Monday 11 July 2016, 17:56

Sights to see in Saint Petersburg

The biggest football tournaments to be held in Russia – the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ – are so close now that is bringing you a sightseeing guide to the Host Cities. Aside from the obvious central attractions of the stadiums and the FIFA Fan Fests, we reveal the top tourist attractions in each location and begin with Saint Petersburg, a city which is set to host both major tournaments.****

An inspiring football emblem Palace Square is Saint Petersburg's main square, and will undoubtedly be a gathering place for fans despite the FIFA Fan Fest being held elsewhere. It is well worth a visit too, first and foremost because sporting victories are always celebrated in this spot. Be sure to be on your best behaviour though, because you will be standing next to one of the most important museums in the world, the Hermitage.

Even if there is ample room for a kick-about around the Alexander Column, head straight into the Hermitage because no tourist in Saint Petersburg should miss out on this cultural highlight. Locals and journalists constantly quiz visiting players and coaches as to whether they have been around the museum yet, so even those who have little interest in art have no option but to pay it a visit.

Right next door to the Hermitage is the spire of the Admiralty, a symbolic city landmark made all the more remarkable by the fact that between 1988 and 2013, the little boat on the tip of the spire periodically appeared on the emblem of the main local football club Zenit. Now it can only be seen on retro shirts - and in situ, of course.

How football brought Nevsky Prospekt to a standstill The pavements on the main street in St. Petersburg are a bit too narrow for big crowds, but any visitor to the city needs to get a feel for Nevsky Prospekt. The avenue is both a window on and an important transport artery to the River Neva.

There have been rare but memorable moments in the past when Nevsky Prospekt has been brought to a standstill by football. In 1999, for example, when Zenit won its first trophy in the post-Soviet era, the Russian Cup, the team paraded it through an enormous crowd of fans down the iconic thoroughfare from Vosstaniya Square to Palace Square. The club has subsequently gone on to win many different trophies, but Nevsky Prospekt has never again been completely closed off. The Cup parade route is three kilometres long and will take you about 45 minutes to walk along, as it does not include the section from Vosstaniya Square to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. That will be time well spent, and by the end of it you will be perfectly located to take in Palace Square, the Hermitage and the Admiralty.

If you prefer to use transport rather than walk, keep in mind that St. Petersburg is a huge city with the population over five million citizens and traffic jams in the historic centre are quite common. But don't let it put you off, just ask Moscow-born FC Zenit and Russia national team striker Artem Dzyuba.

"St. Petersburg has got less traffic than Moscow – that’s the main advantage," he said. "Everything is closer here. I love water, and many attractions here are connected to water. I even like the weather, there’s something English about it. I know that many people hate this kind of weather but I adapt to everything. When I lived in Moscow I thought of St. Petersburg as a dark, grey, depressing place. I’m so glad it turned out to be nice, comfortable and attractive."

Saint Petersburg's footballing heart Saint Petersburg's original citadel, the Peter and Paul Fortress is another must-see, but do not limit yourself to the fortress alone! The historical district around the fortress known as the Petrograd Side has been the footballing heartbeat of the city for decades. It is here that you can find the old Petrovsky Stadium where Zenit still play, and where Russia has staged seven internationals. More football graffiti can be seen on the houses in this neighbourhood than anywhere else, and lots of fans head here on matchday. With the opening of the new Saint Petersburg Stadium, the city’s football hub will shift, but not far, as the new arena is situated in the same Petrograd district, only closer to the Gulf of Finland in the parks area.

The new stadium is located on Krestovsky Island, an area of the city that has always been associated with sports and boasting pitches and complexes for football, basketball, volleyball, tennis, cycling, rowing and more. Covered in vegetation and parks, this is a green district, yet at the same time not far from the historical centre. It is no surprise then that many of Zenit's Russian and foreign footballers buy and rent their apartments here. So don’t be surprised if you meet some famous players there.****

Following in the footsteps of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid Autograph hunters hoping to bump into visiting foreign stars should head for the plush hotels in the centre of the city where teams usually stay when taking on Zenit. As a rule these are close to Saint Isaac's Cathedral and the square of the same name on the Moika Embankment, or near to Nevsky Prospekt on Arts Square, where you can find the Russian Museum, another must-see institution along with the Hermitage.

There is another custom upheld by nearly all the visiting teams to Saint Petersburg. They take a stroll around the local sights on the morning of a match. Saint Petersburg is too beautiful a city for you to stay cooped up in a hotel, so over the years the players of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, AC Milan and other famous clubs have often strolled around its streets. You should follow in their footsteps.

"I have a lot of memories," said Andre Villas Boas. "I’ve walked the city a lot since I’ve arrived, I’m a lone walker around the city and when I have free time I go around to St. Isaacs Cathedral and Kazan Cathedral. It’s a wonderful city, I will miss it dearly. I’ve been welcomed here and very well received by the people. Such a bright city, April, May, June, this period is very beautiful."

It surely is, especially during the so-called 'White Nights' season in June when the northern city enjoys prolonged daytime and the sky indeed almost never gets dark, which is exactly the time of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and the World Cup a year later.