Here’s a city that borders on ostentation but stops short of being gaudy as it puts its magnificent architecture on show together with remarkable history under the public gaze. Incidentally, Saint Petersburg is not named after Peter the Great as is commonly thought but in honour of his patron saint – Saint Peter.
With its meandering waterways, this city gained the appellation of the ‘Venice of the North’ although ‘city of a thousand palaces’ is more apt. The palaces are seen in all their grandeur – whether in their original state, or as a restaurant, theatre, museum or hotel – telling tales of riches, unimaginable treasures and aristocratic imperialism.
The Peterhof Palace was built by Tsar Peter to outshine Versailles. It’s the oldest summer residence of the Russian tsars with over 100 fountains dotting acres of beautiful gardens adorned with sculptures in gold leaf, bronze and marble defying all norms of beauty.
There is also the famed Moika Palace, which is notorious for being the murder site of the ‘mad monk’ Grigori Rasputin.
And the Catherine Palace is all about uninhibited opulence. You are forgiven if you ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Aah’ in the world-famous Amber Room with its priceless amber panels in 350 shades that are embellished with gold leaf, carvings and mirrors.
It’s said that 100 kilogrammes of gold was used by Catherine the Great’s daughter Empress Elizabeth to decorate the palace’s interiors. The space is magnificent with its gilded stucco, ornate banisters, painted silk walls and remarkable portraits that adorn multiple rooms.
Get up close and personal with some of the world’s greatest painters at the Hermitage Museum, which is recognised as one of the finest in the world. Feast your eyes on paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh, and gape at Carl Fabergé’s exquisite jewellery inside the Winter Palace of Catherine the Great.
Next door is the Peter and Paul Fortress, which offers a spectacular view of the Neva River from above and the Russian tsars who lie dormant in their sarcophagi below. For stunning mosaics, delve into the museum that was the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood; and to savour an architectonic marvel, pop into Saint Isaac’s Cathedral.
Vibe to the feverish energy exuded on Nevsky Prospect – an avenue filled with palaces, churches, luxury hotels, restaurants and bars, and the stony Anichkov Bridge with its horse sculptures.
And last but not least, try to make it to the ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre opera house as well.