Itâ€™s been nearly 20 years since Leningrad, Russia, was restored to its original name, St. Petersburg along with much of its former luster. The city at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea was created more than 300 years ago as Peter the Greatâ€™s vision of an ideal capital city.
Like Venice and Stockholm, St. Petersburg is built on a series of islands â€“ in this case, along the Neva River â€“ connected by bridges. While St. Petersburg has fascinating history, hundreds of museums and libraries, some of the worldâ€™s finest cultural institutions and an incredible array of classical architecture, the political and social changes of the 20th century delayed the development of a tourism infrastructure. Now that the Russian economy is stronger, hotels, restaurants, clubs have sprung up in the city to serve residents and tourists alike.
Sightseeing in St. Petersburg can begin almost anywhere in the historic part of the city, but a good place to start is Palace Square, which has seen everything from processions of the czar to revolutionary riots. One side of the square is dominated by the gorgeous Winter Palace, which houses the State Hermitage Museum and its amazing collection of art.
The gold-plated dome of St. Isaacâ€™s Cathedral dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg. The interior is richly decorated with paintings, mosaics, gilded statues and columns made of semiprecious stone. The grounds of the Peter and Paul Fortress include important buildings like the Peter and Paul Cathedral, which is the burial place of several Russian czars; a historic prison; a working mint; and the City Museum.
In the evening, stroll down the cityâ€™s main thoroughfare, the Nevsky Prospect, to admire the classical architectural precision favored by Peter the Great and the modern allure of the lively bars and restaurants. During the cityâ€™s summertime â€œWhite Nights,â€ the dusk can linger well after midnight.
Thereâ€™s so much more to see in St. Petersburg that you may want to find an English-speaking guide to help you plan an itinerary. If you would rather tour St. Petersburg on your own, you will need a visa in addition to your passport â€“ your travel professional can help. Or, if you visit St. Petersburg via cruise ship, a visa is usually not required in advance. Most cruise ships spend at least one night in port to allow guests to experience more of this special city.