There are many fascinating cities that a cruise ship visits on a Northern European sailing. All of the ports of call hold significance, but one in particular stands out as the top gem, none other than St. Petersburg in Russia. Formerly known as Leningrad prior to the 1991 fall of the USSR, this city is remarkable for the fact that it took only two decades to transform it from the Cold War relic to a top cruise destination.
St. Petersburg was founded in the year 1703 by Peter the Great. It is difficult to believe that this area was at one point swampland, seeing as how it became an attractive city. Almost immediately after its construction, it was the site of increasingly elaborate Tsarist palaces, some of which are still being restored today.
The famed onion-domed churches came shortly afterwards and the Neva river is a delight after all these years. The city was carefully plotted and planned out, taking inspiration from other great cities such as London, Paris and Vienna as well as Venice, who’s influence can be seen by the many canals and passageways that dot St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg, from 1712 to 1914 served as the capital of Russia. The city still had a large influence in culture and art after the revolution. Famous names such as Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy called St. Petersburg their home and because of this, the city seems like an enormous museum exhibit.
Touring in St. Petersburg
A new modern terminal has been built in St. Petersburg to handle all the cruise ship passengers. Previously it was antiquated and now the modern steel and glass terminal sits along the docks and has eight berths to accommodate visiting tourists.
Unfortunately, a visa is required to tour on your own and must be obtained in the UK prior to your cruise holiday. It makes sense to just take one of the prearranged ship tours as you will be covered on the ships visa.
Top Places to Visit
A visit to the Hermitage is a must. This is the Russian equivalent to the Louver and it has several moving works of Picasso, Matisse and Rembrandt. Considered the second largest art museum in the entire world, this means that you may have to make return trips just to see everything.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
Another must see attraction is St. Isaac’s Cathedral which is recognisable by its enormous golden dome. Although it was only built in the middle of the 19th century, it remains an icon of the city to this day. It is known for its surprisingly luxurious interior and as a place of worship; with mosaic murals, granite pillars and marble floors, it’s clear that no expense was spared.
The Russian Museum
The Russian Museum is the perfect place to understand the diverse Russian culture. Everything from the great works of the 12th century to the USSR are represented here and all in good condition. The museum is located on the former grounds of the Mikhailovsky Palace and the Mikhailovsky Gardens are still intact, creating excellent photograph and sightseeing opportunities.
But by far the biggest attraction in St. Petersburg are the palaces of the Romanovs. The homes of the last Tsar of Russia and his family, there are two palaces that are essential for visitors to experience; the Catherine Palace in Pushkin and Peter the Great’s Peterhof, located near the Baltic Sea. Both structures have been painstakingly restored and contain beautiful gardens.
The Catherine Palace was constructed for Russian Tsar Paul I, the only son of Catherine the Great. The highlight of the Catherine Palace is the beautiful and stunning Amber Room, which has been faithfully recreated. The effort took more than 20 years and cost the equivalent of 8 million pounds. The room had to be recreated due to the fact that the original amber panels were ransacked by the Nazis during WWII and have since been lost.
The Cruise Season
Many of the major cruise lines offer Baltic itineraries ranging from 7 to 14 nights in duration.
Celebrity, Cunard, MSC, NCL, Princess and Royal Caribbean, amongst others stop at the Port of St. Petersburg. The season is short for a Baltic cruise holiday as they generally run from April to September.
Written by Veronica Shine