54 St. Petersburg

PopulationMetro: 5,175,000
White nights and sumptuous beauty live in regal ‘Piter.’

There are many worthy cities that vie for the title of Venice of the North, but only one that wears the crown with the panache of St. Petersburg. Imperial capital for two centuries, city of 40 islands and 342 bridges, the Romanov showcase is the very definition of sumptuous. (Perhaps to compensate, locals refer to it by the affectionate diminutive ‘Piter.’)

Small wonder that it ranks #9 for Product, our measure of institutions, attractions and infrastructure; more surprising is the its strong economy, with a #10 ranking for global employment.

It’s the scale here, at once immense and intimate, that bewitches: the word ‘museum’ gets redefined at the State Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world, with an exquisite, sea green Winter Palace so beautiful it could melt a czar’s heart. Not surprisingly, the city ranks #3 on the planet in our Museums category, second only to big sister Moscow. The Russian Museum gets short shrift, but is eminently worthy.

Place 59
Product 54
Programming 22
People 33
Prosperity 11
Promotion 11

The city’s Attractions rank #4: you could begin at the Peterhof Palace, the Peter and Paul Fortress or the Church of the Savior on Blood—they’re all as spectacular as their monikers.

The city places #6 in our Neighborhoods & Landmarks category, meaning you need to roam Palace Square, Nevsky Prospekt—the elegant geographical anchor of the city—and around Square of the Arts and the Summer Gardens. St. Petersburg ranks Top 10 for Culture, so you’ll need to see a show at the Alexandrinsky Theatre—Swan Lake, if you’re lucky, in this ballet-obsessed nation. And you must come for White Nights in early summer when the sun never sets, the party never ends, and you and Piter can sit on the riverbank in a 2 a.m. twilight, drinking vodka and watching the raising and lowering of the iconic Palace Bridge—and many, many others—that allow ships to pass through the city. White Nights contribute to the city’s #20 place for Programming, and makes a perfectly democratic punctuation to an imperial stay.