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Since being founded by Tsar Peter the Great and built on a desolate swamp, St. Petersburg—the former capital of the Russian Empire—has become a national symbol of historical heritage, vibrant cultural life, and sheer beauty. The city’s canals and grand architecture, drawn with bright colors and white light, show why so many of Russia’s famous artists and poets have sprung from the so-called Venice of the North. Taking a city tour with a local guide is a sure way to best explore the city’s highlights and deeply understand their history. Tours explore the magnificent Baroque-style Winter Palace (formerly home to Empress Catherine the Great, and now part of the State Hermitage Museum), the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva River, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Peterhof Palace, the Fabergé Museum, and more. You could spend years admiring the State Hermitage Museum’s astounding collection of fine art, comprised of works by everyone from Raphael to Rembrandt to Renoir—tackle its 2.7 million pieces on a guided tour. For even more culture, enjoy a Russian folk show at Nikolayevsky Palace. And you can’t miss the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, which—with its dramatic name and many towers—has become an emblem of this majestic Russian city.
St. Petersburg fires on all cylinders winter and spring, when its weather hits the sweet spot of comfortably hot and dry. Outdoor events come thick and fast December through June, from holiday-season boat parades and the Firestone Grand Prix in March, to April’s Mainsail Art Festival, and Pride in June. Crowds thin when late summer brings muggy heat and a hurricane risk.
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