There are lots of interesting places to visit within a 450 kilometers (300 mile) radius of St. Petersburg, including the magnificent estates and summer palaces in Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo), Pavlovsk and stunning Peterhof

Peterhof is famous for its magnificent grounds and fountains.Pavlovsk is home of the most completely restored royal home. One of the palaces in Tsarskoe Selo was the home of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family. Rasputin was a frequent visitor. Among the Other palaces in this area are Oranienbaum and Gatchina. Many people visit these palaces as part of a tour or with arranged or their own vehicles, but public transportation, including summer hydrofoil service to Peterhof, is available.

Europe is close by. The Finnish border is about 225 kilometers (140 miles) away — a three -hour car trip in good weather and light traffic from St. Petersburg. You may like to travel to border towns, such as Lappeenranta, for shopping or relaxation. Helsinki is another 3 hours from the border. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is approximately 320 kilometers (200 miles) away and can be reached in 4-5-hour driver or 10 hours by train. Riga Latvia is 640 kilometers (400 miles) away. Vilnius, Lithuania is 740 kilometers (460 miles) away.

Lomonosov Porcelain Factory (pr Obukhovsky Oborony 151, eight kilometers southeast of central St. Petersburg)offers tours. Also known as the Imperial Porcelain Factory, it is famous for its hand-painted porcelain. Founded in 1744 as the Imperial Porcelain factory by Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, it is unusual in that it has remained in business for so long and operated as a profit-making enterprise even during the Soviet era. As the Imperial Porcelain it produced decorated pieces for the tsars and Russian aristocrats. Under the Communists it produced porcelain likenesses of Lenin, Stalin and Brezhnev as well as decorative vases and urns like those owned by the tsars. In recent years the factory has been privatized and is 25 percent owned by an American. The tour introduces the production line and offers the insight into how hand painted porcelain is made.

Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea is a shallow, brackish, lakelike sea, of strategic importance to the nine nations that surround it. At various times in history it has been called Sweden's lake and Russia's lake, in reference to the great empires that controlled it. Ships using the Baltic ports have to pass through the straits between Denmark and Sweden. The greater Baltic area has a population of more than 90 million and a GDP that is about a third of Japan’s.

Covering 377,000 square kilometers (145,460 square miles), an area of about the size of Montana, the Baltic Sea is shaped, some say like a praying lady. The feet are between Denmark and Germany. Her knees are resting on Poland, and the top part of her legs are supported by the Baltic Republics: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Her hands reach out to Russia and her head and torso are between Finland and Sweden. [Source: "The Baltic: Arena of Power" by Priit Vesiland, National Geographic, May 1989]

The only way out of the Baltic Sea is through a couple straits threading between Sweden and the islands of Denmark. In the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West in the 1950s-1980s this area bristled with observation posts counting coming and going Soviet ships. There was also quite bit of submarine hanky panky going here as well.

The Baltic Sea has a delicate salinity and oxygen supply. The lack of outlets also means that pollution that flows into the Baltic often gets trapped there in the sometimes stagnant body of water. The amount of pollution has decreased dramatically since all the nations around it signed the Helsinki Convention of 1974. The other problem that the Baltic has to contend with is the fact than more than two thirds of the sea freezes over in the winter. Powerful icebreakers are employed to keep the sea lanes open.

Gulf of Finland

The Gulf of Finland is the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea. Covering an area 30,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles), it touches the Baltic Sea to the west, Finland to the north and Estonia to the south and extends all the way to Saint Petersburg in Russia, where the river Neva drains into it, to the east. Other major cities around the gulf include Helsinki and Tallinn. The eastern parts of the Gulf of Finland belong to Russia, and some of Russia's most important oil harbours are located farthest in, near Saint Petersburg (including Primorsk). As the seaway to Saint Petersburg, the Gulf of Finland has been and continues to be of considerable strategic importance to Russia. Some of the environmental problems affecting the Baltic Sea are at their most pronounced in the shallow gulf.

The Gulf of Finland is 400 kilometers long (from the Hanko Peninsula to Saint Petersburg) and is generally 70 to 130 kilometers wide, narrowing to 12 kilometers at Neva Bay, approaching St. Petersburg. The average depth is 38 meters (125 feet) with the maximum of 100 meters (330 feet). The depth of the Neva Bay is less than 6 metres (20 ft); therefore, a channel had to be dug at the bottom for safe navigation.

Because of the large influx of fresh water from rivers, especially from the Neva River (two-thirds of the total runoff), the gulf water has very low salinity. Parts of the gulf can freeze from late November to late April; the freezing starts in the east and gradually proceeds to the west. Complete freezing usually occurs by late January. This may not occur in mild winters. Frequent strong western winds cause waves, surges of water and floods.

