St. Petersburg, Russia is a romantic destination, especially during the White Nights of May-June, when it never gets completely dark. It’s no wonder this former capital of Russia built by Peter the Great has been nicknamed the “Venice of the North” for its many canals and the beautiful European facades that line its main street, Nevsky Prospect.
While it would be easy to spend weeks and still only scratch the surface of St. Petersburg, here are my tips for a memorable visit if you only have a long weekend:
1. Plan far in advance for a visit during the White Nights
The White Nights run from late May through June, and are a peak time for international visits to St. Petersburg. There are sometimes also international meetings such as the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum during this time, so it’s crucial to reserve your hotel early, especially if you plan to stay in one of the few luxury hotels in the city.
2. Stay at the Four Seasons Lion Palace, St. Petersburg
I’ve stayed at most of the major luxury hotels in St. Petersburg over the years for either work or leisure, and by far my favorite luxury hotel is the Four Seasons Hotel Lion’s Palace St. Petersburg, which opened in 2013. Originally built by French architect Auguste Montferrand, whose life work is St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the interiors have been painstakingly restored to their former glory, and the elegant rooms and suites enjoy all the comforts you’d expect of the city’s premier address, down to the Illy espresso machine and bathroom mirror with embedded LCD TV. Stay in a Terrace Room for stunning views of St. Isaac’s Cathedral from your private terrace.
After a busy morning, relax in the light filled, glass-roofed atrium of the Tea Lounge. Live harp music provides the perfect ambience for a late lunch or afternoon tea. Follow this with a spa treatment or the spa’s hydrotherapy pool, and you may be looking for excuses not to leave the hotel.
3. Visit the Hermitage with a private guide
The Hermitage is Europe’s largest art museum, with one of the finest Western European art collections in the world. Given the size of the collection and also the number of visitors it attracts daily, particularly in the peak summer season, I highly recommend seeing it with a private guide who can also get you access to the museum before it opens to the general public. You’ll have a much better experience seeing the artworks you’re most interested in without the crowds.
4. Dine like a tsar at L’Europe Restaurant, with live music or ballet
If you think Russian food just consists of borscht and various combinations of potatoes and cabbage, treat yourself to an elegant dinner at L’Europe Restaurant at the Grand Hotel Europe. The restaurant itself claims to be Russia’s oldest continually serving restaurant, and is in an opulent setting with stained glass panels, red roses and candles. The tasting menu includes the restaurant’s “Egg in Egg” caviar in truffle-infused egg and Kamchatka Crab with Champagne Sauce, and there’s live music nightly, with a live ballet performance on Fridays.
5. Experience Peterhof on a weekday early or late in the season
A visit to St. Petersburg wouldn’t be complete without a visit outside to the city to the nearby Peterhof, Peter the Great’s palace and formal gardens with fountains that have been compared to Versailles–some even prefer them to Versailles. As Peterhof is extremely popular with local couples and families on the weekend, I recommend trying to see them on a weekday in late May or early September, earlier in the day to avoid the crowds. During the season, the Peterhof Express hydrofoil departs from its location near the Palace Bridge (Dvortsoviy Most), a short walk from either the Four Seasons St. Petersburg or Admiraleyskaya Metro Station.
Hilary Stockton is the CEO at TravelSort.