See the Ballet
The Russians are the Michael Jordan of the ballet world and the opportunity to see a performance any day of the week should not be missed. If you want to see the pinnacle of this art form go to Mariinsky Theatre, without doubt one of the best ballet companies in the world, and with an endless supply of stars, it’s the real McCoy. However, budget travellers can still find tickets for Swan Lake and the Nutcracker in lesser known theatres at more affordable prices capable of moving any audience to tears. There isn’t a higher note to end your final night on in this fabulous city.
Get to know Dostoevsky, Nabokov and Pushkin
There is something incredibly wonderful about reading descriptions of places written by my favourite authors, all the words and sentences I pondered over and drew fantasies from suddenly get a new lease of life. Devoted fans have the privilege to visit three individual museums dedicated to Dostoevsky, Nabokov and Pushkin. The latter is less familiar in the UK but in Russia his name holds the same weight as Shakespeare.
Experience world-class art at the Hermitage Museum
Easily one of the world’s finest art galleries in the world, you’ll have no trouble finding our most celebrated artists from past and present at home here. The building itself is a work of art in both exterior and interior, a marvel of Russian baroque architecture. To acknowledge every piece of art in this museum you’d need at least a week, so my advice is to get up early and see what you can in a full day.
Pushkin gardens and the Amber room at Summer Palace
Displaying an uncanny resemblance to the Hermitage Museum, the Summer Palace (also known as Catherine’s Palace) is an extraordinary reminder of the huge appetite Russian Royalty had for material opulence on an unprecedented scale. To visit, get a bus from nearby Moskovskaya metro station which takes you directly there in approx. 50 minutes. Sadly, it was just my luck that the day I turned up to the palace its doors were closed to the public so VIP guests could be chaperoned around. Very annoying. But the gardens alone was worth the trip from St. Petersburg!
Long-time readers of my blog will know that I love a good museum, and the freakier it is the more likely I’m going to rave on about it. The brainchild of Peter the Great (who also introduced ballet to Russia), the purpose of KunstKamera in its day was to educate the Russian population with scientific and anthropological discoveries, so they could be liberated from superstition and dogmas which suppress scientific growth.
St. Petersburg’s main street is like a trunk belonging to an old oak tree, with myriads of smaller streets sprawling out from it like branches. The city doesn’t really have a main square which is unusual for one this size but Nevsky Prospekt acts as the hub bringing the city and visitors together, it’s where you’ll also find most of the attractions nearby, plenty of gargantuan architecture, and if you get lost you can gather your bearing simply by making your way back to this main street. It’s huge.
Go inside the Church of Spilled Blood
The exterior of this highly ornate church can be compared to St. Basil’s in Moscow, but its interior is incomparable, with extravagant gold-leaf and murals adorning the walls. Blinded by all the splendour it would be easy to overlook the scenes of martyrdom, including one that draws a parallel between the tsar’s death and the crucifixion of Christ.
Every now and again you see something which looks unlike anything you’ve seen before and for that reason it makes you smile, Chesme Church has that affect. It’s off the tourist radar too, so you don’t have to deal with the crowds who gather around the bigger attractions nearby Nevsky Prospekt, this is just as well because it’s only small inside. The best time to visit is right before getting on the bus to the Summer Palace since it takes about 10 minutes to walk from Moskovskaya metro station.
Eat at Teplo
This much-feted, eclectic and original restaurant has got it all just right. The venue itself is a lot of fun to nose around, I choose to eat in the outside courtyard but inside there are lots of nooks and crannies to make yourself feel cosy. The restaurant is full of fun props, from table football to vintage books. Dishes come from all over the world and there’s a decent offering of vegetarian dishes too. If you’re planning to go for lunch, I recommend timing it with the Nabokov Museum since they are located next door to each other.
Go on a boat ride along the Neva River
If you want to see why St. Petersburg is commonly referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’, a boat trip is what you’ll need to do. Unfortunately there isn’t the option to float down the Neva on a gondola, but who cares when the views from the water are so beautiful?