At the same latitude as Oslo, Helsinki, and the southern tip of Greenland, St. Petersburg occupies 42 low-lying islands between Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland; the city is infused by a network of Dutch-style canals and linked by more than 300 bridges. Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great when there was nothing here but swamp and sky, within a decade the settlement huddled around the Neva River had 35,000 buildings and was the capital of Russia. Seventy years after that, every milestone in the nation recorded the distance measured from the Post Office built here by Catherine the Great in 1782.
The city's main divisions are Vasilyevsky and Petrogradsky Islands to the north of the river and the central part of the city to the south, where streets and avenues (including three-mile-long Nevsky Prospect) radiate outward from the Admiralty building across scores of canals. The best hotels and most of the tourist attractions—the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, the Yusupov and Stroganov Palaces, and the Mariinsky Theatre—are in this sector of the city. It is fairly easy to keep your bearings by referring to the skyline, which is dominated (north of the river) by the spire of the cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress and (south of the river) by the Admiralty's spire and the huge bulk of St. Isaac's Cathedral.
The metro, which runs throughout the city from 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., is fast and cheap, with often sumptuously designed stations. (It's best to take a bilingual metro map to help identify the stations.) Buses, by and large, are overcrowded and uncomfortable. Taxis are available, but make sure you establish the destination and price of your trip before getting in.
St. Petersburg is above all a place for walking (and taking canal rides); few of the great sites are very far from the city center, except for the palaces at Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, Pavlovsk, and Oranienbaum. You can travel to Peterhof by hydrofoil from the jetty outside the Hermitage. (Make sure to book your return trip as soon as you get off.) For the other palaces outside the city, it's best to book an excursion or a personal driver (and perhaps a guide) through a travel agent or your hotel. This can be expensive, as hotel cars cost $30 and up an hour; a cheaper, and in many ways much better, alternative is to hire someone like Serghei Tikhanov (516-1043) who drives the only right-hand drive Vauxhall car in St. Petersburg, speaks excellent English, and charges $75-$100 (including gas) a day.
Telephone Numbers: The country code for Russia is 7; the city code is 812.
Local Time: Eight hours ahead of EST.
Currency: The ruble (R), though in most good hotels and restaurants you will find price lists and bills measured in "units"—i.e., U.S. dollars in disguise. The dollar—known as kapusta (cabbage)—is the preferred currency, and it is a good idea to bring small denominations to use for tips. For larger amounts, bring new bills, since exchange points are extremely reluctant to take less than pristine notes. Current exchange rate: $1.00=29R.
When to Visit: Every season in St. Petersburg has its devotees. In January and February, a combination of snow and blue skies makes the palaces look like dowagers draped in ermine out for a stroll along the frozen canals. The most popular time is the period of White Nights around the summer solstice in June and early July, when it's never dark, even at 3 a.m., and the city hardly sleeps. But the spring in late April and early May is immensely invigorating, and in September the trees in the Summer Garden are at their golden best. In August, most of the theaters and concert halls are closed, but the museums are still open, and the city itself has a holiday air.
Airlines: Aeroflot (888-340-6400) flies from New York to St. Petersburg via Moscow daily (total flight time: 10-11 hours), and also provides connections through Moscow from other U.S. cities. Delta (800-241-4141) also flies from New York via Amsterdam. Other airlines provide connections through their capitals: British Airways via London (though you may have to change from Heathrow to Gatwick airports), Air France via Paris, Finnair via Helsinki, and KLM via Amsterdam.
Cab from Airport to Downtown: Roughly $55 (by negotiation), but it's best to ask your hotel to send a car to meet you.
Taxi and Restaurant Tipping: Minimal in taxis, since you'll be overcharged anyway; in restaurants, check to see if a service charge has been added, then decide (5-15 percent).
Remember That: The bridges in the city are raised for two hours or so each day in the early morning and traffic comes to a halt. Also, museums and palaces—in addition to their one day of closure per week—also close for an extra day each month.
Take With You: The most recently published and up-to-date guidebook you can find, since many streets have been returned to their pre-Revolutionary names. The Cadogan Guide to St. Petersburg (Globe Pequot Press) is good, and has recently been updated by the author of St. Petersburg: The Hidden Interiors.
