Welcome to St. Petersburg, Russia
St Peterburg is a beautiful holiday destination for those who want to experience history and culture in abundance
- Setting the St Petersburg scene
- History and Culture
- Music and entertainment
- Sport and leisure
- St Petersburg trivia
- A Russian holiday jewel
Setting the St Petersburg scene
Situated on the Gulf of Finland lies St Petersburg, a city built nearly three centuries ago by Peter the Great, a man with a vision for architectural beauty and innovation. Somehow, out of all of Russia's main cities, St Petersburg seems to have defied the march of time and maintained its historical splendour in a manner that has become the envy of many European City destinations.
Once the capital of Russia, St Petersburg is now the country's second most important city, although this lower position is one most of its four million plus inhabitants would fiercely deny. However, there is no doubt that St Petersburg is Russia's most beautiful city and it has a veritable treasure trove of unique and diverse offerings for the discerning tourists. These range from architecture to history and culture and from music and entertainment to sports and other leisure activities.
As will be seen from this article, with such an array of splendour and activity, it is little wonder that the city of St Petersburg has been host to more than two hundred international films, including Golden Eye (1995), Tolstoy's "Anna Karina" (1997) and Onegin (1999). Furthermore, especially during the summer months when the days are almost continuous and the sun rarely fully sets, St Petersburg becomes an ideal romantic destination.
Architecturally, there is a wealth of different building styles. These range from the original eighteenth century buildings to the modern day structures that have generally kept to the historical character of the city. Styles from classicism to baroque merge to form a unique tapestry of architectural beauty that will enthral those who tour the city.
The historical buildings range from the small workers terraced homes right through to the majesty of the magnificent palaces that were home to the Tsars before the Russian revolution. As befitted the class of these emperors, no expense was spared in the creation of these palaces, which exude extravagance both in terms of the internal dcor and furniture and this also extended to the precious metals and jewels that were used as part of the original construction material. Here you can visit the ornate graves of the great Tsars and revel in the stories and scandals of their times, amongst which will be an account of the Grand Duke Nicolai Constantinevitch, who was jailed for stealing from the emperor and died in 1874. In fact each of these building recounts its own stories and legends, which takes the tourist on a fascinating journey through the evolution of Russia from the days of the Aristocrats through the struggles of communism to the current day return to capitalism.
Many of the original buildings, rising from the swamps and lowlands close to the rivers, are rumoured to have cost the lives of thousands of the construction works as they succumbed to disease and the pressures of the sheer physical effort. Artefacts that tell the story of the struggles to erect the city are available to view in a number of these original structures that are open to the public.
During a tour of the city's streets one must also not forget to pause and absorb the incredible breathtaking beauty of the architectural delights of St Petersburg Cathedral and numerous churches. These religious places are also the resting place for many of Russia's world renowned celebrities.
History and Culture
History and culture also abounds in other areas of St Petersburg and the cultural tourist is presented with a feast of choice from the city's one hundred plus museums and art centres.
In the many art galleries, alongside the works of the famous such as Picasso, Rembrandt and Davinci, can also be found the works of lesser known, but equally important, local artists such as Brodsky, Kustodiev and Ney. In addition, of course, there are libraries and museums such as the Institute of Russian Literature that pay homage to many of Russia's greatest writers, including within their collections the works of Solzhenitsyn, Rasputin, Beliaev, Tolstoy and Pushkin, whose apartment has also been preserved as a monument to the St Petersburg artist. Rasputin was actually murdered in St Petersburg in 1916, a fact which caused a scandal at the time.
As far as museums are concerned St Petersburg caters for all types of historical tastes. Museums such as the State Russian and State Museum of St Petersburg History provide insight into the cultural evolution of the city and the Museum of the Political History of Russia, the Suvorov Military and world famous Central Naval Museum takes one on a journey through the political upheavals and conflicts that the population have suffered over the years. St Petersburg is also the birthplace of two of Russia's space pioneers. Both cosmonauts Geogei Grechko and Sergei Krikalvov were born in the city, the latter of whom still holds the record for the longest time spent in space (803 days).
Perhaps one of the poignant exhibits is that of the great siege, which recounts the story of how, during the Second World War, St Petersburg was besieged by German troops for 90 days, with many of the population starved to death during this time. The open diary of a Jewish girl who had to watch her family die one by one shows the hardship of these days, with the final entry making the simple statement "Only Tanya is left."
Music and entertainment
Russia is renowned throughout the world for its music, opera and ballet and St Petersburg with its famous opera and orchestral houses has been unique involved with these areas of music. Therefore, it is no surprise to find that two of the country's greatest composers, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, came from the city of St Petersburg. With over forty concert halls, theatres and opera/ballet house throughout the city, the music and theatregoers will be spoilt for choice. The Shostakovich Philharmonic Halls, Hermitage Theatre, St Petersburg Opera, where Rudolf Nureyev once graced the boards, and Baltic House Theatre are just a few venues that are worthy of a visit.
