Dramatic, flamboyant, opulent; it’s hard to believe that St Petersburg was once little more than swampland. Built by Peter the Great in 1703, the city served as Russia’s imperial showcase capital until the Russian Revolution and remains the country’s cultural capital today. On Friday, Princess Cruises revealed details of their 2023 European sailings, launching almost two months early due to unprecedented demand. Among them are Regal Princess cruises to the Baltic with an overnight in St Petersburg on every one. Here are some of the highlights you can expect in the ‘land of the Tsars’
Strolling through St Petersburg sends you down the rabbit hole and back to the time of the tsars. From the extravagant onion-domed exterior of the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, to the mint green, white and gold façade of the Hermitage and the antique gold walls that have witnessed a lifetime of performances in the Mariinsky Theatre; the city is a work of art in itself. For full effect, revel in the regalia of a changing of the guard ceremony in the grounds of the grand Palace Square, before casting your eye across some of the three million or more treasures contained within the neoclassical walls of the sprawling Hermitage Museum complex.
St Petersburg’s Romanov residences and imperial palaces reflect in the still Neva River, but venture a little deeper into the streets beneath the bejewelled skyline and you’ll discover a self-assured city that has two feet firmly in the present. St Petersburg holds its own against Moscow, its city-dwellers as chic and its social scene as sophisticated. The ‘white nights’ of midsummer bathe St Petersburg in a glorious glow, dusk’s moody skies stretching into the early hours of morning as the sun fails to set fully between mid-June and July. Locals raise a raucous toast to the start of summer, casting off their clothes to sunbathe at the Peter and Paul Fortress Beach during the day, before spending evenings at the Mariinsky Theatre, catching operas, theatrics and the world-famous Russian ballet, before ending with a nightcap at tables outside bars that stay open late into the night.
Despite its popularity, St Petersburg remains one of the most difficult destinations in the world to visit independently, due to Russia’s stringent visa restrictions. Travellers on an organised excursion are covered within a ship group visa held by the cruise operator, making a cruise the simplest way to see the city by far.