Travel to St. PetersburgSt. Petersburg – Bring on the Bling
It’s pretty easy to spot a Russian. Beyond the blond bombshells with legs for miles, the abundance of fur, bling, and, on occasion, in-your-face acid wash are telltale signs. You might think it’s over the top; we prefer the term “opulent.” And when in Russia, do as the Russians, especially in St. Petersburg, where you can pull out all the stops without receiving so much as a sideways glance.
Good For: Groups of friends, couples, and well-traveled families whose children don’t need a kid’s club to be entertained. This is a trip with a high dose of culture, from history and museums to nightlife. If you’re going to experience Russia, St. Petersburg should be top on your itinerary.
- Exploring the Hermitage Museum, which defines extravagance. The czars’ contemporaries (kings, maharajas, and other international royalty) look like paupers compared to how Russian royalty lived.
- Enjoying a ballet performance at the Mariinsky Ballet or the Mikhailovsky Theatre. The latter is more for locals but both are a quintessential St. Petersburg experience.
- Climbing St. Isaac’s Cathedral to take in the view of St. Petersburg, and then taking in the gorgeous frescos inside. It’s enough to impress even the seasoned church aficionados.
- Partaking in the tradition of Russian tea. The tea ritual is normally associated with the Brits, but who knew it was such an institution and equally beautifully presented in Russia.
- Making it past face patrol at the clubs, and then dancing the night away.
- Calling Grand Hotel Europe home for your stay, where you get an authentic luxury Russian hotel experience.
Suggested Stay: 3 days
What to Know: The best time to go to St. Petersburg is from late April when the weather begins to warm up, until about the beginning of October, lest you have the fortitude to withstand a Russian winter. In which case, all bets are off with PETA, as fur is a necessity to keep warm. St. Petersburg is the most welcoming main tourist city in Russia, easy to navigate, and has one of the more foreigner-friendly restaurant and nightlife scenes. Dress to impress, though; the locals are normally decked out for dinner and certainly for the clubs.
The height of tourist season in St. Petersburg is during the White Nights, when no darkness falls over the city and you can (and will) party all night. Just be sure that you end up on the same side as your hotel, as the drawbridges go up around 2am, and don’t come back down until about 6am.
Pre-plan your taxi reservation for your airport pickup; they are not readily available at the airport like other major cities where you can just hop in one when you arrive. When in St. Petersburg, get ready to walk for miles; it’s a city best explored by foot.
Though Peter the Great is widely recognized for founding St. Petersburg, it was Swedish colonists who first settled the area, at the mouth of the Neva River, in 1611. The Swedes built their Nyenskans fortress as a storage depot for trade, and the town of 2,000 thrived there for nearly a century. After sacking the Swedes in 1703, Peter laid the foundations for a new city, which he named after his patron saint, the apostle Peter.
Living Like Russian Royalty
The Four Seasons has arrived in St. Petersburg, which in travel speak means that a city itself has arrived as a luxury destination. But before all this hype, the city’s pride and joy has been the Grand Hotel Europe, which is an attraction unto itself. The hotel’s status as an Orient Express property says it all. Expect top-notch service, gifts of fruits and chocolate, and authenticity that reflects St. Petersburg’s unique qualities. Rooms are generally larger than the other luxury options, and the scene in the bar is like theater, with the local characters. Breakfast deserves a shout-out – think all the caviar you can eat and your tea served from a samovar. We thought 9am would be too early for kasha and beef stroganoff, but we were wrong. Don’t be surprised if your hotel seems to be on ultra-security alert with a visiting international president or besieged by those thinking that Justin Bieber is in the house.
The W St. Petersburg deserves a mention, for the fact that it has a sceney restaurant and a young vibe – and you can use those hard-earned Starwood points. Location is also prime, near good dining options and our favorite café, Schastye.
Getting the Lay of the Water and Land
Peter the Great had grand plans for St. Petersburg to be the Venice of the north. Therefore, in the warmer months, by boat is the way to explore. You can hire a private ride, or hop on one of the main tourist boats. This is one case where you’re actually going to see the same sites either way, so no shame in saving a few ruble.
On land,plan to walk all over the city, where you’ll definitely hit Nevsky Prospect. As the main avenue running through the heart of the city, you’ll see almost all the major tourist sights within a few blocks’ radius, from the Blood Church, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Russian Museum. As for the model-like women strolling the avenue in their 5-inch heels – it’s all gravy.
The Hermitage (aka the Winter Palace) is a must-see, and as expected, one of the most popular. At minimum, you’ll want to view the building itself, not to mention the thousands of pieces of art, by everyone from Monet to Picasso. The lines are unbearably long, so if you don’t want to pay the exorbitant VIP ticket prices through your hotel to cut the line, get there first thing in the morning. Otherwise, for those who are doing the “museum light” plan and just want to see the greatest hits, head there in the last hour and a half that it’s open, when there should be virtually no line.
Now we love to shop the local markets, but don’t be surprised if you’re less than overwhelmed by the Vernisazh, near the Blood Church, where they have tea sets, Russian dolls, and other knickknacks. It’s worth a look, but for seasoned travelers, not as exciting as, say, the markets in Istanbul.
Take in more culture with an afternoon at the ballet, where the Mariinsky Theatre is the most popular for tourists. They are experimenting with modern performances, so don’t expect traditional tutus and Swan Lake. The lesser known of the ballets, which is also less expensive, is at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, where tickets are gentler on the pocket, the crowd is local, and performances top-notch.
So eat caviar morning, noon, and night if you wish; don your best suit and tie just to toss back fruit-flavored vodka shots. Rent the Romanov Suite at Grand Hotel Europe and throw on an ushanka while your butler serves tea out of a samovar. St. Petersburg’s motto may as well be: Go big or go somewhere else. Looks like it’s time to break out the bling.