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St. Petersburg is often described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its miles of canals, laced together with graceful bridges set amidst 18th-century buildings, have earned it the name "Venice of the North." Immerse yourself in the treasures of the city, discovering magnificent palaces and cathedrals, cruising St. Petersburg's waterways, and savoring the masterpieces of the splendid Hermitage.
Itinerary - 4 Days
Day 1 — Moscow/St. Petersburg
The day begins with a morning tour of the 16th-century Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery, one of the most renowned convents of its time. The spectacular Smolensk Cathedral rises from within the complex, full of stunning icons, paintings, woodwork, metalwork, embroidery, illuminated books, and jewels. Stroll through the cemetery, the final resting place of luminaries such as Gogol, Chekhov, Stanislavsky, Prokofiev, as well as political figures like Khrushchev, Raisa Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. After lunch on your own, board the new high-speed Sapsan Express to St. Petersburg. The train covers the distance of almost 450 miles in 4 hours 15 minutes. Enjoy a light packed dinner on board and arrive in St. Petersburg in the evening. Settle into our deluxe hotel in the heart of the city and gather for a welcome reception tonight. (B,D)
Day 2 — St. Petersburg
Conceived of by Peter the Great and designed by his favorite European architects, St. Petersburg was meant to be Peter's link to the western world. It served as Russia's capital from 1712 until just after the revolution. Get oriented on a driving tour of the city, tracing the Neva River into the city center. Take in fabulous views of the Winter Palace and Peter and Paul Fortress from tiny Vasilievsky Island. Admire the sparkling dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral, covered with 220 pounds of gold, and examine beautiful columns inside faced with lapis lazuli and malachite. Step into the Church of the Savior on the Blood, built as a tribute to Czar Alexander II who was felled by a bomb on this very spot in 1881. The blue- and green-patterned domes have become a symbol of St. Petersburg. The interior walls and cupolas are covered in fine mosaics of Biblical scenes, and four jasper columns mark the spot where the czar fell.
After lunch in the city, surround yourself with the works of the great masters at the splendid Hermitage. Originally a small, private palace gallery begun by Catherine the Great with a purchase of 255 paintings from Berlin, the Hermitage today houses one of the largest museum collections in the world. By special arrangement, enter the Gold Room to view finely worked Scythian and Greek golden ornaments. Cap off the day with a leisurely boat cruise along the city's canals, passing elegant palaces along the Fontanka embankment. Enjoy an evening on your own to discover some of St. Petersburg's excellent restaurants. (B,L)
Day 3 — St. Petersburg
Today visit the country estates of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great outside the city. Travel by hydrofoil (weather permitting) to the site where Peter the Great built his estate, Petrodvorets, perched on a ridge by the Gulf of Finland. Stroll through the palace's vast gardens, brimming with statuary and fountains and intended to rival Versailles. Then journey to Pushkin, site of Catherine's Palace, originally built in 1717 by Catherine I. After lunch at a traditional restaurant, enjoy a guided tour of the estate. The palace buildings were almost completely destroyed by the Germans during World War II, but they have been expertly restored into a brilliant architectural monument. Venture into the renowned Amber Room, clad with panels of amber. Return to the city in the evening and gather for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)
Day 4 — St. Petersburg/U.S.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)