St. Petersburg is a favourite city in Russia for foreign tourists and local visitors alike, with its variety of attractions that range from majestic palaces to quaint cobble-stoned streets.
But when planning a trip to this city, which dates back to 1703, you’ll want to allow plenty of time to discover its charms. Russia’s second-largest city has had three different names over the past 100 years; it was originally St. Petersburg, then Petrograd, then Leningrad, and was changed back to St. Petersburg in 1991.
One of the main tourist sites is the impressive Winter Palace, which houses the State Hermitage Museum. This is where Russian monarchs lived from the mid-1700s until the revolution of 1917.
Don’t rush to go straight inside the museum, though; stroll around the Palace Square and enjoy the colourful view of the Hermitage from a distance. If you’re lucky, a military band that regularly holds a dazzling parade will appear.
The museum itself is massive, with a vast array of famous collections, and some degree of planning ahead may be needed for those on a tight schedule. That’s why it’s a good thing the museum now has an app that can be downloaded by visitors before they arrive.
As well as giving practical advice and directions, the app allows people to make virtual tours of the best rooms and see in advance what they may be interested in. The app can also be used while you’re actually walking around and viewing the masterpieces, with key facts and information flashing up on the screen.
Another key attraction in the city centre that should not be missed is the colourful Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, or Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The name of the church refers to the fact that it was built on the spot where Alexander the 2nd was assassinated in 1881.
St. Petersburg is also the perfect place to try out all the different kinds of cuisine on offer in Russia, from a simple dining experience to more expensive restaurants. One luxurious place to check out, even if you are just there to look, is the Eliseyev Emporium on the busy street Nevsky Prospekt.
This is an ornate delicatessen/supermarket/café, with fine Russian and foreign food on sale. Here there are tables to sit down at, which is not the case when you visit the Moscow version of the same store.
One of the many good restaurants recommended by locals is Gogol, named after the author Nikolai Gogol. Guests are transported back to the 19th Century and menus are printed in the style of ancient books.
Top-quality traditional dishes are offered in this cosy establishment, which is very centrally located in Malaya Morskaya street.
There is also a pianist who plays while you dine, a popular feature that can be found in many restaurants across Russia. There really does seem to be a piano in virtually every bar and eating place, and often even the guests are encouraged to play.
Other highly-recommended restaurants in St. Petersburg include the Literary Café in the main street Nevsky Prospekt; the Armenian restaurant Erivan in Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanki; Café Idiot in Nab r Moyki; Palkin in Nevsky Prospekt; Yolki Palki in Bolshaya Sadovaya street; and Sadko in Glinki street.
Eating is easy in Russia. It never seems too late to order food, with dining available in nightclubs and bars until the early hours. For those keen on having an evening drink in St. Petersburg, there are many interesting bars to choose from. There are too many to mention here, but the Postcards team was particularly impressed with the great atmosphere and friendly staff in Let it Bar (9 Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanki), another example of a bar/restaurant with a piano that the owners encourage people to play.
Photos and text by Seamus Kearney