A product of the imagination—and iron will—of Peter the Great, the city is a busy tableau of architectural whimsies (Neoclassical colonnades, palaces of yellow and mint green). Peter envisioned his imperial capital as a window into Europe, and it has long been a center of culture and sophistication, with some of the world’s best art and ballet. The Soviet years were hard on St. Petersburg, and its ties with Europe were cause for ofﬁcial suspicion—and neglect. Ever since native son Vladimir Putin took ofﬁce, however, the city has been getting a face-lift. Streets are newly landscaped, and a $2 billion refurbishment of the urban center—sparked by the 2003 tercentennial celebration—has created a ﬂashy backdrop for the nouveau-riche residents.
On the Neva River, Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia and arguably its most breathtaking. Founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703, St. Petersburg was the country's capital for a time. Today, it's home to 150 palaces of imperial Russia, the Hermitage, and more. To plan your travel to St. Petersburg, look no farther than our St. Petersburg travel guide.
Things Not to Miss in St. Petersburg
Visit St. Petersburg not only for its more than 200 museums (the artsy State Hermitage Museum being its crown jewel), but also its castles and White Nights in the summer.
• State Hermitage Museum, in the Winter Palace
• Tours of palaces such as the Winter Palace and Anichkov Palace
• Volkovskoe Cemetery
• Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul
• Alexander Garden
• Kresty Prison Museum
When to Visit St. Petersburg
Russian winters are notorious for below-freezing temperatures, and St. Petersburg is no exception. Avoid February because it's the coldest month of the year. St. Petersburg summers are sunny and pleasant. Late June and early July are the best months for St. Petersburg travel because of the White Nights, an international arts festival of outstanding opera and ballet performances by the Mariinsky Theatre.
Dining on Russian cuisine—hearty borscht served with fluffy garlic rolls, anyone?—at Na Zdorovye!, an unassuming restaurant decorated with farming tools and wooden matryoshka dolls.
Hunting for Soviet-era propaganda posters with phrases such as “Keep quiet!”, “Don’t drinks!”, and “Work harder!” at DVK, a local bookstore.
Climbing up the 250 steps to the colonnade of the dome at St. Isaac’s Cathedral for 360-degree views of the canal-filled city.