This morning you will meet your guide in the hotel lobby for a short walk to Palace Square. The focal point of this ensemble is the Winter Palace—an architectural masterpiece of the Russian Baroque and the royal residence of all the Russian Emperors (except Paul) until the 1917 Revolution. The existing Winter Palace is based on three earlier versions, the first two of which were rather modest and were erected under Peter the Great. After his death, the palace was repeatedly expanded and redesigned, most notably by the famous architects Domenico Trezzini and Bartolomeo Rastrelli.
The art collection, started in 1764 by Catherine the Great, grew over a period of two decades as she acquired more pieces. Eventually she commissioned new buildings to house the ever-growing collection, the Hermitage. Now the complex of four buildings, including the Winter Palace, holds the largest collection of art in the world.
Afterwards, visit the General Staff Building, located just across Palace Square, which is now a part of the Hermitage. Designed by Carlo Rossi, one of the central architects that conceived St Petersburg, the General Staff Building was the headquarters of the army in Imperial times. At just under 2,000 feet it is the longest building in Europe.
Today the building has been transformed — its five courtyards glassed over, its various levels linked by concrete and glass staircases, which blend sympathetically with the original architecture and provides a stunning backdrop for the art: Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, Gaugin, Matisse, Picasso and Van Gogh, to name just a few. This is now the home of the Hermitage’s contemporary art collection, including its collection of French Impressionists and Post-Impressionist Art.
You will then visit the nearby St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Its malachite and lapis lazuli columns are not to be missed! St. Isaac’s was built between 1818 and 1858, by the French-born architect Auguste Montferrand, to be one of the most impressive landmarks of the Russian Imperial capital. During World War II, the golden dome was painted gray to avoid its being targeted by Nazi fire.
You then have the remainder of the afternoon to explore the city with your guide. You may enjoy a walk along the famous Nevsky Prospect – St. Petersburg’s main thoroughfare. Some of the main sights lining the Nevsky Prospekt include the Stroganoff Palace, the huge neoclassical Kazan Cathedral, the Art Nouveau Book House (Dom Knigi), some 18th-century churches, a monument to Catherine the Great, the Russian National Library, and the Anichkov Bridge with its horse statues.