The eternal capital of the tsars, St. Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great and is a true gem. The former Leningrad was built on the canals of the Neva, and is nicknamed the 'Venice of the North'. The Hermitage is a must-see for art lovers, one of the most prestigious museums in the world, but the Pushkin and Dostoevsky Museums, not forgetting the Russian Museum, are not to be missed either. If you're not afraid of crowds, come during the White Nights in June and take in an opera or a ballet under the midnight sun. The city's nerve centre, the incredible Nevsky Prospekt stretches across 2.8 mi from the Winter Palace (the residence of the imperial families until 1917) to the Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra (monastery). Theatre lovers can take in a show at the Mariinsky Theatre, while the Bolshoi Puppet Theatre and the St. Petersburg Circus will delight puppet and circus fans alike. Other not to be missed sites in the surrounding areas of St. Petersburg include the Tsarskoye Selo, Lomonosov, and Peterhof Imperial Palaces, the gardens of which rival those of Versailles in Paris, the Mirozhsky Monastery at Pskov listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Novgorod Kremlin. Organised cruises on the Volga depart from St. Petersburg towards Moscow. Finally, discover Russia's nature on a walk though the forests, mountains and lakes of Karelia, stretching from Lake Ladoga to the Arctic Circle. Winter sports enthusiasts can ski until June in the Khibiny Mountains of the Murmansk region.
A trip to St. Petersburg isn't complete without a visit to the Hermitage Museum. It is one of the most highly acclaimed museums in the world, with 400 rooms and 6 miles of galleries displaying 5% of the world's artistic heritage. Works of art of this standing couldn't be housed in just any building, thus they were installed in the 5 magnificent monuments that make up the former state residence of the Russian emperors: the Winter Palace, the Hermitage Theatre, and the Small, Great and New Hermitages. Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci, Poussin, Renoir and Botticelli are all exhibited here.
It may be a little less fascinating than its sister establishment, the Russian Museum, but it does offer an illuminating tour of the country, from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Fans of Russian literature will enjoy visiting the Pushkin House, where you can wander through the writer's faithfully reconstructed apartment, or the Dostoevsky Museum, which is emblematic of the city.
St. Petersburg boasts almost a hundred theatres and operas, some known worldwide, others more secret. If you're more of a nature buff than a fan of culture, head out of St. Petersburg to explore the forests and lakes of Karelia.
Not only is the city of St. Petersburg extremely rich in both culture and architecture, its suburbs are too. Just 31 miles away lie towns with incredible monuments like the Tsarskoye Selo, with its imperial residence that is almost as luxurious as the Château of Versailles in Paris. You can also visit Alexander Palace and the secondary school that Pushkin attended.
18 miles away, Peterhof is full of palaces and beautifully decorated gardens. In fact, the complex was designed after Peter I of Russia visited Versailles.
The more adventurous might want to travel to Novgorod, a former Viking stronghold, 120 miles from St. Petersburg.
With its squares with gorgeous buildings and sparkling palaces, St. Petersburg is like a love drug for those who are passionate about architecture and history. Start with the Peter and Paul Fortress, which strangely brings to mind the architecture of Vauban. At the heart of its grounds is the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral with its 120m-high gilded spires. After having witnessed the traditional canon fire from the fortifications (midday, every day), you can cross the Troitski Bridge to have a magnificent panorama of the city. For another fabulous view, head to the Dvortsovy Bridge, which will take you to Dvortsovaia Square on Spassky Island. This is where you will find the ultra famous baroque-style Hermitage buildings and Winter Palace, which were inspired by Italian painters. The city actually displays many foreign influences, as witnessed by the New Holland district and the Champ De Mars esplanade, which is full of French gardens. Nevsky is the equivalent of Paris' Champs-Elysées. The 2.8 mile long street links the Admiralty building to the Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra. This area is packed with museums, art galleries, trendy shops, palaces and churches.