Think for a minute of Peter The Great, all of 31 years old, sailing off the Neva, bloodthirsty, ambitious, swathed in skins, freshly victorious in the Great Northern War, who conquered this frozen land and said, I'll build a custard-coloured palace here, and gild it with gold. Welcome to St Petersburg.
At the Four Seasons! If you’re ever planning on indulging in a fancy hotel room, here’s where to do it. Housed in the Lion Palace, The Four Seasons is perfectly located, gorgeous, and impeccably serviced. They have a great bar, a decent Asian restaurant for when you crave something spicy (guaranteed to happen by day three of your trip), breakfast service until late and a pool on crack, set under a humongous sunroof, heated precisely to 32 degrees Celsius, lined with crystal chandeliers and tricked out with too many Jacuzzi jets to count.
Eat & Drink
We went in the summer, when rooftops are a thing: stop by Mansarda, a lush green terrace hidden away in an office complex, for good fish, great dessert and gorgeous cocktails; Terrassa for a view of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and a bit of a scene; and the rooftop of the W Hotel for a thumping Saturday night. Warning: We’re pretty sure they won’t serve you if you’re not in six-inch heels.
This isn’t a city where you want to skip the touristy stuff; it’s all worth visiting, the lines are usually well-managed and not too long.
Georgian food is having a moment right now, which explains all the Khachapuri popping up on menus across town (we even spotted it at a sushi bar), but if you’re looking for an authentic meal, go toTarkhum, and let the servers order for you. The Idiot is a charming, jumbled restaurant by the canals, dotted with typewriters and gas-lamps, made comfortable with squishy chairs and a welcome vodka-shot, populated by local writers, Dostoevsky fans and a few tourists. In a city where the local food can be uneven at best, here you’ll find an authentic, pleasing meal. Speaking of famous writers, there’s Gogol’s, a restaurant apparently set in Gogol’s old apartment: gimmicky, but the tarte tartin, blackberry-infused vodka and dashing gent playing the piano in the parlour are worth stopping by for.
Bushe is a chain of coffee shops that’s getting really popular in the city. Tipplers, Dead Poets Bar and Bar 812 are all on the same street, and fun on a Friday night.
Take a day to just stare up at the buildings, and when indoors, always, always look at the ceiling. In all our travels, we haven’t seen anything like the fairytale opulence of Saint Petersburg, best exemplified by theHermitage Museum, housed in The Winter Palace, former home of the Royal family. You can spend days here, and would benefit greatly from a personal tour by one of the in-house guides. Wrangle your way into the Diamond Room: they keep all the jewelry here.
Also, this isn’t a city where you want to skip the touristy stuff; it’s all worth visiting, lines are usually well-managed and not too long. Walk everywhere if the weather permits, or climb on a hop-on-hop-off bus.
Obviously, go to the ballet. We love the historic Mariinsky Theater, recently restored and boasting a great schedule; their 2016-17 season is now closed, but even an out-of-season performance of the Nutcracker here is magical, considering this is the theatre Tchaikovsky originally scored it for 125 years ago.
If you’re anything like us, a “super-fast” speedboat ride on the Neva will be the best 15 minutes of your trip, but hold on tight.
All the oligarchs apparently fly to Milan for their shopping, but we found plenty of stuff to bring back. Comb through the top floor of Au Pont Rouge, St Pete’s answer to Dover Street Market, and you’ll find treasures like a white shirt with bow by Victor and Rolf; tapestry Isa Arfen pants; floral dresses by Giambi and a perfectly tattered Rodarte shirt, all marked down by up to 50% percent. Adress has a hit-or-miss selection of local designers. And if you want a tutu and ballet slippers (of course you do) stop by the Grishko dance shop.
The Russian visa process can seem daunting, but in truth it’s quite painless and quick: our Indian passports were processed and shipped back to Mumbai less than a week after submission to the embassy in Delhi.
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