A blog about the magnificent Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, home to a thousand fountains and one of the most beautiful gardens in Russia.
It feels incredibly hard to wrap words around all that you can see in Peterhof. Peter the Great’s grand palace is often referred as the “Russian Versailles”. For good reason, because the French original quite obviously inspired the tsar. But the whole Peterhof-ensemble goes one step further: through its uncounted fountains, it brings royal splendor onto a whole new level, like it was not even a place for mortal anymore.
That being said, it is quite peculiar that it took me so long to visit the formidable palace. Even though there is an easy explanation: I really love spending time in St. Petersburg in winter, especially on New Year’s Eve (I wrote about that here). During that time, all the sky-reaching fountains are, out of obvious reasons, closed and thus there really was no solid opportunity to visit Peterhof in the first place (fountains operate between May to Mid-October).
This summer, while I was staying at the amazing Four Seasons Lion Palace luxury hotel (read my review here), I finally found the time to visit Peterhof. After having seen and written about the Catherine Palace and the Kremlin in Moscow, I really thought nothing could top those two experiences, but spending a day in Peterhof really thought me different. Read on, to find out why!
The Grand Cascade at Peterhof Palace
The most recognizable feature of Peterhof certainly is the Grand Cascade. At its center, a lion sprouts a 20-meter high fountain. Sadly the original (much like the rest of Peterhof), has been ransacked during the German occupation.
Behind it, you can’t help but see the actual cascade – a sheer endless amount of terraced fountains. Golden statues and mosaics are cluttering the ascent to the Grand Palace, outdoing themselves in their golden splendor.
Abutting it all is a spectacular checkerboard terrace. Standing on the pristine marble floor, it is quite hard not to feel like a tsar, overlooking all that he conquered.
And that was indeed the very reason tsar Peter the Great constructed Peterhof. It was just one of the ways to show off the imperial expansion into the Baltic Sea. It comes as little surprise that the centerpiece of Peterhof, the Grand Cascade, ends in a wide channel overlooking the newly claimed territory.
The Fountains of Peterhof
But I would absolutely wrong the Peterhof Palace reducing it to the Grand Cascade. Surrounding the Grand Palace are several smaller and bigger gardens. In the middle of each and every horticultural gem, you will find at least one fountain. Some of them quite playful in their nature.
Others quote elements from ancient roman originals, presenting Neptune’s copious bounties, much like a temple.
Lower Grottos: Getting underneath the grand Cascade
All those fountains are fed from a central pipeline, a pipeline that you can actually visit. Underneath the Grand Cascade, you will find the Lower Grottos. These grottos are actually a series of artificial caves, accessible through iron barred doors below the Grand Cascade. The largest one features a marble table with a fruit bowl at its center. Try to reach for a fruit and splash!, the rigged fountain will soak the unwary visitor.
You do need an extra ticket to gain entrance to this part of Peterhof, but it is well worth it. Why? Because like I said it allows you to see the very intestines of tsar Peter’s palace. The sheer size of the pipelines certainly blew me away!
Monplaisir Palace and the Royal Bathhouse
Another special place to visit at Peterhof is the Monplaisir Palace. This enchanting little palace was not only the private retreat of tsar Peter the Great, but also the very first building to be constructed on the site today is known as Peterhof.
While this fact is already quite amazing in itself, the palace gives you the unique opportunity to see how the Russian tsars took their bath. The Bathing Wing of the Monplaisir Palace will yield its spectacular secret to you for another extra ticket – a couple of Rubles more than well spent.
Make sure to read my blog about the Bathing Wing of the Monplaisir Palace here.
Gardens in Peterhof Palace
After you’ve seen the Grand Cascade and the Monplaisir Palace, you really should take your time and walk around the gardens of Peterhof Palace. They are nothing short of breathtaking and so very vast.
Every so often you will stumble upon a little palace, some housing fountains or baths while others appear to be some sort of tiny hermitages, with watery moats around them.
Water really is the theme of Peterhof in St. Petersburg and personally speaking a day was not even close to enough to explore the many channels and sideways of this amazing palace.
What I did not do at Peterhof Palace
I did not go inside the Grand Peterhof Palace itself, even though you can. That is just a personal preference because I’ve seen just too many Versaille-inspired palaces around the world. (There is actually one just an hour’s drive from my hometown Munich). Be aware that the Great Peterhof Palace is closed on Monday and there are special hours when only Russian citizens can get in.
I also didn’t check out every small palace of Peterhof (like the Marly Palace). There really was not enough time to see it all. The whole ensemble is just so huge, that you can easily become footsore. There are a couple of tourist trains getting you from one point to the other, so do not be scared, even if you are not all too fit.
I also did not check out every last fountain. I am not even sure if anyone ever counted them all, but Wikipedia lists at least 22 major ones. In my opinion, it really pays off to limit yourself to a few sights you really want to see and are special to Peterhof, rather than rushing through it trying to see it all.
How to get to Peterhof Palace
Peterhof Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in St. Petersburg, but to tell you the truth, it is anywhere close to the city center. In fact, it is not even located in the city proper, but in a far away suburb now called Petrodvorets on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland.
As you are probably staying in St. Petersburg itself, the easiest, by far fastest and certainly most fun way to get to Peterhof is by hydrofoil. Tickets can be bought right at the pier behind the famous Hermitage Museum (by the way, check out my guide to the State Hermitage Museum – an equally spectacular must see in St. Petersburg). The hydrofoils leave every 30 minutes and there are a couple of companies operating them. Still it will take you roughly 40 minutes to reach Peterhof.
Alternatively, you could take the train to Novyi Peterhof and then a bus to the actual palace, which would be cheaper but also more complicated and time-consuming.
Taking a taxi or car is absolutely NOT recommended. First of all it will take you longer than the hydrofoil. Then there is a high chance to run into a traffic jam and last but not least it will also be more expensive. A scam (meaning paying twice the price a local would pay) is almost guaranteed.
Tickets for Peterhof Palace
There is no need to buy tickets for Peterhof Palace in advance. The parks are so vast that there is no limited amount of visitors (unlike Machu Picchi for example). Simply buy them at the entrance. Several attractions (like Monplaisir Palace, the Grand Palace or the Grottos) will require an extra ticket. Tickets for the gardens and the Park will be 500 Rubles or roughly 8 US-Dollar.
Last thoughts in my Peterhof guide
Peterhof really is a special place. I hope my pictures were able to convince you that the palace should be on your list of things to do in St. Petersburg. If you are on a tight schedule I’d definitely prefer Peterhof to the Catherine Palace, even though it means you will be missing the Amber Room – at least in summer.
Do pack some snacks and water, because there are not too many opportunities to eat and drink within the park (there are a couple of vending machines and 2 or 3 restaurants though). Comfortable walking shoes are definitely recommended. The walk from the pier to the Grand Cascade alone is more than 500 meters!
I Hope you liked my little guide to Peterhof Palace. Have you been to Tsar Peter’s palace yet or are you planning a trip to St. Petersburg? Share your thoughts with me!