Photograph by Lingxiao Xie, Getty Images
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A view inside the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg.

 

Photograph by Lingxiao Xie, Getty Images

Everything to Know About St. Petersburg

The former imperial capital of Russia is a stunning cultural and artistic powerhouse.

Saint Petersburg impresses travelers with its grandiose size while also oozing a cozy atmosphere. Its notoriously somber weather with frequent leaden skies has earned it a reputation of a melancholic city. However, its picturesque streets woven with canals, ornate bridges and elaborate pastel-colored buildings give it a Venetian feel making it one of the most atmospheric cities in the world.

When to Go

Visit between May and July to experience the magic of legendary White Nights and the lustrous celebrations that accompany it. Alternatively, travel in winter to have your breath taken away by the beauty of the city enveloped in a blanket of snow and fringes of lacy ice making you feel like you just stepped inside a Tolstoy novel. If the goal is to avoid crowds, however, go in early May, late September, or October.

Celebrate

For a few brief weeks in summer Saint Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre hosts the unrivalled festival called Stars of the White Nights which fills the city with an electrifying din. A festive series of world-class performances, concerts and all-night parties culminate with Scarlet Sails, Russia's largest annual public gathering where a mock pirate battle on the River Neva culminates in a spectacular firework show.

What to Eat

Indulge in heavenly sugar-dusted pyshki, a favorite local take on donuts which makes a fantastic accompaniment to hot tea or coffee. To fully tap into the city's food scene, allow time to peruse Eliseyev Emporium. Its stained-glass façade and a glorious gilt-edged interior is home to an assortment of delicacies, fragrant spices, caviar and étagères stacked with exquisite desserts. You can also enjoy a meal, or better yet, a traditional Russian afternoon tea, in one of the in-house restaurants.

Souvenir to Take Home

Direct access to the Baltic sea, home to large deposits of amber, makes Saint Petersburg a perfect place to seek out beautiful amber craftwork created by talented local artisans. You will be spoiled by the number of jewelry and decorative items offered.

Sustainable Travel Tip

For cheap and sustainable transport around the city, as well as insight into everyday life of the city dwellers, hop onto one of the trolleybuses that offer efficient, carbon-free travel. Take note: trolley number three glides through some of the most prominent city sites and can be a great alternative to over-priced tour busses.

Instagram-Worthy View

Saint Petersburg, with its lavish architecture, stunning gardens and charming canals, photographs beautifully from any angle. For the truly epic aerial shots of the city, climb 300 steps to the top of the golden dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral, the largest orthodox basilica in the world. Alternatively, take a leisurely canal cruise to capture many architectural marvels from a totally different perspective.