72 hours in St Petersburg

Russia’s second city has been known as St Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and finally became St Petersburg again when it was renamed in 1991. It is the most northern city in the world and whilst winters are long and cold, the short summer is warm and with almost 24 hours of daylight. Both times of year have their own advantages for visiting – palaces and museums are a lot quieter in winter – but here’s our pick for getting the best out of the city’s summer White Nights.

Wander the gardens of Peterhof Palace

Famous for its grand fountains and elaborate water features, the gardens of Peterhof deserve a visit. Built on two different levels, the fountains are able to operate without use of any pumps. The water comes from natural springs; gravity and pressure do the rest. The lower gardens provide a shaded place to wander. Designed in the formal style of 17th-century French gardens, there are plenty of paths and spots to take a rest, as well as several ‘trick’ fountains that are in place purely to soak unassuming passers-by. The Upper Gardens have seven large ponds, some with fountains and sculptures in the centre, but are comparatively less impressive than the lower gardens. The fountains are only turned on between May and October.

Peterhof Palace gardens

Take in Catherine’s Palace

Built originally in 1717 for Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great, it was completely remodelled in 1743 as a rival to Versailles. Completed in 1756, the palace is almost 1km in circumference and has an ornate gilded blue and white façade. Inside, the rooms are no less elaborate: the Great Hall, also known as the Hall of Light, runs the whole width of the building and has mirrors at both ends to maximise light. It has hosted many grand parties and events, including birthday parties of Elton John in recent years. The recreated Amber Room is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Completed in 1770, the amber panels were removed in 1941 and put into storage but have never been found. The room was eventually recreated over a painstaking 20-year period and was reopened in 2003. Queues in the summer months can be overwhelming but this palace shouldn’t be missed.

St Catherines Palace

Early evening canal cruise

There’s no disputing that St Petersburg is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and when there’s almost 24-hour daylight in the summer months, what better way to appreciate it than from the water. The city’s canals, lined by grand palaces and apartments, are best viewed from a river cruise. Most cruises will also take you out on to the Neva river from where you can admire the Hermitage museum as well as the Peter and Paul Fortress on the other side of the river.

Channel in St Petersburg

Midnight stroll and seeing the lifting of the bridges

Located on the eastern edge of the Baltic Sea, water navigation is vital to the city. However, with so many low bridges over the numerous canals and wide Neva river, by day it is impossible for ships to sail through. To solve this, during the summer months from approximately 1.30 – 5 am, the bridges lift and a constant stream of ships flow through. It’s a spectacle worth staying up for. Make the most of being up late and see the city’s sights without the crowds during the almost-light nights. On a cloudless night, it’s a magical experience.

White nights bridges

Faberge Museum

Only opened at the end of last year, the privately-owned Faberge eggs are part of a larger art collection in a private palace close to the main street of Nevsky Prospekt. Although you have to join a tour, the intricate eggs are fascinating and with numbers strictly controlled, it’s a far quieter experience than many of the other palace museums.

Faberge eggs

Ballet or opera

Traditionally, the summer months were when the world famous ballet and opera companies of St Petersburg toured other countries. Held annually since 1993 between May and July, the ‘Stars of the White Nights’ is a series of ballet, opera and orchestral performances at the Mariinsky Concert Hall that is considered the highlight of the White Nights Festival. Tickets sell out in advance so make sure you book before you travel and enjoy the world-class performances.

Mariinsky theatre

Hermitage Museum

The queues are long and inside the rooms are heaving with tourists but no trip to St Petersburg is complete without a visit to one of the world’s most impressive art galleries. We suggest visiting the palace rooms as soon as it opens in the morning and then the galleries afterwards. The art exhibitions will always be busy, but if you go to the palace section first, you are more likely to have the rooms to yourself – well almost! On the other side of Palace Square, behind the museum, the newly opened section of the Hermitage is also worth its additional entrance fee. The General Staff Building is one of the most famous architectural monuments in St Petersburg and now houses the museum’s more contemporary collections.

Hermitag -museum

Katie Cosstick is the PR Manager at Cox & Kings.

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