The Hermitage and canals of the 'Venice of the North’ - UNESCO World Heritage-listed St Petersburg
St Petersburg is Russia’s city of letters, and a look around the private residences of the country’s finest writers is not only unmissable for literature buffs, but gives a fascinating insight into behind-closed-doors life in Russia. Overlooking a beautiful stretch of the Moyka River is Alexander Pushkin’s house, reconstructed to look as it did when the poet lived here. To tour the flat is not only to walk through 19th century urban Russian life, but also holds some morbid extras – Pushkin's death mask, a lock of his hair, and the waistcoat he wore on the day of his fateful duel. The Dostoevsky Museum is another preserved-in-aspic treasure, a time capsule of 1881, when Fyodor lived and wrote some of his finest work here. And the nearby Nabokov Museum was, the author said, ‘paradise lost’, a beautiful little museum housed in the author’s childhood home, which is working checking out not least for its excellent programme of events.
St Petersburg has streets that reward exploration, fine riverside walks and an excellent selection of restaurants, but there is one sight that occupies the top line of every visitor’s ‘must do’ list: the State Hermitage. A giant among museums, a magnificent collection of buildings – the finest of which is the Winter Palace – house innumerable artistic and cultural treasures. From ancient Egypt relics to Renaissance masterpieces through to 20th century cutting edge avant-garde, a day doesn’t do justice to this place. Heck, even a week might not. Dripping with sublime works of art, housed in well over one thousand rooms – pick your favourite areas and plan your visit, but be sure to also just wander the halls of the magnificent buildings – as splendid as the creations that hang on their walls.
An essential St Petersburg experience: walk the 2.5km of downtown Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main drag. From the Winter Palace, over canals, past grand palaces and churches, through vibrant squares, Nevsky is a non-stop, buzzing ramble through some of the country’s finest architecture and liveliest cafe culture. Take your time: each block boasts beautiful buildings, often abutting gardens of squares, perfect for lingering. Russia’s own Champs Elysees is never dull and very often spectacular, a people-watching treat and a centrepiece of Russia’s artistic, cultural and commercial life.