History of the Gulf of Finland

Many ancient sites dating back to around 9,000 years ago have been discovered on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, and it is assumed people began inhabiting these places soon after the ice age glaciers retreated. The gulf coast was later populated by Finno-Ugric peoples. Eesti (or Chud) inhabited the region of the modern Estonia, Votes were living on the south of the gulf and Izhorians to the south of Neva River. Korela tribes settled to the west of Lake Ladoga. In the 8th and 9th centuries, the banks of Neva and of the Gulf of Finland was populated by East Slavs, in particular by Ilmen Slavs and Krivichs. These people engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting and fishing. From the 8th to the 13th century, the Gulf of Finland and Neva were parts of the waterway from Scandinavia, through Eastern Europe to the Byzantine Empire.

From the 9th century, the eastern coast of the gulf belonged to Veliky Novgorod and were called Vodskaya Pyatina. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Finnish tribes on the north of the gulf were conquered by the Swedes who then proceeded to the Slavs. The first encounter is attributed to 1142 when 60 Swedish ships attacked 3 Russian merchant vessels. After a Swedish attack in 1256, the Russian army of Alexander Nevsky crossed the frozen gulf and raided the Swedish territories in the modern Finland.

In 1293, the Vyborg Castle and city of Vyborg was founded by the Swedish marshal Torkel Knutsson. The castle was fought over for decades between Sweden and the Novgorod Republic. By the Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323, Vyborg was finally recognized as a part of Sweden. Vyborg remained in Swedish hands until its capture by Peter the Great in the Great Northern War (1710). After that St. Petersburg was built and the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland has been in the hands of the Russian ever since..

Konstantin Palace

Konstantin Palace (in Strelna, 10 kilometers west of St. Petersburg) is the principal structure of the State Complex “The National Congress Palace”. It is surrounded by parks which are decorated with an inimitable ensemble of fountains, canals, draw bridges and splendid rosaries. The palace is is the former residence of grand dukes of the House of Romanovs and the revived monument of the Russian architecture of the 18th century.

In the early 2000s, the 1,000-room 18th century Konstantinorsky Palace was given a multi-million dollar makeover so that Russian President Vladimir Putin could use it as a retreat. It has own helipad, port for the presidential yacht, a network of canals, a man-made island, drawbridges, fountains, an arched entrance, a grand pavilion, 20 red brick cottages, an orchestral hall in a glass atrium and a veranda with a spectacular view of the water.

The Palace was started by Peter the Great but never finished. Putin hosted the G-8 leaders there and hoped it would serve as a center for international meetings and conferences. There were plans to turn an Arctic sailors college into a four star hotel A dacha once occupied by Mathilde Kschessinsk — a famous ballerina and mistress of Tsar Nicholas II — was slated to be turned into museum. By some estimated US$200million was spent on the project.


Peterhof (32 kilometers southeast of St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland) is Russia's most popular tourist attraction. Known and Petrodvorets from 1944 to 1997 and also called Petergof, it was Peter the Great's favorite palace and was occupied off and on by Catherine the Great. The estate has a huge tour bus-filled parking lot and received 5.3 million visitors in 2017, 40 percent of them foreigners.

Often called the Russian Versailles”, Peterhof Peterhof means “Peter’s Palace.” and consists of a grand palace and several picturesque park ensembles. In terms of its layout, the Peterhof ensemble combines the regularity and symmetry of the general composition with the skillful use of the natural terrain and with a variety of artistic styles in individual sections of the park, its pavilions, and fountains. The park's trees consist mostly of linden, oak, maple, ash, birch, black alder, spruce, as well as individual specimens of chestnut, fir, and larch. Flowers include numerous bulbs, aromatic medicinal herbs, and roses. The extensive area of the park features a wide variety of picturesque corners, and everyone will find something to suit their taste.

The Lower Park of Peterhof is famous for its unique and numerous fountains. There are a total of 147 fountains at the estate. Some hurl water from gilded figures. Others are arranged along marble tiers and resemble sprouting waterfall. Be careful climbing the steps in the gardens. Some of the "trick" fountains lie dormant until they are set off by an unsuspecting victim. The Samson fountain shoots water 66 feet into the air.

History of Peterhof

Peterhof was built by Peter the Great to emulate and rival Versailles. Founded at the beginning of the 18th century not far from St. Petersburg, Peterhof was designed to become the most splendid official royal summer residence. The two wings and upper story were designed by the Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo, who designed the Winter Palace and many of the most famous buildings in St. Petersburg.

Work on the creation of a new residence progressed at an amazing speed. In August 1723, Peterhof was opened in a grand ceremony and by this time the Lower Park had already been laid out, the Sea Channel had been dug, some of the fountains were already working, the upper chambers had been decorated, and Monplaisir and Marley palaces had been built. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]

On the one hand, Peter wanted Peterhof to rival in splendor the most famous royal residences of Europe, while, on the other, the place had to become a symbol of the successful conclusion of Russia's long struggle for an outlet to the Baltic Sea. Both plans were brilliantly implemented. By the 1720s the Upper Garden (15 hectares) and the Lower Park (102.5 hectares) had been established as regular parks, the Grand Palace had been built, the world's largest system of fountains and water cascades had been created, and most of the sculptures were in place: numerous gilded statues made of lead, bas-reliefs, mascarons, and vases. In 1799-1806 the lead statues were replaced by ones made of gilded bronze. The sculptures of Peterhof were created by the masters Martos, Prokofiev, Rachette, Shubin, and Shchedrin.

