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The Native | Maria Shebets shows us around St Petersburg

Travelling is always risky business – get stuck in a touristy area and your meals are terrible as is the rest of your stay. Maria Shebets shows us around St Petersburg in Russia.

rachelzc
Rachel Zammit Cutajar
24 November 2017, 9:30am
Travelling is always risky business – get stuck in a touristy area and your meals are terrible. The same can be said of sightseeing, hotels and nightspots. Travelling to a place where you know people to recommend the right places makes your stay all the more enjoyable.

Maria Shebets. Photo by Ekaterina Kuntner
Maria Shebets. Photo by Ekaterina Kuntner
Maria Shebets, 34, was born in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, and lived there for 26 years. If you’re visiting Saint-Petersburg, these are the places she recommends to hang out like a native.

Best spot for sightseeing

The Palace Square
The Palace Square
Choosing the best spot for sightseeing in St. Petersburg is not easy at all! My city has a plenty of spectacular spots to offer, which simply cannot be missed. One of my favourites is the monumental and grandiose Palace Square, of course. Make sure you approach it through the magnificent Arch of General Staff building, which opens a splendid view on the State Hermitage as you will slowly be coming closer. Moreover, you will see the semicircle of the immense General Staff building and the impressive Alexandrian Pillar, which is a single piece freestanding granite column weighting 600 tonnes. Undoubtedly, this square is one of the most elegant and harmonious ensembles of architecture in the world! I’ve chosen this place because it brings the feeling of greatness and opulence of St. Petersburg.

Best place for a night out

Spend a romantic evening walking along the banks of the Neva River
Spend a romantic evening walking along the banks of the Neva River
There is something you should definitely do at night when in St. Petersburg. Starting from late May and continuing up to early July nights are becoming so bright, almost indistinguishable from days. We call this phenomenon “White Nights”, which is caused by the city’s northern location. So my advice will be to go for a walk along the embankments of the Neva River and observe the ships passing under our gorgeous drawbridges. This experience is unforgettable and certainly deserves to be considered as one of the most romantic in the world. By the way, before the permanent bridges’ construction, it was even more romantic due to the fact that you could easily get stuck in one part of the city till around 5 a.m. What a great excuse to stay out for a night in the city!

Best local thing

The Russian Museum represents the largest collection of Russian art
The Russian Museum represents the largest collection of Russian art
St. Petersburg is often referred to as a cultural capital of Russia. It is a perfect place to travel to if you are an art lover. Whether you prefer traditional or contemporary art, you won’t be disappointed. St. Petersburg’s museums offer incredible collections! I recommend visiting Russian Museum, which represents the largest collection of Russian art and consists of five separate splendid former palaces and a couple of beautiful parks, too. No need to mention The State Hermitage, which is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world with brilliant collections from Egyptian antiquities to Modern 19-20th century art. If you wish to learn more about contemporary Russian art, then you have a great choice of progressive galleries showcasing paintings, sculptures and installations. Marina Gisich, Anna Nova, Name Gallery, Erarta – just a few places to name. And don’t forget about the music art and theatre! Unarguably, theatres are also at the top of St. Petersburg’s main attractions.

Best spot for shopping

"House of the Book" (Dom Knigi) is the largest and the most famous bookshop in St. Petersburg
There are two special shopping places in St. Petersburg, which are certainly worth paying a visit! First one will always be my favourite shop! "House of the Book" (Dom Knigi) is the largest and the most famous bookshop in St. Petersburg and beyond! It occupies one of the most beautiful landmark buildings in the city, richly decorated Art Nouveau architectural masterpiece. You will definitely enjoy spending time in this place, shopping for any kind of book you can imagine.
The second place is located not too far from the first one and shares the similar decorative characteristics. It is just impossible to miss its lavish exterior. Eliseevsky grocery store offers a wide range of delicacies (with rather high prices I have to say), as well as a restaurant and a coffee shop. However, stunning interiors with huge windows, chandeliers, polished brass elements and stained glass decorations are worth popping in to get the wealthy lifestyle feeling.

Best areas to wind down and enjoy nature

The spectacular Peterhof with its famous fountains of dazzling gold
The spectacular Peterhof with its famous fountains of dazzling gold
If you wish to get away from the busy roaring city to a peaceful place, then I would definitely recommend Pavlosk. It is the youngest of the stunning Imperial estates surrounding St. Petersburg. It will not be as crowded as spectacular Peterhof (Petrodvorets) with its famous fountains or dazzling with gold Pushkin (Tzarskoe selo). It is one of the most charming and extensive green spaces around St. Petersburg and one of the largest landscaped, English-style gardens in the world.  Pavlovsk Park is the ideal place to come in summer for picnics; the park is massive and covers 607 hectares in total, much of which is a deep woodland, making it always possible to find a secluded spot. Ponds offer boating throughout the summer, so you can take a ride to enjoy the calmness of the nature. Besides the breath-taking landscapes you can also enjoy different temporary and permanent exhibitions, which take place in the elegant and modest neoclassical palace. Try to get there early in the morning to enjoy serenity of the place.

 

The Well-Courtyards show Dostoyevsky's darker side of St Petersburg
The Well-Courtyards show Dostoyevsky's darker side of St Petersburg
There are so many more really interesting things to do in the city. The Metro in St. Petersburg is an experience itself. Elaborately decorated with bas-reliefs, columns and magnificent chandeliers stations will make you feel a bit like in the underground kingdom and also will give a chance to learn something about Soviet history.
Another must-see is the so-called Well-Courtyards – narrow yards surrounded by buildings. This is something which hides behind the front facades of the buildings – dark and gloomy courtyard that will show you another face of the city, revealing the dark side of its history. Fans of Dostoevsky will love it! One can literally find the places mentioned in his books.
Another essential part of the city exploration is to take a boat trip or a river cruise. The city is built over 42 islands and surrounded by water with a complex web of rivers and canals. Great vistas of the city are often visible from the water. Enjoy!

How to get there

Air Malta offer direct flights to Saint-Petersburg

Currency

Russian ruble

Best time of year to visit

Between mid-June and September when the nights are almost indistinguishable from the days. The White Night celebrations are not to be missed. Summers are generally cool but pleasant with temperatures around 18C. Winters are cold and dark with temperatures dropping below freezing.

Visas

A 90 day travel visa must be obtained from consulates before entering the country. Visas will not be issued on entry.

rachelzc
Rachel Zammit Cutajar graduated in economics from the University of Malta...
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