St Petersburg lies around 400 miles to the Northwest of Moscow. Nestled on the Neva River, it spreads out from its banks and across a series of islands that lie within the river delta. With a wealth of extravagant palaces, breathtaking cathedrals and magnificent gardens, St Petersburg is truly Russia’s Imperial city. Its grandiose architecture and picturesque canals were born from the glitering ambition of Peter the Great early in the 18th century, and progressively gilded by generations of Russian royalty. Over the centuries, this dynasty sought to create a city to rival the greatest cities of Europe, and as you step onto the cobblestone streets here, you’ll discover they succeeded. Most visitors start their adventures right in the heart of historic St Petersburg. Palace Square is dominated by the Alexander Column and is home to the Winter Palace.
This monumental palace is a legacy of Catherine the Great and was designed to reflect the might and power of Imperial Russia. Experience some of the country’s most extravagant architecture by strolling along Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main avenue. During St Petersburg’s construction, Peter the Great banned the use of stone elsewhere in Russia so wealth and talent poured into the city. Visit the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, with its extraordinary mosaics and Kazan Cathedral, another architectural gem. Further along the river is St Isaac’s cathedral, whose gold plated dome has been glittering under Russia’s sun for more than 100 years. Climb to the top for superb views over the city. St Petersburg was also important strategically as it gave Russia a year-round gateway to the Baltic Sea. Admire the golden spire of the Admiralty building where more than 10,000 tradesmen toiled around the clock to create Russia’s first warships. Just across the river is the Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg’s original citadel.
The cathedral here is the oldest church in the city and the final resting place of many Russian Emperors and Empresses. The days of Imperial Russia may be over but the echoes of treachery and intrigue still resonate in regal estates all over the city. Take a hydrofoil to the sumptuous Peterhof Palace and Gardens complex which was created to rival the Palace of Versailles in France. Stand before the shimmering waters of the Great Cascade, a triumph of engineering with more than 60 fountains runing entirely without pumps.
To the South East of the city is the Catherine Palace, its roof gilded with more than 100 kilograms of gold. Back in the heart of the city, visit the Summer Palace and Gardens. Imagine the extravagant balls that were once held here and see where Tsar Peter planned the graceful canal system that spreads throughout the city’s many islands. These elegant waterways, crossed by over 300 bridges, are the perfect compliment to the city’s soaring spires. As the sun sets, take a canal cruise to discover the romance of St Petersburg at night. Pass through a network of draw-bridges on a journey that shows the true scale of Peter the Great’s vision.
Romantic, opulent and spectacular, St Petersburg is a glittering testiment to Russia’s royal history and a celebration of the power of one man’s dream. .
JR World Travel