Saint Petersburg is the second-largest city in Russia (just behind Moscow), but is considered by most to be the more beautiful of the two. Nicknamed “Northern Venice” after its elaborate system of waterways, the city is one of the most architecturally impressive and photogenic places in all of Europe. Despite being one of the youngest cities in Europe, the fact that Saint Petersburg served as the capital of the Russian Empire for almost 200 years has left it steeped in rich history & culture. So if you happen to find yourself in the Saint Petersburg area with a weekend to kill, here are some of the city’s best must-see spots.
The Literary Café originally opened as a sweet shop in 1816, before being converted into an upscale restaurant in 1877. Throughout the years, the restaurant has seen its fair share of historic Russian figures, serving poet Alexander Pushkin his last drink before he was killed in a duel, and reportedly served Tchaikovsky the water that gave him a fatal bout of cholera.
Having been given the all-clear on cholera, the Literary Café is now an opulent and ornate setting for a first-class dining experience. The interior design is based on mid 19th Century stylings, with all sorts of antiques, dolls, and even a wax figure of Pushkin on display. The menu is a mix of Russian and European dishes, with a meal here setting you back about $20-40. The restaurant is open from 10am every day, with a 20% discount between 12 & 4 PM on weekdays, and live entertainment every night from 7 PM.
The Winter Palace
When Peter the Great founded Saint Petersburg, he ordered the construction of a number of lavish palaces in an attempt to show off the empire’s prosperity and tie it closer to Europe. The result was a city of extravagant palaces, and among these, the most elaborate of all is The Winter Palace. Originally built as a two-story wooden building, the “palace” was torn down and rebuilt three times, until the fourth Winter Palace was completed in 1762. Since then, enormous fires and changing tastes led to some updates and redesigns, but the main style of what has become one of the most gargantuan and extravagant palaces in the world has remained unchanged.
Over the course of its lifetime, the palace has been both the official residence of the Russian monarchy, and the seat of the government for a brief period. Today, the Winter Palace is home to the Hermitage Museum, which houses over 3 million artifacts and artworks, including from the likes of da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt. Admission is open from 10:30 to 5 PM, and costs about $10.
Nicknamed “The Russian Versailles”, Peterhof Palace is a collection of palaces and gardens originally built in 1703 by Peter the Great when he founded Saint Petersburg. The first iteration of the palace was designed by Peter himself, who intended to use it as his summer home, but it has undergone near-continuous renovations since then. The result is a stunning array of opulent buildings, bountiful gardens, and exuberant fountains that many argue puts Versailles to shame.
It takes about an hour to get to Peterhof via public transport, and several hours to explore the surroundings in-depth. The fastest and most interesting way to get there is by hydrofoil, which is basically the lovechild of a barge and a speedboat. At about $12, this is by far the most expensive travel option, but the experience and comfort definitely makes it worth the money. However, different parts of Peterhof charge entrance fees, even if you’ve already been in that part and are returning. Be sure to prioritise the Lower Gardens ($15) and the Grand Palace ($9), and to explore each area thoroughly before moving on.
Stroganoff Steak House
Stroganoff Steak House is the largest steakhouse in Russia, and is renowned for the quality of its beef. It is apparently the only steakhouse in Russia that dry ages and hand butchers its own meat, which is imported from the likes of Argentina, the US, Australia, and New Zealand. The menu is primarily made up of Russian dishes, such as stroganoff and caviar, although you will find some international plates, like Greek olives, wagyu, and gazpacho.
Located in the renovated barracks and stables of the old Horse Guards, this restaurant is much more subdued in its style and decoration than many of the other attractions in Saint Petersburg, but what it lacks in design, it makes up for in taste. At about $15 for a starter and up to $40 for one of their premium steaks, the restaurant is a little more on the expensive side. But with a separate room and menu for children, with babysitters available, the Stroganoff Steak House can be a great place for parents to have a nice meal without having to worry about the kids.
There is far too much to do and see in Saint Petersburg to possibly list here, but if you do find yourself on a short trip to Russia’s second city, these are four spots that definitely should not be missed. If you’ve already been to Saint Petersburg and have visited any of these spots, or think we left something out, let us know in the comments below!