Who hasn’t dreamt of visiting Saint Petersburg, the greatest city on the Baltic Sea? The gorgeous former capital of Russia is known around the world for its opulent parks, churches, and palaces. When in the 18th century Peter the Great moved the capital from Moscow to Petersburg, he wanted to show the world Russia’s power. He hired renowned European architects to build a modern European city with canals, wide avenues, and monumental buildings. In 1917, the Bolsheviks started the revolution and moved back the capital to Moscow. St. Petersburg lost its importance, but not its historical charm. Even today, it remains Russia’s prime tourist destination with plenty of great daytrips. The only problem you might have is time. Therefore you’ll be faced with the dilemma: Peterhof or Catherine Palace in Pushkin.
Day Trips From St. Petersburg: How to Choose
- 1 Day Trips From St. Petersburg: How to Choose
- 2 Peterhof Palace and Gardens
- 3 Pushkin Palace and Park (Tsarskoe Selo)
- 4 So, Peterhof or Catherine Palace in Pushkin?
For Peter the Great and other Russian rulers, a palace in the city wasn’t enough. They also had summer palaces outside of the city. Six of them are still in good shape: Lomonosov (Oranienbaum Palace), Peterhof, Strelna (Konstantin’s Palace), Pushkin (Catherine’s Palace), Pavlovsk, and Gatchina. Peterhof and Pushkin are the most beautiful ones and an absolute must for any traveler visiting Russia. But St. Petersburg offers many more interesting day trips and excursions. Among them, we loved Vyborg, a forgotten town close to Finland. Kronstadt Island in the Baltic Sea and Shlisselburg Fortress in Ladoga Lake are other great options.
Peterhof Palace and Gardens
The most famous of all royal estates outside St Petersburg is Peterhof. Peter the Great built it as his summer residence in the Baroque style. The term Peterhof palace refers to a large estate that includes several palaces and gardens. Its center point is the Grand Palace, built on top of a small hill overlooking the estate. Among its numerous rooms, the most imposing ones are the Ballroom, the Chesma Hall, the Throne Room, the Audience Hall, White Dining Room, Chinese Cabinets, and the Picture Hall. The Monplaisir Palace, located in the eastern lower park by the sea, is much smaller. The Marli Palace in the western lower park is the smallest.
Peterhof Park, Gardens and Fountains
The true star of Peterhof is its enormous park with gardens and fountains. The grand palace of Peterhof divides the estate into the upper and lower parks. The lower park is much larger and more spectacular. It occupies the whole area between the palace and the sea. Its layout is pretty similar to 17th century French parks. Samson Canal starts at the Samson Fountain and goes into the sea, dividing the park into two. The fountain represents the Russian victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War. The monumental Grand Cascade above the fountain dominates the area. While the lower park feels like a large forest, the tailored upper park feels more like a garden.
Peterhof Palace: Facts
Peterhof’s first layout dates back to 1710. German architect J. F. Braunstein was in charge of the original Grand Palace commissioned in 1714. In 1716, French architect Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond begun designing the great park. When Le Blond died in 1719, his Italian colleague, Nicola Michetti, continued the project. The original Grand Palace was a small building in the so-called Petrine Baroque. In 1747, Empress Elizabeth hired Italian architect F. B. Rastrelli to rebuild the palace in the so-called Russian Baroque. Peterhof palace may look pretty big, but in fact, has around 30 rooms.
Petergof (Peterhof City)
Petergof, formerly known as Petrodvorets, is the municipal city where Peterhof is. The town’s center lies south of the Palace, across the road leading to Saint Petersburg (Prospekt Sankt-Peterburgskiy). Apart from Peterhof, it boasts several palace and park ensembles: English Park, Alexandria Park, Kolonistskiy Park, Lugovoy Park, and Aleksandriyskiy Park. There are two more parks a bit further away: Sergievka Park and Sobstvennaya Dacha Park. You may find yourself roaming around these beautiful parks on your own! The city also homes a watch manufacturer that happens to be the country’s oldest factory and a campus of Saint Petersburg State University. If you are traveling with kids, don’t forget to visit the nearby Russian Village Shuvalovka.
Where to Stay in Peterhof: the Best Hotels
Though you can visit Peterhof as a day trip from St Petersburg, spending at least one night is a wonderful idea. Since Peterhof city is rather small, most of its hotels are close to the palace. In any case, there are several decent hotels. Two of the best ones are right in front of the Palace, by the Prospekt Sankt-Peterburgskiy. The Samson Hotel has been in the business for over 200 years. As you can imagine, loads of important guests have stayed here. The current hotel is a faithful reconstruction of the original one from the late 19th century. Another great option is just next to it. The New Peterhof Hotel is a modern hotel with an indoor swimming pool and a spa.
