St Petersburg - Palaces and Art
The dazzling art and architecture of St Petersburg make for an entrancing cultural city break. Onion domes, in a myriad of gold and rainbow hues, tower over the River Neva. In deepest winter, when the water freezes over, visitors can traverse the thick ice all the way from the Hermitage to the Peter and Paul Fortress. (However, we’ll be visiting these destinations by land, in more reasonable autumnal temperatures).
From the Romanovs to Rasputin, St Petersburg is haunted by the larger than life characters that have peopled this Imperial Russian city ever since it was founded by Tsar Peter The Great.
The world’s greatest art collector, Catherine the Great, was the driving force behind the provenance of Old Masters housed at the State Hermitage Museum. Here we will get the chance to gaze at paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian, amongst scores of other exhibits.
We tour opulent residences including Peterhof Palace (often referred to as ‘the Russian Versailles’ for its gilded statues, dramatic grottoes and countless plunging fountains).
- Cultural Excursion
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
This afternoon we arrive in St Petersburg, Russia’s majestic second city, and transfer to our central hotel. Here we enjoy an engaging introductory talk from our Guide Lecturer, before tucking in to our first dinner as a group.
After breakfast we waste no time in venturing out to the State Russian Museum in Mikhailovsky Palace, where we explore the largest collection of fine Russian art in the world: over 400,000 exhibits spanning more than 1,000 years.
Our next stop is St Isaac’s, the city’s largest Orthodox cathedral, with its glistening golden interiors. Constructed over 40 years in the early 1800s, the building has a fascinating past: stripped of its religious imagery by the Soviets, it hosted Russia’s first public demonstration of Foucault’s pendulum in 1931, and was then painted grey to avoid being bombed in the Second World War. Today it has largely been restored to its former glory. We take a look around the cathedral’s museum, and ascend to its colonnade for amazing views across the city.
Later this afternoon we learn all about the folk-craft history of Matryoshka Dolls, the nested doll sets more commonly known as Russian or “Babushka” dolls.
We could not come all this way without delving in to the world’s largest collection of paintings at the State Hermitage Museum complex – our breath-taking destination for the morning. This peerless institution was first founded in the 18th century by Catherine the Great, and would take days – even weeks – to explore in its entirety.
We content ourselves with a few hours at the expansive Winter Palace – former residence of Peter the Great and other Russian royalty. Here, within some of the palace’s 1,500 rooms, we view examples of national art dating from the 11th century onwards. An astounding testament to the might of Imperial Russia.
Breaking for lunch, we continue on to Nicholas Palace, a beautiful building created for the children of Emperor Nicholas I. Within these walls we enjoy performances of Russian folk music and dance, before ending the day with dinner at a local restaurant.
We spend this morning at Peterhof Palace – known to many as the Versailles of Russia. Situated within an expanse of immaculate gardens, this UNESCO World Heritage site was commissioned by Peter the Great in the early 18th century, and features an elaborately decorated throne room as well as a dazzling hall of royal portraits.
This afternoon is ours to discover the city without the group, relaxing or exploring our surroundings in whatever way we prefer. Before the day comes to an end we come back together for dinner and an opulent evening of opera or ballet.
Our fifth day sees us crossing the Neva River to Vasilievsky Island, one of St Petersburg’s most historic districts. Upon Vasilievsky we find Menshikov Palace, the first stone building in the city. Formerly the residence of the Governor General Menshikov, one of Peter the Great’s closest companions, it now houses a branch of the Hermitage Museum, with a particular focus on 17th and 18th century art from Europe and Russia.
Following lunch, our island exploits take us on to Peter and Paul Fortress, a citadel founded in 1703, which was used as a Bolshevik prison and execution ground in the early 20th century. On site, beneath the world’s tallest Orthodox bell tower, we find St Peter and Paul Cathedral, the final resting place of many a Russian emperor and empress, including Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
This morning we enjoy a private boat trip down the River Neva – a chance to view the city’s sparkling buildings from the water. We continue on to Yusupov Palace, the immense aristocratic home at which Rasputin’s life came to an untimely end. Despite being seized by the Soviets in the 1920s, the palace retains many of its original features – a gem of 18th- and 19th-century Russia.
After lunch as a group, our final afternoon is free for us to use however we wish. Return to the vast galleries of the Hermitage, stroll through some of the city’s splendid parks, or seek out souvenirs in St Petersburg’s stylish shops. Tonight we reconvene for a sumptuous farewell dinner and drinks with the group.
After a comfortable night’s sleep, we wake to breakfast and a few more hours to explore the wonders of the city in our own time. Our flight departs in the afternoon.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
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