Visas: The simplest way of obtaining a visa is through your hotel (which must be booked ahead of time) and a specialist travel agency. The application can be made in person, by mail, or (much easier) via an agency.
GRAND HOTEL EUROPE Built in 1875 and completely renovated in 1991, with a baroque facade and Art Nouveau interiors, this is the city's premier hotel. Tchaikovsky spent his honeymoon here, and Rasputin was a regular. For seven years a member of Leading Hotels of the World, it has 301 rooms, including 89 suites, a fully equipped business center, meeting and function rooms, a world-class fitness center, and two of the best places in the city to gather: the always buzzing Lobby Bar and the huge Mezzanine Café, under a high glass roof, which has the best cappuccino in the city. The hotel also has five restaurants (see below for the Restaurant Europe), offering excellent Italian, Chinese, and Russian gourmet cuisine. Ask for a deluxe first-floor double (the height of the ceilings diminishes the higher up you go) overlooking either Ulitsa Mikhailovskaya or Arts Square, or else a suite: Two favorites are the Imperial Suite, two linked executive suites complete with a vaulted roof and a grand piano; or suite 105, which has 1930s vases and a balcony that looks out over Arts Square. Extremely good concierge service and outside catering. Rooms: $295-$360; suites: $390-$2,350. 1-7 Ulitsa Mikhailovskaya; 329-6000; fax 329-6001; www.hotels.spb.ru/ghe.
HOTEL ASTORIA Originally opened in 1912 as competition for the Grand Hotel Europe (it earned a Baedeker star of excellence by 1914), the Astoria is now being returned to its former glory by new owners, British-based Rocco Forte Hotels (which also own the Hotel Russie in Rome). Quieter than the Grand, next door to St. Isaac's Cathedral, and within easy walking distance of the Mariinsky Theatre and the Hermitage, the Astoria was where American John Reed stayed during his Ten Days That Shook the World, and where Hitler announced he would hold a victorious banquet once he'd taken the city. (He never did.) The hotel has 232 bedrooms, including 41 suites, and is still (during each winter season) undergoing renovation. Ask for a refurbished room overlooking the Square, or for one of the corner suites. The Astoria's new restaurant, Davidov's, overlooks St. Isaac's Square and has an ornate vodka and caviar display and excellent Russian food (see below). Guests also have full access to the next-door facilities of the Angleterre Hotel (which Rocco Forte Hotels also manages), including a fitness center and the new Borsalino Brasserie, which has piano music, a fine eclectic menu, and friendly service. $310-$2,000. 39 Bolshaya Morskaya; 313-5757; fax 313-5059; www.rfhotels.com.
SHERATON NEVSKIJ PALACE Much improved since the Sheraton organization took it over in 1997, what was once the old Baltiskaya Hotel is slightly less well-placed than the previous two. It also has less character. It is, however, impeccably well run in an American manner. There are 282 rooms, including 20 suites and 14 "smart rooms" designed for the business traveler, and full conference facilities. The top-notch fitness center can be used all day free of charge. Choose a deluxe room or a two-room executive suite overlooking a quiet side street. Of the four restaurants here, the Landskrona, which offers Mediterranean cooking by an Australian chef, is worth it for the views out over the city; the Admiralty has Russian food, good desserts, and a folklore show in the evenings; and the Imperial offers a good-value buffet lunch. $300-$700. 57 Nevsky Prospect; 275-2001; fax 301-7323.
Russian cuisine is a mixture of elements: Its starters (zakuski) come from a German and Scandinavian tradition imported by Peter the Great. Its noodles, dumplings (pelmeni), and tea derive from the Mongols; its buckwheat kasha from central Asia; its shish kebab (shashlyk) from the Caucasus; its borscht from central Europe—with the whole mélange made more sophisticated by imported 19th-century French chefs. Ice-cold vodka is traditionally drunk with zakuski (and often throughout the meal). But local beers are now excellent (particularly Baltika no. 7); and though Georgian red wines are rather sweet to the Western palate, you could try Kinzmarauli, Stalin's favorite wine, as well as a dry white called Tsinandali. Of Russian champagnes, Brut is the best—in fact, it's an agreeable alternative to its distant French cousin, which, like all of the imported wines in Russia, is exceedingly expensive. French wines, though, are also part of Russian tradition. Both Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great had a fondness for burgundy, and before the Revolution, the Grand Hotel Europe was said to have had the finest Champagne cellar in the world.
