Wednesday, 4 July 2012 4:23 PM
The historic city of St Petersburg in Russia is one of the most fascinating settlements in Europe. With this in mind, if you are taking a Baltic cruise in 2013, it is well worth scheduling a stop here so you can see some world-famous sites.
You'll immediately notice that St Petersburg looks quite different from Russia's capital Moscow, which is home to Red Square and the brightly-coloured domes of Saint Basil's Cathedral. These are images we immediately associate with Russia, but the architecture in St Petersburg tends to be baroque or neoclassical in nature, giving it a flavour more akin to western Europe.
Here are three places you must visit in what is the most northern city in the world.
Today known as the State Hermitage Museum¸ the Winter Palace was the main residence of Russia's tsars from the 1760s until the political revolution at the turn of the 20th century. It has a stunning location on the Neva River and you'll immediately see that this is a property fit for royalty.
Over the decades, the residence underwent numerous alterations, but the original design is still clear to see. The architect responsible for the majority of the building was Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who was born in Italy and is likely to have been inspired by the styles popular in the country.
Today, the palace is a popular tourist attraction, where you can see works by the greats like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo, along with a unique collection of Rubens and Rembrandts. You might like to carefully plan your visit and choose what you wish to see before you arrive, as this is an art gallery on the scale of the Louvre in Paris. Indeed, it has been estimated that if you chose to look at every item in its collection for one minute each, it would take you 11 years to complete your tour.
Peter and Paul Fortress
These magnificent structures were built on the orders of Peter the Great after his 1703 reclamation of land along the River Neva. The fort was designed to protect the city against any attack launched by Sweden and is situated on an island in the Neva delta.
Over the years it served many uses, including as a political prison - which Peter the Great's own son Alexei served time in. Other famous inmates included Trotsky and Dostoyevsky. During the 1917 February Revolution, the fort was attacked and the prisoners were freed, with officials to the Tsar housed there in their place. Today, you can visit part of this jail to learn more about its history.
The Russian Museum
This was the first fine art museum to be owned by the state and open to the public in Russia and was founded in 1895. You will find it in the beautiful Mikhailovsky Palace, which was once the home of Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia and was built by Carlo Rossi, who was also the architect behind Alexandrinsky Theatre, Alexandrinskaya Square and Mikhailovskaya Square.
While there is always something new to see here thanks to the evolving exhibitions, there are also permanent collections to browse. In particular, you can admire works by some of Russia's master artists, along with paintings dating from the 18th to the 20th century.