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By Chris | May 29 2007
Packed with wonderful historical sites, engaging exhibitions and a wealth of must-do activities, visitors to St Petersburg will find themselves thoroughly entertained.
With choices as wide-ranging as visiting the largest art museum in the world or heading for a ride in a tank, the only problem is deciding how to fit it all in.
With a staggering three million pieces of artwork on display, it is quite easy to understand how the director of the State Hermitage Museum once said that “I can’t say that the Hermitage is the number one museum in the world, but it’s certainly not the second.
” Much of the artwork is housed in the Winter Palace, a Baroque-style former residence of Catherine the Great that is generally considered St Petersburg’s finest attraction, while several other imposing buildings complete the museum. Catherine the Great herself started the collection in 1764 when she purchased a large number of paintings from Berlin. The range of art has now expanded to include works from Ancient Greece, Egypt, Europe and the Orient. The list of notable painters on display is equally impressive, with celebrated works from Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt and Rubens all on show. Private tours are available for those who would like to see the very best works, but with so much on offer it is worth setting aside a good few hours to wander around the Palace.
Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky
+7 812 710 9079
Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya, 34, 190000
One of the more romantic places to visit in the city, Peter the Great’s Summer Garden and Palace are a haven for couples looking to while away a few hours amid its charming majesty.
The palace may not have the grandeur of those of some of the later Russian rulers, but it is one of the most historically significant points of St Petersburg, having been built in the earlier years of the city. The garden was originally intended as a place for the Russian elite, and though it has been opened to the general public for many years, it remains a beautiful place for today’s modern elite to visit.
+7 812 314 0374
Entrance from Kutuzov Embankment or Panteleimon Bridge
Visiting St Petersburg’s several military museums is always an interesting and worthwhile experience; but, for elite travelers, going one step further is always possible.
Those not content with merely viewing the tanks will find the following tour from Country of Tourism wildly entertaining – this is definitely one for military fans and thrill seekers. The day starts with a journey to a military base, where you will be given an interesting and educational talk on the mechanics and history of the machines. Afterwards, it is time to pick your tank and head out to the battlefield. The tanks provided by Country of Tourism are classic war machines, from military vehicles of the Cold War to legendary Second World War battle tanks such as the T-34, the most-produced tank of the conflict. A professional crew will drive you around in the tank and, at your request, will set up the gun for you for the most exhilarating experience of the tour: this is your chance to shoot one of the large tank guns and see a simulation of the devastating power of the weapon. And if that isn’t enough, then anyone who watched 007 smashing through St Petersburg in Goldeneye will relish the chance to take the tank over a car, completely crushing the vehicle beneath the tank’s tracks. This fantastic day ends with a specially prepared Russian field lunch and a chance to see what the soldiers would have eaten.
+1 (800) 490 0309 (USA/Canada) +44 207 099 2090 (United Kingdom) +7 499 795 7399 (Russia) +7 926 493 0638 (German speaking, manager Michael Gorbachev)
1-st Smolensky per, 4/3, office 323, Moscow
An expression of imperial Russian grandeur, the Catherine Palace is one of the major attractions of St Petersburg.
Located 16 miles to the south of the city in the town of Pushkin, once named the Village of the Tsars (Tsarskoye Selo), the palace was originally built for Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great. Expanded by the Empress Elizabeth, the palace would go on to be the summer palace for the Russian rulers until the 1917 revolution. One of the many highlights is the infamous Amber Room; originally a masterpiece of the pre-Second World War era, what some have dubbed as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ was dismantled by Nazi soldiers during the war and never recovered. In 2003, the resplendent Amber Room was reopened and vast crowds once again flocked to the palace. The gardens of the palace are equally impressive and perfect for a stroll around, especially for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. With so much to see, it may be worth taking a private guide and setting aside a large part of the day to enjoy the palace. The on-site museum offers private tours, but it is best to contact them in advance so that they can personalize the tour for you.
Alex Dmitriev, International Contacts Department
+7 812 466 5831
7 Sadovaya Street, Pushkin, 196601
The cathedral that dominates the skyline of St Petersburg will have become a familiar sight for many elite travelers by the time they leave Russia; the glorious golden-topped roof is visible from many of the top hotels in the city.
