St Petersburg in winter, with its snow covered palaces, has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. High art, excellent nightlife, rich culture, and extraordinary history, attracts visitors in search of something just a little bit different.
The image of Russia is often that of the Cold War, grey and unwelcoming, but St Petersburg is anything but. It has beautiful tree lined avenues and gracious bridges which cross the winding River Niva. It has magnificent palaces and great gardens, and although it was only founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, the city is crammed with the history from the Romanovs, and mysterious cultural associations.
The highlights are numerous but perhaps the most well know has to be the Winter Palace which dominates the Palace Square and the south embankment. This was once the elaborate home of Catherine the Great, and today the palace exterior has remained almost unchanged from its appearance in 1762. The Winter Palace is connected to the Hermitage museum, and together they hold over 3 million items from impressionist masterpieces to oriental treasures, which were once all part of Catherine II’s collection.
Other extremely notable sights are:
St Isaac’s Cathedral – Built between 1818 and 1858, by the French architect Auguste Montferrand, St Isaac’s Cathedral was the largest cathedral in Russia until the rebuilding of the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Its gilded dome dominates the skyline, and the inside is adorned with incredible mosaics, paintings and magnificent columns of lapis lazuli and malachite.
Peter and Paul Fortress – Almost every Tsar since Peter the Great lies buried here, and that includes Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. The Tsar, along with his family, servants and doctor, were brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Their remains lay undiscovered on the outskirts of the Ural town of Yekaterinburg for many years, but in 1998 the imperial family were buried with a state funeral at the Cathedral, next to the graves of the other Romanovs.
The Church of Our Savoir on the Spilled Blood – The Resurrection Church and The Church of the Resurrection of Christ are all names used for this church, and although there is some debate about the correct name, there is no doubt that the view from Nevsky Prospect is absolutely breathtaking. The Russian style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated when a group of revolutionaries threw a bomb into his carriage in1881. Both the interior and exterior of the church are decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics.
And as the curtain falls on a trip to St. Petersburg there is still one more thing you simply must do, and that’s to pay a visit the Mariinsky Theatre. This is the home of the Kirov Ballet and Opera, an evening here is an unforgettable experience. One top tip for a visit is to try and get a seat in the first row, as the second row is only fractionally higher, making the stage more difficult to see.