If you book Northern Europe cruises for your next holiday, you are sure to find that one port of call really stands out from the others. Destinations such as Stockholm, Tallinn and Helsinki are all fascinating places, but few cities in the world can compare to the splendor of St Petersburg.
It was one of the true hidden gems of the tourist industry until the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, disguised by being given the title Leningrad – a name that conjured up images of a grim Soviet metropolis. But that could not have been further from the truth, as the city is packed with history and culture, and has stunning buildings on every corner – even some of the Metro stations are considered works of art.
St Petersburg, as it became known again in 1991, describes to be regarded alongside Florence and Paris as one of the great cultural destinies of Europe, as you will soon discover when your cruiseship docks in the city.
It enjoyed its heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the country's richest families queued up to build magnificent palaces and castles in what was then the capital of Russia. A pier and a waterside view were must-haves for any lavish home at that time, so most of St Petersburg's finest buildings were constructed on the banks of the River Neva or alongside its canal network.
One of the best ways to enjoy the sights is by taking a boat tour around the city, as this will give you unhindered views of the striking neoclassical architecture St Petersburg is so famous for.
Among the buildings you will see on the granite embankments of the Neva is the magnificent Winter Palace. This opulent building was once the official residence of the Russian monarch and has a special place in the country's history. It has been restored in recent years and now houses the fascinating Hermitage Museum.
Another highlight of your tour of St Petersburg's waterways is to be found next to the Griboyedov Canal. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which is modeled on St Basil's cathedral in Moscow, is among the most ornate religious buildings you will ever see, with its face every bit as impressive as the interior.
It is also well worth keeping an eye out for Yusupov Palace, St Michael's Castle and Stroganov Palace as you cruise around the city. But with landmarks lining the river banks and streets, you will never be short of things to see in St Petersburg, whether you are exploring on foot or by boat.