Peterhof rebuilt after it was transformed into a burned out shell after World War II. Although some interiors still need some repairs, the gardens, fountains of yellow facades have almost been completely restored

Grand Palace of Peterhof

Grand Palace of Peterhof faces the Gulf of Finland and rises above the Grand Cascade and the Lower Park, stretching along the upper terrace for almost three hundred yards. The original idea for the location and general appearance of the “Upper Chambers” — as the Grand Palace was first known — belonged to Peter the Great. It is hard to come up with a palace that is more ornate. The main rooms of the palace are smothered with gold leaf and huge paintings. The heavy golden cupolas in the corner of palace give it a strange squat appearance.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the finest Russian and West European architects worked on the facades and the interior decor. But the greatest contribution was made by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, who transformed the Grand Palace into a masterpiece of Baroque art during the reign of Peter's illustrious daughter, Empress Elizabeth, in the eighteenth century.

The Grand Palace is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. In the nineteenth century, the ornate Baroque interiors were embellished with Neoclassical details and light touches of Late Rococo. The palace boasts such masterpieces of decorative art as the Oak Cabinet of Peter the Great with carved panels by Nicolas Pineau; the grand staircase and golden enfilade of state apartments; the Ball Room and the Picture Gallery with 368 paintings by Pietro Antonio Rotari; the Cesme Room created for Catherine the Great in honour of Russian naval victories; the Chinese Rooms and the Throne Room with its Romanov portrait gallery. Today, the Grand Palace is a unique museum of history and art.

Mon Plaisir is one of the oldest, largest and most important building ensembles at Peterhof. Building between 1714 and 1723, it is where Peter had his Maritime Study, from which he could see Kronstadt Island to the left and St. Petersburg to the right, and spent most of her time. It is outfit with Dutch elements such as blue-and-white tile fireplaces, wood paneling and black-and-white checkered floors. In the glades outside are playful fountains. Added later to Monplaisir are the Bathhouse Wing and Kitchen Block, ordered by Catherine after Peter's death, and the Catherine Wing, which was originally built for Empress Elizabeth, but adapted by Quarenghi for Catherine the Great, who lived at Monplaisir during the last years of her marriage to Peter III. It was here that she heard the news of the coup against her husband that would eventually make her Empress of All the Russias. Inside the Catherine Wing, there are more relics of Alexander I than of Catherine, including his study and bedroom, with an extraordinary boat-shaped bed.

Visiting and Getting to Peterhof

Peterhof is official called the Peterhof State Museum Reserve. The best time to visit Peterhof is from May to September, while its fountains are running. You should plan on spending at least a day there if you want to see everything: the Grand Palace, 147 fountains (including the Grand Cascade and the Ches Mountain cascade), as well as the old plumbing system supplying Peterhof with water. Whatever season you visit be prepared to walk around a great deal. Some people complain Peterhof is more like a theme park than a palace.

You can take a train to Peterhof from St. Petersburg’s city center. A train ride from Baltiysky station to New Peterhof station takes about 30 to 40 minutes, plus a 30-minute walk from the station to the estate. A more comfortable and entertaining way to travel to Peterhof is by taking the Meteor speed boat that leaves from Admiralty Embankment in front of the Hermitage every 30 minutes. The boat trip takes 35 minutes and you will have a chance to see some of the city's biggest attractions along the way. The speed boat ticket fee often includes entrance to the garden but not the palace.

Peterhof is open from 10:30am to 6:00pm. The last admission is at 5:00pm. The ticket office is open from 10:30am to 5:00pm. Grand Peterhof Palace is closed on Mondays and last Tuesday of each month. Entrance to the Grand Peterhof Palace is on the Lower Park side. During the summer season separate ticket for the Lower Park is required. An combined entrance ticket in 1200 rubles (about US$20); for Russians it in 450 rubles (about US$7.30). Otherwise a Lower Park ticket costs 700 rubles and gives access to the gardens and main fountains. The Grand Palace admission is 600 rubles. Some other museums around the estate have separate entrance fees. Website:, General information: +7 (812) 450-52-87, (Mon-Fri 9:00-18:00, off hour 13:00-14:00)


Oranienbaum (a few kilometers from Peterhof) was grand palace that now run down and neglected are receives perhaps 5 percent of the number visitors that Peterhof receives. It is said that the terrace is crumbling and the whole structure is slowly sliding towards the Gulf of Finland. Built for Peter the Great’s friend Alexander Menshikob, it has been changed little from the time it was built. Catherine the Great lived here when she was a young bride married to Peter III and commissioned her favorite architect Antonio Rinaldi to build a series of pavilions on the park, several with Chinese touches. The main building is Grand Menshikov Palace.

