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Top 10 things to do in St Petersburg

Churches, cathedrals, palaces, fortresses... and vodka: the best things to see, do, and drink in St. Petersburg.

Amazing architecture of all sorts abounds in stately St. Petersburg, both above ground and under. Mike Sammels takes a look at the top 10 things to do in Russia’s second city. And drinks vodka.

1. Take a trip on the metro

The journey is almost definitely more important than the destination when travelling via the metro in St Petersburg. Each station’s decoration is palatial, with exquisite artwork and decorations, making it easily one of the most beautiful subways in the world. B because St Petersburg has a largely one-way driving system, it’s much easier to get around underground (and affordable too, at around 75p per journey). It also happens to be the deepest subway in the world, so prepare yourself for some long escalator journeys.

More: 15 most beautiful underground stations: in pictures

Avtovo station, St Petersburg © Alex Florstein

2. St Isaac’s Cathedral

St Isaac’s, the world’s fourth largest cathedral, has undergone a tumultuous history, including being stripped of religious trappings and turned into a museum during the Soviet era, but the building has remained remarkably intact. The interior has a huge amount marble and granite, and the 100-metre-tall dome is plated in pure gold, although it was painted grey during the Second World War to avoid attracting attention from enemy aircraft.

St Isaac's Cathedral, St Petersburg

3. The Hermitage Museum

Continuing the ‘grand and old’ theme, the Hermitage Museum is one of the largest and oldest in the world, having been founded in 1764. It is a museum of art and culture situated among several buildings, including the Winter Palace, that are themselves of historic note, and are often just as, if not more impressive than the items they showcase inside.

Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

4. Grand Peterhof Palace and Grand Cascade

The Peterhof Palace is, as palaces go, fairly small, although beautiful. However, the real beauty is its grounds. Based on French styles, from the Grand Cascade fountains to the tranquil lower gardens, it is known as the ‘Russian Versailles’.

Grand Cascade, St Petersburg

5. Peter and Paul Fortress

Home to the State Museum of St Petersburg and filled with many beautiful buildings, the Peter and Paul Fortress is an essential visit. The cathedral within the complex is especially worth a look: the massive bell tower means you won’t be able to miss it. In the summer, the sands surrounding the base of the castle walls turn into a prime sunbathing spot. It gets extremely busy, but braving the crowds is worth it so you can say you went sunbathing in the centre of St Petersburg.

Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg

6. Boat trip on the Neva

Get acquainted with the sights of the city from the comfort of a seated position by taking a boat trip on the River Neva. Tours cost as little as £5, so it’s definitely worth it if you have a couple of hours spare.

Neva River, St Petersburg

7. Nevsky Prospekt

With its souvenir shops, palaces and cathedrals, Nevsky Prospekt will probably be on your list, but being at the hub of metro lines, you’ll probably end up there without even trying.

Nevsky Prospekt © Alexander Savin

8. Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

This Russian Orthodox church goes by many names and, depending on who you talk to, you’re almost certainly going to get a different name each time. It is festooned with crazy blue and gold domes on the outside, and inside is covered with exquisite mosaics.

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg © Rob Flickr Creative Commons

9. Drink Russian vodka

In short, we drink vodka wrong. Really wrong. A trip to Russia will make you realise that sipping it pre-frozen shot glass is how it should be done, not mixing it with cola or orange juice. The Vodka Room is particularly worth visiting to indulge your newfound passion, as it serves a selection of over 200 vodkas. The Vodka Museum is also worth a look, but bear in mind that there is no English translation for the bulk of the museum – so unless you have a translator it can be a bit of a struggle.

Vodka on ice in St Petersburg © Fotorus

10. Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kronstadt

Kornstadt Naval Cathedral is another orthodox cathedral that demands a visit. Recently reconsecrated in order to be used for its intended purpose, chandeliers, a beautiful inlaid floor and colourful mosaic walls decorate its interior.

Kronstadt Naval Cathedral, St Petersburg

Video by Pavel Tenyakov.

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