Built in defiance of nature and logic, St. Petersburg is a monument to the will of Peter the Great. His city became a 'window on the West' and remains Russia's cultural capital. Spruced up in celebration of its tercentenary in 2003, the city's sights range from the humble log cabin from which Peter oversaw the construction of his city, to grandiose buildings such as the Admiralty, headquarters of Peter's beloved navy. And then, of course, there's the incomparable Hermitage with its (conservative estimate) three million artefacts and art works, and its extraordinarily opulent interiors.
The list of famous St Petersburg residents reads like a who's who of Russian history: Dostoyevsky, Fabergé, Rasputin, Tchaikovsky, Lenin and Putin, to name just a few, but the buildings are what really take the breath away. Splendid palaces line the rivers and canals, their pastel-coloured façades reflected in the water, and no fewer than eight cathedrals grace the skyline. The latter range in style from the onion domes of the Church on Spilled Blood to the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, with its gilded spire soaring 122m into the sky.
20th century landmarks include the battleship Aurora, which fired the shot signalling the start of the 1917 Revolution, and the impressive Monument to the Defenders of Leningrad, a memorial to those who resisted the 900-day Nazi siege during World War Two.
For lovers of classical music, opera and ballet, there's the renowned Mariinsky Theatre (formerly the Kirov). Just outside the city are the lavish summer residences of the Tsars and Tsarinas, which are also well worth a visit.
On a less cultural note, there are outdoor skating rinks (in winter), shopping opportunities ranging from traditional markets to the glitzy boutiques, and an ever-increasing number of bars and restaurants.