The city is situated on high hills and surrounded by volcanoes. The surrounding terrain is mountainous enough that the horizon cannot be seen clearly from any point in town. Across Avacha Bay from the city in Vilyuchinsk is Russia's largest submarine base, the Rybachiy Nuclear Submarine Base, established during the Soviet period and still used by the Russian Navy. The city is located 6,766 kilometers (4,204 mi) from Moscow and about 2,220 kilometers (1,380 mi) from Vladivostok.
The city is considered to be founded by Danish navigator Vitus Bering in the service of the Russian Navy, although the foundation was laid by navigator Ivan Yelagin a few months earlier. Bering reached Avacha Bay in late 1740 and as superior, named the new settlement "Petropavlovsk" (Peter and Paul) after his two ships, the St. Peter and the St. Paul, built in Okhotsk for his second expedition. The town's location on the sheltered Avacha Bay and at the mouth of the Avacha River saw it develop to become the most important settlement in Kamchatka. It was granted town status on April 9, 1812.
During the 1854–1855 Crimean War, the city was put under siege by the Anglo-French forces, but never fell. The city had been fortified under the command of Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky in the years prior, but only possessed a small garrison of a few hundred soldiers and sixty-seven cannons. After much exchange of fire, 600 Anglo-French troops landed south of the city, but were forced to retreat by only 230 Russian troops after heavy fighting. One week later, 900 Anglo-French troops landed east of the town, but were again repelled by the Russians. The allied ships then retreated from Russian waters. The total Russian losses were reported at around 100 men; those of the Anglo-French at least five times that number.
Petropavlovsk was a great source of fish, particularly salmon, and crab meat for the Soviet Union in the 20th century. Since the end of the Soviet era, fishing rights have also been granted to foreign interests. Poaching of salmon for their caviar at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky remains a problem, unhampered by lax law enforcement and widespread corruption.
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is the administrative center of the krai. Within the framework of administrative divisions, it is incorporated as Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky City Under Krai Jurisdiction—an administrative unit with the status equal to that of the districts. As a municipal division, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky City Under Krai Jurisdiction is incorporated as Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Urban Okrug.
The city has developed a tourist infrastructure. About twenty large tourism companies offer a wide range of services from bear hunting to paragliding. No roads connect the Kamchatka Peninsula to the rest of the world. Travel to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is expensive but is growing in popularity because of the remarkable scenery throughout the peninsula. The city is served by Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Airport, which is linked to the town and its port via the A-401 road.
Ethnic Russians make up the majority of the population; the city on its own has more inhabitants than the entire neighboring Chukotka Autonomous Okrug or Magadan Oblast.
The population numbered 179,780 in 2010; 179,800 in 2011; 179,784 in 2012; and 181,618 in 2013.
The climate is boreal (Köppen Dfc) and precipitation averages are estimated at 1,150 millimeters (45 in), or about three-and-a-half times as much as most of Siberia averages, with most falling as snow. Temperatures in winter are much milder than in Siberia—a typical January day averages −7 °C (19 °F), while in summer +16 °C (61 °F) constitutes an average August high. In warm years monthly high averages in July–August reach +18 °C (64 °F) and higher.
Despite the generally high precipitation, the weather is less cloudy than in the adjacent Kuril Islands that are one of the least sunny places in the world, since the city is located behind a peninsula to the north that blocks some of the fog from the Oyashio Current. Oceanic water in Avacha Bay and adjacent bays is also warmer than coastal waters of Kuril Islands and Okhotsk sea coast (except Southern Kuriles and Southern Sakhalin).
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is twinned with: