St Petersburg has long been associated with water, being close to the Baltic Sea, sitting on the banks of the Neva River and sometimes going by the name of the Venice of the North. Like Russia’s capital Moscow, St Petersburg has long played a vital role in the country’s history and is widely regarded as Russia’s cultural capital. The city is named after its founder Tsar Peter the Great, who established the city in 1703 and it was the capital of Russia for a period not long after its establishment up until 1918 when the government moved to Moscow and the age of the Russian monarchy ended with the abdication of Nicholas II. A veteran of several revolutions, two world wars and two name-changes, St Petersburg is a tourist favourite with a wealth of history, architecture and cultural attractions to discover.
Sitting on the banks of the Griboedova Canal is the city’s most striking landmark, the onion-domed Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood. It’s so named because it was built on the very spot where Alexander II was assassinated and has survived revolution and war to become one of the city’s most popular tourist sites. Its distinctive multi-coloured domes and splendid architecture are attractive enough but on the inside, its home to a wealth of stunning mosaics, which have been lovingly restored and truly are a sight to behold. Another key faith building, St Isaac’s Cathedral is the world’s third-largest domed cathedral and is a great place to go if a view of the city is what you’re after, as it is possible to climb to the top to take it all in.
The Hermitage is the main reason why many people visit St Petersburg and your river cruise excursion will more than likely include a visit. As well as being home to the stunning Winter Palace, this incredible complex is also one of the world’s biggest art museums and hosts well over two-and-a-half-million exhibits. You won’t have time to explore it all of course but excursion operators are well-versed in ensuring river cruisers get the most out of their visit. The palatial location of the exhibits is an attraction in itself, but there is a wealth of treasures to explore, whether it’s a room filled will golden artefacts or the most impressive Rembrandt collection this side of Italy.
A little out of the city itself, Catherine Palace is another popular excursion; an 18th-century treasure trove of ornate rooms set in a 1,400-acre, beautifully landscaped park. There are some incredible gold treasures and works of art here but the stunning Amber Room is top of the list when it comes to must-sees. Peterhof Palace is another extremely popular point of excursion, offering some truly stunning gardens, water fountains and architecture as well as excellent views out over the Baltic Sea.
Visitors to Russia require a visa but if you stay with your river cruise excursion while in the city, you’ll in all probability be covered by your ship’s visa. If Moscow is Russia’s vodka capital, St Petersburg is its beer capital, so be sure to try a glass of local brew Baltica if you have time.