If you're looking for a city break that offers sightseeing, good food, fascinating history and beer by the litre, St Petersburg is the place to go. Check out our travel guide below so you can start planning your trip to Russia's cultural capital - we even know how to make the visa process as painless as possible!
The White Nights
The Tourist Office recommends May through September as the best time to visit Russia and, in terms of St Petersburg, you should try to experience the famous White Nights which last from late May to mid-July - a period where the sun never disappears long enough for darkness to fall, instead enveloping the city in a dreamy twilight. You'll find bustling streets and parks with plenty of events and activities to enjoy as well as the renowned Stars Of The White Nights Festival - a programme of cultural events and performances which takes place at Mariinski Theatre. Package tourists have the option of taking a night tour of St Petersburg's beautiful bridges which span the Neva River.
Travel from the UK to Russia requires a visa which can sound a little daunting but, helpfully, nowadays the <a href="http://www.visitrussia.org.uk/" target="_hplink">Russian National Tourist Office</a> in London offers assistance with sorting out your visa. There's an online guide to tell you what you need to submit as well as the ability to contact the Tourist Office directly for further assistance. There are also some great package deals which include the visa as part of the holiday deal along with accommodation and sightseeing options - <a href="http://www.visitrussia.org.uk/tours/tours-petersburg/top-offer-budget-tour-to-st-petersburg-4-days-275-SGU1/" target="_hplink">from £275 for four days excluding flights</a>.
If money is no object, you should head for the gorgeous <a href="http://www.kempinski.com/en/st-petersburg/hotel-moika-22/overview/" target="_hplink">Kempinski hotel</a> - it's in the centre of St Petersburg, just round the corner from the Hermitage and within walking distance of bars and restaurants as well as designer shops. Free macaroons in the lobby are also a distinct bonus.
If you're after more of a wallet-friendly excursion (and are interested in the whole 'tourist visa taken care of' option) you can take advantage of the vacation accommodation at the local university. The rooms are pretty basic (and <em>sans macaron</em>) but there are spotless little kitchens and living areas on each floor which encourage socialising with other guests. This photo is from the university's Yellow Submarine inspired computer room!
If you're only in the city for a few days, push the Hermitage to the top of your 'To-do' list. It's MASSIVE. There are over 3 million items in the State Museum's collection (art, sculpture, jewellery...) and the physical structure of the museum takes in the Winter Palace, the Old, New and Small Hermitages, the Hermitage Theatre and a heap of other buildings. In short, bring your best walking shoes and eat a hearty breakfast before you start.
The Church On Spilled Blood - St Petersburg's only instance of onion domed architecture brings a touch of romantic nationalism to the city's skyline.
And if you still have a spot of time after that head to the Yusupov palace (and don't stop exploring until the very end because there is an absolutely amazing tiny theatre which you need to see). And after that? The Mariinski theatre, St Isaac's cathedral, The Church of St Nicholas, The Peterhof...
The miniature theatre within Yusupov Palace
The Catherine Palace, located around 25 miles south-east of St Petersburg in Pushkin Village
Inside the Catherine Palace's beautifully restored ballroom (it was previously destroyed by the Germans after the siege of Leningrad)
Brides and Grooms
Newlyweds traditionally tour St Petersburg having their picture taken at all the historic landmarks so you'll see plenty of brides wandering the tourist hotspots.
Our favourite restaurant during our stay was Kitsch. Kitsch does pretty much exactly what you'd expect - you get to sample foods like pirozhki (a kind of pie/bun hybrid), Russian salad (a mixture of potato, ham and veggies in mayonnaise), and, of course, borscht (beetroot soup) - all the while examining your rhinestone-encrusted, be-cushioned, over the top surroundings.
A samovar of tea at Kitsch
Want to sample a traditional Russian festival but arrived at the wrong time of year? Porga is the bar for you. Every night is New Year's Eve and involves dancing, handmade paper crowns and doors to stride through.