The Hermitage, St Petersberg

Love art? Like art, even a bit? Then the Hermitage has to be one of the places to see before you die.

Anything to do with travelling in Russia will necessitate a fair degree of patience. There are queues everywhere and that’s not just at the museum but the traffic jams en route. If you’re visiting the Hermitage independently do yourself a favour and buy tickets online to avoid at least one of the queues.

Once inside, the four buildings open to the public showcasing the phenomenal collection can be confusing. It’s worth doing a little research in advance to familiarise yourself with the layout and locations of your must-see art works.

Many tours (and they are numerous) don’t get beyond the first floor. If Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Rubens are you’re thing, expect long queues of tourists one by one experiencing the masterpiece though their viewfinder. Amazing how few actually take in the art with a naked eye. It’s all point and shoot and onto the next one. But the walls of the same rooms are covered in Old Masters, step away from the groups and you’ll be surprised what the guides miss. A Caravaggio or two, for example.

5 tips for surviving the Hermitage

1. Look up. The building itself is a living artwork.

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The Raphael Loggias are breathtaking. I could have spent all day just looking at the ceiling.

2. Start at the top. The second floor houses the 19th and 20th century Western European Art collection. The masses are often too exhausted to make it up the stairs to experience these delights. Picasso, Matisse and Renoir hang out up there with Gauguin and Cezanne. There’s also Monet, Van Gough and Kadinsky.

3. Look out.

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Get some perspective. Take a moment to gaze out the windows. Just don’t stand on the seat to take the picture!

4. Pace yourself. Even the most hardened art lovers find it hard to take it all in for more than 3 hours at a time. If possible, stagger your visit over a couple of days or if that’s not possible, read up in advance and make a plan of attack.

5. Visit in winter. Those serious about art brave the snow, don their furs and visit St Petersburg in winter to avoid the queues. This way you can view your favouite works without the distraction of the picture snapping tourists.

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