Peter the Great’s city has canals that reflect a spellbinding collection of cultural palaces, and the environment inspired many great artists and musical maestros.

Peter the Great’s city is an exercise in invention. Its canals reflect a spellbinding collection of cultural palaces, while the environment inspired many great artists, writers and musical maestros.

The former Mikhailovsky Palace, now the Russian Museum, houses one of the country’s finest art collections, including works by Ilya Repin and Kazimir Malevich. The palace, designed by Carlo Rossi, was built in 1819-1829 (00 7 812 595 4248;; Inzhenernaya; £8).

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood was built on the spot where Alexander II was killed by terrorists in 1881. It reopened in 1997 after its 7,000 sq metres of mosaics were restored (00 7 812 315 1636;; Kanal Griboyedova; £7).

Viewing the city from its canals is an idyllic way of touring St Petersburg. From May to October, find boats at the Fontanka River dock and on the Neva River outside the Hermitage and the Admiralty. Anglo Tourismo runs guided tours in English from near Anichkov Bridge (; daily tours £11).

Peter and Paul fortress is one of the city’s oldest buildings. For wonderful views, walk the Nevskaya Panorama then head inside the SS Peter & Paul Cathedral, with its 122-metre gilded spire (00 7 812 238 4550;; £5.50).

Kirovsky Islands are the outer deltas of Petrograd Side. They were granted to 18th- and 19th-century court favourites and developed into playgrounds. Accessible by Metro, they’re popular for picnics, boating and on White Nights. Rent a rowboat on Yelagin Island for £4.50 per hour.

Eat and drink
You’ll struggle to get enough of the traditional savoury and sweet pies served at Stolle cafés throughout the city and on Yelagin Island (; Konyushennaya; pies from £1.50).

 Classy, kosher restaurant LeChaim is the city’s best place for Jewish cooking. Dine on gefilte fish, stuffed pike with horseradish and chicken schnitzel with capers. Profits go towards food for the elderly and needy (00 7 812 572 5616; Lermontovsky; mains from £4.50).

The décor at Sadko uses traditional Russian floral designs in contemporary style. It has its own children’s room and is ideal as a pre- or post-theatre dining option. They also make their own pies and the waiters give impromptu vocal performances (00 7 812 920 8228; ul Glinki; mains from £6).

The charming Chekov trades on pre-Revolutionary nostalgia. Imagine you’re a guest at the great author’s home when you dine on traditional Russian dishes. Be sure to wash down your meal with gusto: choose from homemade flavoured vodkas, fruit juices and kvas – non-alcoholic beer (00 7 812 234 4511; ul Petropavlovskaya; mains from £6).

Inspired by the cookbook of Elena Molokhovets – Russia’s Mrs Beeton of the 19th century – the menu at Mechta Molokhovets covers the classics, from borsch to beef stroganoff. Their speciality is koulibiaca, a golden pastry pie of fish or rabbit and cabbage (00 7 812 929 2247;; ul Radishcheva; mains from £18).

Andrey and Sasha’s Homestay is the delightful home of a photographer and a doctor. Rooms are huge and you have the run of the kitchen, a fascinating library and a generous supply of vodka. Facilities are shared and dressing gowns and slippers are provided (00 7 812 315 3330;; nab kanala Griboedova; from £55).

A mural of Renaissance Italy graces the lobby of Art Hotel Terezinni, with more art found throughout. Rooms 201 and 214 have balconies overlooking the neighbouring St Andrew’s Cathedral (00 7 812 332 1035;; Bolshoy pr; from £110).

On the third floor of a handsome apartment building with an antique lift, the elegant Anichkov Pension has six rooms and one gorgeous apartment. The lounge offers balcony views of the bridge from which the pension takes its name (00 7 812 314 7059;; Nevsky pr; from £160).

For the price of a standard room at St Petersburg’s luxury establishments, you can live it up in pre-Revolutionary style in one of two suites at the impeccable Rossi Hotel. Its deluxe and contemporary-styled rooms are accessorised by exposed beams and brick walls (00 7 812 635 6333;; nab reki Fontanki; from £190).

Grand Hotel Europe is a historic hotel known for elegance and luxury. Deservedly popular are the 17 handsome terrace rooms, which afford spectacular city views. The Style Moderne décor, particularly of its Europe restaurant, make them worth a visit in their own right (00 7 812 329 6000;; Mikhaylovskaya ul; from £350).

Getting around
Excellent public transport includes buses, trolleybuses, trams and the Metro. The centre is best seen on foot. Station booths sell Metro tokens and cards (70p deposit, £3 for 10 trips). City centre taxis aren’t metered (; around £5).

When to go
In June and July, the long days – known as White Nights – are very special. Parks and gardens burst into colour and citizens hit the streets to party. In December, head for the Arts Square Winter Festival (

How to go
BA flies direct from Heathrow to Pulkovo-2, the main international terminal (£370; The Metro and bus connect the airport to the city centre. Bus 13 runs from Pulkovo-2 to Moskovskaya Metro (50p). You can get a taxi to the city centre (£13), but prepare to haggle. For a fee, hotels can arrange transfers, but they may cost more than a taxi.


The article 'Mini guide to St Petersburg, Russia' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.