The biggest problem we foresee in your itinerary is finding time for the tennis at St Petersburg Open (21st September to 27th September) because you are in Russia’s most European city, with all the intricacy and ostentation of a Faberge egg combined with the modernity of St Peter’s vision for a modern Russia. It’s often referred to as the city that’s too Russian to be European yet too European to be really Russian. Let’s stop waxing lyrical and get down to filling your days with this guide to St Petersburg.
There’s something to fit every budget, whether you want pancakes and soup or dine like a Tsar. Want to feel like Anna Karenina? Then head to Dvorianskoe Gnezdo roughly translated into Nobleman’s Nest at the Yusupav Palace. Don’t miss a visit to the cellar. This is where that rascal Rasputin went poof- we still don’t know if he’s dead or just disappeared. Perhaps he’ll jump out at you from behind the bottles ($$$). If you’re from Mumbai, then here’s one that will speak to both the heart and the stomach. Stroganoff Steak House offers hand butchered cuts from Australia, New Zealand and Argentina ($$$). A family favorite is Café Idiot, ($$) named after Dostoyevsky’s novel, “The Idiot.” You’ll find a hearty vegetarian meal that requires no reservations and offers Indian vegetarians a welcome break from all the meat. Want to try a Pelmeni, those meat filled dumplings served with sour cream, then go to Pelmeni Bar at Gorokhovaya Ulitsa 3 ($), great for a snack or a cheap meal. If you’re visiting the Hermitage (see below) great Pelmani can be found at an Irish pub called Radio Ireland on Admiralteisky Avenue; don’t order the Irish fare. For great borscht, head to Gogol on Admiralteyskaya, just off Nevsky Prospect. Finally we get to my favorite, thinly sliced beef braised in sour cream sauce for just a few seconds and served with fluffy mash and dill. The best Beef Stroganoff can be had at Leven on Malaya Morskaya.
Ok, we spent a little bit more time on food than we should have. If there is one thing you see, it’s The Hermitage, the Winter Palace of the Tsars. Their collection is so gargantuan it would take you nine years to even glance at it all. So we suggest the twenty-four Rembrandts, the forty Rubenses and the top floors that house Picasso and Matisse. Or just forget the art and roam around the rooms, wiping your jaw off the patterned parquet floor, as you gaze at crystal chandeliers, delicate molded and painted ceilings. The Malachite Room is enough to make you dizzy.
Once you finish at The Hermitage, take the “Peterhof Express”, a hydrofoil, on the Neva River to the Gulf of Finland to Petrodverets, Peter the Great’s grand Palace that was built to rival the glittering Versailles. It puts up quite the fight with its 300 acres of gardens, 39 gilded statues and miles and miles of man-made canals. Another way to explore Neva River is to do a more leisurely cruise complete with Jazz, champagne and caviar.