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Destinations Europe Russia St Petersburg Holidays & Tours

St Petersburg Holidays & Tours

Known at various times as Petrograd (1914–1924) and Leningrad (1924–1991), and St Petersburg (before and after the other titles), this city of nearly five million people is perhaps the most fascinating in all of Russia. Located on the Neva River where it opens to the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, for two centuries St Petersburg was the capital of the Tsarist Empire, during which it was considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, constructed from reclaimed coastal land.

The project to build a new capital was started in 1703 by Peter the Great, to an urban plan undertaken by Frenchman Alexandre Leblond, which is why the city feels more Western than Eastern European. Their vision for the city took shape with a massive work force laying the groundwork for orderly streets of two-storey stone houses, tranquil canals with over 400 bridges, elegant palaces and majestic churches. When Peter the Great died in 1725, his ultimate dream of a great Western capital was not fully realized, however, each successive leader after him hired the finest architects in Europe who sought to outdo each other with even grander residences, churches and palaces.

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The result is one of the most enchanting cities to stroll in the world. The highlights of the sprawling Hermitage Museum and graceful Winter Palace and Marble Palace alone would make this worth visiting for the architectural dance of baroque and neo-classical architecture, but there is much more to see in the city. Other highlights that would flatter most other cities are the Palace Square, Yusupov Palace, St Isaac's Cathedral, Church of the Saviour on the Blood, the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Russian Museum to name but a few.

St Petersburg’s love of art is renowned and the collections of art in the city are staggering. The Hermitage features major works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Picasso and Matisse (once again to name but a few) while the Russian Museum has a rich collection of Russian art from Byzantine icon-paintings to the avant-garde experimentalism of the early 20th century. The other art forms for which visitors come to the city are ballet, opera and the orchestra. The Mariinsky Theatre has seen the likes of Anna Pavlova dance and the opera singer Feodor Chaliapin perform on its stage. There is also a thriving contemporary ‘underground’ arts scene and lively jazz, pop/rock and even hip hop venues.

However, one of the highlights of visiting St Petersburg is simply strolling the streets and if you visit during the White Nights in summer when the sun barely sets, you’ll have more time to experience one of the world’s greatest cities in a painterly dusky daylight.

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