Words alone cannot do justice to the breath-taking extravagance of the Imperial splendours of St Petersburg. This Russian city puts the grand into grandeur with its awe-inspiring collection of ornate palaces, museums and cathedrals that rose to royal glory under the Russian tsars and survived the subsequent Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and, more recently, decades of Communist rule.
There is no shortage of tourist sights in this former capital. In fact, visitors need plenty of time to appreciate what this grand city has to offer, which is why CMV ships always stay overnight, giving guests two days to explore. One of the best ways for cruise passengers to discover St Petersburg is on cruise line excursions as UK passport-holders are covered free of charge by the ship’s group visa. Those wanting to go ashore independently need their own visa, and this has to be arranged in advance.
Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great and built on a series of islands in the Neva River connected by iron and stone bridges, St Petersburg is overflowing with cultural gems, inevitably spiced up with accompanying tales of murder, mayhem and intrigue. The top draw is undoubtedly the famous Hermitage Museum, housed in the 18th century Baroque Winter Palace, which could easily take days to explore on its own. Dating from 1764, when it was founded by Catherine the Great, it is one of the world’s largest and foremost art museums, boasting more than three million exhibits housed in at least 1,000 rooms.
Trying to tackle this alone is a mind-blowing task, but guided tours ensure visitors don’t miss highlights that include masterpieces by Leonardo Da Vinci, Titian and Rembrandt.
Catherine Palace, a short drive from the city near the town of Pushkin, is another unmissable sight. Named after Catherine I, consort of Peter the Great, this 18th Century treasure chest promises to take your breath away, with its stately blue and white façade stretching nearly 1,000 feet. Inside is no less impressive with a collection of grand rooms, culminating in the Great Hall, famous for its opulent fairytale-style interior, while outside lies the vast sweep of landscaped gardens and parklands.
City tours include a number of St Petersburg’s main attractions, such as the impressive Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, also known as the Church of the Resurrection, built to resemble St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. Nearby is the magnificent St Isaac’s Cathedral, similar to St Peter’s in Rome with a large dome covered with more than 200 pounds of gold, while the ornate interior is decorated with more than 30 types of marble, mosaics, ceiling murals and sculptures.
Don’t miss the stunning Peterhof Palace, St Petersburg’s answer to Versailles located 22 miles from the city. Built by Peter the Great in the early 18th century to rival the French palace it is renowned as the grandest of the tsars’ summer retreats with its 300-acre park-like grounds, sprinkled with statues and spectacular fountains.
Evenings ashore in St Petersburg are no less captivating. Enjoy a classical ballet performance in one of the many grand venues across the city or take a cruise along the rivers and canals to gain a different perspective of the so-called Venice of the North.
Whether it is seen from land or water, this is a city that cannot fail to impress.