A direct flight to St. Petersburg will only take 3hr 15mins. It is a good idea to get your hotel to organise a taxi to meet you at the airport when you arrive. Even in a heavy downpour of snow it took us 40 mins to get into the centre of the city and arrive at our hotel - the magnificent Four Seasons.
We unpacked our bags and quickly headed down to the Xander Bar for a celebratory tipple. I ordered an off-the-menu cocktail (I don’t often drink but with Russia being famous for vodka it would be rude not too)!
St. Petersburg has an outstanding history and reputation for the calibre of music performed with many concerts, ballets and operas on every night which are well worth a visit if you can. I was lucky to find that by a complete coincidence, my wonderful friend and old mentor Jesus Leon happened to be performing in the main hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic - one of the top concert venues in St Petersburg. It was a joy to see him on stage and especially so given our surroundings.
After the concert, we walked to Tsar Restaurant to experience some traditional Russian cuisine. It was incredibly delicious and exactly what we needed given the sub-zero temperatures outside! (Insider tip - Make sure you check out the loo)!
Waking up in the Four Seasons Hotel, a converted palace, you do feel like a princess as everything is so perfect, espeically the enormous breakfast! You'll be relieved you indulged though if you head out to St Isaac's Cathedral (next door) and climb the stairs to the dome! The view is sensational and we got our first glimpse far across a snow covered city. After venturing to the top we went back down and inside, the Cathedral certainly did not disappoint with its' multitude of emerald coloured columns, the cathedral is filled with marble and 40 types of semi-precious stones. Possibly the most beautiful church I have ever visited.
Given the freezing cold and slight time pressure with all we wanted to fit in, we werent super-keen to spend too long outside! As we left the cathedral we stumbled upon a City Bus just about to depart - it takes an hour or so and gives you a fantastic guided tour of the city, covering all the main sights and providing fantastic insight to the history and stories behind these iconic places. It's definetly worthwhile as you see so much!
Once we got off the bus it was time to stretch our legs so we walked to the river which had completely frozen. St. Petersburg is completely flat and although it was very cold (-5 celsius) with lots of buildings it doesn’t feel too bad.
We ventured The Hermitage – the former residence of the Tsar which contains one of the world's largest art collections. After this the Winter Palace, which you can’t miss, with it being painted bright green and very ornate - you are immediately drawn to it. Now you can spend hours in this building but after 3 we'd reached our limit and it was time for us to move on. My favourite room is the Pavilion Hall with a beautiful Peacock Clock.
After a long day of exploring, we went back to our hotel for a quick change and headed out to the renowned & historic L’Europe Restaurant at Belmond Grand Hotel. The food was divine and we each sampled the Traditional Russian Tasting menu. The staff were extremely accommodating when I asked for something to be changed dueto an allergy. The restaurant is known for a special performance night and the evening featured live opera singers, pianist and wonderful ballet. The only shame was to find this once bustling venue only had booked 6 tables on this Friday night - it would appear that the historical restaurant has fallen out of fashion. However, it was still a wonderful experience.
We headed off down the streets alongside the canal to the Church of Spilled Blood - a traditional Russian church. It obtained its' name as it was built as a memorial to Alexander II on the site of his assassination. The mosaic designed walls are one of a kind artworks covering & spreading over 75,000sq ft. of the church.
As you leave the church there is a small market outside, this was the only one I saw where you could buy traditionally designed little Christmas gifts and Russian dolls. Across from the church there is Mikhayloyskiy Gardens which are incredibly beautiful and look onto the Russian Museum. We walked down the main street – Nevskiy Prospekt taking in some of the sights and ounds along one of St Petersburg's busest streets and the centre of local tourist activity. It is worth popping into the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, across the road from a Starbucks and if you are travelling at winter time there is nothing better than a hot & familiar coffee!
We ventured further and found the Fabergé Museum and given its' historic rooting in this city we decided to go in, Take note - this was probably the most expensive museum we went into over our short stay (not sure why they charge so much) however the collection was absolutely beautiful.
After a tiring day, we retired to our hotel to relax for a bit before heading downstairs to the Four Seasons' own flagship restaurant - Percorso - voted one of the best restaurants in St. Petersburg! It certainly did not disappoint especially as it was white truffle season... we definitely overindulged before being rolled back to our room to retire.
Our final day in St Petersburg, we decided to travel to Peter and Paul Fortress which was a short 10 min drive from our hotel. Thankfully Uber is very reliable in the city making it relatively cheap and easy to get around town. The fortress sits on an island and was built to protect the city. The island fortress is filled with a cathedral, prison, beach and various museums. If like me, you grew up with stories about Anastacia then you ill be pleased to know that this is where the Royal family were buried, in the beautiful cathedral. Make sure you find the Neva Gate which once you have gone through has amazing views of the city, a great way to finish our beautiful weekend in Russia.
Four Seasons – Without a doubt is the best hotel!
Safety –Be careful, St. Petersburg was the capital for crime in Russia, we were warned to not walk around late (speaking English loudly).
Do not take the tube late and stay in the touristy area, saying this we never had any problems and found everyone very friendly.
Weather – St. Petersbugh is cold, wrap up- make sure you have a good breakfast before you set off for the day.
Food – Food is very good in St. Petersburg
The Language – We were surprised that not many people spoke English in St. Petersburg bear in mind that it usually takes people 5-10 years to learn Russian. Going to Museums it was best to just point at the tickets you wanted and hand over the money.
Visa – Make sure you apply in advance and once you have filled out the form online you must go within to the Russian Visa office within 24hrs.