St. Petersburg See And Do
The city that gave birth to Russian literature, Russian music, and the ballet didn't, post-communism, just settle for being a showcase of magnificent art and architecture—though it is that too, of course. Tourism has been fueling the rebirth from the first, and is now responsible for Vatican-length lines for the Winter Palace (32 Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya; 7-812-710-9079 or 7-812-571-8446; www.hermitagemuseum.org; closed Mon) and Catherine Palace (7 Ulitsa Sadovaya, Pushkin; 7-812-465-2281; www.tzar.ru; closed Tues and the last Mon of each month). Renovated landmarks include the Baroque Stroganov Palace, containing the Russian Museum's decorative-arts collections and Andrei Voronikhin interior (17 Nevsky Prospekt); the congress palace, Konstantinovsky (3 Beriozovaya Alleya, Strelna; 7-812-438-5884; www.hermitagemuseum.org); the Mikhailovsky Castle (2 Ulitsa Sadovaya; 7-812-313-4112); the Alexander Column on Palace Square; and in Tsarskoye Selo, the Catherine Palace, including the unbelievable Amber Room, totally reconstructed after its Nazi destruction. If you were to see only one sight, though, it would be the Hermitage—which could keep you fully occupied for at least a week, with 365 rooms spread over six buildings, including the Winter Palace. Don't miss the Rembrandts; the two Leonardo Madonnas; the treasure-laden Golden Drawing Room, restored in 2003; and the Impressionists, taken from the Germans in World War II, which never leave the city, in case they should be confiscated (34 Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya; 7-812-710-9079 or 7-812-571-8446; www.hermitagemuseum.org). Other essential sights include the burial place of the Romanovs and the former Trubetskoy Bastion Prison, where Dostoyevsky, Gorky, and Trotsky did time, both insde the Peter and Paul Fortress (Petropavlovskaya Krepost; 7-812-238-4511; closed Wed and the last Tues of every month); the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, which earned its name by being built on the site of Alexander II's 1881 assassination (Kanala Griboyedova 2A; 7-812-315-1636; closed Wed); the lavish interior and golden dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral (1 Isaakievskaya Ploshchad; 7-812-315-9732; closed Wed), and the many museums on Vasilevsky Island. Then, everyone spends time on, or at least walks along, the grand Champs-Élysées–ish Nevsky Prospect—but what everyone really must do in Piter is exactly what everyone does in Venice: walk. Just walk, gaze, and get lost (though not too lost; this is not a crime-free city).