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Monday, May 6, 2019

All that Glistens is Gold! The Splendor of Peterhof Palace and Gardens in St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof Palace is a must-see St Petersburg attraction. This majestic series of palaces and gardens just outside of the city are covered in gold and often referred to as the “Russian Versailles.”

We thought we've seen our share of palaces around the world but nothing compares to Peterhof!

Versailles was the inspiration for Peter the Great's desire to build an imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city and, after an aborted attempt at Strelna, Peterhof - which means "Peter's Court" in German - became the site for the Tsar's Monplaisir Palace, and then of the original Grand Palace. The estate was equally popular with Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and greatly extended the park and the famous system of fountains, including the truly spectacular Grand Cascade.  Numerous fountains, simple and complex, small and grand, funny and magnificent, are the main attraction of Peterhof.  Once a formal garden built for Peter the Great, this popular park still has more than 80 of the original marble statues and sculptures, many

Like almost all St. Petersburg's suburban estates, Peterhof was ravaged by German troops during WWII. It was one of the first to be resurrected and thanks to the work of military engineers and volunteers, the Lower Park opened to the public in 1945 and the facades of the Grand Palace were restored in 1952.

See the city in the US that was named after St. Petersburg, Russia by an immigrant from this beautiful location!

LTD suggests these things to visit at Peterhof:

1. Grand Palace

Empress Elizabeth's Grand Palace may be smaller than it looks, but it has an imposing facade and some stunning state rooms inside.

2. Peterhof Park and Gardens

The extensive parkland at Peterhof was laid out over several generations, and covers a huge range of garden styles, from rococo formalism to the broad vistas of romantic landscaping.  As well as Peterhof's celebrated fountains, the Lower Park contains the numerous elegant buildings constructed for Peter the Great along the shores of the Gulf of Finland.

3. The Fountains of Peterhof

Peterhof is perhaps most famous for its remarkable array of decorative fountains, including the unmistakable and incredibly impressive ensemble of the Grand Cascade, which forms the centerpiece of Peterhof. The three thundering waterfalls, 67 fountains and 37 golden statues had even the most nonchalant locals wide-eyed with amazement. At the center, wrapped in rainbow-coloured spray, stands a golden statue of Samson ripping the jaws of a lion, representing Russia's victory over Sweden in the Great North War.

Beyond the cascade, Nizhny Park filled with villas and watercourses, runs down to the the Gulf of Finland. Peter the Great had a playful side, evident in the park's trick fountains triggered by switches hidden under stones and designed to soak the unwary. These days the triggers are carefully marked by small crowds of children.  Check out the video of our recent visit to the Grand Cascade!

4. Monplaisir

Peter the Great's original palace is a charming baroque mansion on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, demonstrating the Tsar's exquisite and restrained taste.  This was a favorite suburban palace and displays many preserved personal items of the Tsar, that he used in his everyday life: the felt nightcap, the towel, the jug and the bowl for washing.

5. Grottos of Grand Cascade

Providing the chance to see the mechanisms powering Peterhof's most famous fountains, the grottos are also richly decorated with marble and gilded statuary.  There is a separate entrance fee to visit the Grottos.

6. Church Wing 

Recently opened after decades of restoration, the house church of Peterhof's Grand Palace once again boasts Bartolomeo Rastrelli's richly gilded interiors.  The church is identifiable by its 4 smaller gilded domes and the large gilded dome in the middle of its roof while crosses top each dome. The interior is filled with rococo decor, gilding and beautiful artwork. The exhibits include icons from the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, a baptismal set, vestments of priests, and church plates and vessels.

TIPS for visiting:

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LTD believes Peterhof Palace is a must for anyone visiting Saint Petersburg.  You need to plan for an entire day since it will take at least 2 hours to get there from St. Petersburg and over 3 hours to explore the Peterhof estate and gardens.

  • Opening hours: Most of the areas are open from 9am to 8pm.
  • Entrance fee to the Lower Park, which is where you arrive with hydrofoil, is 1,000 Rubel (US $15).  It is free to enter in the Winter.
  • Make the Grand Palace a priority – what an impressive palace and has around 30 rooms. The admission fee is 600 Rubel (US $9), and unfortunately in the summer the palace is very crowded and can be claustrophobic.  Get there early before the crowds!
  • Photography and video is NOT allowed inside the Grand Palace but is in the park and Gardens - and you will WANT to take photos!
  • How to get there: From St. Petersburg, you can reach Peterhof Palace by train & bus (1,5 hours), minibus (about 1 hour) or by hydrofoil (45 minutes). The hydrofoil is the most expensive option, but also is the most comfortable and unique.  If you are uncertain about how to get to Peterhof via one of these methods, ask for help from your hotel concierge.  
  • Consider booking a tour to avoid lines and secure transportation to and from Peterhof.
  • What to bring: Water and a jacket, even if you’re visiting in the summer. We went there once in August, and when it started raining, it got very cold.
  • There is a small food area outside the Lower Gardens. Beware that you have to pay entrance fee ($15) if you want back into the grounds.
  • When to visit: The best time to visit is from early May to early October when the fountains are open.
  • Surrounding the Grand Palace, Peterhof's Upper Garden is an immaculately laid out formal garden dating from the reign of Empress Elizabeth and is free.  
  • If you want to attempt to see everything at Peterhof, go on a weekend when all the buildings are open.
  • Mind the babushkas who are there to keep you moving and mindful of the NO PHOTOGRAPHY rule in the palace! 

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