TASTEscape: St. Petersburg

TASTEscape: St Petersburg

by Polina Baskakova 02 August 2016

Polina Baskakova takes us through the best places to eat at, visit and relax in this religious, historical and beautiful city.

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Polina Baskakova is a hospitality and communications consultant from St Petersburg.

Polina Baskakova is a hospitality and communications consultant from St Petersburg.

St Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia, has a very rich past. Since its foundation in 1703, the city’s name has changed several times throughout history from St Petersburg to Petrograd, then Leningrad and St Petersburg again. Nowadays it is more often referred to as the Venice of the north; spanning forty-four islands connected by 342 metal, wooden, pedestrian or transport bridges, some of which are renowned works of art. Because of this – among many other reasons – St Petersburg offers an unforgettable experience for visitors.

As the former capital of the Russian empire, the city features elegant architecture with numerous noble palaces, lavishly decorated churches, beautiful gardens, splendid fountains and over 100 theatres offering traditional and experimental performances. The number of art galleries and music halls is simply staggering.

If you're wondering where to go or what to see during your stay in Russia's most beautiful city, then continue reading to find out about my favourite places to visit. The stunning sights, beautiful food and rich history means there's more than enough to keep you occupied.

Discover St Petersburg’s Orthodox cuisine

St Petersburg is a very religious place, with Russian Orthodox churches dotted all over the city. Many cathedrals, churches and monasteries were restored and reopened in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet regime.

These places of worship are now home to the best traditional Russian fare. Genuine Orthodox dishes can be sampled in a trapeznaya (refectory), a canteen-style space often hundreds of years old.

Alexander Nevsky Lavra
Alexander Nevsky Lavra is where great Russian cultural icons such as Dostoyevsky are buried
Smolenka River
The Smolenka River takes its name from a nearby cemetery

Try the bread at Alexander Nevsky Lavra

The most popular trapeznaya is called Palomnik and can be found at Alexander Nevsky Lavra, an eighteenth century monastery and necropolis where people such as Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky are buried.

Head to its traditionally decorated tearoom and canteen, where priests and visitors dine together, for some very traditional Russian dishes. Try their freshly baked Russian bread and piroshki, delightful baked buns filled with anything from buckwheat, millet, cabbage, potato or mushrooms to apple, cinnamon and jam.

Tuck into a bowl of Borsch at Blessed Ksenia Chapel

Hidden amongst the greenery of Smolenskoe Cemetery on Vasilievsky Island is another of St Petersburg's most loved spiritual landmarks – Blessed Ksenia Chapel, a little wooden building devoted to the patroness of the city. Outside the necropolis' gates is a two-storey trapeznaya where you can comfortably sit in historic Russian-style surroundings and try old Russian dishes such as Borsch (beetroot soup) or Russian salad. There's also a great selection of fresh bread, honey and local herb liqueurs.

Taste your way through Armenian delicacies on the Smolenka River

On the other side of the Smolenka River, adjacent to the Church of the Resurrection, is a unique Armenian canteen and grocery store hidden inside a small and weathered pink building. Fresh lahmacun, a thin bread topped with minced lamb, khachapuri, a fried bread filled with cheese and herbs, pies and a selection of jams and honey are all stocked on the old wooden shelves in this weird and wonderful place that's absolutely full of character.

St Isaac's Cathedral
St Isaac's Cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings in St Petersburg
Dom Knigi is a world-famous bookshop, with Cafe Singer on the second floor

St Petersburg from above

Due to height restrictions imposed on new buildings in central St Petersburg, the places where you can take in the incredible views while sipping a cocktail or relaxing with a cup of coffee are both exclusive and sought after. Here are some of the best places to relax and take in the sights from above.

Watch the sunset at St Isaac's Cathedral

St Isaac's Cathedral is a very popular tourist spot, but few know that in the evening you can walk up the colonnade and watch the sunset while the city lights up below you. While you do have to climb many flights of stairs, the view is more than worth it – be sure to bring your camera!

