St. Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia with its amazing art collections in the Hermitage and Russian Museum (plus countless other museums) and numerous palaces. The very first palace that my mother and I visited was Peterhof, the Summer Palace. Peter the Great had this majestic palace built to emulate (and exceed in opulence) Louis XIV’s Versailles.
Of all the palaces we’ve visited, Peterhof was the farthest away from St. Petersburg. I decided that it would be best to get to Peterhof by hydrofoil (a fast boat), which would only take a half hour and then take a bus and metro back home. Although the hydrofoil is a bit pricey (650 rubles ($19.63) for an adult one way compared to the 88 rubles ($2.66) for public transit (one bus, metro, & private minibus)), it’s the easiest, most comfortable, and fastest way to Peterhof from St. Petersburg. You catch the hydrofoil right in front of the Hermitage and it leaves every half hour (on the hour and half). It arrives at the Lower Garden of Peterhof. If you plan on taking the hydrofoil back to St. Petersburg, you can’t leave the palace/Lower Garden area. Once you leave, there’s no way of getting back in without paying again. If you really want to take the hydrofoil back, you’re not missing much by not seeing the Upper Garden.
The palace certainly is quite splendid, but the fountains and the formal French garden of Peterhof blew us away. We walked all over the garden chasing one fountain after another.
The interior of the palace was insanely beautiful, but I don’t remember much of it (nor can I show you photos of it) because photography wasn’t allowed. The other peculiarity of Peterhof (but by no means was it confined solely to Peterhof) is that you’re charged for pretty much every little thing you would like to see in Peterhof. There are separate charges for the lower garden (where the fountains are), the palace itself, and the various little bath houses, pavilions, grotto, and the other smaller palaces. You need to decide what you really must see, otherwise a day at Peterhof gets really expensive. My mom and I just saw the Lower Garden and palace, which took up the entire afternoon.
Taking public transit back to St. Petersburg was quite easy. I had a list of bus/private minibus numbers that would go back to a metro stop. The buses were right in front of the palace grounds. Then we took the subway to our usual stop, and took our usual bus back to home. The whole trip was under 2 hours. I would say that public transit to Peterhof from the heart of downtown St. Petersburg is about 1.5 hours, but our trip was a bit longer because I’m staying in a more residential neighborhood of St. Petersburg. Considering the savings in cost and frankly the ease with which you can use the public transit, I can definitely recommend this method as well.
My favorite palace is Catherine Palace. The Tiffany blue palace with gold and white embellishments is an incredible beauty. This is a palace truly worthy of Catherine the Great. Although its gardens are lovely, the palace with its breathtaking interior is the draw.
I had considered going to Catherine Palace as a part of a tour bus because 1) I wanted to go to Pavlovsk as well on the same day and 2) the crowds of tourists swell to tsunamic proportions such that Catherine Palace limits the entry of individual tourists to certain hours. By going in a tour group, we would be able to get into the palace faster. In the end I decided against it because the tour bus company (even the cheapest one) was quite expensive and reviews complained you were rushed through the palace and the grounds.
As usual travel by public transit is incredibly easy. We traveled by bus to our usual metro stop, took the subway all the way down, and then hopped on a private minibus to Catherine Palace. The whole trip took about 1.5 hours (about an hour from the center of St. Petersburg). I love the fact that for less than $3, I can pretty much travel anywhere I want to around St. Petersburg.
During peak tourist season (May to September) individuals who are not part of a tour group can only enter Catherine Palace between 12:00 – 4:00 pm, and 6:00 til closing. The lines are incredibly long and the palace is packed full of tourists like a tin of sardines. This was definitely the most crowded place that I’ve been to, but it’s well worth all the hassles. I had us arrive around 11 am. I stood in line while my mom wandered around the gardens a bit.
I loved the opulence of Catherine Palace. It’s difficult to explain all the splendor. It’s impressive how they restored Catherine Palace. It had been pretty much destroyed during WWII, but they had lovingly restored everything back to its original glory. My favorite room is the famed Amber Room, a room decorated almost entirely of glowing amber. The history of the room is quite interesting, so please click on the link and read the Wiki about it.
Although the palace is enormous, most of it is not available for you to see. Individuals are allowed to see certain rooms, while tour groups are sent off to different rooms (although some of the rooms overlap) as a way of distributing the number of tourists throughout the palace. Even with all procedures to manage tourists, the palace is very very crowded.
The palace grounds appeared endless. My mother and I peacefully strolled through and thoroughly explored the gardens, which took the entire afternoon. Originally I wanted to go to Pavlovsk that day as well, but I realized that if we wanted to truly appreciate Catherine Palace and Park, we couldn’t go to Pavlovsk.
I adored Catherine Palace and Park and would definitely say that it is a must when seeing St. Petersburg.
Ben and I visited Pavlovsk the other day. Pavlovsk is a smaller palace that was a present to Catherine the Great’s son, Paul and his wife, Maria Feodorovna. These royals show that just because a palace is smaller, it does not mean that it is not grand. In particular I loved the beautiful artwork of the wooden floors. Different types and colored wood formed patterns and decorations. I probably had more fun looking at the floors than almost anything else. We also liked the grand dining room/ball room.
But most of all Ben and I appreciated spending a gorgeous 75 degree sunny, but not hot, day out wandering around the grounds. The garden is left relatively alone, unlike the formal French gardens of Peterhof and Catherine Park. It’s more like walking in the woods. The really wonderful part of the grounds here is that you’re allowed to sit on the grass. If Ben and I had known this, we would have brought a picnic lunch with us. Because there are far fewer tourists who come to Pavlovsk, it’s much quieter and easier to find a solitary place to meditate. Even though it is the least flashy palace out of the ones I’ve seen, in many ways it was the easiest to enjoy because I could take my time to look at everything instead of being jostled by crowds.
The plain yellow exterior belies the wondrous stately charm of the House of Yusupovs. This palace is found right in St. Petersburg off the Moika River. It took a couple of tries to find this palace because “charmingly” St. Petersburg has another palace that goes by the same name. This palace belonged to one of the weathiest noble families, but its fame to claim is that it is also the site of Rasputin’s murder. There’s a special tour for that, but it’s available only in Russian.
The Yusupov Palace has one of the most impressive interiors that I’ve ever seen. My mother was more impressed with this palace than she was with Peterhof. The whole place was like a jewel or a Fabrege egg — beautifully built and decorated. Our favorite part of this palace was the theater. It’s small, but fantastic. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a part of this family, to sit in the bejeweled theater watching a personal performance from the artists of the time.
I highly recommend seeing Yusupov Palace if you come to St. Petersburg. If I had more time and a Russian interpreter, I would have loved to have gone on the Rasputin tour.
So in the three weeks that I’ve been in St. Petersburg, I’ve seen four magnificent palaces. And I have much more to tell and document about my time in Russia.