48 hours in St Petersburg
Our Russia specialist John spent two days in St Petersburg and discovered a city packed with dramatic history, stunning cathedrals, irresistible culture and some great dining. Here are his suggestions on how best to spend your time.
Enjoy breakfast on your balcony at the Pushka Inn, overlooking the canal and the gloriously impressive building façades that make St Petersburg such an attractive city to visit. From here you are perfectly positioned to head off on our tried-and-tested walking route around the city’s highlights.
Begin by strolling along the embankment towards the museum apartment of poet Alexander Pushkin. The route then crosses the canal and enters Palace Square, where you can marvel at the spectacularly grand Winter Palace – used recently as a filming location in the BBC’s War and Peace adaptation – before continuing through the statues and fountains of the Alexandrovsky Garden.
Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood
Turn into Ploshchad Dekabristov Square, where you can see the Bronze Horseman statue and get a great view across the Neva River towards the Peter and Paul Fortress on Vasilyevsky Island. Regain your strength by stopping for a deliciously thick hot chocolate – the best in the city – at the Cafe Astoria, which overlooks St Isaac’s Cathedral.
Make your way back to Nevsky Prospekt for lunch in Cafe Singer, located above the famous Dom Knigi bookshop and opposite the striking Kazan Cathedral. My favourite here is their borscht (beetroot soup), followed by a delicious sweet pastry.
St Isaac's Cathedral in winter, St Petersburg
After lunch, wander past the stately Belmond Grand Hotel Europe to turn into Arts Square. Here you can visit the Russian Museum, or alternatively continue on to the wonderfully colourful Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, which is just as vibrant inside as out. Return to Nevsky Prospekt, from where you can take a relaxing cruise along one of the many canals to see the city’s remarkable buildings from a different perspective.
Make your way to the Fabergé Museum, where you can see displays of these sumptuous eggs, given as gifts by Russia’s royal family, as well as other beautiful pieces of art and decorative objects. For an unforgettable dinner experience, head to the Bellevue Brasserie on the top floor of the Kempinski Moika 22 Hotel. The food here is delicious, but you can’t beat the spectacular 360-degree panorama, which encompasses all the city’s historical landmarks. Try the caviar (when in Russia…), Kamchatka crab and the dorado with bouillabaisse sauce followed by cocktails as you savour the view.
The Hermitage, St Petersburg
After another delicious breakfast at the Pushka Inn, meet your guide and head to the Hermitage to explore the world’s largest collection of fine art and artefacts. Your guide will also take you to smaller, more private exhibitions in the grandiose General Staff Museum on Palace Square.
Walk to the Eliseyev Emporium on Nevsky Prospekt, a beautiful Art Nouveau store with a delicatessen-style interior reminiscent of Fortnum & Mason. This is a great place for a light lunch, but if you’re looking for something more filling after the morning’s surfeit of art, near the Hermitage is Stolle, where you can sample plenty of sweet or savoury Russian pies.
Matryoshka Nesting Russian Doll
Make your way to the excellent Russian Vodka Room No.1, which has over 200 different types of vodka, to indulge in a tasting experience.
For an early dinner, walk to nearby Teplo, which serves delectable Russian and international dishes in a cosy atmosphere. Here I recommend an appetiser of traditional potato pancakes with slices of salmon and cream sauce, followed by a filet mignon served with either cognac and mustard or cowberries in red wine.
St Petersburg is one of the greatest cities in the world for ballet and opera and I highly recommend asking us to book a performance for you while you’re here. There are several exceptional theatres, and while the Mariinsky is perhaps the most famous, my favourite is the more centrally located, but no less spectacular, Mikhanlovsky Theatre. Both the setting and ballet perfectly embody the classic beauty of St Petersburg, making this a truly wonderful way to end your stay in the city.
Our top tips
'Make sure you climb the colonnade of St Isaac's Cathedral, where you'll be rewarded with great views of the city' Chris Moore
'Rossi Street (next to the Rossi Hotel) is often overlooked but intriguing street to visit - its height and width are identical (22 metres) and its length (220 metres) is exactly ten times its width' Jessica Hilton
'Visit one of the city's beautiful churches on a Sunday morning to see a Russian Orthodox service' Nick Slater