Too European to be Russian and too Russian to be European, St. Petersburg stands as Tsar Peter the Great’s window to the west. At 5 million residents strong, Russia’s northern capital is also the fourth largest city in Europe after Paris, Moscow, and London and still feels every bit the beautiful, imperial city Peter and his Romanov successors intended it to be.

St. Petersburg’s romance stems from its commanding melding of East and West, pairing golden spires and pastel palaces alongside elegant canals and baroque edifices. With this preserved beauty as its backdrop, it’s little wonder why St. Petersburg is the go-to destination for fashion photographers and travel bloggers around the world, and a UNESCO trove of world cultural heritage. Indeed, despite Moscow’s glamorous and powerful foothold, St. Petersburg attracts the most visitors on account of its culture, history, and seductive allure.

The first of St. Petersburg’s many splendors is its location along the mighty Neva River. The city was built on more than a hundred islands in the Neva Delta, each granite embankment acting as a pedestal for Italianate mansions and neoclassical palaces. Whether cruising the canals, crossing one of the city’s 342 arched bridges, or watching the ships make their leisurely passage, one is never too far from the water in St. Petersburg, a fact that led Goethe to deem it the “Venice of the North.” From the gilded dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral—the third largest cathedral in the world—to the elaborate Amber Room of Catherine’s Palace and the magnificent “Russian Versailles” Grand Peterhof Palace, European opulence comes in no short order in St. Petersburg.

But St. Petersburg’s beauty is not just reserved for its architectural facades and natural setting. Within this city is a hefty serving of cultural nourishment. One could spend days wandering around the Hermitage, the world’s biggest museum, which boasts over 2 million exhibits in four buildings and displays everything from Egyptian mummies to the largest collection of Titians in existence. Add to this the world-class ballet and opera at the Mariinsky Imperial Opera Theatre and the iconic Fabergé Museum housing the world’s largest collection of works by Carl Fabergé, and one has only reached the tip of all that St. Petersburg has added to the world’s cultural stage.

All this to say: to travel to St. Petersburg with Ker & Downey is to follow in the footsteps of the tsars and discover a world of history, romance, and undiluted beauty such that only Russia and Europe combined could conjure.