Let’s be real: 48 hours is simply not enough time to take in the culture, history and must-see tourist sights of St Petersburg, aka the Venice of the North. But if 48 hours is all you have, then here’s what you REALLY need to do to make the most of your time in Russia’s second most populous city.
The Russian Museum
St. Petersburg has a variety of nicknames, including the Culture Capital. Indeed, the city is filled with museums, palaces, theatres, parks and monuments. The best way to your journey here is to go and visit the Russian Museum. Opened in 1895 by the last emperor Nicholas II, this establishment is the very first state museum of Russian fine arts. It occupies several palaces around the city but the key exhibition is at the Mikhailovsky Palace, just a few steps away from the iconic Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. The museum has a remarkable collection of top Russian artists’ works, ancient icons, decorative art, etc. But this is the ambience that makes it a truly special place. Keep in mind that the Russian Museum doesn’t work on Tuesdays.
Take a stroll around the city centre
The historical centre of the city is amazing to say the least. To admire its perfection (sometimes, the reality penetrates it in a bad way but still…) take a walk from the Church of the Savior on Blood along Griboedov channel to the south west right to another landmark the St. Isaac’s Cathedral, which has a must-visit rooftop terrace. You’ll also have to traverse Nevsky, the key avenue, and make sure you stop at the Admiralty, constructed in early 19th century. Its tall spire features a golden warship weather-vane, that is one of the city’s focal points.
Summer Garden and Field of Mars
These are two of the most beautiful parks in St. Petersburg’s historical centre. Both are adjacent to the Neva river. The Summer Garden is also home to the Summer Palace, Emperor Peter the Great’s cosy residence that sits right on the bank of the Fontanka river. Named after the Roman god, the Field of Mars resembles the same establishment in Paris. During the Soviet regime, it was used as a burial place for famous revolutionaries.
Peter and Paul Fortress
This is where St. Petersburg started a little more than three centuries ago. It lies on a Hare Island, opposite the Winter Palace. After serving as a citadel and a barrier against Sweden in early 1700s war, it became a prison, which saw the Decembrists, writers Fedor Dostoevsky and Maxim Gorky, political figures Lev Trotsky and Josep Tito. The key building here, though,is not the prison but the cathedral where all Russian emperors from the city-founder Peter the Great to Alexander III are buried in stone tombs. In the meantime, its 122,5-metre bell tower is the tallest building in St. Petersburg’s city centre. The view from the observation platform atom is well-worth climbing hundreds of steps.
Likely the best Russian fine arts museum (at least its main collection) is encamped in the Winter Palace, former emperors’ residence. Walking in its astonishing galleries, figuratively touching the history, admiring the greatest masters are an indulgence that you should never avoid. Don’t forget to stare in windows from the second floor and imagine how royal families and artistocracy looked at the Neva River from the very same spot.
This a huge complex of palaces, fountains and parks outside of St. Petersburg. Getting there is an adventure as you will enjoy a fast 30-something-minute ride in a hydrofoil called Meteor (www.peterhof-express.com). It’s definitely worth visiting in summer when the imperial glory becomes alive. Besides history and classicist beauty of Peterhof’s adorable buildings, the nature is another plus here. Expect to see squirrels, birds and butterflies over and over again.
Don’t forget where you are, it’s time to eat some typical Russian food. Named after famous 19th-century writer, the place is very intimate and cute. Borscht, Olivier salad, solyanka and many other classic Russian dishes dishes will make you want to stay for longer than 48 hours or dream about coming back.
Channel boat trip
There is a fair number of rivers and channels that carve St. Petersburg’s historical centre because Peter the Great wanted his city to surpass Amsterdam that he truly adored. Taking a small water tram on Moika, Fontanka or Griboedova channel will help you to see beautiful streets, palaces and churches from another angle.
A Northern competitor to Moscow’s Bolshoi, the Mariinsky is an absolute must if you like ballet or opera. In addition to a historical building, in 2013, the theatre has opened an ultra-modern second stage, which was widely criticized by citizens and architects (it was even compared to a giant “concrete box”), but the repertoire and atmosphere are still unbelievable.
Don’t go home before seeing a drawbridge opening. There are nine such bridges in St. Petersburg, you can even check the schedule to see when they open. Drawbridges are true symbols of the city and they affect locals and visitors: every night there is a period when you have no chance to cross the Neva River by car or public transport or foot.