RESTAURANT EUROPE (in the Grand Hotel Europe) Traditional Russian dishes cooked with French lightness in a glass-ceilinged Art Nouveau room, where you can expect to see everyone who is anyone in St. Petersburg, from the governor and museum directors to visiting dignitaries and celebrities. Excellent kulebyaka, veal, venison Russian style, and a mouthwatering fillet of salmon stuffed with cream cheese. $180. 1-7 Ulitsa Mikhailovskaya; 329-6000.
THE NOBLE NEST (Dvorianskoye Gnezdo) Two elegant high-ceilinged, candlelit rooms (and an upstairs bar with an expert classical-music ensemble) in a pavilion of the Yusupov Palace—where Count Felix Yusupov, one of Rasputin's assassins, had ambitions to sell wines from his Crimean estates. A regular port of call for visiting statesmen, The Noble Nest has an imperial (and imperious) atmosphere, and very fine food prepared by a chef who was trained at the Grand Hotel Europe: borscht baked in a pastry crust; fillet of venison with cream of salsify in a red fruit sauce; poached monkfish on a bed of green olives. $180. 21 Ulitsa Dekabristov; tel/fax 312-3205; tel. 312-0911.
DAVIDOV'S (in the Hotel Astoria) This bright and meticulously caparisoned restaurant overlooking St. Isaac's Square offers extremely good versions of Russian classics: pelmeni, borscht, sturgeon stuffed with caviar in vodka sauce, and ukha, a fantastic freshwater-fish soup. $100. 39 Bolshaya Morskaya; 313-5815.
TALEON CLUB In a house (on the site of Empress Elizabeth's original Winter Palace) that before the Revolution belonged to one of the brothers who ran the most famous food shop in the city (Yeliseyev's), the Taleon Club is a favorite haunt of the city's more glitzy elite. The winner of St. Petersburg's Best Luxury Restaurant Award for the past three years, it offers a well-achieved mix of Russian, Georgian, and European dishes. The quality of the house's restoration, though, and of its Art Nouveau furniture and accessories, is what makes a visit a must. Above the restaurant there's a casino, and a spectacular walnut-lined library and sitting room with a fireplace and fine stained glass. $160. 59 Moika Embankment; 315-7645.
SENAT-BAR This bar-restaurant, with a huge selection of wine, has paintings by local artists and a charming vaulted ceiling, though the dining room is a bit cramped. Offerings include salmon smoked on the premises, fondues, and turbot with broccoli and potato cakes. A good place for lunch. $60. 1 Ulitsa Galernaya; 314-9253.
RESTORAN Created out of a warren of old workshops by Andrei Dmitriev, the most original young designer in the city, this spacious restaurant is St. Petersburg's new hot spot, with a haute-to-moderate menu. When I was there last, I had a huge plateful of kuroshki, a small freshwater fish that appears in the Neva just after the ice melts. Catherine Deneuve had been in a few days before. Russian cuisine, fine service, appealing atmosphere. $50. 2 Tamozhenny Pereulok; 327-8979; fax 327-8975.
THE OLD CUSTOMS HOUSE Across the street from Restoran is this re-creation of a pre-Revolutionary customs house set in one of Peter the Great's bonded warehouses, which has been stripped back to its original brick walls and arches and decorated with pictures of customs men and seafaring cutters. The restaurant has a French chef, an English manager, and a very good selection of wines. Dishes, including sole meunière, fresh tuna, pea soup, and entrecôte, are prepared from the best imported ingredients. $120. 1 Tamozhenny Pereulok; 327-8980; fax 327-8981.
TINKOFF A big and popular beer hall and microbrewery offering six different varieties of freshly brewed beer, both filtered and unfiltered. Hot and cold dishes, sushi bar. There's live music (jazz, rock) Wednesday through Saturday, and Flamenco music on Sunday. $50. 7 Ulitsa Kazanskaya; 314-8485.
