• Photo: Art Konovalov / Shutterstock

City Center

The best place to get acquainted with St. Petersburg is the elegant ploshchad Dvortsovaya, or Palace Square. Its scale alone can hardly fail to impress—the square's great Winter Palace was constructed to clearly out-Versailles Versailles—and within the palace is the best reason to come to St. Petersburg: the Hermitage. Renowned as one of the world's leading art museums, it also served as a residence of the Russian Imperial family, and provides a setting of unparalleled opulence for its dazzling collections, which include some of the greatest old master paintings in the world. As a relief from all this impressive glitz and grandeur and tucked away in the shadows of the great Imperial complex is the moving apartment museum of Alexander Pushkin, that most Russian of writers, set in a neighborhood that still conjures up early-19th-century Russia.

Some of St. Petersburg's prettiest inner streets, squares, and gardens start at ploshchad Iskusstv (Square of the Arts). Along the route to the Field of Mars are several squares and buildings of historic interest: it was in this part of the city that several extremely important events in Russian history took place, including the murder of tsars Paul I, who was assassinated in the Engineer's Castle by nobles opposed to his rule, and Alexander II, killed when a handmade bomb was lobbed at him by revolutionary terrorists as he was riding in a carriage along Kanal Griboyedova.

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