Leningrad. Petrograd. The city more colloquially known now as St. Petersburg has been called many names throughout its over 300 year history,

The city of St. Petersburg is characterized by elaborate architecture, an immersive history, and brilliant lighting that showers the city with color. Constructed on a bedrock of swamp, the metropolis adapted to the land beneath, incorporating meandering canals that today reflect sunsets on their shimmering surfaces. When strolling through cobblestone streets, one feels as though they are part of Peter the Great’s fantastic, centuries-old vision.

Built on the site of a Swedish fortress, Peter the Great wanted St. Petersburg to modernize Russia and stand as a center for progress in the Russian Empire. As a result, it was built with extraordinary detail, evident in everything from the type of brick used in the streets to immaculate domes topping off towering cathedrals. Bright colors breathe life into the city, creating a welcoming environment for tourists and residents alike.

St. Petersburg hosts a number of fascinating destinations for anyone exploring its streets. One of the most magnificent is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, every inch of which is covered in fantastic colors, murals, and frescos. The Church was built on the Griboedov Canal, notably the site of Tsar Alexander II’s assassination. Although somber, this space acts as a place for reflection and understanding. Initially only used as a mourning place for Alexander, the Church has since become one of St. Petersburg’s icons and a major tourist attraction.

Another major building, the Winter Palace, is famed for its grandeur and role in Russian history. Envisioned by Peter the Great as an homage to European architecture, the Palace was built and expanded on by a number of tsars over the course of decades. Despite Peter’s passion for building the Palace, it became more associated with Catherine the Great, whose vast art collection is worth its own visit. Given the sheer size of the building, a private tour is recommended to get the most out of this expansive attraction.

In addition to the numerous historic landmarks within St. Petersburg, the city highly values music and the arts, only fitting for a city meant as a cultural center. The Petersburg School of Ballet is considered the best in the world, and the Mariinsky Theater is similarly renowned for its ballet and opera performances. St. Petersburg is also home to the Conservatory, a music institution whose alumni include such famous musicians as Sergei Prokofiev, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Dmitri Shostakovich, the latter of whom dedicated his 7th Symphony to the city.

Similarly, St. Petersburg has a long tradition of producing famous writers, many of whom have written extensively about the city itself. Alexander Pushkin, Vladimir Nabokov, and Ayn Rand all hail from St. Petersburg, with Pushkin having an institute of literature named after him. The Pushkin House, as it is known, contains numerous rare manuscripts dating back to the 13th century.

Of course, it should be noted that the attractions listed prior only account for a small number of the many beautiful buildings and historical sites of St. Petersburg. Even among the European cities that it once attempted to emulate, St. Petersburg stands out as one of the most culturally significant.