Situated on the banks of the Neva, the imperial capital of the 18th century Russia, St Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703. Catherine the Great continued to add to the grandeur of the city in later years. Even a week isn’t enough to explore the dazzling palaces, mighty cathedrals, mega museums, expansive squares and big boulevards of this second largest city in Russia.
So we had to debate whether there was any need to step out of St Petersburg and visit the suburbs. After a much deliberation, we skipped Peter and Paul Fortress to accommodate a visit to Petrodvorets, the location of Peterhof Palace and fountains. And i am glad to confess it was the best decision of the trip. Peterhof has been dubbed as the ‘Russian Versailles’, but i would say there is no comparison. Though Peter The Great got inspired from the beauty of Versailles, Peterhof has surpassed the grandeur of Versailles by miles.
Peterhof regal ensemble consists of the Grand Palace, the Upper Gardens, the Lower Park, the Grand Cascade, Monplaisir, Royal Church and Marly Palace.
We arrived by bus and entered from the entrance at the Upper Gardens. We were greeted by colorful tulips in full bloom. Gorgeous front gardens decorated with few fountains were just a teaser. You actually can not see much from the Upper Garden. The rear of the Grand Palace seemed to be hiding the treasure behind its striking yellow facade.
Lower Park with Fountains
After purchasing tickets from the booth near the Grand Palace, we arrived at the upper terrace. The sheer size of the estate baffled me, i was not expecting anything so vast. From the terrace we soaked in the stunning bird’s eye view of the imperial retreat. Imposing facade of the Grand Palace with decorative fountains dotted with 200 bronze statues in the lower gardens was simply breathtaking!
It was clear that it would take few hours to cover all the areas. The fountains and bronze statues glimmered under the sun and photo opportunities presented themselves at every nook and corner. And my initial thoughts were i hope my camera battery lasts till the end of the day!
Now this is how i believe paradise would be. There were fountains everywhere, undulating in harmony with the breeze coming from the ocean front. The Grand Cascade seemed to split the Peterhof Palace estate into two with an azure line extending all the way to the Gulf of Finland. The experience was so surreal, we were sprayed now and then by the mist as we walked around the fountains. The beautiful gilded statues with tight shining butts added the charm to the glitzy extravaganza.
I jostled to find some spots to get exclusive camera angles, without getting photo bombed with tourists and selfie sticks.
The highlight of the cascade inside Peterhof Palace is Rastrelli’s masterpiece, The Samson Fountain, which occupies the center of the Grand Cascade. The statue of Samson tearing open the jaw of a lion depicts Peters the Great’s victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War. It was magical to see the water jet shooting from the mouth of the lion, spraying everyone with the mist.
The courtyards and gardens inside the imperial retreat are dotted with fountains everywhere. Besides the Grand Cascade in the center, the Adam & Eve Fountains, Dragon & Chess Cascades, Nymph & Danaid Fountains on either side of the estates are worth a visit.
The more you walk around Peterhof Palace, the more you see! It is remarkable to know that even today all the fountains operate without pumps, using the principles of elevation difference which provides the pressure for the fountains.
Royal church towers on the side of the Grand Palace. The church glowing with gilded ornate top is the hallmark of opulent Russian architecture. Vibrant aqua blue mansion of the Grand Palace stood majestically overlooking the Grand Cascade, which seemed to stretch into the infinity.
The lavish Grand Palace is a hallmark of the Tsarist opulence. The dazzling interior reveal the Ceremonial Staircase and richly decorated Throne Room. Heavily gilded Ballroom is nothing short of a kitsch grandeur evident in most of the palaces built by Catherine the Great.
Monplaisir Palace – Bathhouse Wing
The humble design and decor of Monplaisir Palace is quite in contrast with the opulence of Peterhof. True to its name, Monplaisir meaning ‘My Pleasure’, this charming summer palace of Peter the Great was an intimate retreat of the Tsar where he entertained his personal friends and advisers. This dutch style colonial villa contains the famous Bathhouse Wing which gives a glimpse into the imperial bathing styles and habits. Now when i say Versailles is no where close, this is what i mean. Bathhouse wing at Peterhof is a major highlight, compare it with Versailes which did not even have toilets!
The visit to Peterhof Palace transported us into the fairyland. We were blessed with bright clear days in June. While the sun was shining bright, the cool breeze from the North added to the magic. The resplendent design and magnificence of Petrodvorets is truly impressive. Versailles doesn’t come anywhere close to the grandeur of Peterhof!
After Kremlin in Moscow, this was the highlight of a trip to St Petersburg!
- Peterhof Palace can be reached by boat. You can take a Peterhof hydrofoil from the bank on Neva behind Hermitage. The journey through the sea takes around 45 minutes. It is the most expensive way to get to Peterhof at 700RUB for one way ticket. The journey is not worth the price as there are no great views on the way.
- The best way is to take a minibus from Avtovo metro station. The ticket costs 60RUB and takes around 50-60 minutes to reach. The minibus stops at the entrance of the Upper Gardens making it the most convenient and cheapest way to visit Peterhof.
- Be prepared for long stretches of walks inside Peterhof. The courtyards lined up with trees hide smaller palaces of Monplaisir and Marly Palace and many more fountains and Tulip Gardens.
- There are separate tickets for all the sights inside Peterhof: the Lower Park costs 400 RUB, the Grand Palace 600RUB, the Catherine Wing 400RUB, the Bath Wing 400RUB, the Church 400RUB, the Aviary 250RUB, the Grotto of the Grand Cascade 300RUB, Marly Palace 250RUB, the Hermitage 250RUB and the list goes on. Visiting all of these is going to be a killer not only on your pocket but also on your feet. The Lower Park and the Grand Palace are worth the money and efforts. Beyond that it gets quite tiring!