St. Petersburg Stories and Tips

Day Trips out of St. Petersburg - Petrodvorets

The Grand cascade Photo, St. Petersburg, Russia

The most impressive of St. Petersburg's suburban parks, Petrodvorets, or Peterhof, is a spectacular park-palace complex with a unique array of fountains, gilded statues, wooden bridges, and well-manicured gardens. The best time to visit is in summer, when all the fountains are in operation and live bands perform daily in front of the Grand Palace. The park is quite large, and the scattered attractions can only be reached on foot, so be prepared with adequate cover in case it rains. In summer, it often does.

Suburban trains to Petrodvorets leave from St. Petersburg's Baltic Station. Do not expect comfort, since pre-war carriages with wooden benches more suitable to shift industrial products than humans are still used. However, they always leave on time and cost next to nothing. They are always crowded with locals, so be at the station 10 minutes or so before departure time. After a 4-minute trip, get off at Novy Petrodvorets and follow the crowds towards the adjacent bus station. Take any bus from here (except bus no. 357) to the fifth stop on Sankt Peterburgsky prospect, where most people get off, and follow them towards the park. You'll soon reach the park's extensive upper garden, decorated with a huge fountain topped by a statue of Neptune. This garden leads to the park's main gate, where you must buy a ticket for admittance to the ground and gardens.

A short, pleasant walk from the ticket booth brings you right in front of the Grand Palace, a huge and magnificent building originally designed and supervised by Peter the Great himself. Enlarged and modified by architect Rastrelli for Empress Elizabeth and reconstructed after World War II, when it suffered complete devastation, it is now an outstanding monument of architecture inside and out. Its ornate interior, decorated with splendid chandeliers, is a vast museum of fine art and antique furniture. All rooms are equally impressive, but the study of Peter the Great stands out for its wonderfully detailed sculptured panels. Entry to the palace is on a guided tour only, so it's advisable to arrive early and join the queue for the next tour in English.

The splendid Grand Cascade facing the Grand Palace is the main reason why you should come here. Rows of terraced fountains, highlighted by splendid gilded statues, are the park's main attraction. More trick fountains and water spouts triggered by hidden switches complete the picture. Partly designed by Peter the Great himself, this wonderful conglomeration of fountains and water canals is the venue for numerous theatrical or musical performances. Stroll around the Grand Cascade and along the main water canal, which runs directly towards the sea terminal and the Gulf of Finland. From the wonderful bridge along Marlinskaya aleya, enjoy the picturesque view of the rising Grand Cascade, backdropped by the magnificent elevated exterior of the Grand Palace.

If you walk east along Marlinskaya aleya and take any path towards the sea, you'll reach Monplaisir, an elegant and cosy palace that was used by Peter the Great to entertain guests. The halls and rooms of the palace are much more splendid than the exterior suggests. The main hall has extravagant marble floors and a wonderful painted ceiling, while the small study overlooking the sea is furnished with a unique Chinese-style writing table and matching showcases. The building adjoining Monplaisir, called Catherine's Building, was used as the living quarters of Catherine the Great when her husband, Tsar Peter III, was arrested and subsequently murdered. Alexandria Park, a huge green area with overgrown trees east of Monplaisir, is the best place for a peaceful stroll away from the crowds. The only interesting building here is the English-style cottage, which has renovated rooms displaying an exhibition of Russian art.

The area west of Alexandria Park is known as Lower Park. Numerous large fountains, smaller trick fountains, and stone statues adorn the straight forested walkways and elegant wide staircases. If you walk west along Marlinskaya aleya, you'll reach Marly, a medium-sized palace built for Peter the Great to host special guests. From here, take any path towards the shore to reach the small two-storey pink-and-white Hermitage. The second floor of this palace houses an unusual dining area, equipped with special lifts capable of hoisting the table, complete with dishes, from downstairs without the need of waiters.

If you still have time before returning to St. Petersburg, walk back through the upper garden towards Sankt Peterburgsky prospekt. If you walk east for about 200m, you'll see the five-domed Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul on your right. It is a huge church with splendid exterior works in Russian Orthodox-style architecture. It's always closed, except in the evening after 5pm, when it opens for a couple of hours for an evening service. If you happen to be here during this time, do not miss its impressive interior.

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