PODVORIE Near Pavlovsk, a big barnlike restaurant with a pleasant garden and a huge menu: salmon, quail, elk smoked on alder wood, rissoles of bear and elk meat, rabbit roasted in red wine and mushrooms. When the bus parties are in there is entertainment by Cossacks. Attentive, cheerful staff, and an extremely good value. $50. 16 Filtrovskoye Shosse, Pavlovsk; 470-6952 or 465-1499; fax 465-1838.
STARAYA BASHNYA (OLD TOWER) $ Near Catherine Park, under the same ownership as Podvorie. With seating for only 20 or so people (although more tables are set up in the courtyard during fine weather), this atmospheric little place insists that it will produce anything at all if it's ordered in advance. Regularly on the menu: mussels, pelmeni fried with garlic and herbs, stuffed pork. $50. 14 Akademichesky Prospect, Pushkin; 466-6698.
GALEREYA In the Great Palace at Peterhof, an elegant little café-restaurant offering Russian dishes: eggs stuffed with caviar, salmon in wine, boiled tongue. It's the best place for lunch, but it can be hard to reach by telephone, so be sure to book a table as soon as you arrive. $40. 427-7068 or 427-9757; tel/fax 427-9884.
ANANOV Regarded as Fabergé's successor in the city, Andrei Ananov has extraordinary one-of-a-kind pieces at extraordinary prices. 31 Nevsky Prospect; 110-5592.
TREASURE ISLAND $ The first retail outlet of the recently established St. Petersburg School of Jewelry and Stone-Cutting Art. It offers its own unique creations and undertakes special commissions. It also features some of the best work from the Urals and the Far East. By appointment only. 37 Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment; 232-1908 or 936-6880.
VERNISSAGE This open-air market outside the Church of the Resurrection is home to more than 100 artists offering matryoshke and all kinds of art works. Haggling is permitted. Open daily 8 a.m. to dusk. 1 Naberezhnaya Kanala Griboyedova; 167-1628.
YUSUPOV PALACE An elegant little gift shop in the Princes' Banquet offers souvenirs of very high quality, from porcelain to chess sets. 314-5053.
CLAUDIA $ Don't be put off by the grimy staircase—Claudia Zavyalova's showroom on the third floor is a revelation. There are beautifully designed furs and leatherwear of all kinds, much of it reversible, at a fraction of the price of furs in Italy, where she studied and where many of her skins are prepared. Among her clients: prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya. 14 Ulitsa Kolomenskaya; tel/fax 164-4944.
TANYA KOTEGOVA $ A grande dame with an eye for antique fabrics and historical materials, Kotegova has designed for the Mariinsky Theatre and the Royal Dutch Ballet. She makes no more than three pieces of a particular design and is much favored by Mariinsky ballerinas. Cashmere evening coats, dresses, and enchanting pixie ankle boots (made locally by an Armenian family). Kotegova can also produce custom clothing for men, including cashmere jackets and coats, within a week to ten days. 34 Kamennoostrovsky Prospect; tel/fax 346-3467.
MARIINSKY THEATRE WORKSHOPS The tailors, costumers, and boot- and shoemakers of the Mariinsky Theatre have just begun to offer their services to outside customers. Authentic ballet shoes, reproductions of historic costumes, male and female footwear (including riding boots), and made-to-measure men's clothing are available. Contact the director of the workshops, Yephim Markovich Phegel (through a translator), at 114-5731 or 326-2189. 3 Ulitsa Matveyeva.
POLITRA $ A long-established gallery, run by former fashion designer Andrei Sherkunov, that shows the work of St. Petersburg painters. 5 Malaya Morskaya; 272-4880.
VLADIMIR TSIVIN $ A leading ceramist and sculptor who has exhibited many times in the United States, Tsivin has a beautiful two-story studio looking out over the Gulf of Finland. By appointment only; 356-9095.
There are a large number of antiques shops in St. Petersburg, including a fine one in the Hotel Astoria. But exporting antiques is difficult and can increase the price by up to 25 percent. (Objects more than 100 years old cannot be taken out of the country.) The two agencies responsible for supervising and vetting exports are the Ministry of Culture and the Russian Customs Service. For up-to-date information on shipping antiques home, visit ANTIQUARIAT, in the House of Actors on Nevsky Prospect, where Vladimir Stepanov can guide you. He also has an extensive range of antiques and can arrange for the commissioning of reproductions of Imperial furniture. 86 Nevsky Prospect, second floor; 967-5949.
