Don’t let the weather hold you back! This beautiful city is chock full of history, amazing art, breathtaking palaces and so much more says Keya Modessa.
If you’re after a winter break combined with wonderful history, breath taking art and exquisite culture, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better place than the Russian port city. Founded by Peter the Great, it’s hard to believe that the former Russian capital was built on marshland back in 1703. Today this enchanting city is crammed with stunning Baroque and neoclassical architecture much of which remains despite the city seeing many revolutions – around every corner you’ll stumble upon palaces, mansions and more. Don your warmest coat, invest in a fur hat (no really, we mean it – temperature can dip to -9 degrees) and visit now when the city is truly a magical winter wonderland.
Start at Nevsky Prospekt in the heart of the city – this main avenue is where you’ll find many of the top sights including the oldest bridge, the Fontanka River as well as the National Russian Library and Kazan Cathedral.
You’ll also come across The Summer Garden, the oldest garden in the city home to Italian marble statues as well as rare flowers and plants.
High on your list of places to visit should be The Hermitage Museum. The second-largest art museum in the world, it’s been open to the public since 1852 and its collections are made up of over three million items including the largest collection of paintings in the world. You’ll be able to admire Picasso’s great Blue Period paintings and modernist work by Monet, Cézanne and Van Gogh. It has been said that it would take you almost 10 years to see each of its exhibits which occupy a large complex of six historic buildings.
The Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors is located on the bank of the Neva River and forms part of the Hermitage Museum. The magnificent Baroque-style palace is one of the city’s most impressive attractions and has 1057 rooms and 117 staircases. The State Rooms inside are awe-inspiring and offer a glimpse into how the Tsars lived and their extravagant taste.
Channel your inner Lily James from BBC One’s adaptation of War and Peace and hop on a horse-drawn carriage and admire the beautiful estates including Pavlovsk, Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo.
The vibrant and lavish design of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was built in memory of Alexander II who was assassinated in 1881. The walls and ceilings inside are covered in gleaming mosaics that shouldn’t be missed.
You’ll find Peter and Paul Cathedral inside the Peter and Paul Fortress. It’s been a museum since 1924 and many of the Russian tsars and tsarinas – including Peter the Great himself – are buried here.
Even as you descend into one of the world’s deepest subway systems you’ll be able to gawp at the gorgeous sculptures and art in the city’s subway before reminding yourself that yes, the city was built on a swamp.
Eat and drink
For a modern take on Russian food, Kokoko is a good bet. Head chef Igor Grishechkin is the Russian version of Heston Blumenthal and mixes modern technology, traditional Russian ingredients and childhood memories of different flavours – think baked cauliflower in powdered seaweed hazelnut gamadare sauce or pike-perch, leek, fennel jelly and sea fragrant foam
There’s more to Russian food than just chicken kievs and sautéed cabbage. If you like the idea of fine dining but aren’t keen on the swank that often comes with it, head to Em. Open for dinner, Em only has a handful of tables, one waiter and two chefs who go into the forests and local farms to look for unusual ingredients to create a ‘theatre show’ in their open kitchen. They also serve a full vegan menu.
Literary Café – less cafe and more upscale restaurant- is centrally located and is where Russia’s national poet, Pushkin had his last meal before meeting his death in a duel.
Pelmeni is Russia’s famous dumplings (meat-filled dumplings served with sour cream) and the aptly named Pelmenya Bar serves plenty of them in all shapes and sizes with tonnes of different fillings like cheese and tarragon, beef, lamb, potatoes, mushrooms and more.
Oenophiles will love the intimate Do Immigration. This delightful but not-so-easy-to-find wine loft is hidden in the city centre. They offer a small snack food menu and serve great wine at reasonable prices.
For amazing decor (like you’ve not seen enough here) try L’Europe Restaurant at Belmond Grand Hotel Europe. Its Art Nouveau interior is to die for – resplendent marble, gilded stucco ceilings and striking stained glass. There’s live music to accompany dinner every evening in the restaurant, and the restaurant has a popular Jazz Brunch on Sunday. Fridays is Tchaikovsky night which features a chamber orchestra and a tiny ballet – wow!
While we’re talking about the Grand Hotel Europe, sleeping here is worth it if you’ve got cash to splash. Dating back to 1875, this Grande Dame has dazzling chandeliers, impressive artefacts and marble floors. Historically themed suites feature plush fabrics and original artwork.
There are 21 suites to choose from at the Trezzini Palace each one reflecting the grandeur of Tsarist Russia so expect opulent furniture, marble columns and gorgeous gold detailing. Here the little touches make a big difference everything from free chocolates and champagne.
This family-run hotel dates back two hundred years so expect a lot of history to come with it. Rooms have all mod-cons and there’s a 24-hour restaurant, library exposed brickwork, cosy fireplaces and a warm and friendly service.
The stylish Dom Boutique Hotel is in a townhouse and comes with sixty guest rooms. It’s gorgeous inside – plush ruby fabrics, stylish lighting, walls heaving with art. Pick the superior double which comes with views of the Fontanka river and Summer Garden.