St Petersburg

St Petersburg is a fascinating city, from the wonderful architecture to the many treasures held in the Hermitage museum. It may surprise you that the city is relatively new, it was only founded at the beginning of the 18th century when Peter the Great captured Swedish outposts along the river Neva and founded the Peter & Paul fortress. In its time, it has also been renamed Petrograd and Leningrad before converting back to its original name. Despite its violent history, St Petersburg has a somewhat fairytale charm and is often referred to as the “Venice of the North” with its many waterways.

There are a lot of things you can do and see in St Petersburg. Below are a few suggestions of where to visit.

Museums

If you are interested in history, I suggest you visiting one of the world’s most famous museums, the Hermitage, home to around 3 million works of art from the Stone Age to the 20th century. Here you can study stone and bone figurines from the Palaeolithic age, admire jewelery made by the iconic FabergĂ© and see how armies were protected by different types of Armour.

Often overlooked in favor of the Hermitage, the Russian Museum is also a treasure trove of fine art. Famed for its many paintings, it also houses sculptures, folk handicrafts, engravings, medals and coins. A fascinating insight into Russian art and culture.

Cathedrals

Prepare to be impressed by the cathedrals of Kazan and St Isaacs. Constructed at the beginning of the 19th century, Kazan was inspired by St Peters Basilica in Rome. From 1932 until recently, the cathedral did not hold any services and became home to collections of the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism. The cathedral now holds services but shares its premises with the museum, although the word atheism has been removed from the latter title. If you’re feeling fit, you can climb the 300 or so steps to the base of the dome of St Isaacs to admire the spectacular views across the city. Inside marvel at the columns made of single pieces of red granite that weigh around 80 tons each.

Royal history

Winter Palace, also home to the Hermitage Museum. A masterpiece of baroque architecture, the Winter Palace lays claim to 1,786 doors, 1,945 windows and 1,057 elegantly and lavishly decorated halls and rooms. Alternatively, stroll through the Summer Garden to the Summer Palace, so called because it had no heating and was intended only for summer time use. Consisting of two stories with 7 rooms each, the palace was restored after WWII and houses became a collection of 18th century artifacts, mainly from Peter the Great.

You can also pay your respects to the Romanov family at the Peter and Paul Cathedral, which is inside the fortress and contains the tombs of the imperial royal family. It wasn’t until 9 years ago the murdered Tsar Nicholas II, his wife and children were interred at the cathedral after having lain buried in a pit for many years.

In the Navy

The historical battleship the Aurora (not to be confused with the P&O cruise ship!) started out life taking part in the Russo-Japanese War at the beginning of the 20th century before being used for training. She’s also given the signal to start the storming of the Winter Palace and her guns were used on St Petersburg’s defenses during WWII and the 900-day siege of Leningrad. Fortunately, life is more peaceful for her now as a floating museum, full of history about her life.

Take a stroll through the Admiraltys gardens, which are particularly beautiful in height of the summer. Originally designed as a dockyard, the Admiralty was then fortified to become a city defense and was Russia naval headquarters until 1917. The landmark is now a naval college and is the focal point of the main streets of Nevsky Prospect, Gorokhovaia Street and Voznesensky Prospect.

A walk in the park

Take a walk through the Botanical Garden, originally an apothecary (an early pharmacist to you and me) garden where medicinal plants and herbs were grown it soon extended its collection to include rare and exotic plants. One of the more unusual exhibits is the Queen of the Night, which flowers for one night only every May.

If you visit the Russian Museum, why not meander through Michael Garden which adjoins it. In its time the garden has served as a formal French garden, hunting reserve, nursery and a place for horseback riding. Nowadays it is an interesting combination of regular French style around the outside and English landscape in the middle.

Shop until you drop

Many of us remember images of barely stocked Russian shops with unimaginative goods for sale. There’s now plenty to attract shopaholics, from art and antiques to books and souvenirs. Why not pick up some original, local artwork, a rare edition of a classic Russian novel, amber jewelery or iconic matryoshki (nesting dolls)? The best areas for shopping are to be found at Nevsky Prospekt or Bolshoi Prospekt on Vasilyevsky Island.

These are just some of the many highlights of St Petersburg. With so much to see and do, you’ll find yourself going back again and again. Most cruise lines offer itineraries that include St Petersburg, such as Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, P&O, Costa, Cunard, Celebrity and Fred Olesen. So what’s stopping you? Make St Petersburg your next stop.