After visiting the highlights of St. Petersburg on my first day in the city, and exploring the incredible Peterhof Palace, Alexander Nevsky Monastery and the Hermitage Museum on my second and third day, St. Petersburg still had lots left to offer.
During my last 2 days of my 5 day trip to St. Petersburg, I visited Catherine Palace in Pushkin and learnt about the foundation of the old Petrograd in Peter and Paul Fortress. Check out the end of my trip right below!
I saved my entire fourth day to go to Pushkin (also known as Tsarskoe Selo, its former name) and explore Catherine's Palace.
Getting there was a bit of an adventure; I had to take a train from Vitebsk Station that would leave me in the city of Pushkin. The station is quite confusing and I kept going up and down trying to find the right platform and ticket office. After asking a couple of people, who very kindly gave me directions in Russian that I couldn't understand, I finally made it to the right place. Make sure that you look for the local trains, intercity trains also leave from this station, but you don't need to take one of those. Trains to Pushkin depart every 20-40 minutes, and a return ticket costs less than €4.
Getting on the train to Pushkin was like travelling back in time; it felt like I was in Soviet Russia, travelling in the oldest train that you can imagine. The seats were made of wood and incredibly uncomfortable, but you can't ask much more for such a cheap price. The ride takes less than an hour, so it wasn't too bad.
Pushkin's train station is located about 40 minutes walking from the palace, so the best option to get there is taking one of the marshrutkas or minibuses. There's a few of them that leave you at the very entrance: K-286, K-287, K-299 or K-342. The ride is about one euro, and you'll get there in no more than five minutes.
After getting off the marshrutka, I got the tickets to access the park (120 rubles, less than €2), and then went straight to the ticket office to visit the palace. Just like with Peterhof, I had read everywhere online how hard it can be to get tickets to the palace; tickets are limited and queues can last for hours in summer. I was there in September and it wasn't that bad; I made it inside in less than 30 minutes.
Tickets cost the absurd of 1000 rubles (approx. €15), which was the highest entrance fee that I paid during my entire trip to Russia; the ticket costed pretty much twice as much as any other monument or museum. In any case, you'll forget about the high price as soon as you get inside the magnificent building.
The palace is named after Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great. Her daughter chose Tsarskoe Selo as the summer residence, and the current palace was designed and constructed by Rastrelli in 1756. The exterior is beautifully decorated in blue and white colours, with golden atlantes and caryatids on the facade.
The interior is even more spectacular than Peterhof. As you enter, your first sight will be the white State Staircase, giving access to the rooms of the palace. Each room is more luxurious than the other, but, of course, the big highlight of the visit is the Amber Room.
The Amber Room, as its name indicates, is fully covered in panels made of pure amber. During the World War II, German troops attacked Tsarskoe Selo and destroyed the palace, dismantling the room and taking all panels of amber back to Germany. Nobody knows what happened with the original Amber Room, as all the panels disappeared on their way to Germany for unknown reasons. In the 1980s, orders were given to recreate the Amber Room, which luckily can be visited today in full splendour.
After the visit to the palace, I started my visit to Catherine Park. Compared to the gardens in Peterhof, Catherine Park is just massive; you can spend a good 3 or 4 hours just wandering around.
There are only a couple restaurants in the entire park, so make sure to bring some food as there aren't that many options for lunch. I didn't have any other choice than going to one of the restaurants, and it turned out to be quite decent. Prices were reasonable considering that it was right in the middle of the park, and the quality of the food was great as well.
The park is composed of two different sections: the upper gardens, located right behind the palace, and the area of the Great Pond, which contains a great variety of monuments: the Admiralty, the Baroque Grotto, the Marble Bridge and a Turkish Bath, among others. The reflection on the pond was just breathtaking!
After having spent pretty much all day in Catherine Palace and Park, I decided to take the marshrutka back to the train station. I made the mistake of not asking the first driver where to get the bus back, so I wandered around for over half an hour trying to find a bus stop.
I finally gave up and decided to take a taxi back to the train station: huge mistake. I asked the driver for the price, which was about €5; 3 times as much as the bus, but I was so tired that I didn't really mind. Well, he ended up using the taximeter and the final price was almost double. Due to his lack of English and my little desire to argue, I ended up paying what the taximeter marked and getting off the car. Make sure to ask in advance where to get the buses back to the train station if you don't want to end up paying more for a taxi than for the entire trip from St. Petersburg to Pushkin!
After arriving back in St. Petersburg I went to the hotel for a deserved rest, and left again after a couple of hours to explore St. Petersburg during the sunset and at night. Due to its location close to the North Pole, St. Petersburg has one of the most beautiful sunsets that I've ever enjoyed. The sky was painted in shining pink and orange colours, so don't forget to plan a walk during this time!
The city also looks amazing when it is lit up at night; I went all the way from St. Isaacs Cathedral to the Palace Square, the Church on the Spilled Blood and finished in Kazan Cathedral. St. Petersburg at night couldn't be any better to take some incredible shots!
On my last day in St. Petersburg, I had the first half of the day free before I had to catch a high speed train to Moscow, so I couldn't leave the city without visiting Peter and Paul Fortress.
The fortress is located on an island in the delta of the Neva river, and is the birthplace of the current city of St. Petersburg, called Petrograd back then. The easiest way to arrive is by metro; Gorkovskaya station is only a few minutes away.
It was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as a citadel for the city and today, it houses the State Museum of Saint Petersburg History.
The fortress is accessed through the magnificent Petrovskiy Gate, built to commemorate the victory of the Russians over the Swedes. The imposing Imperial Crest crowns the gate.
The main highlight of the complex is Peter and Paul Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in St. Petersburg and burial place of the most important members of the imperial family, including Peter the Great, Catherine II or Nicholas II.
It was built as the main cathedral of St. Petersburg in 1733, and its 122 metre spire can be seen from all over the city.
The fortress has a large number of bastions, each of them with very interesting exhibitions that cover the history of St. Petersburg, ranging from photography to daily objects and dresses from the times when Petrograd was founded.
You can still visit the cells of what used to be Trubetskoy Prison, destined for political prisoners during the last years of the tsarist rule.
Upon exiting the walls, there are beautiful beaches with great views of St. Petersburg on the other side. Apparently, they are quite popular with locals, but I wouldn't dare to take a swim in the freezing Gulf of Finland!
The fortress is incredibly interesting if you want to learn about the history of this fascinating city. I'd recommend to visit it as early as possible during your trip and not leaving it at the end like it did, it makes sense to start with a museum that covers the first years of the foundation of the city.
After visiting the fortress for the most part of the morning, I headed back to the Moskovsky train station to catch my high-speed train to Moscow. My visit to St. Petersburg was over, but I still had 4 more days to enjoy Russia. Don't forget to check out my 4-day itinerary in Moscow, where you can read more about the time that I spent in the Russian capital!
All opinions are my own.