The baroque aqua-and-white Winter Palace is a fitting place to start a run in the majestic city of St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great in 1703. And so, from there, in a misty early-morning rain, I set off across the choppy, pewter-blue Neva River via the Dvortsovyy Most–one of 315 bridges in the “Venice of the North.”
The golden spire gleaming from inside the Peter and Paul Fortress beckons me upstream, across the tip of Vasilyevsky Island and Birzhevoy Most. Upon entering the fortress through a great stone archway, I find I am the only person there. I pass into the grand cathedral where the bulk of Russia’s greatest rulers lie in peace, trot along tree-shaded cobbled lanes, then disappear through a portal cut into the formidable rampart to the river.
A man fishes quietly to one side; a couple strolls along the riverbank on the other. But it’s the view in front of me that stops me in my tracks. Fanciful royal residences — including the Winter Palace–form a line on the river’s far side along the aptly named Palace Embankment.
As I stand there admiring the 18th-century scene, golden rays pierce the dark billowy clouds. A spectacular rainbow appears from behind the Winter Palace, its vibrant colors mingling with the churning gray water as it meets the river.
Mesmerized, I follow the arc back across the (now sparkling) river and along the embankment, unsure of which spectacular view to focus on–the river-plunging rainbow on my right or the magnificent palaces on my left.
Mileage: 3.7-mile loop
Best Time: Any time, depending on the weather and temperature. Early morning and twilight can bring beautiful colors in the sky and buildings.
Start and End: Winter Palace (at the corner of Palace Embankment and Palace Square)
– Cross the Neva River on Dvortosovyy Most and Birzhevoy Most to Mytninskaya naberezhnaya
– Cross Kronversky Strait on Ioannovskiy Most to Zayachy Island and Peter and Paul Fortress
– Retrace your steps to Kronkverkskaya naberezhnaya
– Turn right to Kamennoostrovskiy prospekt
– Cross the Neva on Troitskiy Most
– Turn right on Palace Embankment to return to the Winter Palace
Barbara A. Noe is senior editor of National Geographic Travel Books.