Catherine was married to Peter III for 16 miserable years. They spent much of their time in separate palaces. Peter favored a two-story building at Oranienbaum, where he often hosted all night drinking parties. With her court activities sharply limited, Catherine spent much of her time reading. Six months after Peter III became tsar, while he was at Oranienbaum, a swift and efficient coup was carried out by a small group. Within hours Catherine was declared empress and St. Petersburg was secured. The next day Peter signed an abdication. Seven days later he was dead.

Unlike Peter the Great, who favored Baroque palaces, Catherine liked neo-classical buildings, which were all the rage during the Age of Enlightenment. At Sliding Hill at Oranienbaum she had a “roller coaster” built in the front yard for the amusement of her friends. Sliding Hill embraced a three-storey, blue-and-white baroque pavilion that was once the starting point for the 500-meter "rollercoaster,” which used sledges or wheeled carts to go on a track over the parks rolling ills. Other places of interest in this park area include the Stone Hall, used in Catherine's reign for masquerades and a deer enclosure, occupied today by tame and very friedly inmates. The Lower Park around the Grand Menshikov Palace was laid out in the early 18th century, when formal gardens were still the fashion, and hence there is little to see for now among the unkempt flower beds and silty ponds.

Kronstadt: home of Kronstadt Mutiny

Kronstadt (on Kotlin Island, 10 kilometers west of St. Petersburg) was the main base of the Russian Baltic Fleet, guarding the approaches to Saint Petersburg, and site home of Kronstadt Mutiny of 1921 It is now a port city linked to the former Russian capital by a combination levee-causeway-seagate, the St Petersburg Dam, part of the city's flood defences, which also acts as road access to Kotlin island from the mainland. The historic centre of the city and its fortifications are part of the Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In late February, 1921, a wave of strikes led by workers protesting food shortages and poor working conditions closed down factories in Petrograd (St. Petersburg). The Communist government responded by imposing martial law and using loyalist troops to force the workers back to their jobs. Reports of strike-busting brutality and rumors of massacres reached Kronstadt, a naval base and fortress situated on an island several miles off the coat of Petrograd.

Navymen sent to Petrograd to investigate witnessed factories surrounded by troops. One officer said: "one might have thought that these were not factories but the forced labor prisons of tsarist times." Radical and anarchist sailors were enraged by the reports. They asked what was the point of having a proletariat revolution if workers were going to treated in this fashion. They blamed the Communists who seized control of the government and outlawed all other political groups.

On March 1, 1921, some 15,000 sailors and workers gathered in Anchor Square on Kronstadt and issued a manifesto that demanded the Communist government hold elections open to all parties, provide land for peasants and end forced labor and the confiscation of peasant's crops. The following day a 14-member committee was elected to govern Kronstadt and lead a mutiny against the Communists.

Lenin sent troops and secret police to Kronstadt to crush the mutineers and Trotsky developed a propaganda campaign that portrayed the rebels as counter-revolutionaries and "White Guard mutineers. The first assault by Communist forces were turned back by the mutineers. Several days later a larger force of 50,000 men attacked at night and captured Kronstadt. Some 8,000 mutineers escaped across the ice to Finland, while 2,000 were captured.

The suppression is the uprising was followed up by mass executions, deportations and repressions. Many of the captured mutineers were executed. One eyewitness wrote: "Thousands of sailors and workers lie dead in the street. Summary executions of prisoners and hostages continue." Survivors were sent to Siberian concentration camps and 13 purported leaders, chosen for the upper class backgrounds, were tried and sentenced to death.

The Kronstadt Mutiny revealed the hypocrisies within the Communist government and their betrayal of the workers that brought them the power. Economic reforms similar to those demanded by the mutineers were passed in Lenin's New Economic Policy but the political changes they called for were not implemented. The Kronstadt Mutiny has also had a special place in Soviet history because the rebellion was led not by White Russians or counter-revolutions but by sailors and soldiers who were committed to Socialism.


Pushkin (24 kilometers south of central St. Petersburg) is a suburb of St. Petersburg in the Pulkovo hills, where the tsars spent their summers. Also known as Tsarkoye Selo, which means is Tsar Town, it is filled with lovely parks and places and is home of the home of an interesting Pushkin Museum. The costume museum is worth a look. On display here are coronation robes, unbelievable evening dresses, Chinese silk dressing gowns and giant cavalry helmets embossed with double headed eagles, the symbol of the tsars.

