“I arrived in the city early August. Summer was in full swing and summer time in St Petersburg means the city is alive late into the night with tourists and locals alike taking in the warm weather and late sunsets.”
Peter the Great conjured up the great city of St Petersburg out of mud and marshland in 1703. Dreaming of a ‘Window to Europe’ the magic is still apparent in this modern day version of the city with every twist and turn, every canal and bridge, every church and palace.
Good to know: Turkish Airlines flies daily to St Petersburg from Cape Town and Johannesburg.
St Petersburg has been through a lot in its 350 year history. Founded in war when Tsar Peter the Great reconquered the land from Sweden in the Great Northern War, its violent history continued through uprisings, revolutions, assassinations, two world wars and the Soviet era.
A city of many names
During World War 1 Sankt Peterburg was seen as too German and changed names to Petrograd. Following Lenin’s death in 1924 the city was again renamed. The Communist Party chose Leningrad inspired by the revolution led by Vladimir Lenin and as a means to intimidate the Resistance. Following the devastation of World War 2 and suppression of the Soviet era the people of Leningrad voted to restore its original name, Saint Petersburg, on 6th September 1991, which coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union that same year.
“The river itself is also full of life as flotillas of party boats race the opening bridges downriver into the early hours of the night.”
I arrived in the city early August. Summer was in full swing and summer time in St Petersburg means the city is alive late into the night with tourists and locals alike taking in the warm weather and late sunsets. “White Nights” is the period when the sun hardly ever sets and is usually around mid-June to early July. Revellers party late into the night and this is one of the most popular times to visit the city.
Another summer time tradition is to watch the Neva River bridges open to allow larger ships and boats to pass. This occurs around 1:30am and the banks of the river are packed with people watching the bridges open. The river itself is also full of life as flotillas of party boats race the opening bridges downriver into the early hours of the night.
“you can’t help but feel its history in every public square, opulent palace and winding canal.”
The city is best explored on foot or by boat and you can’t help but feel its history in every public square, opulent palace and winding canal. We began our tour of St Petersburg with a sunset cruise along the Neva River. As we sailed under the many low bridges we took in the sights of the city’s skyline.
The following days were spent taking in the various highlights of the city. The Hermitage Museum collection, housed in the Winter Palace, is so large it would take you 15 years to view all the museum’s exhibits. A visit to this great museum of the world should be on everyone’s to do list.
Peterhof, also known as the Russian Versailles, is located in the countryside outside St Petersburg. Built as Peter the Great’s Summer Palace a full day could be spent here taking in the beautiful fountains,gardens and buildings which have been perfectly restored to their former shimmering glory. Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood is St Petersburg’s most elaborate church and it’s 5 domes are synonymous with the skyline of the city. You can’t help but be taken in by all the details. Peter and Paul Fortress was one of the first buildings ever erected in this city dating back to 1703. It also includes the Peter and Paul Cathedral which is the final resting place for the Tsars including Peter the Great. The gold dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral is another famous landmark and you can taking in amazing views over the city from its viewing platform.
We stayed in the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe which just celebrated its 140th birthday. Located just off the main shopping street of Nevsky Prospekt , a short walk from the Hermitage and many other sights, this luxurious hotel is ideally situated to take in all that this wonderful city has to offer.
St Petersburg is a city full of surprises. Wide boulevards and green open spaces abound. The pastel-coloured buildings and low skyline add a softness to the city and the many bridges and canals lead you into unexpected courtyards and beautiful public spaces.
From Russia with love.
All visitors need a visa to visit Russia. South African’s can get more information on the Russian Embassy Website. All applications need to be completed online and are required to appear in person. Applications take +- 10 days to process.
One South African Rand is equal to +- 5 Rubles. A 1l bottle of water is +- 50 Rubles or R10, a cup of coffee is +- 100 Rubles, R20.
St Petersburg is +1 hour from South Africa
Disclosure: We were guests of Follow Me 2 Russia and Turkish Airlines and were hosted at the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe.