s literary greats. Those of us who live here and love the city believe that the weather gives it, and us, just that little bit more character. Nonetheless, it pays to come prepared.
The good news is that, as a maritime city, St. Petersburg is never really cold – at least by Russian standards – with temperatures rarely dropping much below -10 ºC even in the depths of winter. And, despite Dostoevsky’s descriptions of the sweltering slums, summer temperatures higher than 30 ºC are almost unheard of. It is the year-round high humidity that most visitors, and residents, find hard to bear at times and, winter or summer, waterproof clothing is essential.
It’s not just the weather that needs to be taken into account. Depending on the main purpose of your trip, you’ll also want to consider the calendars of the city’s top attractions – the Mariisnky Theatre, for example, takes two months off in the summer, while the fountains at Peterhof are only open from June to October. St. Petersburg also has an ever increasing number of festivals and holidays spread throughout the year.
Although for locals car ownership is a highly desirable sign of success and social status, St. Petersburg’s public transport network is actually extensive and efficient, if often overcrowded. The metro is undoubtedly the best bet for visitors, and covers nearly all of the city, with new stations opening almost every year. It also has some spectacular station architecture.
Overground transport is bewilderingly varied, but not difficult to use with the help of a few pointers (see individual pages below), and St. Petersburg’s latest transport project means that you can even use the city’s waterways to get around. The only real disadvantage of the public transport system is the lack of nighttime services, so if you plan to stay out after midnight, you will have to rely on taxis or your own two feet to get home.
Fares for all forms of public transport are comparatively low (around $1 or less for any single journey), but if you are staying in the city for longer than a week, it is probably worth investing in a travel card. Metro,Tram,Bus,Trolleybus,Marshrutka,Taxi Aquabus.