St. Petersburg is the second-largest city in Russia – second only to Moscow. The city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great and was the country's capital for nearly 200 years. In contrast to the brashness of Moscow, St. Petersburg is the epitome of European elegance and high culture. The historic center of St. Petersburg is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring a mix of Baroque, neoclassical and uniquely Russian architecture. A network of canals runs through the city, adding to St. Petersburg's charm.
St. Petersburg is also known as the cultural capital of Russia. The city is home to numerous museums and art galleries, including the Hermitage Museum, which houses one of the world's largest collections of fine art. Some of the world's greatest composers and dancers came from St. Petersburg, and seeing an opera, a ballet or theater performance is a highlight of any visit to the city.
St. Petersburg is filled with hundreds of museums - featuring everything from history, art, science and anthropology to military and cultural exhibits. Probably the most famous is the State Hermitage Museum housed in the Winter Palace. You can easily spend a day or two exploring the Hermitage’s art collections, which cover all genres of fine art and antiquities. The Hermitage includes a good deal of Russian art; however, the Russian Museum offers a more comprehensive collection. The Russian Museum features artworks from the 12th to 20th centuries – from folk art to pop art, sculptures to paintings.
Palaces and cathedrals
In addition to museums, St. Petersburg also has its fair share of palaces and cathedrals. The Winter Palace, home to the Hermitage Museum, was built in the 18th century and served as the home of the Russian tsars until the early 20th century. The palace is a fine example of the Russian rococo style. The interior features more than 1000 rooms with gleaming wood flooring, chandeliers, columns and other ornate design elements. Another extravagant example of Russian architecture is St. Isaac's Cathedral. It features a large gilded gold dome, which dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg. The interior is equally ornate with colorful murals, mosaics, columns and marble floors. By contrast, the Summer Palace, built for Peter the Great, is relatively small and modest compared to the Winter Palace and St. Isaac's Cathedral. The Summer Palace is worth a visit for its location. The palace sits on the grounds of the Summer Garden – one of the oldest and prettiest landscaped areas in St. Petersburg.