Familiarity will not breed contempt here however, as St Isaac’s Cathedral is a visual splendor that you will find yourself drawn to again and again. Originally completed after some 40 years of work in 1858, the cathedral is dedicated to Peter the Great, who was born on St Isaac’s Day. Inside the cathedral is as impressive as the facade, with intricately designed paintings, columns and sculptures adorning the walls. Those who choose to venture to the colonnade will be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view over the city. Finally, as you step out of the doors onto St Isaac’s Square, you will be greeted by the striking equestrian monument to Nicholas I.
Nikolay Vitalievich Burov
+7 812 315 9732
St Isaac’s Square, 4
The sprawling Pavlovsk Park was established in 1780 after Catherine the Great had bequeathed the land to her son, the Grand Duke Paul, in 1777.
Much of the grounds represents the trend at the time for English gardens, with the seemingly natural landscape sprinkled with areas to host informal parties and quaint ‘ruins’ designed as romantic scenery. The best way to see the gorgeous park is by troika, the Russian word for a sleigh. The ultimate Dr Zhivago-esque experience, the troika is drawn by three horses, and will delight romantics. Guests will enjoy sliding majestically over the snow-covered grass, with only the sound of sleigh bells mixing with the crunch of sledge runners to disturb their winter peace. If you’re feeling a little cold after your ride, then warm up the way Russians do – with a shot of vodka provided for you by your driver.
Nikolai S. Tretyakov
+7 812 452 1536
Pavlovsk, Sadovaya, Street 20, 196621
Peter the Great admired the city of Amsterdam so much that his own city would go on to rival the Dutch settlement for the title of ‘Venice of the North’.
Many of the streams and rivers that originally ran through the foundations of St Petersburg were turned into canals, which not only helped drain the swamp area that the city was to be built on, but also provided a wonderful series of interconnecting waterways. By far the best way to travel around the city is via a canal boat. Hop onboard one of the many fantastic boats, sip champagne and other refreshments, and glide softly through the sun-kissed waters. Without any of the inconvenience of a taxi ride, a canal trip is a wonderful way to see the city exactly as Peter the Great himself intended. Head to the Grand Hotel Europe to board the Katarina, where refreshments are served by your own personal waiter.
Irina Khlopova, Public Relations Manager
+7 812 329 6000
Nevsky Prospekt, Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa 1/7, 191186
Frequently referred to as the ‘Versailles of the North’, Peterhof is another fine monument to Peter the Great.
Construction of the palace and gardens began in 1714, but additions to the grounds by later Russian rulers have given the park its unique features. Despite suffering damage during World War II, Peterhof was immediately restored to its former glory when the Soviet government realized its importance as a national symbol to the people of Russia. The Grand Palace itself is an interesting place to visit, with its commanding view over the Bay of Finland, but the real highlights of Peterhof are the fountains. Erected to celebrate the triumph of Russia over Sweden in the Great Northern War, the Grand Cascade is a collection of bronze statues spewing water in delightful arcs, while elsewhere in the grounds the Adam and Eve fountains give the idea of an earthly paradise. The best way to visit the grounds is to take a 30-minute hydrofoil ride along the Neva River; ask your concierge to arrange this for you.
Kalnitskaya Elena Yakovlevna
+7 812 427 9223
Peterhof Razvodnaya Ulitsa 2, 198516
It is a sad fact of Russian history that when Alexander II was assassinated on March 13, 1881 by extremists wanting governmental reform, he had already began to put into place plans to give the people an elected body.
Unfortunately, those plans were to be released to the general public on March 14. If things had been different, the people of Russia may have had a constitutional monarchy, instead of suffering a brutal reign of oppression under Alexander III. It is fitting, then, that the spot that marks such a potentially monumental moment in Russia is adorned by such a wonderful church. An architecturally-striking monument, the church was designed using a host of different materials in a riot of colors, and is a stark contrast to the baroque, classical and modernist architecture that can be seen elsewhere in St Petersburg. Created by Alexander III as a tribute to his father, the church was looted and then left to ruin, until a 20-year restoration project saw the church reopen in 1997. Despite the official title of the Church of the Resurrection of the Jesus Christ, St Petersburgers know it as the ‘Church on Spilled Blood’.
Valentina Andreevna Zelenchenko, Deputy Director
+7 812 314 4053
Griboedov canal embankment, 2