Did you grow up in a royal family? Do you have a 15-bedroom villa in the countryside? Do you have very puffy (and impractical) dresses that you actually wear? If you answered ‘yes’ to at least one of the above questions, then we have very different lives.
I have to admit that sometimes I like to think about how it would have been if I had royal blood (and lived a few centuries ago). The imperial estates near Saint Petersburg are perfect for this kind of daydreaming with their incredible architecture and gardens.
During my stay in Saint Petersburg I was able to visit two tsars’ residences: the Peterhof Palace and the Catherine Palace. They have a very similar atmosphere and architecture, though they have their own specific characteristics that differentiate them greatly.
Peterhof Palace and Gardens
The Peterhof Palace used to be the residence of tsars and is commonly known as the “Russian Versailles” because of its grandiose interiors, superb gardens and incredible fountains. It was commissioned by Peter the Great and is located just outside Saint Petersburg.
Apart from the palace itself and its incredible interiors, it is the garden, and specifically its over 150 fountains that draw thousands and thousands of visitors each year.
Walking around the gardens – especially the Lower Garden – you’ll see beautiful sculptures dotted all around the parks, pretty architectural details here and there, and those stunning fountains, usually adorned with gilded sculptures that reflect every bit of sunlight.
The most famous fountain is the Grand Cascade, which you won’t miss even if you want to, with its almost 300 sculptures and 64 fountains. It is definitely a breathtaking sight and a must-see, also for the spectacular statue that stands at its centre. Other fountains worth seeing are the Chess Cascade and the Pyramid Fountain
Note: the fountains only work in the summer months, starting from the end of May. So, if you are going there, make sure to check when they turn them on. I do suggest going there in the summer, but even without water running through them, they look amazing.
The interiors of Peterhof Palace, the so-called Grand Palace, are also worth visiting as they offer a glimpse into what the life of the imperial family was like at the time, with richly decorated rooms, gilded details and sumptuous halls.
How to get there: You can reach the Peterhof Palace in several different ways from Saint Petersburg:
- By boat (“Hydrofoil”): they leave just from the city centre and take you to Peterhof in around 30 minutes. Only available from mid-April to mid-Octobre.
- By car: it takes around 50 minutes. You can also take a taxi if you don’t have a car. Yandex taxi is great for this and relatively cheap.
- By bus: from the Avtovo metro station in Saint Petersburg.
- By train: from Baltic Station in Saint Petersburg, it will take you to Peterhof, but you will still have to walk for arounf 30 minutes to reach the palace.
Tickets and prices: The prices have increased a lot lately, so for the most reliable information, check the official Peterhof Museum website. Many guides and tours will also offer to include the entrance tickets, which will save you the hassle of researching too much and can be a great solution. Here are the prices (as of May 2023, for international visitors) – yes you have to purchase those separately:
- Grand Palace: 1500 rubles (18 USD)
- Lower Garden: 1200 rubles (15 USD) / free in Winter
- Upper Garden (this is the area you cross to reach the palace): free
This palace, located in a town called Pushkin (or Tsarskoe Selo), is named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great. It was originally modest but Peter’s daughter decided that it needed more, because she wanted to use it as her main summer residence. She had it reconstructed several times, leading to its current grandeur. The blue and white façade with gilded ornaments is spectacular and reminds a lot of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
Inside, the Golden Enfilade designed by the Italian architect Rastrelli is very well-known and absolutely spectacular, and the richly decorated rooms are nothing short of stunning, but Catherine Palace’s popularity comes from the Amber Room.
The walls of the Amber Room are covered with a mosaic made out of different pieces of amber that have different colours. It is absolutely breathtaking and unlike anything I have seen before. This alone justifies a visit and
A walk through the gardens is also really appreciated, twith the huge lake that gives it a very romantic vibe.
How to get there: unless you book a private transfer or tour, you’ll have to figure out how to get there, and just like for Peterhof, you have several options:
- By car: it takes approximately 40 minutes from Saint Petersburg. You can also go with a taxi but it might be quite expensive – worth checking if you are travelling with a small group though!
- By train: from the Vitebsky station in Saint Petersburg, you’ll reach the town called Tsarskoe Selo in around 30 minutes. Then, you’ll have to walk for another 30 minutes or take the bus (marshrutka).
- By bus: there are several buses that will take you from Saint Petersburg to the Palace from the Moskovskaya station.
Tickets and prices: The prices have increased a lot lately, so for the most reliable information, check the official Catherine Palace website. Many guides and tours will also offer to include the entrance tickets, which will save you the hassle of researching too much and can be a great solution. Currently (May 2023), the tickets to visit Catherine Palace cost 1000 rubles (12.5 USD).
The location of both Peterhof and Catherine Palace is very convenient as they are not too far away from Saint Petersburg. They both are worth a visit and I wouldn’t know which one to recommend more, though I definitely want to go back to Peterhof in the summer to see the fountains!
Have you visited one of these palaces? Which one would you prefer?
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