How to Get to Peterhof Palace
If you are wondering how to get to Peterhof Palace, you’ll be relieved to know it’s quite easy. The majority of tourists take the most scenic way: a hydrofoil boat. Boats take you from downtown Petersburg (the pier is in front of the Admiralty Building) and reach Peterhof’s lower gardens in roughly 45 minutes. If you prefer a more adventurous and cheaper option, take a local train. Trains depart from the Baltisky Train Station and leave you at the beautiful Neo-gothic New Peterhof Station. If you are unsure which train to take, ask the locals and they will be happy to help. From the station, it’s a 40-minute walk to the palace. However, you can also take a local bus. The final option is via the buses or minibuses that go from St. Petersburg to Peterhof. They leave from the bus stop in front of Avtovo Metro Station and drop you directly in front of the palace.
Pushkin Palace and Park (Tsarskoe Selo)
When we talk about Pushkin or Tsarskoe Selo, we are referring to the famous Catherine Palace and Park. The late baroque and rococo palace is another gem of Russian architecture and urbanism. Catherine I of Russia built it as her summer residence, but Elizabeth of Russia and Catherine the Great also spent time here. The highlight of the estate is the lavishly decorated Catherine Palace. There are two important structures next to it: the Cold Bath with Agate Rooms and the Cameron Gallery. Among numerous pavilions in the park, the most distinguished ones are the Hermitage, the Grotto Pavilion, and the Dutch Admiralty.
The term Pushkin Park refers to the large park that surrounds Catherine Palace. The park consists of two integral parts: the Regular Garden from 1720 and the Landscape Garden from the second half of the 18th century. The Regular garden is the original part attached to the palace with geometrical patterns designed by Dutch architects. It consists of the French garden and the Hermitage grove. On the other hand, the Landscape Garden feels more natural and follows the principles of a typical English park. It is much bigger and includes a large pond and several smaller rivers and canals.
Catherine Palace in Pushkin: Facts
The original Catherine Palace in Pushkin dates back to 1717 when Catherine I commissioned German architect J. F. Braunstein to build her summer residence. Her successor Elizabeth hired Russian architects Mikhail Zemtsov and Andrei Kvasov in 1743 to expand the palace. She got a bit carried away and soon had the whole original palace demolished to make room for a new one. Italian architect F. B. Rastrelli designed the new structure according to the late baroque style, with the interiors in the baroque style. The most famous room in Catherine Palace, the Amber room, is actually a faithful reconstruction of the original 18th-century room that mysteriously disappeared during World War II.
Unlike Petergof, Pushkin is a real city. Neoclassical buildings and green alleys pack the pretty city center. Its highlights are the lovely Gostinyy Dvor (central market place) and St. Catherine’s Cathedral. The original Tsarskoe Selo includes one more royal estate: Alexander Palace and Park. The last Romanov emperor Nicholas II used it as his main residence. The park around the palace is much bigger than the one around Catherine’s, and perhaps equally impressive. Strangely enough, it’s not remotely as popular. We walked about its leafy alleys with no people on site! Other less famous parks in town are the Babolovo Park, the Otdelny Park, and the Fermsky Park, where the miniature Fedorovskiy town is.
Where to Stay in Pushkin: the Best Hotels
There are more quality hotels in Pushkin than in Petergof, including two 5 star hotels. As you know, we are into historic hotels. Lucky for us, Pushkin has a few. Actually, you can stay at Catherine’s Palace. The Ekaterina Hotel is a charming 3-star hotel in the back wing of the palace, across Alexander Park. Another fabulous place to stay in is Pevcheskaya Bashnya, across Catherine Palace. This hotel is inside the historical Singing tower (its name means that in Russian) from 1887. It has large tastefully decorated rooms, a restaurant, and a panoramic bar at the rooftop with the best views of the Palace.
How to Get to Catherine Palace in Pushkin
A local train is the best way how to get to Catherine Palace in Pushkin. Trains depart from the gorgeous Vitebskiy Station in downtown Petersburg, and the journey takes about half an hour. Pushkin’s train station Carskoe Selo is at the northeastern edge of the city, so you have to walk about half an hour to get to the palace. Otherwise, you can take a local bus from the station all the way to the palace. Please note that during weekdays there is no train service between 10 AM and 12 PM from St. Petersburg and between 12:30 PM and 2:30 PM from Pushkin. Thus, plan your visit accordingly.
So, Peterhof or Catherine Palace in Pushkin?
Choose Peterhof if you are into the tourist places. Go to Pushkin to experience the real Russia. If you want to visit both Peterhof and Catherine Palace in one day, you should wake up early. The fastest way to do so is to take the hydrofoil boat in the morning to Peterhof. After visiting Peterhof Palace and Gardens, take a bus to Avtovo in St Petersburg, where you should transfer to the metro red line. Take the metro towards Devyatkino and go off in Pushkinskaya. Walk to Vitebskiy train station and take a local train to Pushkin (Carskoe Selo station). From there, walk to the palace or take a local bus. Another option is to take a bus from Peterhof to Kronshtadtskaya Square in St Petersburg. Transfer to another bus to Lensoveta Street near Moskovskaya Metro Station and then take another bus to Pushkin. This option might require some Russian language skills.
If all sounds too complicated or you don’t feel like going on your own, we recommend this private Peterhof and Catherine Palace tour.