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Though two days in St Petersburg can only really give a flavour of what this amazing city has to offer, 48 hours is still time enough to take in the highlights. With a compact city centre, historical hotspots and culture aplenty, this city has plenty to offer those on a short break. Here’s everything you need to know.
Stroll in the Peterhof Gardens
The Peterhof Palace and Gardens complex is one of the most impressive landmarks in St Petersburg. It was originally constructed by Tsar Peter the Great, who intended it to be comfortably halfway between the navy base of Kronstadt and the newly founded capital St Petersburg. The gardens are famed for the magnificent fountains boasting intricate designs and creative arrangements. Peterhof is accessible by public transport, though be aware that this can be tedious and confusing for speakers of languages other than Russian. The most efficient way of travelling to and from the site is to take the hydrofoil leaving from the Place Embankment at convenient intervals. The journey each way will take about 20 minutes.
Take a tour of the Hermitage Museum
In the afternoon make time to visit the State Hermitage Museum. Previously a winter imperial residence, the now art gallery exhibits over 3 million artworks. Seeing them all in a few hours is perhaps an impossible task, but you can still see the highlights and wander through the old halls and chambers. Naturally, the Hermitage is very busy and queues form ahead of opening time – visiting in the afternoon helps avoid the crowds, and allows for more room to enjoy the art. Time permitting, drop into the General Staff Building, neighbouring the Hermitage, to visit the Impressionist Art Collection.
Climb the colonnade of St Isaac’s Cathedral
A monumental landmark and one of the most stunning cathedrals in the worlds, St Isaac’s Cathedral is definitely not to be missed. To make the best of your visit there, first explore the grand interior of the cathedral and then climb to the top of the colonnade. St Isaac’s Cathedral is the best way to see St Petersburg from a bird’s eye view, and you can walk all the way around to see the city in every direction. Although the cathedral closes at 5.30pm, the colonnade is open till late and can be fitted into an early evening schedule if needs be.
Have a late night on Dumskaya Street
This modest and quiet street by day transforms into the most notorious street in the city after hours. Dumskaya is famous for nights that gradually transform into mornings. The bars there are literally lined up one after the other – perfect for a late night pub crawl. When there try the famous St Petersburg shot, Boyarsky: a mixture of vodka, grenadine and tobacco. Finish the night in a traditional manner with a shawarma Levantine meat wrap, a delicious guilty treat.
Visit the Imperial Catherine Palace
The beautifully coloured light blue façade of the Catherine Palace attracts visitors worldwide with its rich history and intricately decorated rooms. The Palace recreates the interiors of 18th century Royal life, displaying perfectly arranged dinner tables and elaborate boudoirs. A special treat is the Amber Room that disappeared during World War II and was meticulously restored using photos and memories of its contemporaries. Getting to Catherine’s Palace can be done by train from Vitebsky railway station, disembarking at Tsarskoe Selo station. Alternatively, taxis are always a safe bet and there are plenty lined up in front of the palace to return back to the city.
Explore the highlights on foot
Whether you choose to go inside certain attractions or admire them from the outside, walking is a great way to explore the city. Here’s a sample route: start out from the Peter and Paul Fortress, one of the first buildings in the city where you can learn about the historic origins of the once capital and visit the Peter and Paul Cathedral – the final resting place of the Romanov imperial family. After that, cross onto the other side of the Neva River over the Troitsky Bridge and walk across the Field of Mars, where the eternal flame burns for those who lost their lives in war. On your left you will see the St Michael’s Castle, the famously haunted landmark of the city. Keep walking to the right towards the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, built on the spot of murder of Russia’s emperor Alexander II.
Go shopping on Nevsky Avenue
Time permitting, strolling up and down Nevsky Avenue and window shopping can be great fun. The street is busy any time of the day, so best to blend into the crowd and enjoy the experience. There plenty of shops to chose from, whether it’s for clothes, souvenirs or artworks. Walking down Nevsky Avenue you will pass many historic buildings and cross over the Moika and Fontanka rivers.
Have dinner on Rubinshteyna Street
Rubinshteyna Street is home to an impressive number of establishments. There are over 50 restaurants and bars to chose from here, with cuisines hailing from different countries and bringing various vibes. Many places are restaurants that turn into bars during the later hours of the night. Walk down the street to see all it has to offer, and make your pick – if faced with a challenging choice, why not try all the places that appeal? In St Petersburg it’s customary to move from bar to bar, exploring them all in one go.