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St Petersburg City Break
With its grand architecture and imperial past, the attractions of St Petersburg have made the city a fantastic short-break destination to rival the rest of Europe's cultural centers.

History and Architecture

Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, St Petersburg was the capital of Russia until the Revolution in 1917. First known as Petrograd, and then Leningrad from 1924 until the fall of the Russian Communist Party in 1991, the city's history is reflected in the magnificence of its buildings and monuments.

The imposing Winter Palace on the banks of the River Neva was the official home of Russia's Tsars until they were overthrown in 1917 and is now part of the State Hermitage Museum. Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, the museum houses almost three million artefacts and artworks and Alexander Column, named after Tsar Alexander I, stands as the focal point of the expansive Palace Square.

Honoring Russia's more recent history is the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad. Built in Victory Square in the 1950s, the structure commemorates the efforts of the city's residents and army in holding back German forces during the Siege of Leningrad between 1941 and 1944.

The Baroque-style Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul is St Petersburg's oldest landmark and the final resting place for many of Russia's Emperors, including the murdered Tsar Nicholas II and the Romanov family. Thanks to its spire it also holds the title of second tallest building in the city and is one of the most recognizable, along with the turquoise and gold turrets of the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, built on the site of Alexander II's assassination.

Festivals and Nightlife

During the summer months, travelers leaving St Petersburg hostels for a night on the town might be surprised to find it is still daylight. The city is affected by White Nights between May and July, where the sun sets so late the sky never completely darkens. The White Nights Festival celebrates the long summer days with a program combining music, drama and dance at the Mariinsky Theater throughout the season. It culminates in June with the Festival of Festivals, recognizing the best in local and international film.

Throughout the rest of the year travelers can sample the local fare and cuisine - even caviar if the budget can stretch to it – at a selection of the city's many eateries. The city center is home to large hotels with fine dining restaurants, such as the Grand Hotel Europe on Nevsky Prospect, as well as more traditional establishments in the Smolniy or Vladimirskaya districts.

For a taste of the traditional Russian tipple of vodka, there are a growing number of western-style bars situated in and around the city center. St Petersburg's reputation for being the 'cultural capital' of Russia means that a full night of revelry can be had at any of the city’s popular nightclubs.
About the Author
Before settling down and becoming a copywriter for HostelBookers.com Paul Scottyn did a backpacking tour of Russia, he checked out a variety of St Petersburg hostels.
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