MARIINSKY THEATRE OF OPERA AND BALLET A blue-and-gold jewel of a theater under the direction of maestro Valery Gergiev, with one of the best orchestras in the world. Now with a huge international reputation, the companies spend a good deal of time traveling abroad, and are most likely to be in residence in winter—especially for the new International Ballet Festival, in March. For special programs, including a backstage tour, master classes, attendance at rehearsals, a meeting with Gergiev, and performances by the Young Singers' Academy, contact Katia Sirakanian by fax at 314-1744, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. 2 Theater Square (Teatralnaya Ploshchad); 326-2189; www.mariinsky.spb.ru.
GRAND PHILHARMONIC HALL The legendary shoebox hall (with almost perfect acoustics) is the home of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, led by conductor Yuri Temirkanov, and of the smaller Glinka recital hall. For special programs—including the International Winter Festival, with nine concerts, four receptions, and a New Year's Eve Ball at the Yusupov Palace, contact The American Friends of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Box 77195, Washington, D.C. 20013 (410-669-4627); or Anna Piotrozskaya in St. Petersburg (110-4064; fax 311-2126). 2 Ulitsa Mikhailovskaya; 311-7331; www.philharmonia.spb.ru.
MALY DRAMATIC THEATRE The home base of the famous Maly Theatre Company, led by Lev Dodin, who last year was awarded the Europe Theater Prize as outstanding director. Performances are in Russian, but are full of truly inventive stagecraft. 18 Ulitsa Rubinsteyna; 113-2094.
Concert performances are also given at the famous RIMSKY-KORSAKOV CONSERVATOIRE, Teatralnaya Ploshchad (312-2519); the HERMITAGE THEATRE, in the Hermitage (110-9030); and in the YUSUPOV PALACE THEATRE, on the Moika Canal (314-8893 or 314-9088). More opera and ballet can be seen at the MUSSORGSKY THEATRE on Arts Square (219-1949), while Russian choral music of a very high quality can be found at the ST. PETERSBURG STATE CAPELLA on the Moika Canal (314-1058).
STATE HERMITAGE MUSEUM With some 400 rooms scattered through four connected buildings—the Winter Palace, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, and the Small Hermitage—this is one of the greatest palace museums on earth. Only about five percent of its holdings (of about three million items) is on display at any one time. But the richness of the collections on view—from Scythian gold objects and Roman sculptures to 24 Rembrandts and 37 early Picassos—is staggering. You won't want to miss the Special Collection, the Palace State Reception Rooms, the Leonardos, the Titians, the Gauguins—or the life-size wax figure of Peter the Great on display in rooms underneath the Hermitage Theatre. A personal guide to the museum can be booked through your hotel, and special tours may be arranged (on Mondays, when the museum is closed) through the American Friends of the Hermitage Museum (see Specialist Tours). 34 Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya (Palace Embankment); 110-9079; www.hermitagemuseum.org. Open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (4 p.m. on Sundays); closed Mondays.
THE STATE RUSSIAN MUSEUM Founded by Nicholas II and housed mainly in the Mikhailovsky Palace (which has a new, brightly painted facade), the Russian Museum covers the history of Russian painting—and, to a lesser extent, sculpture—from the earliest icons to such 20th-century artists as Malevich, Rodchenko, Popova, and Filonov. Many visitors to St. Petersburg often omit it from their itinerary, but it's one of my favorite places: The museum is usually uncrowded, it's set on a beautiful square, and it has extraordinary works of art, many of them from private (and church) collections that were confiscated after the Revolution. To arrange special tours, contact either the office of the director, Vladimir Gusev (318-1615; fax 314-4153; email@example.com), the English-speaking assistant to the director (315-6436), or the Stroganov Fund (see Specialist Tours). Arts Square; 314-3448; www.rusmuseum.ru. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tuesdays.