Pushkin has a population of about 95,000 people. Founded in 1710, it was connected to St. Petersburg with the first public railway in Russia, the Tsarskoye Selo Railways, which opened in 1837. The town contains several important historical buildings, namely the Catherine Palace and Alexander Palace, which are included in the list of monuments protected in St. Petersburg UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During the reign of Elizabeth (1741-1762), , Tsarskoye Selo became the imperial residence. In 1740-50s the modest palace of Catherine I was rebuilt into a luxurious summer residence, the Catherine Palace. Between 1751 and 1756 the reconstruction was led by Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli,[6] and the present look of the palace has not changed much since then. In 1755, the Amber Room was moved from the Winter Palace to the Catherine Palace. The gardens were extended and decorated with sculptures and pavilions. A canal was dug from Vittolovsky Springs (6 kilometres (4 miles) from the Tsarskoye Selo) to provide water for the park ponds, and several stone houses were built on the Perednyaya Street. The inflow of people to the area in the 1770s encouraged Catherine the Great to separate the Tsarskoye Selo from the urban area. By the decree of January 1780 she established a town Sofia nearby with a separate administration. Further construction works without imperial orders were banned in Tsarskoye Selo and most merchants and clergy were moved to Sofia.

Pushkin Museum (1827, Pushkinskaya Street, in Pushkin city) is located in the one-story historical wooden house where Pushkin spent the summer of 1831 with his wife Natalia. The exhibition contains his office and describes work of the poet at that time. The museum contains memorabilia, paintings of the poet, drawings and poems penned by him and even a letter written in two directions that had to be held up to a mirror to be read. It is embossed with a Hebrew seal given to him by one of his married lovers. You can also visit the lyceum where he studied.

Alexander Palace: Home of Nicholas II

Alexander Palace(in Tsarkoye Selo) is a late 18th century residence where Nicholas II and his family lived under house arrest for five months after the Bolshevik Revolution. Opened to the public in 1998, it contains the brass town beds where Nichols and Alexandra slept, a closet still containing the tsar's military uniforms and some enameled white chairs.

Regarded as one of the finest examples of Russian classicism, the Alexander Palace was the favourite home of several generations of the Romanovs for more than a century. It is considered one of the best creations of the architect Giacomo Quarenghi who built it for Catherine the Great’s eldest grandson, Emperor Alexander I. Nicholas II made it his permanent residence in 1905. That, in its turn made the Alexander Palace the center of statehood in Russia. It was from there that the family of the last Russian emperor went in exile to Yekaterinburg and were assassinated.

Nicholas II. and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna always loved the palace and decided to make it their permanent residence after the events of Bloody Sunday, which made the Winter Palace dangerous for them. They remodeled the former two-story ballroom into the Maple Room and the New Study and added rooms for their children on the floor above. To the disgust of the court, Alexandra, and her architect Meltzer, chose the then-modern Art Nouveau style of decoration, considered by the aristocracy to be "middle class" and less than "Imperial". One of these most famous rooms is Alexandra's Mauve Room . [Source: Wikipedia]

During the reign of Nicholas II, the palace was wired for electricity and equipped with a telephone system. In 1899, a hydraulic lift was installed connecting the Empress' suite with the children's rooms on the second floor. Furthermore, with the advent of motion pictures, a screening booth was built in the Semicircular Hall to show films.

During the stormy years of war and revolution, the monumental walls of the Alexander Palace sheltered the Imperial Family from the outside world. Pierre Gilliard, tutor to Nicholas II's son, had free access to this inner sanctum. In his memoirs, the tutor later described that the family life at Tsarskoe Selo was less formal than at other residences. Apart from a few exceptions, the court did not reside at the palace. The Imperial Family would gather informally around the table at mealtimes without attendants, unless relatives were visiting.

Nicholas II Under House Arrest at Alexander Palace

Nicholas II abdicated the throne of Russia in March 1917. Thirteen days later, he returned to the Alexander Palace not as Emperor of Russia, but as Colonel Romanov. The Imperial Family were now held under house arrest and confined to a few rooms of the palace and watched over by a guard with fixed bayonets. The regime of their captivity, worked out by Alexander Kerensky himself, envisaged strict limitations in the life of the Imperial Family: an isolation from the outer world, a guard during their promenades in the park, prohibition of any contacts and correspondence apart from approved letters. [Source: Wikipedia]

Gillard wrote: "In their spare time, free from studies, the Empress and her daughters were engaged in sewing something, embroidering or weaving, but they were never idle.... During daytime walks all the members of the family, excluding the Empress, were engaged in physical work: they cleaned paths in the park from snow, chopped ice for the cellar, cut dry branches or old trees, storing firewood for the future winter. With the arrival of the warmer weather the entire family worked on an extensive kitchen-garden...."

Due to an increasingly precarious situation in St. Petersburg, the leader of the provisional government, Alexander Kerensky, made the decision to move the Romanov family out of the palace into internal exile in Tobolsk in far away Siberia. There had been calls for the prisoners to be housed in the prison at the notorious Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Petersburg. To avoid this on the morning of 1 August 1917, a train took the family away. They were never to return.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace(in Tsarkoye Selo, 30 kilometers south of St. Petersburg) is one of the grandest palaces in Russia. It boasts five glorious gilded domes that look like exclamation points of wealth and features a half-kilometer-long blue and white pilastered facade, with pavilions and royal baths and dark green atalantes, originally gilded, on the ground floor. The estate is officially called Tsarskoe Selo State Museum and Heritage Site and was known until 1910 as the Great Palace of Tsarskoye Selo and used to also be called the Summer Palace of Catherine the Great.

