A coating of European architecture still won't hide this city's Russian heart.
Russia’s most glorious city has shaken its Leningrad shell. It’s never liked limits anyway. Built by Peter the Great in a swamp three centuries ago to Europeanize his "backward" "Asian" nation, St. Pete borrowed styles from Venice (the canals) and Paris (the palaces) – the perfect setting for long walks along the famous Nevsky Prospekt and all of the canals mentioned in Dostoyevsky novels. Start at the green-and-white Winter Palace, which houses one of the world’s great art collections at the Hermitage complex, then get a view of the city from atop St. Isaac’s Cathedral just to the south, and cross the river to the imposing Peter and Paul Fortress. After checking a few of the many good museums in town – including the Blockade Museum (documenting the Nazi siege during WWII), the Pushkin Flat-Museum (where the great poet died after his duel in 1837), and the Museum of Erotica, where you can see Rasputin’s embalmed penis (!) – take a canal cruise or even a day trip to Peterhof, the Czar’s Versailles-style palace. "Mini hotels" have taken over the old commie-hotel scene, but unless you’re okay with a dorm room expect to pay the equivalent of $100 a night. But save some rubles for opera at the Marinsky, a drink in the DJ-fed bars and Russia’s most diverse and delicious dining scene.