Looking across the wide Neva from Vasilyevsky Island, the Palace Embankment shimmers in the river, suspended between water and sky. Raised on a marsh by violence and sheer force of will, there are few cities more impossible, and more beautiful, than St Petersburg. It’s worth going for the view alone, and you should — now, while the rouble is weak.
Thrown up in only 50 years in the 1700s, St Petersburg is a vast stage-set upon which imperial society played at being European. Nowadays, you too can choose your role. Would-be Romanovs can take a box at the Mariinksy and spend one day at the Hermitage, and the next day out at Tsarskoye Selo and the Catherine Palace. Or, on the other hand, you can skulk like Raskolnikov down the back streets and canals, ducking into dive bars and checking out guitar bands.