A weekend in…St Petersburg
Although St. Petersburg was founded just over 300 years ago, the city – still known as Leningrad amongst some of the older inhabitants – has a fascinating history and culture.
'The Venice of the North', as it is aptly named due to its many rivers and canals, is an excellent place to visit any time of year, but be aware that average temperatures throughout the year vary between 22°C and -35°C.
You can fly from London to St Petersburg Pulkovo, but make sure you have arranged a visa in advance to avoid complication. The airport is 20 km outside of the city and there is no direct public transport. Buses, trams and the metro are fine, but take some getting used to, especially if you can't speak or read Russian; spending more money on a taxi to your accommodation might be a wise decision.
Measuring over 4km in length, Nevsky Prospect is largely considered the centre of St. Petersburg for history, culture, shopping, transport, restaurants, accommodation and pretty much everything else.
This street will undoubtedly be the hub for your weekend in St. Petersburg and you could easily spend two days simply wandering up and down the avenue. However, there are so many other places to visit.
See the sights
Unfortunately, two of the main highlights of the city do take up a day each if you are to fully appreciate them and it would be a shame to miss out on everything else the city has to offer. For a weekend visit to St. Petersburg, it may be necessary to miss out a visit to either Peterhof Palace or the world-famous Hermitage art museum, if you are to experience the city itself.
Peterhof Palace was built for Peter the Great and is located just over 20km outside of the city. It can be reached, most attractively, by boarding a hydrofoil which speeds from the city centre, out onto the Gulf of Finland, before leaving you on the jetty of the palace.
The gold-encrusted palace itself is beautiful, but the many acres of garden surrounding the building are the highlight. In addition to the wonderfully kept grass and floral displays, the garden offers a variety of golden statues, magnificent fountains, wildlife, and stunning coastal views of St. Petersburg.
The Hermitage art museum, based in St. Petersburg's winter palace, holds over three million pieces of artwork and is considered by many to be the highlight of the city. As well as holding masterpieces by the likes of Da Vinci and Raphael, the museum also offers a wide range of prehistoric, oriental and Russian art. The building itself is attractive and it is worth visiting the museum simply for this.
The cathedrals are my personal highlight of St. Petersburg. St Isaac's Cathedral is the largest and if you have the energy, you can climb it for an awesome view of the city. The Kazan Cathedral and the 'Church of Spilled Blood' – my personal favourite – are also highlights and are within easy walking distance of Nevsky Prospect.
Another personal highlight for me – a bit of a wildcard – is the Kunstkammer Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, which is located a little while outside of the centre. The museum is the oldest in Russia and houses a fascinating collection of foreign artefacts and preserved human biological oddities. It's weird, and it would never be allowed to exist in modern-day Britain, but it is fascinating and may be worth a visit if you're anything like me!
If you want to get the best overall view of the city – the cathedrals, the museums, the parks, and the hundreds of bridges – a short boat tour, starting from just outside the Church on Spilled Blood is probably the best way to do it.
In the evening
The nightlife in St. Petersburg is vibrant and lasts until well into the morning – the city never seems to sleep, so there's no need for you to do so. If, on the other hand, you are after sophistication then a trip to the ballet or opera in one of St. Petersburg's many theatre houses may prove a better option. Or, you could do both.
Food and drink
Drinking a shot of vodka in Russia seems necessary, but why not also try borsch, the countries national dish? I'll admit, beetroot soup sounds revolting – I've tried Tesco's version of this and regretted it immensely- but the Russian version is delicious.
Important note: whilst there may be loose restrictions on exportation of borsch, you are limited to taking one litre of vodka home. If a litre bottle of vodka costs under 200 roubles (about £4), then it is probably not safe to drink.
by William Turvill
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