With the G20 leaders set to arrive in St Petersburg tomorrow for talks, we take a look at this magnificent city from the tourist’s perspective, highlighting some of the many treasures worth visiting and viewing on a St Petersburg short break.
Set on the banks of the Neva River at the eastern tip of the Baltic Sea, St Petersburg draws many comparisons with Venice and Bruges – albeit on a grander scale – for it’s a city where a network of canals gently criss-cross the city centre, lined along the way by beautiful baroque and neoclassical buildings reminiscent of Europe. Designed and built (on a swamp, no less) for Peter the Great, St Petersburg became Russia’s ‘window to the west’ and today abounds in majestic architectural, historical and cultural treasures. Here are just five of the city’s many must-see essentials…
State Hermitage Museum
An absolute pre-requisite, the State Hermitage Museum commands a reputation as one of the finest institutions worldwide, containing an unrivalled collection of over three million artworks housed in a sumptuous palace set on the banks of the Neva, from which the Romanov tsars ruled the Russian Empire. The collection covers all the main European movements, with works on display by a veritable who’s who in the roll call of artistic greats including Canaletto, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, El Greco, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse and Degas. There’s also an impressive selection of Oriental and Middle Eastern art, as well as treasures from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Persia.
Peterhof Palace (Petrodvorets)
Often described as the Russian Versailles, Peterhof is one of the city’s most popular attractions, particularly for its stunning fountains – 147 in all – which run from May through to October. Peterhof – or Petrodvorets as it is also known – was built in the early 18th century as a residence for the Russian monarchs and its architecture and décor reflects the personal tastes of each of its royal inhabitants. Although virtually destroyed during World War II, the Peterhof complex has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and is the proud bearer of the title one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Russia’. Be sure to allow plenty of time to explore and appreciate both the sumptuous interiors and beautiful parks and gardens for which Peterhof is so renowned.
Church of the Saviour of the Spilt Blood
From an architectural perspective, this church would be more fitting set amongst the domes of Moscow, however it represents one of the city’s most beautiful landmarks. With an interior covered in beautiful mosaics, each one representing a particular biblical theme, this distinctive church with its onion-shaped domes was so named as it was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered in 1881. A definite photo opportunity if there ever was one.
St Isaac’s Cathedral
Dominating the St Petersburg skyline with its golden dome, St Isaac’s Cathedral represents one of the world’s largest and most ornately-decorated religious edifices. Built between 1818 and 1858, the cathedral was named after St Isaac of Dalmatia, on whose day Peter the Great was born. Be sure to climb to the top of the dome for the most outstanding views over the city.
Bought by the wealthy Yusupov family in 1830 to house their extensive art collection, Yusupov is more famous as the scene of Rasputin’s murder and a tour of the cellar recounts how a plot was hatched to kill the lover of the Russian Queen.