St Petersburg has been dubbed the Venice of the North for its palace-lined waterways. It managed to escape the architectural incursions of Stalinism and its grandiose relics of tsarist days are for the most part intact. Sculpted by islands and the sinuous Neva River, the city is a vista of geometric elegance.
St Petersburg is a year-round destination. The city´s northern latitude means long days in summer and long nights in winter, but in winter tourist attractions are less crowded and there´s a twinkling magic to the night sky. While the White Nights in mid-summer are undeniably beautiful, some people find them slightly disconcerting!
Alexander of Novgorod defeated the Swedes near the mouth of the Neva in 1240 - earning the title Nevsky (of the Neva). Sweden took control of the region in the 17th century and it was Peter the Great´s desire to crush this rival and make Russia a European power that led to the founding of St Petersburg. It became a cosmopolitan city with a royal court of famed splendour. These monarchs commissioned great series of palaces, government buildings and churches, which turned it into one of Europe´s grandest capitals. The city celebrated its 300-year anniversary with great pomp and splendour in 2003. The city remains today Russia´s art and cultural capital.
St Petersburg was built on a grand scale, with palaces and boulevards designed to be viewed from afar.
The city sprawls across and around the mouth of the Neva River, at the end of the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea. The Neva splits the city into northern, eastern and southern sectors. The area spreading back from the Winter Palace and the Admiralty on the south bank is the city´s heart, and Nevsky prospect is its main artery. This central area is a pedestrian´s dream, as the waterside walkways and elegant streetscapes are best seen on foot. The north side of the city has three main areas. The westernmost is Vasilevsky Island - (The University Island), at the eastern end of which stand many of the city´s fine early buildings. The middle area is Petrograd Side, a cluster of delta islands whose southern end is marked by the tall gold spire of the St Peter & Paul Cathedral. This is where the city began. The third, eastern, area is Vyborg Side, divided from Petrograd Side by the Bolshaya Nevka channel and stretching east along the north bank of the Neva.
Though less majestic than Moscow´s, the St Petersburg metro leaves most of the world´s other undergrounds for dead. You´ll rarely wait more than three minutes for a train, and the clock at the end of the platform shows time elapsed since the last train departed. Taking the metro is the quickest and cheapest way around the wider city.
Foundation: May 1703, by Peter the Great
Climate: Intermediate (from nautical to continental)
GMT Offset: GMT +3 hours
To do and see: Petrodvorets, Pushkin, Vasilevsky Island, Summer Garden, St Isaac's Cathedral, Museums, Peter & Paul Fortress, Nevsky Prospect, Palace Square and the Hermitage, St Petersburg city tour,
Russian in St Petersburg
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