People watch at Cafe Singer

Relax with a coffee and a slice of cake at Cafe Singer, found on the second floor of the well-known bookstore Dom Knigi (House of Books). Sit next to the arched windows, overlooking the Nevsky Prospect, and enjoy watching the world go by.

Enjoy a few cocktails on the W Hotel roof terrace

If you want to combine a great view with indulgence and comfort, then head to Terrasse, a restaurant on Kazanskaya Street from where you can see the Kazansky Cathedral and the Nevsky Prospect. The restaurant serves a wonderful selection of Russian vodka cocktails, including the very local Pink Cosmo – vodka, grapefruit bitters, cranberry, lemon juice, passion fruit and grapefruit.

Vasilievsky Island
Vasilievsky Island's eastern tip is home to perfectly manicured gardens and the perfect place to enjoy a picnic
Vasilievsky Island
The island also offers unparalleled views of mainland St Petersburg

The museums and galleries of Vasilievsky Island

The cultural heritage of St Petersburg goes far beyond the walls of the famous Winter Palace. Just by crossing the Palace Bridge you can discover the most spectacular part of the city – Vasilevskiy Island. Newlyweds, students and tourists alike come here for stunning photo opportunities with St Petersburg in the background, but just a short walk around the area will reward you with all sorts of artistic and historical gems.

Enjoy a picnic on the island’s spit

The greenery on Vasilievsky Island is the perfect place to take some time out, look out over the water and tuck into some fantastic food and drink found in the shops and delis of St Petersburg. All sorts of statues and sculptures can be found on the spit (which literally translates to ‘arrow’, and refers to the easternmost tip of the island); Egyptian sphinxes over thirty centuries old, a beautiful illuminated fountain which plays music and countless museums housed inside beautiful buildings means there’s plenty to catch your eye.

Visit the Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art

St Petersburg is a paradise for art lovers – it would take thirteen years to spend a minute looking at every exhibit in the Hermitage Museum, and just glimpsing at the majority of them takes most people five hours! For those who want something a little more modern, however, Vasilievsky Island is a must-visit. The Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art is where graduates from the city’s art academy exhibit their work, and there are over 2,000 of them on display at any time. If you want to get fully involved, then there are always several installations set up by the museum itself which invite the public to contribute in all sorts of thought provoking ways.

Catch a show at the Satire Theatre

Opera, ballet and theatre are three of the most popular reasons why people come to St Petersburg, and the Satire Theatre on Vasilievsky Island is one of the most exciting in the city. Despite being founded in 1756, it is regarded as one of the more modern, newer stages, achieving national acclaim thanks to its reinterpretations of Russian classics. If you’re after a bite to eat pre-theatre, then you can’t do better than Restaurant Restoran, specialising in Russian dishes with fine dining flair. It also has a comprehensive selection of Russian vodkas, with lots of homemade infusions.

Bank Bridge
Bank Bridge is adorned with two golden winged griffons
Field of Mars
The eternal flame in the Field of Mars has been burning since 1957

Still have time to spare?

– If you’re still thirsty for culture, then St Petersburg has you covered. Griboedova Canal is a breathtakingly beautiful, relatively quiet area in the city’s downtown area and is home to twenty-one different bridges along six kilometres of water, each one beautifully decorated with sculptures and statues. Bank Bridge is by far the most famous, with incredible winged beasts flanking each side and offering unparalleled views of Kazan Cathedral.

– The Field of Mars is the perfect place to relax and people watch – many locals come here to do yoga, paint and drink coffee in the café. The giant park is home to the ‘eternal flame’, which has been burning since 1957 and inspired many other countries to start their own. Just next to the Field of Mars is the Summer Garden, a place full of beautiful Italian sculptures, statues, fountains and a very famous coffee house, if you're looking to sit down with a drink.

– One of the most spectacular events on the Russian Calendar, White Nights takes place in the summer and sees the city's streets come alive. Thanks to St Petersburg's northerly location, the sun never fully sets at night, making it indistinguishable from the daytime. If you're lucky then you'll be able to watch the festival's Scarlet Sails event, which sees spectacular ships take to the water amongst fireworks and live music to crowds of millions.