Set on the Baltic Sea, the port city of St. Petersburg has enough culture, history and architectural grandeur to rival any other European destination. Dotted with glorious cathedrals and former tsars' palaces, Russia's second-largest city is also an artistic mecca, home to many impressive museums.
St. Petersburg was founded on the Neva River by Peter the Great in 1703. Multiple canals and tributaries flow from the Neva, spanned by 342 bridges. The river divides the city into four sections: the Admiralty side on the south bank, Vasilyevsky Island, the Petrograd side and the Vyborg side.
The city's biggest thoroughfare, Nevksy Prospekt on the Admiralty side, crosses the Moika, Griboyedov and Fontanka canals and acts as a city centre of sorts. Alongside it are many of the city's top cultural attractions.
The Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood on the Griboyedov Canal Embankment is a prime example of old Russian Orthodox architecture with its ornate details, colourful mosaics and onion-shaped domes. It was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.
A short walk away, art lovers can spend days trawling the State Hermitage Museum, situated inside the splendid Winter Palace. A marvel of Baroque architecture, the former residence of Russia's tsars is now home to a diverse range of art spanning from Ancient Egypt to 20th-century Europe.
Wander down the city's main drag, Nevsky Prospekt, and explore its bustling café and shopping scene. The Mariinsky Theatre, home to world-renowned opera and ballet troupes as well as an orchestra, is a highlight of any visit to St. Petersburg – but do book in advance.
St. Petersburg has a smattering of hotels for every budget and style – from business-friendly accommodation to family-centric establishments near Peter the Great's Summer Garden.
The Ligovsky neighbourhood near Moskovsky train station is in the business heart of the city. It's also minutes away from top cultural attractions such as the Anichkov Palace, State Russian Museum and State Hermitage Museum.
Breathe in St. Petersburg's history and culture by staying in the Tsentralny District. Convenient for families thanks to its proximity to the Tavrichesky Garden and Summer Garden, it's also close to the restaurants and shops along Nevsky Prospekt.
The city's efficient metro system makes it easy to get around, which means you can stay further away from the centre for a quieter experience. Bed down in the Moskovsky District, a 10-minute metro ride from the main drag. The area is 20 minutes from the airport, making hotels in this part of St. Petersburg ideal for business travellers.
St. Petersburg has restaurants to suit every palate, from cafeterias serving up cabbage soup and pirozhki (pies with sweet or savoury fillings) to glittering restaurants with refined European dishes. There are also plenty of international cuisines on offer, including even Japanese and Mexican.
The Vladimirskaya District is packed with restaurants and cafés where you can take in the views and bustling crowds of Nevsky Prospekt. Walking from Palace Square, you'll find a selection of eateries plating up local fare, as well as cosy, French-style brasseries.
Konyushennaya Square, the former site of the Imperial Court stables, is now dotted with stylish bars and restaurants.
Try your hand at bargaining at Kuznechny Market (Vladimirskaya Metro), the best market in the city for caviar and smoked fish, Caucasus spices and other local delicacies.
With high-end designer boutiques, sprawling malls and bustling markets, St. Petersburg is a haven for any shopper. And there are plenty of items that you won't find elsewhere in the world.
The Udelnaya Flea Market is the place to stock up on Soviet-era souvenirs and kitsch artefacts like matryoshkas (nesting dolls). Another popular market for Soviet memorabilia and hand-painted eggs with religious icons takes place opposite the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood.
Window-shop in some of the city's premier boutiques, like Parfionova, a local couturier known for her embroidered scarves and colourful women's ready-to-wear fashions. Yakhont, in the building where Fabergé eggs were once created, sells jewellery with enough sparkle to tempt any magpie.
Gostiny Dvor, on Nevsky Prospekt,is the city's biggest – and oldest – department store. It has clothing, cosmetics, leather goods, toys, music and more.
From ballet, opera and classical concerts to live music, St. Petersburg has something to woo everyone.
At no time of year is St. Petersburg's majesty more in evidence than during the White Nights, the few weeks from late May to July when the sun never fully sets. Revellers fill the streets to celebrate with fireworks, music concerts and water shows.
Those looking for a hip bar scene and trendy clubs won't be disappointed. The young and beautiful flock to the bars and clubs on Dumskaya Street, also the hub of the city's live music scene.
Top tip: The metro stops running at 12:30am, and most of the city's drawbridges stay up from 1:50-4:50am. To avoid getting stranded when out and about, it is wise to keep an eye on the time and on your location.
If you're planning a family holiday in St. Petersburg, you're in luck – with its selection of family-friendly hotels and rainbow-coloured churches it's a favourite with adventurous kids.
Acrobats, clowns, jugglers and more await at the Bolshoi St. Petersburg State Circus, which is sure to delight kids of all ages.
For some animal magic, Leningrad Zoo, originally opened in 1865, has an impressive selection of wildlife and interactive exhibits. At the Dolphinarium, children have the chance to get up close and personal with dolphins and sea lions.
Need to refuel? You'll find pyshki (traditional fried doughnuts) – and a queue out the door – at Soviet-era café Pyshki, near Nevsky Prospekt.