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Ports of Call: What to Do in Saint Petersburg, Russia


St. Petersburg is worthy of an entire vacation. But if you are on a cruise and only have a day or two, use this article to hit the highlights.

St. Petersburg - Ports of Call: What to Do in Saint Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, a city of magnificent proportions and palaces, is a popular stop for both ocean and river cruises. Since many lines dock in St. Petersburg for two days, you have time to gain a sense of the city, exploring its many attractions.

An impressive city of canals and bridges—by some counts it has 42 islands and 800 bridges—St. Petersburg ranks as Russia’s cultural capital. In 1703 Peter the Great began construction of the Peter and Paul Fortress, the first stage in his plan to build a new port city that would function as a “window on the West.” Canals helped morph the former swampland into a showcase. By 1712 St. Petersburg reigned as Russia’s capital. By the end of the 19th century, 300 palaces graced the streets. Many still exist, but as museums or apartments.

Top St. Petersburg Attractions

St. Petersburg

The Winter Hermitage.

Tour The Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum

Built between 1754 and 1762, the Winter Palace, once home of the Tsars, is an imposing Baroque-style building of gilt, marble, and hundreds of rooms. The palace, along with adjacent buildings, serves as the Hermitage Museum, one of the world’s largest art museums.

Because you can’t possibly see or absorb all of the art, plan ahead to seek your favorite works. Savor a roomful of Rembrandts as well as masterpieces by Matisse, Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso and Cezanne. Check out the Winter Palace’s sweeping main staircase, the silver and gold throne in the Small Throne Room as well as the gems and gilded walls and ceiling in the Gold Drawing Room.

St. Petersburg

The Neva River.

Cruise the Neva River

An easy way for kids (and adults) to obtain a sense of the city is on a one-hour boat cruise along the Neva River. Cream, pink, and ochre buildings, some one block long, are fronted by elaborate iron gates. On short summer nights, or “White Nights” (a term coined by Dostoevsky), an evening cruise is relaxing.

St. Petersburg

St. Isaac's Cathedral.

See Famous Cathedrals

It took some 40 years to build St. Isaac’s Cathedral, completed in 1858. The enormous structure, known for its gold dome, has a capacity of 14,000 people. Be sure to take in the city’s panorama from the viewing balcony.

The best example of a building blooming with ornate, onion-shaped domes in the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, officially the Resurrection of Christ Church, whose interior delights with detailed mosaics. The church was built as a monument to Emperor Alexander II who died from wounds inflicted by revolutionary on March 1, 1881. After 24 years of construction, the church was completed in 1907.

St. Petersburg

Mikhailovsky Palace.

Explore Palaces

For an outdoor oasis in St. Petersburg, stroll the grounds of the Summer Palace, originally designed for Peter the Great, but refashioned by Catherine the Great after a flood in 1777. Not as grand as the other well-known palaces, the Summer Palace, now a branch of the Russian Museum, showcases furniture and other items that belonged to Peter and Catherine.

The Mikhailovsky Palace, on the Moika River, houses the main collection of the State Russian Museum. The palace and the Benois Wing house the permanent collections, a showcase of Russian art from the 10th century to current times.

Peterhof (Petrodvorets), 18 miles from St. Petersburg, is not just another pretty palace with gilded sconces, trompe l’oeil paintings, silk lined walls, and a gallery of family portraits. The extensive gardens and the fountains, not to mention the 25-minute hydrofoil ride from the city, make the place especially appealing, particularly May through October when the waterworks operate. Enjoy the spectacle of the Grand Cascade’s tiers of flowing water.

Enjoy Evening Performances

For entertainment, pick performances that need no translation. The Mariinsky Theatre offers opera, ballet, and musical performances. Through June, the St. Petersburg Philharmonia hosts performances of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

Have you visited St. Petersburg? What were your favorite experiences? What do you hope to do next time? Comment below or connect with me on Twitter, @familyitrips.

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