The creation of westward-looking Peter the Great, St Petersburg was intended from its inception as a display of imperial Russia’s growing status in the world. Fine-tuned by Peter’s successors, who employed a host of European architects to add fabulous palaces and cathedrals to the city’s layout, St Petersburg grew to be the Romanovs’ showcase capital and Russia’s first great, modern city. The capital may have moved back to Moscow following the revolution, but despite all that history has thrown at it, St Petersburg still feels every bit the imperial city with its historic heart largely frozen in time.
Summer White Nights are legendary: the northern sun barely dips below the horizon. Revelry begins in May, with parks and gardens greening with flowering trees, and peaks in mid-June when performing arts festivals pack out concert halls and the entire city seems to party all night long. It’s the busiest time to visit and the crowds can often be overwhelming. But Piter, as the city is affectionately known, is just as beautiful in early spring, golden autumn and even winter: the skies may be leaden and the ground covered in snow, but the culture still dazzles and delights.