A year or so ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city after Moscow with a population of more than 5 million. After taking a relatively short ride (3.5 hours) in the high-speed Sapsan train from Moscow, I arrived in Saint Petersburg – a city of rich history and culture, beautiful buildings, and Venice-like canals all of which earned the city several spots on the UNESCO World Heritage site list.
A visit to Saint Petersburg of course requires a Russian visa; however, a visa is not required for a trip of less than 72 hours if you arrive in St. Petersburg by ferry or by cruise liner and you have a pre-arranged program of excursions by an approved local company.
Saint Petersburg is a perfect destination for solo travellers as well as for couples who will likely find the canals and baroque buildings dotting the banks very romantic.
Below are just some of the reasons why I think you should visit this beautiful city:
You can see more pictures from my trip to Saint Petersburg on my Instagram account @gmr83.
1. The Hermitage Museum: If there is just one reason to ever visit Saint Petersburg, this is it. Never in my life and in all my travels have I seen such an amazing collection of art under one roof. I highly recommend getting a tour guide which despite being somewhat expensive, it would give you a wealth of information and tour guides can readily take you directly to the items you want to see, whether it is by Rembrandt, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens or others.
2. The Bridges: Another must see in Saint Petersburg is the lowering and raising of the bridges. There are 9 low bridges in that are drawn during the night to allow for the passage of boat traffic. Therefore, if you don’t make it to the side of the river where you are staying before the bridges are drawn and there are no high bridges to cross, you will be stuck until the bridges are lowered. Seeing this operation at midnight was one of the highlights of my trip.
3. Metro Stations: While not as majestic like the ones in Moscow, Saint Petersburg has its share of gorgeous metro stations that are a traveller’s destination on their own. This is a list of my favorite ones.
4. Churches/Cathedrals: There is no shortage of churches and cathedrals in St. Petersburg, the most noteworthy of which are the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and St. Issac’s Cathedral. The former, which resembles St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, and its interior is meticulously decorated with over 6000sqm of mosaics.
5. Opera/Ballet: Although I didn’t have time to see a show while there, this is another activity that the city is known for. The Mariinsky Theater is one of the most famous worldwide.
6. The Canals: St. Petersburg is often nicknamed the Venice of the North and rightfully so with its wide canals that divide the city, making a canal boat tour one of the best ways to see the city. However, almost all tours are in Russian, so it might help to have walked around the city a bit more first in order to know what you are looking at.
7. Rooftop Tours: Feeling extra adventurous? Book a tour to explore some of the city’s rooftops! Beware, however, because many of these tours are unsafe and even illegal so it is probably best to ask your hotel concierge for tips.
8. Faberge Eggs: The Hermitage Museum is far from being the only museum in the city. If you have the slightest interest in art, you have definitely seen pictures or heard of the Faberge imperial eggs which are housed at the Faberge Museum. Only 50 imperial eggs were ever made, however, many of the eggs were unfortunately stolen or have disappeared after the 1918 Revolution.
9. The Peterhof Palace: A series of palaces and gardens known as the Peterhof Palace, laid out on the orders of Peter the Great, and sometimes called the “Russian Versailles”. The area was extensively damaged during World War II during occupation by Nazi Germany. Reconstruction efforts began almost immediately following the war, and they are still underway. Peterhof also hosts one of two campuses of Saint Petersburg State University.
For more pictures from gorgeous Saint Petersburg and my other travels, follow me on Instagram (@gmr83).