One of the main reasons I chose to visit St Petersburg was to experience the stunningly beautiful Russian Palaces. Russia’s tsars built these monumental structures in St Petersburg and its outlying areas to show their wealth and power to all nations.
There is nothing quite like seeing the Russian Palaces for the first time. Glimmering gold adorns every surface, marbled floors go on forever, and decadent crystal chandeliers hang from every ceiling. And unimaginable treasures of gold, silver and precious gems are displayed for all to admire.
Palace exteriors are just as stunning with gold onion-domed roofs indicative of the Russian baroque styling and facades painted in shades of turquoise, yellows, pinks and russet reds give a “fairytale” feel to these Russian landmarks.
The elaborately landscaped gardens are just as pretty, with mesmerising fountains and lakes, colossal statues and acres of land to explore.
The four Russian Palaces that I visited in St Petersburg are now heritage museums offering the humble visitor a glimpse into a world of wealth and decadence, the likes of which will not be seen again. These extraordinary palaces are works of architectural genius and should feature on your bucket list of things to do and see in Russia.
These images were of the Russia I had imagined, and my four day trip to St Petersburg gave me plenty of time to visit these Russian Palaces as well as many of the other incredible things to do and see in St Petersburg.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Should I book a tour of the Russian Palaces?
Yes, you should. I would not have learnt as much as I did about the Russian palaces without my tour guide. I opted for private tours which cost more than group tours but gave me the one-to-one experience that I wanted.
Your guide will sort out buying tickets, getting you to your destination (if you opt for a tour including travel options) and also help you find a place to have lunch or dinner during your day trip if you so wish.
Can I visit the Russian Palaces on my own?
Yes, you can. I visited Peterhof independently; however, I didn’t get to find out nearly as much as I had done on my guided tours of the other three Russian Palaces.
When is the best month to travel to St Petersburg?
I travelled in June, and it was perfect. I also got to experience “White Nights” with 24 hours of light each day. It is quite peculiar to be walking about after midnight in bright daylight! Temperatures reach between 15-25 degrees in June, July and August.
How busy will it be in St Petersburg?
St Petersburg will always be busy; however, I never felt overwhelmed while I was there. Book skip-the-line tickets to the Royal Palaces to ensure you don’t spend all your time in queues.
Is English spoken in St Petersburg?
Yes. St Petersburg is a very cosmopolitan city, and therefore you should not encounter any problems.
If you plan to travel to Moscow, you will find it very different and English is not freely spoken. I spent a lot of time during my 3-Day trip to Moscow using hand gestures and asking my hotel to write things down in Russian for me to show to shopkeepers and train staff.
Google Translate works quite well for English- Russian.
What is the currency of Russia?
Rubles is the currency of Russia; however, just about everywhere you go will accept credit cards.
Do I need a visa to visit Russia?
IVisa is a company specialising in arranging travel visas. To check if your country requires a visa for travel to Russia, click here.
Do I need Travel Insurance for Russia?
Yes, you will need travel insurance to cover medical bills and other unfortunate circumstances if they occur while you are on your Russian trip.
Get a free quote from World Nomads to decide the best travel insurance plan for your trip.
What are the best Russian guidebooks to buy?
I would recommend you choose from these Lonely Planet books:
Where Should I Stay in St Petersburg?
Hotel Indigo 5-star This is the hotel I stayed on my trip to St Petersburg.
St Petersburg Russian Palaces Map
Winter Palace – State Hermitage Museum
Of all the Russian palaces, The Winter Palace, now the main building for the world-famous State Hermitage Museum, is probably the best known.
Located on the River Neva and built to a colossal scale as the primary residence for the Tsar’s of Russia between 1732-1917, this Baroque-style palace showcases the power and might of Imperial Russia.
The tsars are long gone, and now the incredible interior of the State Hermitage Museum, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, houses over three million art pieces. The Hermitage is currently the second-largest art museum in the world.
You don’t have to be an art lover to take a tour of the Hermitage; I only wanted to see the interior, which to me was even more impressive than the art. Apologies to all the art enthusiasts who are reading this!
