St. Petersburg is fittingly known as the “Venice of the North” with its many canals and picturesque European architecture. This former Russian capital has long had a rivalry with Moscow, but most visitors will agree that even if it's second to Mosgcow in size and business activity, it's first when it comes to art and beauty. The Hermitage is the largest art museum in the world, yet even its 3 million exhibits have to be rotated since there's not enough space to display its entire collection. Don't lose your partner or kids here–you may have serious trouble finding them again!
Another must-visit just outside of St. Petersburg is Petrodvorets, or Peterhof, the former palace of Peter the Great. The comparison to Versailles is apt, with the exquisite formal gardens and fountains being the highlight, especially in summer. Ballet and opera lovers shouldn't miss taking in a performance at the Mariinsky Theater. If you're planning to visit during the “White Nights” May-July, be sure to get tickets (and make hotel and air reservations) well in advance, since this is St. Petersburg's peak season. There's nothing quite like a romantic midnight stroll by the canals and bridges, with the sky still light and dawn-like. As for where to stay, we have a few favorites, that we consider the best St. Petersburg luxury hotels.
- Daily full American breakfast for two people per bedroom, served through In-Room Dining or in the hotel restaurant (including buffets)
- Spa credit of USD100 once during stay (not applicable to products)
- Upgrade of one category, based on availability at time of check-in (excluding signature suites and villas)
- Complimentary basic Internet (up to 2 devices) in all guest rooms, complimentary premium Internet (up to 4 devices) in all suites
If you wish you could stay at Petrodvorets or in the Hermitage, stay at the Taleon Imperial, an 18th century palace that has been painstakingly restored and is arguably the most beautiful historical building you can stay at in St. Petersburg. It's also perfectly located, on Nevsky Prospect, just a short walk from the Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace. It's truly a boutique experience, with each of the 89 rooms and suites individually appointed with period antiques and artwork. Entry-level Superior Rooms are good sized for St. Petersburg, 330 square feet, and suites range from 600 to 1100 square feet. Enjoy a pillow menu, nightly turndown service, complimentary WiFi, and jacuzzi bath in the bathroom. We also love the rooftop heated swimming pool, with an arched glass atrium above it so that it can be used year-round. And while we haven't yet tried it, the spa gets rave reviews as well. Even if you don't stay at the hotel, come for the well-priced business lunch at the elegant Taleon Restaurant–or splurge and come for dinner. Service is excellent, especially by Russian standards–keep in mind the hospitality industry (although not individual Russians' hospitality) is relatively new for the country. Truly, the only reasons not to stay here are if you strongly prefer the modern to the atmospheric and historical, or if you must have a gym that opens early, since the gym only opens at 9am.
Back in 1992 when I first visited St. Petersburg, the Grand Hotel Europe was *the* place to stay. It's a testament to the hotel's managers and Orient-Express that for many repeat guests, it still is. Located just off Nevsky Prospect, it's right across from the State Russian Museum and close to Kazan Cathedral, as well as the Nevsky Prospect metro station. Superior Rooms vary quite a bit in size, so if you're given one of the smaller rooms, closer to 250 square feet than 350 square feet, we'd recommend politely asking if you can be moved to a larger room. All rooms offer complimentary WiFi, a nice perk as luxury hotels normally charge for it. The heated marble floors in the bathroom are a wonderful treat in wintertime, and some guests even report a whimsical rubber duck waiting for them in the bath! Where the hotel really shines is with its ten historic suites, gorgeously designed by Michel Jouannet with high ceilings, restored antiques, silk upholstery, and views of Arts Square. We especially love the grand piano in the Pavarotti Suite living room, and the prime Dostoevsky corner suite. Even if you can't afford a suite, do splurge on the lavish buffet breakfast at least once during your stay, replete with freshly made blini with caviar, champagne, eggs cooked to order, an enormous variety of fruits and pastries, all with live piano music from a grand piano. Fit for a tsar!
If modern is more your style, the W St. Petersburg has your name on it. A relative newcomer, it's already popular with hip and beautiful locals as well as the occasional visiting celebrity. It's a short walk to St. Issacs Cathedral, and about a 10 minute walk to the Hermitage Museum. Beds as usual are very comfortable, and fortunately, unlike many W hotels in the U.S., there's either better soundproofing or better hotel management such that if you stay clear of the rooms on the top floor underneath the hotel's club, you should have plenty of peace and quiet at night. Decor is minimalist–perhaps a bit too much so if you packed much, given the dearth of storage space, but otherwise well designed. Unlike the Taleon Imperial and Grand Hotel Europe, the in-room WiFi is not free (unless you're an SPG Gold or Platinum member), but there the W does provide free WiFi in the Living Room. The main quibble we have is that the swimming pool and jacuzzi, which are part of Wet Spa, are not free to use: there's a 600 ruble (~$20) charge, unless you booked a suite or a spa treatment. And unless breakfast is included with your rate, give it a miss–it's not worth the steep cost, especially with so many affordable options nearby. Check out our recent W St. Petersburg Hotel Review for our experience.
Getting to St. Petersburg
Here are some of the best ways to get to St. Petersburg using frequent flyer miles or loyalty points:
4. Singapore Airlines First Class to Moscow from Houston, then flight or train to St. Petersburg
As Ben wrote in the 15 Best First and Business Class Airline Awards in 2012, you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points or SPG points to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and redeem 114,750 KrisFlyer miles and about $400 in taxes for a Singapore Airlines first class roundtrip ticket to Moscow, then take the Sapsan train or a flight to St. Petersburg.
5. British Airways via London to Moscow, then Sapsan or flight to St. Petersburg
If you're flying with family and need to lock in several flat bed business class and first class seats, you may want to bite the bullet and pay the high fuel surcharges to fly British Airways, as it tends to have some of the best advance award availability. If you get the British Airways Visa in the Spring when there's usually a 100,000 bonus Avios promotion and spend $30,000 in a calendar year to get a companion ticket, it's a pretty good deal for first and business class. A business class award would from NYC to Moscow DME via London would be 120,000 Avios + $1032 in fees, so if you have the companion voucher it would be 120,000 Avios + $2064 in fees.
Need Award Booking Help? Our fee is as low as $75 per ticket if you book your hotel through us.
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