Destination: St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is often considered to be the most culturally Western city in Russia. However, it would be wrong to assume that this denies travellers an authentic Russian experience. On the contrary, St. Petersburg is the epicentre of the nation’s art and culture and is the place that gave birth to some of those who made the country into what it is today, from Ivan Pavlov and Vladimir Nabokov to Vladimir Putin.


St. Petersburg lies on the Neva River and at the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. It is the northernmost city with a population of five million people.


There have been smaller, non-Russian settlements in the area as early as the tenth century, but Peter the Great founded the city of St. Petersburg in 1703 as a strategic location on the Baltic Sea. Legend says that as soon as he saw the swampland he proclaimed that this would be the site of the future Russian capital. There is no source to prove this, but from 1713 to 1728 and 1732 to 1918 St. Petersburg was indeed the capital of the Russian Empire. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it thrived culturally, especially under the reign of Catherine the Great, who brought the enlightenment to the city and founded 25 educational institutions, including Russia’s first state school for girls.

In the Soviet era the city was renamed Leningrad and the surrounding oblast (federal subdivision) kept the Soviet name. During the Second World War Leningrad was one of the key points at the Eastern front and the Siege of Leningrad is the most tragic event in the history of the city, with hundreds of thousand citizens having died when the Nazis cut off all supplies.

What to do

The city centre contains around 2,300 palaces and magnificent Baroque and neo-classical buildings that have been well-preserved, justifying its status as UNESCO World Heritage site. A visit to Zayachy Island on the bank of the Neva River with the Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral is obligatory. There are also many pretty parks to stroll through, including one of the biggest English gardens in Europe. There is a reason St. Petersburg is supposed to be the cultural capital of Europe: There are 221 museums and 45 galleries and other exhibition spaces to choose from, with the Hermitage Museum being the most famous, featuring the interiors of an imperial residence and a stunning art collection. However, there is also a wide range of smaller museums featuring more unusual topics such as dolls or the Freudian Interpretation of Dreams. Furthermore, the city hosts 2000 libraries and 80 theatres. The Mariinsky Theatre is especially famous for its ballet.


The weather is fickle and changeable, as it is common in coastal cities. Summers are mild, with temperatures averaging around 20° C and the winters are cold with average temperatures down to -8°C. St. Petersburg experiences the midsummer, with the sun never really setting in late June. This is celebrated by the White Nights Festival during the last ten days of June, which features all-day performances and make June the most popular month for tourists. A visit in late autumn can also be recommended, because the heat begins to drop in September and so does the number of tourists.

Weather in Saint Petersburg


How to get there

Pulkovo Airport, located 17 kilometres south of the city centre, is the busiest Russian airport outside of Moscow and is served by many international and domestic airlines. However, there is also the option of flying into Lappeenranta Airport which is located across the border in Finland and served by low-cost airlines including Ryanair. The railway system is extremely well-connected. Moscow can be reached in only four hours via a high-speed system, and there are also international connections to Helsinki, Berlin and Eastern Europe. St. Petersburg can also be reached via ferry from Helsinki and Stockholm.

Why you should visit

Its closeness to Europe makes St. Petersburg a perfect destination for a short city break, whilst still being able to offer a more exotic and distinctively Russian experience. The cultural programme is packed and the city boasts a number of World Heritage Sites. All this is set in a tourist infrastructure that has developed rapidly since the collapse of the Soviet Union and is now one of the best in Russia. Moreover, the city has plenty to offer to those not as interested in art, making it one of the most diverse tourist experiences in Europe.