Saint Petersburg is situated on the Neva River, at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. With 5 million inhabitants in 2012, it is Russia’s second-largest city after Moscow. An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal subject (a federal city).
It was founded by Tsar Peter the Great on 27 May [O.S. 16 May] 1703 and served as a capital of Russian Tsardom and subsequent Russian Empire in 1713-1918 (being replaced by Moscow for a short period of time in 1728-1730). After the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks moved their government to Moscow.
In modern times, Saint Petersburg is considered the Northern Capital and serves as a home to some federal government bodies such as the Constitutional Court of Russia and Heraldic Council of the President of the Russian Federation. It is also a seat for National Library of Russia and a planned location for the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it’s also referred to as Russia’s Culture Capital.
Short walking tour of city centre (approx 2 hours)
Stepping out of the Casa Leto Hotel, you will find yourself on Bolshaya Morskaya Street. Turn to the left and follow the street until you reach the beautiful St. Isaac’s Square with the statue of Nicholas I on the horse (1). Across the square you will see St. Isaac’s Cathedral, one of the architectural masterpieces of St. Petersburg (2) and on the right hand side – the famous hotel Astoria (3). Behind the statue you will see the Mariinski palace – today the meeting place of the St. Petersburg legislative assembly.
Keep the cathedral on your left and head towards the Neva River. On your way you will notice another statue, the famous Bronze Horseman of Peter the Great, the founder of the city. Once you are at the embankment, turn to the right and follow the river till you reach the Palace Bridge (4). From this point you will enjoy the view of the Arrow of Vasilievskiy Island with its Rostral columns (5) and the Peter and Paul Fortress – the spot where the city was founded (6).
Follow the route to discover the grand Palace Square with its Alexander Column and the Winter Palace – the main building of the Hermitage museum (7).
Opposite to the Winter Palace is the neoclassic building of the former General Headquarters and the Arc de Triumph, creation of Carlo Rossi, the famous Italian architect.
Cross the square in the direction of the narrow Moika River and go along the river by its right bank. On your way you will find a number of outstanding mansions of the 19th century which belonged to aristocratic families. Do not miss Moika, 12 once the home of Alexander Pushkin, perhaps the greatest Russian poet (you may enter the courtyard and see his monument). Go on until you see the golden domes of the Our Saviour on the Blood, the superb “Russian-style” church (8).
If you make a circle around the church you will see an entrance to the Mikhailovsky garden, where the royals used to take their walks. If you are enthusiastic enough, you may also take a walk around the garden and admire the beauty of the Mikhailovskiy palace located inside (9). Otherwise, just continue along the Griboedov canal, which will lead you to Nevsky prospect, the city’s most famous street (10).
Once on Nevsky, you can’t miss the majestic Kazan Cathedral with its colonnade of 96 columns (11). Follow Nevsky to your right and discover the splendid facades of the past and the hectic life of the present.
In about 15-minutes time you will see the street leading to the Arc de Triumph on your right. Do not give in to temptation and instead cross Nevsky and turn to the left. Once again, you are on Bolshaya Morskaya, 5 minutes from the Casa Leto Hotel.