St Petersburg is often called the ‘Venice of the North’ and ‘New Amsterdam’, because of the network of rivers and canals that the city was either designed around, or were man-made during the construction of the city. Peter the Great built St. Petersburg as Russia’s naval capital and the biggest port city; the waterway system is used for trade and by military vessels to this day. The canals and rivers also act as a valve to prevent the disastrous floods that the city was prone to in November. Less successfully, the waterways were intended to form a commuter system for citizens.
If you’re visiting St Petersburg on a Baltic cruise, then the novelty of being on a boat may have worn off! However, a canal cruise in St Petersburg is arguably the best way to see the city, and will be a highlight of your stay. You will sail along the rivers and canals and admire the beautiful baroque and neoclassical architecture of St Petersburg, which is generally agreed to be one of the most beautiful cities anywhere in the world. As you relax, you will pass famous landmarks and hear more about the fascinating history of St Petersburg.
As you travel along, you will pass under a network of drawbridges. These allow large ships to pass between the Baltic Sea and Lake Ladoga, and from there, deeper into Russia. The drawbridges open to a precisely timed schedule, which allow ships to pass with a minimum of delay while still allowing the bridges to function as efficiently as possible. Of course, you may be less concerned with the practicalities of the system and instead be busy taking photographs – many of the drawbridges are spectacular, particularly the iconic Palace Bridge over the Neva.
There are also many static bridges too, many of which are just as beautifully designed and as striking as the drawbridges. Interestingly, bridges were not part of the original city plan – Peter the Great expected citizens to get across the rivers by ferry, and by sledge in the winter. It was only after he died that the more practical system of bridges was designed. Highlights include the Griboyedov Canal, with its colourful bridges, and the Fontanka River, which has the beautiful stone Prachechny Bridge, and the Trinity Bridge over the Neva, which is a beautiful Art Nouveau structure, partly designed by Eiffel.
For the most part, cruises last around 60 or 90 minutes. However, more than one type of cruise is available. You can sail on a cruise that includes a drinks reception, dinner, or a performance by a group of Russian folk artists. Some cruises include dinner. If you are lucky enough to be visiting St Petersburg during the White Nights, then you can enjoy an evening cruise.
Alternatively, you may wish to travel on the St Petersburg waterways as a journey, as well as for pleasure. You can take ferry cruises to some attractions outside town, like the Peterhof Fountains. If you are travelling further into Russia, then you can also cruise from St Petersburg to Moscow.
St Petersburg cruises operate from April until November, or until the city’s waterways freeze during the long Russian winter.
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