Located at the head of the Gulf of Finland, the vast metropolis of St Petersburg is one of Russia's largest and best-loved cities. Surprisingly for such a large city, St Petersburg was only developed about 300 years ago. The area was uninhabited until the early 18th century, when Peter the Great ordered the construction of a defensive garrison to reduce the threat of Swedish attack.
On the completion of the St Peter and St Paul fortress, the Tsar decided to relocate the capital here. Built with an almost unlimited supply of money, the glorious new city was completed by 1712. The latter half of the 18th century saw Catherine the Great come to the throne, and the city only flourished even further during her reign. She financed some splendid architecture and the arts - Pushkin and Dostoyevsky's work came to the fore in this time. Catherine's successors then ruled over a wealthy empire from a young, vibrant city.
However, this was in great contrast to much of the rest of Russia, and after the successful 1917 Revolution Lenin moved the capital back to Moscow. St Petersburg was renamed Leningrad, and the city was largely neglected. Ironically, this did much to preserve it; the city generally missed out on Soviet buildings and street planning.
When communism fell in 1991, St Petersburg regained its name, and its wonderful historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today this magnificent city, with its grand boulevards and open squares, is a delight to explore - boasting a wealth of historic monuments and celebrated cultural attractions.
Sometimes referred to as a 'Russian Versailles', the opulent Peterhof Palace is truly breathtaking. Flanked by magnificent gardens, the palace features a range of impressive styles from all over the world, and is a joy to discover.
Housed in the grandest rooms of the former Winter Palace, the world-famous Hermitage features one of the world's largest collections of fine art. There are also amazing displays of all sorts of objects dating back to the Stone Age, and priceless finds from the ancient world; the collection now has more than three million artefacts.