Although just 300 years old, St Petersburg has a rich and exciting history.

Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great as his ‘window on the West’, the city has a vibrant, cosmopolitan feel and some of the most beautiful architecture in Europe.

Some of Russia’s most famous sons have been gay, and many spent time in St Petersburg — the composer Peter Tchaikovsky, the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, and Serge Diaghilev, another giant in the world of the creative arts, all led relatively open homosexual lives in the city in their day.

When glasnost was declared in the early 1990s, Russia’s gays and lesbians were quick to form alliances, starting newspapers, clubs and film festivals. Today in the major cities one still shouldn’t be too flamboyant but don’t be afraid to ask for a double bed if travelling with a partner.

St Petersburg, known in Soviet days as Leningrad, has a somewhat smaller gay scene than the capital Moscow, but the more cosmopolitan attitude in the city has meant gay rights groups have been more successful at winning their battles with local officials.

In 2010 St Petersburg held its first legal Pride march, whereas Moscow Pride has been banned by the authorities for every year since 2006.

And St Petersburg’s gay clubs put Sydney’s biggest to shame.

Kabare (Cabaret in English) is so vast it’s located in the former Soviet Palace of Culture, while Greshniki (Sinners) takes up four levels, and the Central Station club has a capacity of 500.

St Petersburg is also home to Russia’s first lesbian bar, Tri El, located near the historic Ploshchad Vosstaniya metro station.

One bonus of visiting during the Russian summer are St Petersburg’s so-called White Nights, when the sun never sets because of its proximity to the Arctic Circle and Russians stroll though the city day and night.

When visiting ‘The Venice of the North’ be sure to allow ample time to see the cultural city and the surrounding country. The palaces are a must — but be sure to leave time for caviar and vodka!

St Petersburg – Getting there:

Austrian Airlines operates daily flights from Australia via Bangkok to Vienna, code-sharing with Thai Airways. Austrian connects to St Petersburg daily from Vienna with flights operated by Tyrolean Airways.

Lufthansa connects from all Australian capitals daily to St Petersburg via Munich or Frankfurt, code-sharing with Singapore Airlines via Singapore and Thai Airways via Bangkok.

Call 1300 655 727 or visit www.lufthansa.com or www.austrian.com for more information.

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