Along with the twelve other locations around Russia, St Petersburg has also been one of the host cities of the FIFA World Cup 2018. Many key matches, including the thrilling semi-final between France v Belgium, were played at the city’s own Krestovsky Stadium. It was also announced that the Saint Petersburg stadium will host four Euro 2020 finals fixtures, including a quarterfinal match. The city’s international football legacy is set to last.
St Petersburg is also renowned for its summer White Nights, when the northern sun hardly ever sets below the horizon. Starting from May until July, the nights remain a pearly glow. Tourists flock to the city to indulge in these extended daylight hours, where cafes remain open nocturnally and there are plenty of festivals, concerts and parties to attend.
To celebrate this glorious city, also nicknamed the Venice of the North, here’s a handy guide to majestic St Petersburg, including tips on where to stay and the essential to dos.
Hotel of Choice:
Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg - 57 Nevsky Prospekt
Conveniently located on St Petersburg’s bustling Nevsky Prospekt, the Corinthia Hotel offers imperial Russian grandeur fused with contemporary elegance. Of particular note is the hotel’s opulent lobby, which is resplendent with sparkling chandeliers and a sweeping staircase and is as evocative as a Tchaikovsky symphony.
This luxury hotel is comprised of two renovated 19th century buildings and allows easy access to fine restaurants, shopping centres and historic sites, including Palace Square and the State Hermitage Museum. A metro station is within walking distance.
The Corinthia has also been enjoying football fever with several World Cup 2018 international teams staying at the hotel, including Brazil, Morocco, and Nigeria. As these rooms are good enough for Neymar and co., you can rest assured you’re in for a treat. The rooms boast a plush, comforting style and feature marble bathrooms and even a pillow menu for a perfect night’s sleep.
Guests can also enjoy fine dining at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Imperial restaurant or spend a chilled evening at Bar Nevsky for cocktails and live jazz. If planning a particularly special night out, the hotel also offers limousine service. Feel like a modern-day tsar as you cruise through St Petersburg’s grand avenues.
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The 3 Must-Dos:
1. Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood
Think Russia and this marvellous onion-domed church is probably one of the first things that comes to mind. This classic Russian Orthodox church is one of St Petersburg’s most distinctive landmarks and certainly deserves a visit. While its five colourful domes may give the building an almost fairy tale quality, the church has rather more grim beginnings, as it was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The church’s sinister sobriquet is also a reference to this historic event. Decorated with around 7,000 square meters of mosaics, the church’s interior is just as extraordinary as its exterior. Construction lasted some 24 years and costs exceeded 1 million roubles, making this iconic Russian building one of the most lavish pieces of 18th century architecture in the world. A guided tour will truly help bring this church’s rich history to life.
2. The Winter Palace
This imposing mint green, white and gold, three-storey building, which occupies Palace Square and the south embankment of the Neva River, is another of St. Petersburg’s most striking historical buildings. The Winter Palace was home to the Russian Tsars from the 18th century onwards and has played a pivotal part in Russian politics and history. The palace itself houses the State Hermitage Museum, which features a staggering three million items across 360 rooms. The galleries feature Eurasian and Asian antiquities, European paintings, sculptures and other seminal artworks by Rembrandt, Titian, Michelangelo, Monet, Van Gogh, and Matisse among many, many others. Top tip – take advantage of the museum’s themed tours to go post-haste to pieces of most interest to you.
A banya is a traditional Russian steam bath, which has been part of Russian life since the 12th century. St Petersburg has a number of these spas around the city, which range from small bathhouses to more luxurious establishments with palatial interiors. In addition to the steaming treatment as is typical in most saunas, the banya bather is also given a light flogging with a bundle of birch tree twigs, known as veniki. This therapy is surprisingly pleasant and is said to eliminate toxins and improve circulation. When you’re all steamed out, plunge into an ice-cold pool to re-energise the body and purify the skin.
The Finest Dining:
Palkin - 47 Nevsky Prospekt
Foodies looking to indulge in fine Russian cuisine surrounded by a sumptuous tsarist-era setting, should certainly make a reservation at Palkin. Dating back to 1785, the interior oozes aristocratic flair. In its earlier incarnation, this restaurant is also said to have served Russian intellectual icons such as Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and Tchaikovsky among others. The menu offers a gastronomic banquet of Russian recipes from a bygone era, including black caviar and Kamchatka crab meat.
Something a Little Odd:
For a uniquely Soviet mode of transportation, why not treat yourself to a ride in a St Petersburg tank taxi. The tank taxi is an actual armoured military-grade tank, which (thankfully) has had its turret machine gun deactivated. So fear not, you won’t suddenly be caught in a skirmish between rival taxi drivers who have a penchant for ruthless road rage. Climb up the ladder, enter the hatch, and get comfy on real military seating as you’re chauffeured past points of interest in the safest vehicle on these city streets.