Destination Russia: Why Not Choose… Saint Petersburg?
Discover the "Venice of the North", once the Imperial capital and now a spectacular metropolis on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which never fails to dazzle visitors with its majesty. Saint Petersburg reveals its inestimable artistic and cultural treasures to you, with legendary "all-nighters" in June when night never falls. The city invites you on a magical journey to see grand and beautiful palaces, gardens and fountains.
For stunning sights from the very start of your trip, head for the Saint Isaac's Cathedral, an imposing building which is spilling over with splendid decoration both inside and out. Admire the frescoes and paintings covering the cupolas, and the walls ornately decorated with several varieties of marble and natural stones. If you go up to its colonnade, you will be rewarded with an unbeatable view of the city. On a square of the same name is Pyotr Klodt's statue of Nicholas I on his horse, balancing remarkably on its rear hooves.
Now cross the elegant Blue Bridge (Siny Most) over the Moyka, and head for Mariinsky Palace. This magnificent building, erected in 1844 for the daughter of Nicholas I, now houses the city's Legislative Assembly.
Another example of Russian architectural grandeur is the Yusupov Palace, a private palace which belonged to the family of the Yusupov Princes. It was here that the famous healer Rasputin was assassinated in 1916.
In contrast to all these palaces and their profusion of marble, gold and frescoes, the Truda (Labour) Palace welcomes the professional unions of Saint Petersburg. From here, you can see New Holland Island and its red brick buildings, which were used as wood storage warehouses in the time of Peter the Great.
If you cross the Lieutenant Schmidt Bridge, the oldest of nine bridges over the Neva, you will find yourself on the University Embankment, occupied by two Egyptian sphinxes dating back over 3000 years. Continue your walk past the Menshikov Palace, the first stone palace built in the city, then cross back over the Neva and make your way towards Senate Square, still also known as Decembrists' Square, where you can see famous statue of the Bronze Horseman.
After some well-deserved rest in Alexander Gardens, admire the Alexander Column on Palace Square. The Winter Palace, a magnificent, imposing, green and white building in the Baroque style, was the main residence of the Russian emperors. Inside is another must-see: the Hermitage Museum. Finish with a walk along Millionnaya Street (Millionaires' Street) and marvel at the façades of the old palaces where the Russian Imperial family and nobility lived.
Top 10 Must-Sees
Saint Isaac's Cathedral: the city's principal cathedral until the 1917 Revolution. The colonnade around its dome offers a unique panorama of the city.
The Blue Bridge (Siny Most): undoubtedly the widest bridge in the world, measuring 97.3m wide and 35m long. Sitting astride the Moyka, opposite Saint Isaac's Cathedral, it looks like an extension of Saint Isaac's Square.
Mariinsky Palace: a wedding gift from Emperor Nicholas I to his daughter the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, it was built on Saint Isaac's Square in 1839-1844.
Decembrists' Square: the name of this square refers to a historical event considered to be the origin of the Russian Revolution: on 14 December 1825, liberal officers from the Imperial Guard protested against the new emperor Nicholas I's assumption of the throne.
Nevsky Prospect: this avenue is to Saint Petersburg what the Champs Élysées are to Paris. As well as being a scenic place for strolling, with its charming façades from Imperial times and its romantic views from the bridges, it is also the commercial heart of Saint Petersburg.
The Alexander Column: this column carved from a single block of pink granite, standing in the centre of Palace Square, was erected by order of Nicolas I in honour of his brother Alexander I's victory against Napoleon.
Peter and Paul Fortress: this is where Saint Petersburg was born. Today, the fortress is the State Museum of the History of Saint Petersburg. Founded in 1703 on Hare Island in the Neva delta, to protect the Russian Army's rearguard during the war against Sweden , it later became a political prison. In the centre of the fortress stands the Peter and Paul Cathedral: the city's highest building, and one of its oldest.
The Hermitage Museum: this famous museum was born in the 18th century, as a result of Catherine II's passion for the arts, as well as her desire to exhibit Russia's grandeur. The Hermitage Museum is the largest museum in the world, for the extent of its collections, with 2.7 million objects listed. It is second largest in terms of surface area, after the Louvre.
The Marble Palace (or Constantine Palace): one of Saint Petersburg's first neoclassical palaces. Its façade looks out onto the banks of the Neva and onto Millionnaya Street. It is the last of the series of sumptuous buildings lined up from the Winter Palace.
The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood: a historical monument and a Russian Mosaic Museum, this cathedral is exceptionally colourful and its enamelled domes mimic the traditional architecture of 17th-century Russia . It was built from 1883 to 1907, on the site where Alexander II was fatally injured by terrorist revolutionaries on 1 March 1881.
The Taste of Winter!
If your food budget won't stretch to caviar, there are plenty of other delicious Russian dishes to make up for it. Try borscht, beetroot and meat soup, and of course the famous beef stroganoff: strips of beef cooked in a cream sauce. For your sweet tooth, feast on Syrniki,small, thick pancakes which can be eaten savoury or sweet, or Vatrouchka, a sort of brioche ring filled with quark. And don't forget to taste the vodka: on average, Russians drink 14 litres of it per person per year!
March: International Ballet Festival Mariinsky : The best Russian dancers come to one of the city's largest theatres. In particular, this festival holds a creative workshop for young choreographers, in which young talents present their new works.
May-July: All-Nighters in Saint Petersburg : Saint Petersburg is the world's northernmost metropolis. Every year, from late May to early July, night never fully falls on the old capital of the Tsars. It makes for a truly enchanting atmosphere. In the night of 21 to 22 June (summer solstice), the celebrations are particularly intense.
December- January: Christmas Market : Saint Petersburg Christmas market is considered one of the most beautiful in Russia. Over 250 stallholders take part every winter. During the Orthodox Christmas celebrations, the whole of this "Venice of the North" enchants visitors, with its white cloak, illuminations and magical atmosphere.
31 December: Tsar's Ball in Saint Petersburg : People come from all over the world to celebrate New Year in the fairytale atmosphere of Catherine Palace, with its stunning illuminations. The red carpet is unfurled in the snowy grounds. Guests enter to the sound of a military fanfare, before being welcomed by uniformed hosts.
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