However, I would recommend booking a tour as it helps you understand more about the Hermitage’s history and its priceless art collection.
My guide informed me that there were 1000 rooms, 100 staircases, 2000 windows and 1800 doors. I took my guide’s information as accurate as I, for one, would not have wanted to count them all myself; imagine having the contract to clean all those windows!
The Best Tours of the State Hermitage Museum
Summer Palace – Catherine Palace
Whereas the Hermitage was the Winter Place to the Tsar’s, Catherine Palace was their Summer country residence. However, this palace didn’t start life quite as elaborate as the one we are now privileged to visit. Neither was it named after Catherine the Great (as I had thought before taking the tour).
Catherine Palace was named after Catherine l, Peter the Great’s wife, who had worked closely with the architect regarding how she wanted “her” palace to look. It was stunning but not quite the spectacle that her daughter, Empress Elizabeth, wanted it to be.
In 1752, many years after the death of Catherine l, Empress Elizabeth commissioned her architect to demolish her mother’s palace.
The build took four years and was upgraded to contain over 100 kilos of gold; the Russian Royalty certainly had a penchant for gold!
The palace now contained a Grand Hall, numerous reception halls and the Amber Room, wholly decorated with amber from floor to ceiling.
Nowadays, the Amber room is a reconstruction as the original went “missing” during WWll; it is no less astounding. Sadly photography is prohibited in the Amber room, so the only way you will see it is to visit yourself!
I would advise booking a tour from St Petersburg to Catherine Palace. Your transport will take you to the area called Pushkin, previously known as Tsarskoye Selo, where the Summer Palace is situated. Our guide gave us lots of insider information that I wouldn’t have known about without her expertise.
The Best Tours of Catherine Palace
Pavlovsk Park and Palace
Pavlovsk Palace was built by Catherine the Great for her son Pavel and is a 20-minute drive from Catherine Place.
Designed on a much smaller scale than her own Summer Palace, it still features the luxury of other royal residences and shows the affluence that the Imperial court held.
The ornate interiors and elaborate Pavlovsk palace halls are exquisite and hold Russian treasures and heirlooms, including a fair amount of armoury. Interiors with names such as Hall of War and Hall of Peace are a nod to the wars that Russia had fought and won.
It was a royal residence until 1917; then it became a museum, and then during WWll, it was burned down. Intensive restoration work has brought it back to its former glory.
The 600-hectare Pavlovsk Park encircles the palace, and with woodland walks, flower gardens, and boating lakes is the perfect place to spend a few hours.
The Best Tours of Pavlovsk Palace
Unesco World Heritage site Peterhof was built to commemorate Peter the Great’s mighty victory against Sweden, and it is easy to see why it is called the “Russian Versailles”. It exudes pure decadence with 250 gold statues and 150 fountains that cascade down from the palace into the formal gardens.
If you have been to Versailles, you will notice certain similarities of grandeur; however, the gilded statues at Peterhof give it that certain edge making it a must to visit.
Its location on the banks of the Baltic Sea also adds a romantic vibe to the acres of gardens and the beautiful daffodil coloured exterior of Peterhof palace.
The largest of Peterhof’s palaces, known as the Grand Palace, only has 30 rooms. Despite that, it is filled with unimaginable Russian treasures with an interior to rival all the other royal residences.
If you want to travel to Peterhof independently, you can hop on a hydrofoil from outside the Hermitage State Museum, and the trip takes around 40 minutes.
Don’t be alarmed if you check your GPS locator and notice that your destination is no longer showing as Russia. Peterhof is actually in the Gulf of Finland!
The Best Tours of Peterhof
St Petersburg is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and a trip should be on your bucket list.
It is a city that is packed to the brim with history, and the Russian Palaces that I visited are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the fantastic things that you will be able to see and do in St Petersburg.
If you have time, then add Alexander Palace to this list.
The palace was the country home of the last Russian Emperor, Tsar Nicholas ll Romanov, where he lived with his family until their exile to Siberia in 1917.
He was married to none other than Alexandra Fiodorovna, the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria of England.
The family were executed by the Bolsheviks following the Russian Revolution, leading to the end of Imperial rule.
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