This was one tough list to narrow down. I really loved St Petersburg and I fear that the rest of the country may be a bit of a letdown after spending five weeks in such an amazing city. But since I am forcing myself to stick with my theme of just choosing five favorite things, here goes:
1. Petrodvorets (Peterhof)
Although not technically in St. Petersburg, Petrodvorets (also known as Peterhof) is one of the most popular day trips from the city. I struck gold when the day I planned to visit turned out to be clear and sunny – and relatively warm for mid-October. The highlight of Petrodvorets is the Grand Cascade – a huge series of fountains scattered on a hill leading to the Lower Park behind the Grand Palace. I was lucky that, due to unseasonably warm weather, officials decided to keep the fountains running later in the season than usual.
The Grand Palace at Petrodvorets is extravagant and audacious – as one would expect such a palace to be. However, I thought the interior decor had more variety than the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo (another of the popular imperial estates outside of St. Petersburg) and thus enjoyed it more. I also spent several hours wandering the grounds, which included acres of forest, gazebos, fountains and several smaller palaces and other buildings. Visiting in the summer, you could easily spend an entire day here.
2. Yusupov Palace
This may not be for everyone, but given my love of Russian history and how much I have read about the fall of the Romanov Dynasty, this was a must-see. I liked the palace itself because it was the residence of nobility, not royalty. Thus, it has a more practical feel, while still being a bit over the top. The real draw for me, though, was the Murder of Rasputin tour – for an extra 300 rubles (about $10), visitors can take a tour of the basement of the Yusupov Palace to see where the mystic Grigory Rasputin was killed (Rasputin was accused of having undue influence over Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra). The tour was only in Russian, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.
3. St. Isaac’s Cathedral
Not only is the interior spectacular, but climbing the dome provides some of the best views of the entire city. I think the pictures below speak for themselves.
4. The Metro system
I could not be more impressed with St. Petersburg’s Metro system. As a foreigner, it was easy to figure out, with English names for every station listed below the Russian names. While signs throughout the stations were in Russian, most included English wording as well. The trains ran quite efficiently – I don’t think I ever waited more than about 3 minutes to catch one. And of course, how can you not love the escalator ride down to the deepest subway in the world? (unfortunately, the entrances to the Metro have signs indicating no photography is allowed, so I have no photos to share).
5. Tikhvin Cemetery
Okay, this may be a little creepy, but I kind of like visiting cemeteries when I travel. The features and epigraphs on gravestones in different countries often intrigue me and generally I find walking through a cemetery quite peaceful. The Tikhvin Cemetery, adjacent to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, is probably the most popular cemetery to visit in St. Petersburg as several major Russian figures are buried there, including composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, author Fyodor Dostoevsky and scientist Mikhail Lomonsov.
Have you been to St. Petersburg, Russia? What were your favorite things to see or do?