If you're looking for a romantic European honeymoon spot, visions of the Italian countryside and French cafés may come to mind. But there's an off-the-beaten-path spot you need to consider: St. Petersburg, Russia.
The country's second largest city has European-inspired boulevards, iconic palaces and museums, and charming Old World hotels that are practically made for Russian royalty. The city has something for everyone, whether you want to spend your honeymoon sampling the country's go-to spirit or visiting the second-largest museum in the world.
If you’ve already checked off capitals like Paris and London from your list, St. Petersburg makes for a dreamy alternative that’s more unique than other locales while still offering honeymooners the European charm of its well-trodden neighbors. Here's everything you need to know to plan a perfect honeymoon in St. Petersburg.
Where to Stay
Choosing your hotel for a honeymoon is very important. So cozy up in one of city’s landmarks, Rocco Forte Hotel Group’s five-star Hotel Astoria, where rooms look out onto the golden dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and sites like the Hermitage and Opera House are just a short stroll away. When the hotel first opened its doors in 1912, it hosted writers and poets, but its more recent claim to fame is its role in James Bond film GoldenEye (as well as celeb clientele like The Doors, The Rolling Stones, and Madonna). Another Bond flick, From Russia with Love, is referenced in guest rooms with black-and-white blown-up scenes from the film hanging on bathroom walls.
The winding staircase is definitely an Insta-worthy shot, and you can also take a seat in the lounge and indulge in high tea or vodka, two Russian staples. For a true taste of Russian cuisine, indulge in a degustation at the hotel's Astoria Restaurant with a menu titled “Feel like a Tsar” that includes Cognac-marinated salmon and baked duck breast with cherry and beetroot purée.
What to Do
As you stroll along mansion-lined canals crossing over one of the city’s 342 bridges that glow at night, you’ll instantly see why St. Petersburg—a city built on more than 100 islands—is considered the Venice of the North.
The romantic city has myriad museums housed in former imperial palaces and magnificent mosaic-lined cathedrals. You’ll quickly get familiar with the city’s main drag, Nevsky Prospekt, which stretches from Admiralty to Alexander Nevsky Monastery. You’ll find everything from souvenir shops to some of St. Petersburg’s must-visit sites like postcard-favorite Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, with its signature candy-colored onion domes.
While you could spend weeks in the city and barely scrape the surface of the many landmark sites, there’s a few worth adding to your must-visit list, including the State Hermitage Museum, with a collection of over 3 million items spanning six historic buildings; the State Russian Museum, home to the country’s largest collection of fine art; the gold-covered Peterhof Palace, a.k.a. the Russian Versailles; and the sky-blue Baroque Catherine Palace, with its world-famous Amber Room.
When you’re ready to pause playing tourist, take a seat at a museum that takes itself a little less seriously, the Russian Vodka Museum. You’ll get schooled on the national spirit while taking part in a pairing featuring three types of vodka served alongside pickles, rye bread, and herring.
While the city isn’t known for its nightlife, there’s one outing you can’t miss: a trip to the ballet. Even if you’ve seen The Nutcracker dozens of times, nothing beats dressing up with your partner and watching the Russian ballet in one of the country’s oldest opera houses, the Mikhailovsky Theatre.
It can quickly get overwhelming navigating the city’s many palaces and museums, so your best bet is to hire a guide who can help map out a plan that makes the most of your time (and energy). Some of the more prestigious hotels in town like the Hotel Astoria have special relationships with major sites like the Hermitage, so you can get VIP entry before crowds start pouring in.
Where to Eat
It’s easy to quickly get your fill of blinis and sour borscht soup, but Russia’s modern cuisine takes a cue from its European neighbors with lighter fare.
In the center of the city, man-made New Holland Island once served as the city’s shipyard, with a brick-lined, circular building dubbed The Bottle that operated as a naval prison. Over the past few years, this area has become one of the hippest in town with trendy bistros and boutiques moving into the former cells.
One restaurant worth seeking out lies just next door in the historic Foundry building. At Kuznya House, locals gather over drinks and dinner, choosing from a global menu that skews from spicy kimchi soup to beef stroganoff and baba ganoush while DJs take over the dining room as the night wears on.
For a honeymoon meal to remember, book a seat at one of the chef’s tables hiding behind a swinging set of kitchen doors at one of the city’s newest eateries, Birch. The intimate dining area is decorated in a minimalist Scandinavian chic design with birch incorporated into everything from the tables to the installations on the walls. As for the menu, it's Michelin star-worthy small plates of Asian-inspired cuisine with decadent starters like miso-glazed turkey pâté.
Where to Take a Day Trip
If you select St. Petersburg as your honeymoon destination, you'll also have the opportunity to get out of the city and explore a bit more. Skip town and head an hour out of St. Petersburg to the beautifully sculpted Pavlovsk Park, one of the largest landscaped gardens on the globe, which is perfect for a new couple photo shoot. Start with a visit to the 18th century neoclassical palace that served as the summer residence of Emperor Paul I and his family, where rooms are designed by some of Russia’s most famous architects and house a collection of over 57,000 treasures, from Rubens paintings to a 606-piece gold dinner service set.
When you’ve got your museum fill, step outside to the Versailles-inspired square where you’ll find a set of wheels awaiting to take you on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the gardens. If you happen to be brave enough to visit during winter when the snow-covered city looks like a scene out of a Russian novel (picture plenty of chic fur hats and coats), you can hop on a traditional Russian troika for a three-horse sled ride through the countryside.
On your way back to the city, pause for lunch at cozy Russian restaurant Podvorye, a log cabin-style space where branches form chandeliers and bear skins hang from the walls. Here’s where you can try some of the country’s most authentic homestyle cuisine like pirozhki—fluffy vegetable and meat-filled pastries, and blinis topped with red caviar and salted salmon.