St Petersburg is Russia’s second city, but in terms of tourism it is number one. With its fascinating history, magical architecture and world-leading museums is not hard to work out why the Northern Capital, as it is often referred to in Russia, is so popular among tourists. Peter the Great founded this European-facing city on the Baltic by building a fortress and draining the swamps - the resulting canals have given the city another of its nicknames: the Venice of the North. The new city heralded a new era in Russian history and became the capital of the empire Peter subsequently established. The imperial residence was moved from the Moscow Kremlin to St Petersburg’s Winter Palace and Peter forced other nobles to do the same. Peter’s successors added to the city’s design and employed leading architects to beautify the city and give it its unique appearance.
In its history the city has been known as St Petersburg, Petrograd and Leningrad, and each incarnation reflects a different period of Russian history which you can get an insight of through visiting: the exuberance of imperial St Petersburg, the revolutionary mood of Petrograd and the unimaginable suffering of the Blockade of Leningrad - for which it was awarded the title of Hero City of the Soviet Union.
In addition, as the Cultural Capital of Russia, St Petersburg is also home to many house-museums of famous Russian artists, composers, painters and poets, not to mention the Mariinsky Theatre and the the State Hermitage - one of the world’s largest collections of art, although even these wonderful artworks are often overshadowed by the stunning interiors of Winter Palace where they now hang. As well as the palaces located in the city itself, there are addition summer residences located in the neighbouring cities of Peterhof, Pushkin (Tsarskoe Selo), Pavlovsk, Lomonosov (Oranienbaum) and Gatchina, which make for excellent day trips from St Petersburg.
One final reason why St Petersburg is Russia’s most popular tourist destination is the cruises that include a visit to the city, and a special visa regime has even been set up for those visiting the city in this way. Alternatively, it is also very easy to combine a trip to both Moscow and St Petersburg as many flights, overnight trains and express trains connect the two Russian cities.