Catherine Palace was originally constructed as a gift from Peter the Great to his wife Catherine I. It was expanded by his daughter, the Empress Elizabeth and Catherine the Great into a Russian version of Versailles. The facade and many of the rooms, including the Green Pilaster Room and the Golden Enfilade, were designed by the Italian architect Bartolommeo Francesco Rasterelli. By the time the Romonavs lived there it contained a collection of art with 30,000 paintings, sculptures, French porcelain, and silver place settings.

Over the years the palace was occupied by several tsars, who lived it at various times of the year and adapted to their individual needs. An exhibit at the palace contains portraits, gowns, uniforms and household relics of the Romanov (the tsar’s) family. Impressive pieces include a life-size painting of Nicholas II and Alexandra and the crib used by their son Alexei.

History of the Catherine Palace

The area occupied by Catherine Palace and Tsarskoye Selo was controlled by the Swedes in the 17th century. During the Great Northern War, Peter the Great, seized the territory along with the area that now is occupied by St. Petersburg In 1710 Peter gave the area occupied by Catherine Palace to his beloved wife Catherine I. Catherine I was the second wife of Peter the Great and Empress of Russia from 1725 until her death in 1727. It her name that it attached to park not that of Catherine II (Catherine the Great). Catherine I used the area as her hunting grounds and built the first grand palace designed by the German architect Johann Friedrich Braunstein in 1717. This palace was a small and modest. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website, Wikipedia]

In 1743, Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, ascended the throne. "Merry Elizabeth" loved the luxury and balls, glitter and fun. She hired Russian architects GZ Zemtsov and A. Kvasov extend the residence, making it more luxurious. The original palace has overhauled and given side wings with galleries. After a year and a half, management of the construction was taken over by the architect Savva Chevakinsky, who laid out the basic outline of the buildings which remains with us today: the central building of the palace with a large courtyard and a place for church services. By 1751 the palace facades were decorated with gilded statues and ornaments The same year, the unfinished palace, was given a new direction when the Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli was commissioned to take over the palace construction.

Rastrelli skillfully combined the previous building, not destroying them, with his vision of a grand palace and redecorated facades. The Grand Palace is perhaps the finest example of Russian baroque architecture. The length of the facade is 310 meters but it doesn’t seem monotonous. The alternation of protruding and recessed portions of the facade, the abundance of columns, powerful figures of the Atlanteans, the contrast between the white stucco decorations and azure colored walls create a harmonious rhythm of the entire structure. During the construction of the palace, large-scale work was also being done on the park. Upper Park, adjacent to the front of the Grand Palace, was modeled after a classic English landscape park, completely manmade with an illusion of naturalness. To decorate the park, Italian marble sculptures were imported.

Catherine the Great spent the winter of 1768 in Tsarskoye Selo resting there after receiving smallpox vaccine, which she did in part to set an example for the whole of Russia. The Empress wrote Voltaire: "I am ordered to write to England, I need ospoprivivatel ... October 12, he instilled in me smallpox ... And now I have given orders that smallpox was vaccinated as my only son." After that Catherine the Great spent a lot of time at the palace.

Under Catherine the Great, Cameron Gallery, which included the Hanging Garden, Wheel, cold baths and Agate Rooms, was added to the boundary between regular and landscape park. Cameron Gallery is named after its creator, the Scottish architect Charles Cameron. He was invited by Catherine the Great, who considered Rastrelli Baroque ideas out of date. Cameron also built also worked at classical Alexander Palace, a wedding present from the Empress to her favorite grandson, the future Emperor Alexander I. Under Catherine the Great the core ensemble of Catherine Park and the interior Grand Palace was finally finished. Even so construction continued in the 19th century, for example new pavilions and sculptures were added to the park.

Upon Catherine's death in 1796, the palace was abandoned in favour of Pavlovsk Palace. Subsequent monarchs preferred to reside in the nearby Alexander Palace and, with only two exceptions, refrained from making new additions to the Catherine Palace, regarding it as a splendid monument to Elizabeth's wealth and Catherine II's glory. After the Great Fire of 1820, Alexander I engaged Vasily Stasov to refurbish some interiors of his grandmother's residence in the Empire style. Twenty years later, the magnificent Stasov Staircase was constructed to replace the old circular staircase leading to the Chapel of Catherine Palace

The Catherine Palace was converted into a state museum by the Soviets. The Nazis occupied the palace in 1941. Before they arrived the women of Pushkin worked around the clock to pack up the museum’s treasures and managed to get out of harms way. They were unable to dismantle the Amber Room in time though and left that behind. When the German forces retreated after the siege of Leningrad in World War II, they intentionally destroyed the palace.

