Known as Russia’s “Window on Europe,” St. Petersburg is a city like no other.
Imperial palaces line its network of canals, its stadium looks like a spaceship and some days the sun never sets. St. Petersburg is so far north that the last three weeks of June are “White Nights,” with the sky remaining light 24 hours a day.
Here’s what you need to know about one of the 11 World Cup host cities in Russia:
The vast St. Petersburg Stadium was a headache for the Russian government, taking a decade to build as costs soared to 43 billion rubles ($670 million). Worker deaths and corruption scandals marred the project.
The result is Zenit St. Petersburg’s new 67,000-seat home, which resembles a spaceship parked on the shore of the Baltic Sea. Fans should leave plenty of time to get there, since it’s a 25-minute walk from the nearest subway station.
WHAT TO KNOW
St. Petersburg’s grandeur is all down to the vision of one man.
Obsessed with trying to modernize his country, the 18th-century Czar Peter the Great decreed a new capital would be built from scratch in a swamp by the Baltic Sea. The idea was to create a metropolis as a centre for European technology and ideas to enter Russia, to force the Russian nobility to adopt European traditions, and to display the glory of Peter’s empire.
Soviet revolutionaries later moved the capital back to Moscow, but locals still see St. Petersburg as Russia’s cultural capital.
WHAT TO DO
The grand avenue of Nevsky Prospekt is St. Petersburg’s heart, running past parks, theatres and shops to the opulent Palace Square. That’s where Bolshevik revolutionaries took power in 1917 by seizing the Winter Palace.
Visitors can drink in the city’s beauty with a boat trip through the canals, or see some of the world’s most celebrated art in the famous Hermitage Museum.
St. Petersburg is a city of restaurants and bars, offering everything from fine dining to some of Russia’s best craft beer. At night, the bridges between the city’s islands lift to allow ships to pass — something to bear in mind to avoid being stranded on a night out.
WHAT TO WATCH
St. Petersburg will host seven World Cup games, starting with the Group B game between Morocco and Iran on June 15.
Russia’s World Cup hopes could be dashed by Mohamed Salah and Egypt in the Group A game on June 19.
Brazil plays Costa Rica in Group E on June 22, followed by Argentina taking on Nigeria in Group D on June 26.
In the knockout stages, St. Petersburg hosts one game in the round of 16, as well as a semifinal and the third-place playoff.
The World Cup kicks off June 14 and runs until July 15.
James Ellingworth, The Associated Press