YUSUPOV PALACE The Yusupovs at the time of the Revolution were the richest family in Russia, able to trace their line back to a general in Tamerlane's army. They had 37 estates, as well as seven palaces in St. Petersburg. This palace, still the cultural center of the Teachers' Union, was the home in the early 20th century of Felix Yusupov and his wife Irina, the niece of Nicholas II; it was in a cellar here that the monk (and royal favorite) Rasputin was poisoned and shot, before being drowned in the Neva. The teachers have kept the palace in top shape, and this is the best place in the city to see how the Russian nobility lived before the Revolution—though you'll need to join one of the guided tours to see the eerie re-creation in wax figures of Rasputin's murder. Concerts are given in the beautiful palace theater between October and May. Receptions and dinners can also be arranged. For information, fax the deputy director, Djanna Semyenovna Makoveyeva, at 314-3239, or contact Potel & Chabot (see Specialist Tours). 94 Moika Embankment; 314-8893. Open daily, noon (11 a.m. in summer) to 3 p.m.
DOSTOYEVSKY APARTMENT MUSEUM Full of the writer's personal effects, it's the flat where he wrote The Brothers Karamazov. 5 Kuznechny Pereulok; 311-4031. Open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; closed Mondays and the last Wednesday of every month.
THE KUNSTKAMMER Peter the Great's collection of oddities and freaks, in the Museum of Anthropolgy and Ethnography. Tamozhenny Pereulok; 328-1412. Open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; closed Thursdays and the last Tuesday of every month.
MARBLE PALACE Built by Catherine for her lover Grigory Orlov. With art by foreign artists who lived in Imperial Russia and modern works from the Peter Ludwig Collection. 5-11 Ulitsa Millionnaya; 312-9196. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tuesdays.
MUSEUM OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS One of the world's largest collections. In Sheremetyev Palace, 34 Fontanka Canal Embankment; 272-4074. Open noon-6 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday.
PUSHKIN APARTMENT MUSEUM Where the great poet lived for the last four months of his life and died after a duel with a French adventurer. His doodles and drawings on view here give him an extraordinary immediacy. 12 Moika Canal Embankment; 314-0006. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tuesdays and the last Friday of every month.
ANNA AKHMATOVA APARTMENT MUSEUM A new monument to the great 20th-century poet. 34 Fontanka Canal Embankment; 272-2211. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays and the last Wednesday of every month.
ALEXANDER NEVSKY MONASTERY (Cathedral services at 7 and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.), LAZARUS CEMETERY, and TIKVIN CEMETERY, where Tchaikovsky, Dostoyevsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and other famous Russians are buried. Ploshchad Alexandra Nevskovo. Cemeteries open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (4 p.m. in winter); closed Thursdays.
PETERHOF Twenty miles from the city center on the Gulf of Finland, and perhaps the most exotic of all the Imperial summer residences, Peterhof (Peter's Court) is also a testament to the Soviet Union's determination to rebuild every Imperial relic that had been ruined and looted by the Germans. This enormous formal 18th-century park, with cascades and fountains, alleys and avenues, has five different royal buildings, of which Monplaisir, a simple seven-room house near the water built for Peter the Great, is the most atmospheric, and the Great Palace—originally designed by Peter and enlarged for Empress Elizabeth by Bartolomeo Rastrelli—the grandest. The main attraction here, though, is the park itself, with its canal, Grand Cascade, and myriad waterworks. For special tours, contact the director, Vadim Valentinovich Znamenov (tel/fax 427-9330; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). The fastest way to travel here is by hydrofoil from the jetty outside the Hermitage.The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the fountains operate (May to early October) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Great Palace is closed Mondays and the last Tuesday of every month; www.peterhof.org.
ORANIENBAUM If you visit Peterhof by car, you can also visit this palace complex a few miles away, built originally by Prince Alexander Menshikov, Peter the Great's right hand; it was enlarged by Peter III and Catherine. The ideal place for a picnic, Oranienbaum is rich in atmosphere (it was never taken by the Nazis), with pavilions and small palaces in comparatively informal gardens. You can also go boating on the lake. The park is open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. in summer, but closes earlier in winter. Buildings are closed Tuesdays, the last Monday of every month, and from November to the end of April. 422-3753.
