Saint Petersburg was known as Leningrad for most of the Soviet era, but now it’s back to its original name. This huge city was the home to the czars and the cultural center of Russia until the communists shifted that honor to Moscow, so this city has more classic architecture and history than anywhere else in the country. St. Petersburg is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North” as the Neva River that runs through town is lined with grand palaces.
What To Do
The Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace is not only the top attraction in the city, it’s one of the finest museums in the world. The monstrous structure was once a palace and now houses over 3 million pieces from all over the planet, including works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, and Michealangelo. Students get in free and non-students can join a tour in one of the many languages offered for less than the normal admission price. This is a don’t-miss attraction.
The historic city center itself was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and time should be set aside just to wander through and appreciate the classic buildings and churches. The city is like an outdoor architectural museum and there is no shortage of stunning buildings to admire. The St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan are two of many unforgettable buildings here.
If you are already in Helsinki, Moscow, or the Baltic region you can travel to Saint Petersburg by train. But if you are coming from any greater distance you’ll want to book a flight into Pulkova Airport (code: LED). It’s a major airport and hub so good deals should not be too difficult to find. Taxis into the city are very expensive so the best method is to take a minibus shuttle to a local metro station and ride the metro into the center from there.
Where To Stay
Saint Petersburg is a very large city, but the center is particularly appealing so it might be worth it to pay a bit extra for a central location rather than saving a bit of money and spending a lot of time going back and forth. There are many hostels in St. Petersburg and the usual variety of hotels in St. Petersburg as well. Summer is peak time here, but the winters are more mild than you might imagine at this latitude so as long as you dress for the occasion visiting off-season can be enjoyable.