500 acres, 200+ statues, 144 fountains and a whole lot of decadence. The Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg is one of Russia’s most famous sites. Tsar Peter the Great had it built as a summer residence and in an attempt to compete with the finest Western courts like Versailles, he managed to make it even bigger and more spectacular…
Saint Petersburg has a whole lot of attractions on its own, including Peter the Great’s Winter Palace. But if you can, I advise you to save one afternoon for a trip to one of the suburbs: the city of Petrodvorets or Peterhof, about 29 km west of St. Petersburg. This is where you’ll find one of the oldest, most beautiful and best preserved imperial estates in the whole world: the 18th century palace complex (or should I say playground?) of tsar Peter the Great. With every new Russian emperor after Peter, the palaces, fountains and gardens of Peterhof expanded until in 1918 it became state property. Today, the museum complex (it’s also a World Heritage site) stretches out over a whopping 500 acres of territory. For the large half of the buildings you have to pay a separate entrance fee so if you want to see everything there is to see it will become quite an expensive trip. On top of that, in most of the interiors it’s forbidden to take photos unless you pay an additional fee. But the good news is you’ll find the main attraction and centerpiece of Peterhof outside: the Grand Cascade with its statues and fountains.
1. The boattrip from St. Petersburg to Peterhof
Getting to the Peterhof palace is easy if you’re staying in St. Petersburg. You can chose between different transport options: by train, by bus or minibus (they’re called marshrutkas) or you can take a canal ride, like we did. We boarded a cool looking hydrofoil of the Peterhof Express company at Angliskaya Naberezhnaya (next to the Senate Building). The boat took us down the Neva river and the Gulf of Finland in about 45 minutes, with a jetty waiting right in front of the lower palace gardens. I wouldn’t say the views from the boat were amazingly scenic, but’s it surely is cosy, fast and fun.
2. The fountain gardens
As soon as you get off the boat and jetty, you enter the lower park of Peterhof and you pay admission to the park right then and there. Access to the upper gardens (about 15 acres) is free. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the Grand Cascade in front of the Grand Palace.
Good to know: the fountains are shut down in winter and turned back on in May. The official opening and closing of the fountains (every year at the end of May and October) is a true spectacle, including fireworks, music and light installations.
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