Moscow & St Petersburg city guide

Russia picFew cities bear the mark of their egomaniacal, power hungry rulers like Moscow and St Petersburg. Peter the Great’s showcase of czarist power, St Petersburg took over from Moscow

as the capital of the empire in 1713. The baroque and neo-classical facades of former palaces and aristocratic neighbourhoods and dozens of atmospheric canals and islands make it the most magnificent city in Russia and one of the most mesmerising European metropolises.

And there is no more beautiful time to visit than during White Nights festival in June when the sun hardly goes down. It’s easy to forget then that the city was built on a swamp and the Neva has long

swallowed the corpses of moujiks (peasants) who were forcibly enrolled into realising the czar’s ambitious vision. The Bolshevik Revolution renamed St Petersburg Petrograd (and Leningrad after the death of the revolutionary leader in 1924) and Moscow became the capital city once again.

Moscow — the main city in the biggest country in the world — is today larger than life, home to Red Square, the Kremlin and St Basil Cathedral, it’s one of Europe’s richest cultural destinations. Bigger and louder than its Western sister, Moscow is excessive, fast-paced in spite of the incessant traffic jams and full of surprises.

What both cities have in common is that they’re best discovered by boat. In Moscow a trip on the river from east to west will spare visitors from congested roads and offer spectacular views of the city’s landmarks.

Meanwhile in St Petersburg it’s advisable to boat around the canals or take a night cruise on the Neva river to watch the city’s fabled bridges unfurl.

A Tale of Two Cities was originally published in ABTA Magazine European City Breaks supplement (June 2012). Full version here.

[Photo credit: Russian National Tourist Office]