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Things to do in St. Petersburg

A treasure house for 300 years of Russian culture, St. Petersburg is packed with things to do. The quiet canals give this seacoast city a European flair, but the myriad gold architecture brings you straight back to the Soviet.

The Hermitage Museum’s collection runs from ancient Greek statues up to a superb Matisse collection, while the Bronze Horseman, a statue showing a mounted Peter the Great riding a stone wave, and the golden needle spire of the Peter and Paul Fortress make walking through the city endlessly photogenic. While it's known for high cultural strongholds like the Mariinski Ballet, Petersburg also has many bars and nightclubs, including the ramshackle bohemian drinking holes of Dumskaya Street and Dunes, a quirky courtyard beach club.  Shops along Nevsky Prospekt sell anything from international brands to old icons. Outside the city, there are opportunities for visits to palaces such as Tsarskoye Selo, the ancient cities of Novgorod and Pskov and boat cruises on peaceful Lake Ladoga.

St. Petersburg sightseeing.

St. Petersburg sightseeing

The fruit of centuries of collecting by Tsars and Russian art enthusiasts, the Hermitage Museum has one of the world’s best art collections, housed in the spectacular former royal residence at the Winter Palace.  Equally splendid is the coastal Peterhof Palace just outside the city, with lavish interiors and a garden booby-trapped with trick fountains. The Mariinsky’s Theatre, (formerly the Kirov) continues a long tradition as one of the world’s best ballet centres, while the former homes of Pushkin and Dostoevsky give a fascinating glimpse into the world of Russian literature.

St. Petersburg shopping.

St. Petersburg shopping

ArtCity Souvenir Salon on the Moyka Embankment sells high quality Russian crafts, not just the usual nesting dolls and fur hats, but also orthodox icons and hand-whittled, lacquered boxes. The slightly misnamed Chocolate Museum is a shop selling St. Petersburg’s best selection of high quality chocolate while Bon Vin on the Griboyedov Canal embankment has an excellent wine collection ranging from Grand Crus to bottles for everyday drinking. Sadovaya Street’s Bee-Keeping sells everything that comes out of a hive from beeswax and pollen creams to fine flavoured honeys, and Vladimirsky Prospekt’s Natalie Kvasova sells stylish winter hats that are very popular in the city.

St. Petersburg restaurants.

St. Petersburg restaurants

Russians love Georgian cuisine, and Karavannaya Street’s Kavkaz serves good cooking from the country in a relaxed basement dining room, including Georgian cheese bread and chicken in walnut sauce.  Konnogvardeysky’s Street’s Lya Rus serves more local specialities, such as peasant soups and frozen, flavoured vodkas, in an appropriately folksy dining room that also hosts nightly performances of Russian song and dance. For more international food, Aquarel is housed on a boat on the Neva River and serves Asian/Mediterranean fusion dishes, while Marata Street’s Orient Express sells Russian food with a Central Asian accent – look out for their charcoal grills – in a restaurant disguised as a luxury train coach.

St. Petersburg nightlife.

St. Petersburg nightlife

Running off Nevksy Prospekt behind the Griboyedov canal, Dumskaya Street has some of St. Petersburg’s best bars including the arty, decidedly lived-in three story Atelier and dark but friendly student hang-out Fidel. Griboyedov’s location in a converted bomb shelter may sound grim, but this club and music venue is actually very friendly, hosting concerts and exhibitions for a quietly alternative crowd. For something more obviously cheerful, Konyushennaya Square’s Dunes is a courtyard beach club, where summertime drinkers sprawl in hammocks and play badminton on shipped-in sand.

St. Petersburg day trips.

St. Petersburg day trips

Within an hour of St. Petersburg, the splendid summer homes at Tsarskoye Selo’s Catherine Palace and Gatchina show the vast wealth Tsarina Catherine the Great spent on herself and her favourites. Equally near is huge Lake Ladoga, whose frozen waters provided a relief route for supplies during World War II’s siege of Leningrad. Beauty spots around the lake such as Valaam Island’s monastery are reachable by day trip, as are the ancient cities of Novgorod and Pskov, each with Medieval cathedrals and their own miniature versions of Moscow’s Kremlin fortress.

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