Highlights of St Petersburg

A visit to St Petersburg in Russia is on many people’s wish list. Arguably the cultural centre of Russia, it was the imperial capital for 200 years. Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, today it is home to some of the most famous cultural attractions in the world.

The best way to visit is with an organised escorted tour during the Summer months.  Many tours are of only a few days duration, but since at that latitude the sun only dips below the horizon for an hour or two, you’ll be sure to pack plenty in to your visit!

Our top 5 ‘not to be missed’ attractions on a visit St Petersburg are:

The Catherine Palace

The Catherine Palace is named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, who ruled Russia for two years after her husband’s death. The exterior is lavish and the interiors are no less stunning, the most famous of which is undoubtedly the legendary Amber Room.  To create this extraordinary chamber panels of amber mosaic were surrounded with gilded carving, mirrors, more amber panels and further mosaics of gemstones.  During World War II the Amber Room was dismantled in 36 hours, and originally shipped to Konigsberg, however their eventual fate is unknown.  In 1982, a 20+ year restoration programme was commenced costing more than $12 million. The restored Amber Room is a truly unique monument, and a testament to the painstaking care of the craftsmen who worked on it.

St Isaac’s Cathedral

St Isaac’s Cathedral was originally the city’s main church and the largest cathedral in Russia. It was built to be one of the most impressive landmarks of the Russian Imperial capital and it’s gilded dome still dominates the skyline of St Petersburg.  The cathedral’s facades are decorated with sculptures and massive granite columns (made of single pieces of red granite), while the interior is adorned with incredibly detailed mosaic icons, paintings and columns made of malachite and lapis lazuli. A large, brightly coloured stained glass window of the “Resurrected Christ” takes pride of place inside the main altar. The church, designed to accommodate 14,000 standing worshippers, was closed in the early 1930s and reopened as a museum. Today, church services are held here only on major ecclesiastical occasions.

The Grand Palace at Peterhof

The Grand Palace at Peterhof was designed to be the centrepiece of Peter the Great’s “Russian Versailles”. Visitors entering the palace are confronted by an incredibly ornate Ceremonial Staircase, which sets the tone for what is to come. Highlights include the richly gilded Ballroom and the splendid white-and-turquoise Throne Room. The Western Chinese Study is heavily Oriental, with jewel red and green walls and a beautiful Chinese tea-set. The Drawing Room of the Imperial Suite is equally influenced by chinoiserie, with particularly fine silk wall hangings. The rest of the Imperial Suite, the royal family’s private quarters, is furnished in grand 19th century style.  Also of interest is Peter the Great’s charmingly simple Oak Study, and the adjacent Crown Room, which was in fact the Imperial bedchamber.

State Hermitage Museum

The Hermitage is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious museums and is St Petersburg’s premier attraction. It is so large there’s no way you can see it all in one visit. It has been estimated you would need 11 years to view each of the 3 millions exhibits on display for one minute each!  A guided tour ensures you  have time to catch most of  the collection’s highlights. The bulk of the Hermitage collection is housed in the Winter Palace, formerly the official residence of the Romanov Tsars, and its several annexes.

The Winter Palace

St Petersburg’s finest and most famous palace, the Winter Palace is one of the greatest royal residences of the world, the home of the Romanov Emperors for two hundred years, and the main building of the world-famous Hermitage Museum. The first Imperial residence on the site of the Winter Palace was a wooden house built in 1708 for Peter the Great and his family. The current building was completed in the late 1760s and has mainly been modified only internally since then. The palace is 22m high, and local planning regulations have prevented any building in the city centre rising higher than this ever since.

The Winter Palace was declared part of the State Hermitage Museum in October 1917. In the 1940s and 50s a major restoration saw the beginning of an ongoing process to return the Imperial splendour of many of the palace’s rooms. The State Rooms of the Winter Palace now form one of the most popular sections of the Hermitage, and are essential viewing for all visitors to St Petersburg.

Project Travel offers 2 escorted tours to St Petersburg in Summer 2017. The first is a 17 night tour departing on 15th July taking in the Scandinavian capitals of Copenhagen, Oslo (plus Bergen and the fjords), Stockholm and Helsinki before spending 3 nights in St Petersburg.  The second is a shorter 4 night break departing 28th July with one night Helsinki followed by 3 in St Petersburg.  To book contact Project Travel or call us on 01 – 2108391.

Image credit: Robinson Scandinavia

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