The palace was little more than a pile of rubble after World War II. The park also was almost completely destroyed. Photos of the Catherine Palace ruins were presented as evidence of atrocities during the Nuremberg Trials. Soviet and Russian architects and workers have worked hard and done a pretty good job restoring the palace and park. The renovation and restoration has taken decades. Although the largest part of the reconstruction was completed in time for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg in 2003, much work still needs to be done. In particular, most of Stasov's interiors—specifically those dating from the reign of Nicholas I—have not been restored. The restoration work that has been completed looks great. After U.S. President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted a meeting here in November 2002. Bush remarked: “Nice palace.”

Architecture and Interior of the Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace museum is the product of over building, renovation and restoration that has taken place over 300 years. Making this outstanding edifice has utilized the work of architects involved in its construction and decoration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and also with the achievements of the restorers who returned the palace to life after the Second World War. Of the 58 halls destroyed during the war years, 32 have been recreated. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]

The Catherine Palace is a historical and compositional center of the palace-and-park ensemble. It is a remarkable edifice in the Russian Baroque style, with richly decorated interiors including the world-famous Amber Room, which was restored by the Tercentenary of St. Petersburg in 2003. In the halls of the spirits of Empress Elizabeth’s and Catherine the Great’s ages come alive as you admire the luxury and variety of interior trims and unique furnishings. Among the highlights are the Great Hall and Golden Enfilade, the brilliant embodiments of the unmatched talent of the architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli.

Catherine Hall is the size of a high school gymnasium. It has inlaid floors and 12 spacious windows, each framed with gold decorations. In the ballroom is the recently recreated 9000 square foot "Triumph of Europe," the largest ceiling painting in Europe.” Restorers are currently working on another huge painting, "Marriage of Bacchus and Ariane", using techniques that have changed little since Michelangelo's time. Inside the huge park is Alexander's palace.

Several classical interiors of an exquisite delicacy were created by the architect Charles Cameron for Empress Catherine the Great, her heir Grand Duke Paul and his spouse Maria. The State Study of Alexander I by the architect Vasily Stasov is one of the best Empire-style halls in Russian architecture.

Park, Statues and Lyceum at Catherine Palace

Tsarskoye Selo palace and park ensemble is one of the world’s greatest works of landscape art 18th - 20th centuries. Alexander Park, with an area of around 200 hectares, adjoins the Catherine Palace on the side of the parade ground (courtyard). Originally an imperial hunting area called the Menagerie, this large park was turned into a magnificent ensemble in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with Chinese-style pavilions of Catherine II’s reign (Chinese Village, Chinese Bridges, Chinese Theatre) and Gothic Revival structures from the time of Alexander I (White Tower, Arsenal, Chapelle, Pensioners’ Stable, Imperial Farm).

Tsarskoye Selo was not only the magnificent residence of the Russian tsars, but also "the city of the Muses." The great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was among those who graduated from Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, located in a building of the Grand Palace built in 1790 by architect Neelova specifically for training the grand duchesses, daughters of Paul I. Lyceum students were allowed to walk along the paths of Catherine Park. Modern park visitors go where Pushkin — the "swarthy lad wandered through the alleys" — and wrote his first poems. Tsarskoye Selo is also associated with Vasily Zhukovsky, Innocent Ann, Anna Akhmatova, Nikolai Gumilyov, and many other writers and poets.

One Pushkin poems about a famous statue in Tsarskoye Selo — of La Fontaine's Peretti — goes The urn with water damage on the cliff broke her maiden.
Virgo sits sadly, holding a shard idle.
Miracle! not syaknet water pouring from the broken urn;
Virgo, on the eternal stream, eternally sad sitting.
Mockingbird Alexey Tolstoy continued the theme:
Miracle I do not see here. Lt. Gen. Zakharzhevskaya,
in the bottom of the drilled urn, water conducted through it.
The same poem dedicated Tsarskoselskaya nymph Anna Akhmatova:
And how could I forgive her
enthusiasm praise your love ...
Look, she cheerfully sad,
This elegant nude.
[Lieutenant General Zakharzhevskaya led by engineering works on the device of the fountain].

Amber Room

The Amber Room (northern wing of the Catherine Palace) is an ornate, 120-square-meter (1,300-square-foot) room made from 100,000 pieces of perfectly cut and fitted amber mosaic panels. It is regarded as the most spectacular work of amber art ever made and the largest work of art ever made from material labeled as a gem. To enter it you need to put on booties and ascend a set of stairs covered by crimson carpets. [Sources: Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, April 14, 2003; John F. Ross, Smithsonian]

The Amber Room embraced three walls of amber panels. Each wall was 13 feet high and each panel was comprised of a seamless mosaic of polished amber tiles, many carved with images of flowers, busts, Prussian royal emblems, geometric patterns, landscapes, human figures, regal symbols, and adorned with precious stones and gold. Much of the amber was honey-yellow in color. Windows dominated the forth side. The amber came from the Prussian kings collection of amber, which had been collected for centuries along the Baltic Coast.

The craftsmen polished the pieces and sometimes heated them to change their color. They were cut in the form of interlocking jigsaw-like pieces and glued onto pieces of wood which in turn were mounted on the wall. The amber came mostly from the loam in Yantar’nyi Poselok, or Amber Village, near Kaliningrad.