However, the city of St Petersburg has not forgotten the needs of the modern tourists. For those who want nightlife, if one can all it that in a city where the sun seldom sets, there is an array of entertainment opportunities catering for all tastes. From the bars of the City Club to dancing at the Admiral Plus and Aquadance the music of some of Russia's most famous rock groups and DJ selections will keep you entertained until the early hours of the morning. Alternatively, if you are feeling adventurous, you might want to try your luck at the Eldorado Casino. There are also cinemas and comedy clubs that provide a gentler form of evening entertainment.
Naturally, refreshments will figure during your visit and there is a plethora of choice of places to wine and dine in the city. These include local fare at one of the many Russian restaurants, including Shoory-Mory at Ulits a Belynskogo and the Russian House at Ulits a Malaya. In addition, there are a number of European, French, Chinese and International eating places to choose from. Therefore, whether you wish to indulge in the local cuisine and eating cultures, try something a little different, or simply partake in a romantic meal for two a warm welcome and wonderful evening will await you at any of the city's popular eating establishments.
Sport and leisure
For those who prefer the outdoor life to be included within their holiday, St Petersburg has a range of sports and leisure activities available. For the sports fan there is the opportunity to visit the stadia of the city's renowned football (Zenit) and Ice Hockey (SKA) teams. The more energetic can visit one of the many health and fitness clubs or follow in the footsteps of Svetlana Kuznetsova at one of the many tennis clubs dotted about the city suburbs.
Retail therapy has not been forgotten. Visits to the many fashion boutiques, jewellers, art shops and other retail areas of the city, many of which are situated within historical arcades and avenues, are sure to test the strength and durability of the most resistant debit and credit card holder. You cannot fail to treat yourself to a special purchase.
Then of course, for those wishing the quieter leisure activity, there are numerous parks, waterways and even a beach that form the natural background to this beautiful city. Just a short walk away from the city centre you can stroll along the beach that borders the Gulf of Finland, enjoying all of the peaceful and romantic pleasures that the sand and sea can provide. Alternatively, the many parks will provide relaxation, whilst at the same time experiencing some of the wonderful stone, wooden and metalwork sculptures that have been set within these peaceful grounds. Take care in the Fountain Park though. As its name suggest, this park is renowned for its water features. However, one of these features is contains a surprise and can soak the unwitting without warning.
If you plan your trip to the parks for the right time of year, you might also find yourself able to enjoy one of the many outdoor exhibitions or festivals that are held in the city's parks, such as the annual beer festival, open air concerts and other musical events.
Naturally, no visit to St Petersburg would ever be complete unless you have spent some time on one of its many waterways and canals. There is a choice of waterborne transport for such excursions. A cosy pedal boat ride for two will provide an intimate water experience for the energetic romantics. However, those who want to enjoy the experience in a more leisurely fashion can join one of the many guided boat trips that travel regularly through the waterways of the city. One benefit of such a trip is that, in addition to experiencing the workings of the city's many bridges, you will also get to see historical sites that are not able to be reached during land based tours.
St Petersburg trivia
For those interested in trivia, the following are ten fun and interesting facts about St Petersburg.
1) Nicknamed the "City of 101 Islands" because it originally extended across this many islands at the mouth of the River Neva, or the "Venice of the north" because of its many canals and rivers
2) St Petersburg is the world's most northern city
3) Because of its geographical position, the sun rarely fully sets, which means the street lights of St Petersburg are seldom used and never turned on during the early summer months
4) The city architect, Peter the Great, declined the use of a palace and dwelt in a wooden cabin whilst creating this architectural masterpiece, which is preserved as a museum
5) Whilst she was in residence Empress Anne, daughter of Peter the Great, banned all hare hunting within the palace grounds
6) St Petersburg metro is the deepest in the world at approximately 100 meters.
7) The city and its suburbs has around 600 bridges
8) Since 1703 the city has experienced 270 floods
9) It is rumoured that on completion of a beautiful building, the craftsmen were blinded to preserve the secret of the architecture
10) The Russian Tsars used precious jewels as roofing material for many of the city's ancient buildings.
A Russian holiday jewel
St Petersburg is the ultimate jewel in the Russian tourism crown and caters for a wide and diverse range of holiday types and activities, from the historical and cultural to the sports and leisure. Whether your trip is just a vacation or a romantic interlude, St Petersburg is a place worthy of many happy returns in the future, as there is no doubt that the first journey to this city of beauty and wonder will leave the tourist hungry for more.