TSARSKOYE SELO The main attraction here is the Catherine Palace, a huge Baroque confection in a landscaped and pavilioned park. It took its present shape during the reign of Elizabeth, when Bartolomeo Rastrelli created here the longest palace in the world and one of the most giddily opulent. Later some of its interiors—including the famous Amber Room, which is still being restored—were made more exquisitely cozy for Catherine the Great (who despised grand ceremony) by the extraordinary Scottish architect Charles Cameron, whose Agate Pavilion contained the Imperial baths. Also well worth seeing is the Palladian Alexander Palace, which was the summer home of Nicholas II, Alexandra, and their children (they were held here for six months before being sent to Siberia). For information on special tours, visits to the amber restoration workshops, horse-and-carriage tours (in troikas in winter), picnics, receptions, and the June and New Year's balls in the Catherine Palace, contact the director, Ivan Petrovich Sautov (fax 465-2196; email@example.com). It's best to visit between Wednesday and Sunday, when all the buildings are open. 7 Sadovaya Street, Pushkin; 465-2186; eng.tzar.ru. Catherine Palace, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tuesdays and last Monday of every month. Alexander Palace, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tuesdays and last Wednesday of every month.
PAVLOVSK This was the first of the royal palaces outside the city to be restored after the war, and in many ways it's the most impressive of them all—not for its grandeur, but for its homeliness, its clarity, and its self-confident classicism. Filled with art and objets that Pavel (the future Paul I) and his wife, Maria Fyodorovna, brought back from an extraordinary Grand Tour of Europe in 1781-82, it has a relaxed atmosphere and many beautiful things. It also has a particularly large park, full of artificial lakes, pavilions, and follies, many of them designed, like the central part of the palace, by Charles Cameron. The park has been a favorite with Russians since the 1830s, when the railway was built and the station building, Voksal (still the Russian word for station, though it was named after the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in London), became the most famous concert venue in the region. (For ten years, Johann Strauss was the principal conductor.) For special tours, horseback riding, picnics, and a reception in the beautiful Rose Pavilion, contact English-speaking chief curator Alexei Guzanov (470-6325; fax 470-2961; firstname.lastname@example.org). Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Fridays and the first Monday of every month; www.pavlovskart.spb.ru.
STEPPES EAST organizes tours to Moscow and St. Petersburg led by Princess Katya Galitzine, a writer (St. Petersburg: The Hidden Interiors) and portrait sculptor who divides her time between London and the city. The company can also arrange for her to give you a customized tour of St. Petersburg, providing access to palaces and hidden corners of the city. The Travel House, 51 Castle Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 1QD, England. Contact Nick Laing, 44-128-565-1010; www.steppeseast.co.uk.
AMERICAN FRIENDS OF THE ST. PETERSBURG PHILHARMONIC An organization very much involved in the International Winter Festival of music led by maestro Yuri Temirkanov. Box 77195, Washington, D.C. 20013; 410-669-4627; www.friendsofstpetephil.com.
AMERICAN FRIENDS OF THE HERMITAGE MUSEUM The organization supports the restoration and conservation of Hermitage art works, in addition to sponsoring education programs and arranging many events, tours, and member trips during the year. Contact Stuart Gibson at 126-B East 64th Street, New York, NY 10021 (212-223-9844; fax 212-223-9864; email@example.com); or Anastasia Zhurvliova, at the Friends' office in St. Petersburg (312-5901; fax 312-8100).
STROGANOFF FOUNDATION organizes yearly visits to St. Petersburg, centered on the Russian Museum and its galleries in the Stroganoff Palace, led by a Stroganoff descendant, Baroness Helène de Ludinghausen. Contact Pierre Merle, 330 Madison Avenue, suite 2900, New York, NY 10017; 212-471-2990; fax 212-471-2997; www.stroganoff.org.
POTEL & CHABOT $ The 180-year-old French catering firm often caters and sometimes organizes balls and other major social events in St. Petersburg. Contact Didier Garçon; 294-4464; fax 146-7064.
About This Guide
Prices In U.S. dollars.
Hotel Prices For high-season, double occupancy, from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.
Restaurant Prices For a three-course dinner for two, without wine or service.
Platinum Card Travel Service (PTS) or Centurion Travel Service (CTS)
For travel assistance, call 800-443-7672 (PTS) or 877-877-0987 (CTS). From abroad, call 623-492-5000 collect.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.
Member of Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas.
Disclaimer: the information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in November 2001, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.