Tickets, Open Hours and Getting to Catherine Palace

The opening and closing times and ticketing at Catherine Palace are a little tricky. Not all the places in the park or the palace may be open when you visit. A few require a separate ticket. Before you visit, it is a good idea to check the latest schedule. Waiting time for tickets and entering the palace may be over four hours in May–September and over 1-2 hours in October. Other times of the year may be better but you never know.

The park can generally be entered year-round from at least from 9:00am to 7:00pm, but may closed on certain dates when a special events. Admission is free from late October to late April. Ticketed admission is from early May to late October. The tickets cost 120 rubles (about US$2). People under 16 are free anytime, but only when getting a free ticket at the box office. This may entail a wait.

In the summer season (May to September) Catherine Palace is open every day of the week except Tuesdays and the last Monday of the month from 12:00noon to 7:00pm. The last entrance is 5:45pm. Catherine’s Park is open from 7:00am to 11:00pm. In winter and other times of the year schedules differ and change so it is best to consult the the Palace’s official website From October to April the palace is generally open from 10:00am to 4:45pm. And closed Tuesday and the last Monday of each month.

You can purchase tickets only at two park entrances from 10:00AM: at the Main Entrance and the Hermitage Kitchen, also known as the Red Gate. Tickets indicate the time you may enter the palace. Admission includes entry into Catherine Park and costs 1000 rubles (about US$16 for adults, Children under 16 are free. Students over 16 with a students ID pay 350 rubles. An audio guide costs extra. Tours in English are available.

Advanced bookings: In summer, long lines can be formed to visit the Palace, so it’s a good idea to buy tickets online in advance. You will receive a voucher once you book your tickets in advance online. You need to present this voucher at the Church Gate entrance (May - September), in order to get the actual tickets. Don't forget to bring your photo ID and arrive no later than 10 minutes prior to your scheduled entry time. Online tickets can purchased at the palace’s official website ( ( You can buy tickets with maximum 14 days in advance and a maximum of 4 entries in each online purchase.

Catherine Palace Can be reached by suburban train from Vitebsky Station (the Pushkinskaya metro station) or minibus from Moscovsky Prospekt metro station in the southern part of St. Petersburg. 1) From Vitebsky train station, buy the ticket to Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo) suburban train station. From Pushkin train station catch the bus (number 371 or 382) or the minibus (marshrutka K-371, K-377 and K-38) to Catherine Palace 2) Metro and Bus: Get to the Moskovskaya Metro Station and catch the minibus (martshrutka) K-342 or K-545 that will take you to the Palace. Or Reach the Kupchino Metro station and take the minibus K-286, K-342 or K-545 that will take you to the Palace

If time is limited, a good online option is to hire a taxi that will take you straight to the palace. Kiwitaxi charges about US$ 20 (for up to 4 people) and it can be contracted online, indicating the time at which you want them to pick you up and exit the hotel (or your address at the time). You must indicate the city of Pushkin as destination.


Pavlovsk (near Tsarkoye Selo, two miles from the Catherine Palace) boast a grand palace with a dome supported by 64 columns. This place was also badly damaged during World War II. Photographs on display of the ruins give you some idea of what a remarkable job the restorers have done. Inside the completed buildings are a fine collection of paintings, furniture and antique sculptures. Costs US$8 to get into. Can be reached by suburban train or minibus

Pavlovsk is home of the most completely restored royal home. Upon Catherine's death in 1796, Catherine Palace was abandoned in favour of Pavlovsk Palace. The 18th-century Russian Imperial residence was on the order of Catherine the Great for her son, Grand Duke Paul.After his death, it became the home of his widow, Maria Feodorovna. The palace and the large English garden surrounding it are now a Russian state museum and public park.

When Paul became Emperor he decided to enlarge Pavlovsk into a palace suitable for a royal residence, adding two new wings on either side of the main building, and a church attached to the south wing. Between 1797 and 1799, he lavished money and the finest materials for the interiors. But Paul reign did not last long. He was murdered by members of his court in 1801, and his son Alexander became Emperor. Maria Feodorovna (1759–1828), the mother of both Emperor Alexander I of Russia and Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, turned the house into a memorial to her murdered husband, filled with his furniture and portraits, and made the house a showcase for finest 18th-century French furnishings, paintings, sculpture and porcelain. After the fire caused by a defective chimney destroyed much of the palace in 1803, Maria Feodorovna brought in young Italian architect Carlo Rossi and employed a Russian architect, Andrei Voronykhin, who had been born a serf, who later became the architect of Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Pavlovsk Park covers 505 hectares (1,250 acres) and was conceived as a classic English landscape garden. Paths were laid out, trees were moved and the contours of hills were changed to create theatrical effects the designers wanted, using open and closed spaces and different colors and shapes of trees. For the ultimate Russian winter experience you can take a troika (sleigh) ride through the snow-covered park tucked into a wool blanket and pulled a big white horse with a babushka at the reigns.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in September 2020

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