St Petersburg, which served as the capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years, remains the country’s cultural capital today. Among its networks of canals, you’ll discover ornate and historic architecture, world-class museums, and fantastic dining. To ensure you make the most of your time there, we asked Olga Kachalova, Chef Concierge at Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St Petersburg, to share the best things to see and do in the city—from the museums best suited for families to the most impressive views.
Historic sites in St Petersburg
Photography Dollar Photo Club
The State Hermitage Museum, which contains more than 3 million works of art and cultural artefacts in its beautifully decorated interiors, is the perfect place to begin your immersion into St Petersburg’s vast history and dynamic culture.
Also worth a visit is the Smolny Institute, located in the city government’s main building, where you can see where Vladimir Lenin lived and worked during the Revolution. Be sure to arrange your visit at least one week in advance.
In the historic Shuvalov Palace is the Fabergé Museum, which hosts the world’s largest collection of works by renowned Russian jeweller Carl Fabergé.
The beautiful Catherine Palace, just 25 kilometres southeast of St Petersburg, once served as the summer home for Russian tsars and is a must-see.
Take a break from the hustle and bustle of St Petersburg with an early-morning jog along the city’s embankments. Get closer to nature at Pavlovsk Park, a 40-minute drive from the Hotel. Part of the Pavlovsk Palace museum complex, the traditional English-style park features narrow paths, sculptures, hidden galleries and pavilions.
If you love golf, escape the city with a round at the Gorki Golf Club, the first 18-hole golf course in the St Petersburg area.
For a taste of local life, spend a morning at Kuznechny Food Market. Considered by locals to be one of the most expensive markets, it’s the best place to discover the high-quality, fresh and authentic Russian products.
In the evening, head to Rubinstein Street, which is lined by restaurants and bars that are popular among residents. In the summer, its open terraces fill with people, capturing the lively and unique spirit of St Petersburg.
Shopping in St Petersburg
If the city streets’ impressive style scene awakens your own sartorial sensibilities, visit DLT, a luxury department store carrying high-end clothing, cosmetics and accessories. To get a local’s perspective on what’s hot and what’s not, ask one of the store’s stylists to help craft your look.
For authentic souvenirs representing traditional Russian arts, such as lacquer boxes, amber, precious and semi-precious stones, enamels, Fabergé-style items and stone carvings, visit La Petite Opera Gallery. You will find unique and limited edition products, handcrafted by local artists and professional restorers—some of whose work has been displayed at the Hermitage.
Dining in St Petersburg
To get a taste of everyday life in St Petersburg, spend some time over snacks and drinks at a local café. Café Singer, located in Dom Knigi bookstore, offers local and European specialties and excellent views of the Nevsky Prospekt, while the café at Eliseev serves delicious pastries in a historic building in one of the most beautiful parts of the city.
For lunch or an informal dinner with friends, the increasingly popular Cococo restaurant is known for modern Russian cuisine prepared with seasonal ingredients and inspired by the country’s culinary traditions.
Photography Olesya Bogach / EM restaurant
Enjoy innovative dishes at EM restaurant, a local favourite whose open-kitchen design and set monthly menu create a unique dining experience reminiscent of a private dinner party in someone’s home.
St Petersburg by the seasons
Blooming and beautiful in the summer, snow-covered and magical in the winter, St Petersburg offers attractions year round.
When the weather is warm, rent a private mini-yacht to explore the city from the Gulf of Finland. Or take time to visit the city’s green spaces: The magnificent gardens at Peterhof Museum Complex, complete with fountains and golden sculptures, offer a glimpse of an earlier era, and are best enjoyed during the summer.
For wintertime activities, ski at one of the many resorts around the city, such as Igora. The city’s best ice-skating rinks are at Ledovy Palace, where the famous SKA hockey team plays, or at Udelnyi Park’s open rink.
Photography courtesy Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
The city’s rich history begs to be explored by children, and a number of kid-friendly museums—including the Erarta Museum, the World of Water museum and the A.S. Popov Central Museum of Communication—make learning fun.
At the Grand Market Russia, all ages can see the world’s largest country captured in miniature. The Krassin icebreaker ship, which was originally built in 1917 and served during World War II, is now a floating museum.
The Hotel’s guides can also arrange special tours of St Petersburg: Learn about the “Cats of the Hermitage” on an exclusive guided museum visit, take a carriage ride through Catherine Park, or visit ballet schools to see a practice in progress.
Less than five minutes from the Hotel is the gilded dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral, originally built to be the largest cathedral in Russia. Climb 300 steps to the cathedral’s colonnade for a breathtaking view of the city. For a sight like no other, visit during the white nights—a period from May to July when the sun doesn’t descend below the horizon far enough for the sky to grow dark.
During the rest of the year, embankments and bridges throughout St Petersburg are illuminated once the sun has set, creating a magical atmosphere in the city and beautiful views over the rivers. From April to October, locals and tourists gather along the embankments every night at 1:30 am to watch the opening of the city’s bridges—one of its most spectacular sights.
A perfect day in St Petersburg
Start your tour of the city at 10:00 am, after the morning traffic, so you can easily travel from one site to another. Because the city is not compact, it’s best to explore by car. Must-see landmarks include St Isaac’s Cathedral, Palace Square and the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, and be sure to visit St Peter and Paul Fortress at noon, which is marked daily by the firing of a cannon.
Next, enjoy lunch at the Hotel’s The Tea Lounge: Taste Russian specials and teas in the relaxing and charming atmosphere. Spend the afternoon exploring the Hermitage, one of the biggest museums in the world and Europe’s best museum in 2014.
If time permits, indulge in a recovery treatment at the Hotel’s Spa to refresh after a long day of exploring, then devote your evening to a performance at the magnificent Mariinsky Theatre. Finish the day with dinner at the Hotel’s Percorso, an Italian restaurant boasting excellent views of St Isaac’s Cathedral.