Family Vacations to Saint Petersburg, Russia

Saint Petersburg, Russia
Saint Petersburg: a city of palaces, canals, and bridges (Photodisc)

Saint Petersburg Highlights

  • Cruise the Neva River for splendid city views.
  • Tour the Hermitage, among the world's largest art museums.
  • See the Mariinsky Ballet and the Saint Petersburg Circus.
  • Walk along Nevsky Prospekt, Saint Petersburg's main avenue.
  • Dance in the fountains at Peterhof, one of Peter the Great's palaces.

Saint Petersburg is a city of magnificent proportions and palaces. By 1703 Peter the Great began construction of the Peter and Paul Fortress, the first stage in his plan to build a new port city that would function as a "window on the West." Canals helped morph the former swampland into a showcase. By 1712 Saint Petersburg reigned as Russia's capital. By the end of the 19th century, 300 palaces graced the streets. Many still exist, but as museums or apartments. An impressive city of canals and bridges—by some counts 42 islands and 400 bridges, Saint Petersburg ranks as Russia's cultural capital.

An easy way for kids to obtain a sense of the city is on a one-hour boat cruise along the Neva River. Don't worry if you can't understand the narration; just soak in the sites. Elaborate iron gates front cream, pink, and ochre buildings, some a block long. On short summer nights, or "White Nights" (a term coined by Dostoevsky), an evening cruise is relaxing. There's another great city view from the balcony of Saint Isaac's Cathedral. The enormous structure, known for its gold dome, has a capacity of 14,000 people.

The Winter Palace, itself a gift to the eye, with gilt, marble, and hundreds of galleries, is part of the Hermitage, a museum possessing one of the world's largest art collections. Because you can't possibly see or absorb it all, plan ahead to find your favorites. Savor a roomful of Rembrandts or masterpieces by Matisse, Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso, and Cezanne. Check out the Winter Palace's sweeping main staircase, the silver and gold throne in the Small Throne Room, as well as the gems and gilded walls and ceiling in the Gold Drawing Room.

Stroll the Summer Garden, an outdoor oasis originally designed for Peter the Great, but refashioned by Catherine the Great after a flood in 1777. Another great walk through the bustling city is along Nevsky Prospekt, Saint Petersburg's main avenue. Peterhof (Petrodvorets), 25 miles from Saint Petersburg, is not just another pretty palace with gilded sconces, trompe l'oeil paintings, silk lined walls, and a gallery of family portraits. The extensive gardens and the fountains, not to mention the 45-minute hydrofoil ride from the city, make the place especially appealing to kids, particularly May through October when the waterworks operate. Besides enjoying the spectacle of the Grand Cascade's tiers of flowing water, kids can romp through spurting fountains that erupt unpredictably. Bring a change of clothes.

For more entertainment, pick performances that need no translation. See the famed Mariinsky Ballet (formerly the Kirov), attend concerts of the Shostakovich Philharmonic and giggle at the tumble of acrobats, clowns and prancing bears at the Saint Petersburg Circus (Tsirk Cinizelli). Alas, this won't appeal to those who find animal circuses objectionable.

Tip: Especially with limited time, consider hiring a guide. You'll obtain a better understanding of the city's history plus reach your destinations more easily.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 31 Aug 2007 | Last Updated: 6 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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