Tsar Peter the Great of Russia, because of his interest in establishing trade relations with nations across the seas, established a city along the Neva River that connected to the Baltic Sea through the Gulf of Finland in 1703. He named the city St. Petersburg in honor of his patron saint and namesake, St. Peter the Apostle. Nine years later, he made the city his capital, moving it from Moscow. There it remained, except from 1728 to 1732 under Peter II, as the Russian capital until the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.
Having been the capital city during the time of the Tsars and Tsarinas, St. Petersburg boasts of magnificent palaces, churches, and buildings. These were quite fortunate to have been spared during the two world wards, and today, they are major tourist attractions.
Visitors to St. Petersburg can start with Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. Also known as Summer Palace, the sprawling blue and gold royal residence is surrounded by a complex of parks with manicured gardens, some of which feature life size statues and fountains. You can also tour the palace’s interior and have a taste of how Russian royalty wallowed in opulence with walls decorated in scrollwork gilt in gold, floors made of the most exquisite of woods, and staircases of the best marbles.
The Hermitage Museum is another must-see. The Hermitage is actually a complex of several buildings where its over 3 million art works, including some of the works of Rubens, Da Vinci, and Rembrandt, are either displayed or stored. The main complex includes six buildings: the Winter Palace, used by the tsars and tsarinas; the Old, New, and Small Hermitage buildings; Hermitage Theater; and the Reserve House. Apart from this, there is also the General Staff Building, which houses newer exhibits; the Menshikov Palace, which displays original 18th century interior design; and the Museum of Porcelain, which features porcelain art not only from Russia but abroad as well.
St. Petersburg began as a fortress built by Peter the Great on Hare Island along the northern bank of the Neva River. Called the Peter and Paul Fortress, it was built to protect the city from military attacks. It was used as a military garrison for the city, and eventually as a prison for high-ranking and political prisoners.
Within the walls of the fortress is Peter and Paul Cathedral, which was built along Baroque architecture. Except for Peter II and Ivan VI, all Russian tsars are buried within the grounds of the cathedral.
If you plan on visiting St. Petersburg, be prepared for an extended stay as the city certainly has many more attractions to offer.