St. Petersburg Overview
One of the most beautiful and elegant cities on Earth, St. Petersburg is a once-in-a-lifetime destination. This well-preserved, romantic city has a fascinating past. It was contrived by Peter the Great as part of a cultural reformation and enlightenment period from the early 18th century. Almost all notable buildings, and the city design itself, date from the 1700's. It was then the imperial capital for 200 years until the Russian Revolution. Wide tree-lined avenues, ornate palatial buildings and a UNESCO-protected City Centre all make for a most unforgettable destination. St. Petersburg is preserved in a way few cities are, thanks to the capital moving to Moscow and the city being left without the 20th century development seen in most major global cities. St. Petersburg is home to one of the world's richest art collections at the Hermitage State Museum and one of the most famous opera and ballet houses in the world, The Merinksy Theatre. The Winter Palace and the Catherine Palace are two of the biggest draws, as are the beautiful domed cathedrals of St Isaacs and The Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood. As the so-called "Cultural Capital" of Russia, the city plays host to over 100 festivals each year, including the notable classical music White Nights Festival. Home to some of Russian's most well-heeled quarters, best restaurants and most extravagant buildings, whether you go in summer or winter, St. Petersburg is a destination like no other.
Things to Do
As the Cultural Capital of the country, there is literally no end of things to do in St. Petersburg, from the many galleries and museums to palaces and cathedrals, any itinerary for this city is always a packed one.
Ballet, opera and classical music
As the ultimate neoclassical city, built during the Age of Enlightenment, it's little wonder that there are plenty of beautiful theatres, ballet houses and opera venues, where visitors can watch some of the performing arts that Russia is so famous for. No trip to St. Petersburg is complete without a performance at the grand Merinsky Theatre, home to regular operatic, orchestral and ballet performances. Those visiting with children should also visit the Children's Music Theatre, a unique place in Russia aimed specifically at youngsters and hosting colourful musicals and Russian fairy tales.
Art in St. Petersburg
The Hermitage State Museum on Palace Square was built in the late 18th century and forms part of the Winter Palace. It houses over 3 million pieces of art, of which only a proportion are on display. It's not only the largest collection in Russia, but one of the biggest in the world. The collection of fine art at The Hermitage is said to be so great in fact, that to look at each piece in detail would take 11 years. Instead take a tour with an official guide who can show you the best pieces including paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci and Rembrandt. Those interested specifically in Russian art should head to the Russian Museum, which houses national artists and more modern works such as those from Kandinsky.
Architecture in St. Petersburg
Architecture is essentially what St. Petersburg is most famous for, and when Peter the Great laid the foundations of this world-class city in the early 1700's, he created somewhere that would continue to wow visitors for hundreds of years. Much the city is built in the Baroque and Neoclassical designs that came out of Rome in the mid-18th century, but also with its own local influences. Buildings of note include the Winter Palace, the residence of the Russian Monarchy from the 18th to 20th century. The Winter Palace is a vast building that can be viewed spectacularly across the Neva River. It's also worth visiting the Peter and Paul Fortress, one of the city's first buildings erected back in 1703 and a signifier of what was to come. Also worth a visit is the Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood; not built until the early 20th century, this church is constructed in a medieval Russian Style that stands out amongst the rest of the city. This uniquely colourful and multi-domed cathedral is one of the most stunning of its kind in the whole of Russia. The golden domed St Isaacs Cathedral is another building worth visiting.
Day Trips from St. Petersburg
When the city was built to be a "window to Europe" in the 18th century, the surrounding areas were not ignored and there is much splendour to experience by taking short day trips from the city. Firstly, venture to the Peterhof Palaces. Located some 20 miles from the city, these palaces, known as the "Versailles of Russia", were also built at the behest of Peter the Great in elegant Italianate styles, with fountains and meticulously landscaped gardens to boot. Another visit can be made to Pushkin, where the Catherine Palace, the monarch's summer residence can be found -- a palace that easily rivals the Winter Palace for majesty. This once official royal residence was in fact where the most recent Tsars spent much time, hiding away during the political unrest before the revolution.
Calendar of Events
There are over 100 annual festivities in St. Petersburg celebrating arts, music and culture in the city.
Opening Ceremony of Peterhof's Fountains. In mid-May, crowds gather to watch the spectacle of Peterhof Palace's fountains being turned on one by one along to music. If you miss the opening, you may be around for the closing ceremony which takes place in mid-September.
White Nights Festival. Running from May to August, this summer-long classical music festival is one of the most famed in the world and begins in May with Stars of the White Nights ('White Nights' is a term to describe the long summer evenings in St. Petersburg where the sun hardly sets). The festival celebrates not only this, but the rich performing arts heritage of the city.
St Petersburg City Day. The city has celebrated the day of its birth on the 27th May for over 300 years now. This is the day that Peter the Great laid the first stone in his Peter and Paul Fortress. During this event, a number of concerts, fireworks, the laying of flowers at the fortress and general merriment can be expected.
The Scarlet Sails. Coinciding with the end of summer school term in late June, this relatively new festival actually celebrates the past with traditional fairy-tales retold through the parade, and it forms part of the larger White Nights Festival. During this festival, a parade of lit-up boats sails along the Neva River banks whilst fireworks are let off and music is played. The festival ends with a huge open-air concert.