Destination Information - St. Petersburg, Russia
At just 300 years old (the city celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2003) St Petersburg is a mere baby compared with most of its European counterparts; yet the former Russian capital has had a full and varied life, its short history packed with action to rival the oldest of cities.
Built in the Neva River delta by Peter the Great to keep out the Swedes, St Petersburg swiftly rose to prominence despite its unpromising position in the middle of a swamp. It was with skillful planning, along with vast amounts of cash and a diligent workforce, that the Tsar realized his dream of building a state-of-the-art metropolis to outdo anything in Europe. Modestly he named it after himself, moving his capital here from Moscow in 1712.
Although in recent history the city has been renamed three times (to Petrograd, Leningrad and back to St Petersburg), undergone a 900-day siege by the Nazis and, in 1918, lost its status as capital, the grandeur from its heyday remains. Such a turbulent history has naturally taken a toll, leaving the city practically in tatters after the Second World War, but restoration work has been lovingly administered, leaving an air of faded glamour in this most European yet intrinsically Russian of cities.
Traditionally a city of artists and intellectuals, with such eminent progenies as Dostoyevsky and Shostakovich, visitors to St Petersburg are in for a cultural orgy. It's difficult to know where to start in this assembly of splendid baroque houses and magnificent cathedrals, Prince Menshikov's Dutch-style Palace vying for attention with the ornate Cathedral on the Spilt Blood and the forbidding Peter and Paul Fortress.
Cairo is one of the world's great capital cities with 18 million inhabitants bringing together centuries old culture and ultra-modernism. Second-city Alexandria is less frenetic and more European in outlook but still offers plenty of Middle Eastern charm.
You could spend literally days wading through the Great Masters assembled in the Hermitage, indisputably one of the most impressive art collections in the world, and every evening of your stay could include a different ballet or opera at Moscow's top-class theatres.
Though many tourists visit Moscow rather than the country's second city, an increasing number of foreign visitors are discovering the myriad treasures hidden in this most idiosyncratic of cities, surely a city of dreams if ever there was one.