Visiting St. Petersburg, there are a lot of architectural and historic highlights to discover. Influenced by western building styles more than any other city in Russia, neoclassicist buildings make up most of old town Piter (as locals call their hometown). The historic centre, together with places like Peterhof Palace, boasts a total of 2,300 palaces and castles and has been counted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991.
Standing out amongst all this beauty and historical importance, we present you 7 terrific (or tsar-ific?) palaces in St. Petersburg, starting from the city center outward.
1. Stroganov Palace
Bordering on Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg’s main street, this late baroque gem is packed with antiques and artworks, as well as hosting permanent and temporary exhibitions as a branch of the Russian Museum. It was designed by Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli and built between 1752 and 1754 for Baron Sergei Stroganov, head of the richest family in Russia at the time. Under Soviet rule, the building served as National Museum for a short period, then was used to house the Ministry of Shipbuilding before it got handed over to the Russian Museum in 1988. There are offers for tickets to visit Stroganov Palace on your own available online.
2. Shuvalov Palace
Housing the Fabergé Museum since 2013, Shuvalov Palace with its spectacular interior is another fine example of neoclassical palaces . It was used as a residence by the Shuvalov and Naryshkin noble families, after being built under unknown circumstances and first owned by the Count Vorontsov and his wife. Visit to see the famous Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs created for the last two Tsars and learn more on a guided tour through the Fabergé Museum.
3. Winter Palace
The Winter Palace was the main residence of the Russian Emperors during most of the era of the Russian Empire. Peter the Great, ruler of the Tsardom of Russia, manifested his vision of expanding and westernizing Russia with the foundation of a new city in the year 1703: St. Petersburg. Within this newly founded city, his intention was that the Winter Palace should reject traditional Russian architecture in favour of a building style influenced by European cities. Many architects worked on the project, most famously the aforementioned Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The memorable green-and-white-building today houses the State Hermitage Museum, founded by Catherine the Great, the second-largest art museum in the world, with collections that range from prehistoric works to works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Gogh, Malevich, Kandinsky and Picasso. You can visit the State Hermitage in the Winter Palace on a guided tour to gain more insight.
4. Yusupov Palace / Moika Palace
Everyone with any interest in Russian history of the early 20th Century, listen up: The Yusupov Palace (also known as Moika Palace) is the site where Grigori Rasputin, mystic and self-proclaimed prophet, friend of Tsar Nicholas II, was murdered by conservative noblemen (including Prince Felix Yusupov himself) who wanted to end his influence on the rulers of the Russian Empire. The building has its own private palatial theatre that can be visited during a guided tour which also features the on-site exhibition on the subject of Rasputin’s life and violent death. Get deals from different providers for your visit to the Yusupov Palace.
Outside central Piter
If you’re willing to venture outside central St. Petersburg you’ll find several large and impressive estates, such as Peterhof Palace or the palaces in Pushkin. Many tour providers offer guided tours to tourists that cover not just one, but several of the places mentioned here.
5. Peterhof Palace
Located about 19 miles west outside the historic center and reachable through public transport (or by hydrofoil!), the vast complex of several palaces and gardens in Peterhof rivals Versailles. In fact, Peter the Great expanded the site as a direct response to his visit to the French royal court in 1717. The original architecture was designed by Domenico Trezzini with later changes conducted by – yet again – Rastrelli, a favourite among the royal family. At the heart of the complex lies the Grand Palace with French-style interior design and large paintings of the Russo-Turkish War inside the Chesma Hall. Several offers for a trip to Peterhof Palace are available online.
Last but not least, in the municipality of Pushkin, located 15 miles south of the historic centre of St. Petersburg, there are more important noble residences to discover: Catherine Palace and Alexander Palace. The high density of royal palaces is why the area has also been known as Tsarskoe Selo (Tsar’s village) since 1710.
6. Alexander Palace
Catherine the Great commissioned the construction of this neoclassical imperial residence for her grandson, Alexander I, in 1792. The last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II, made Alexander Palace his main residence shortly before the Romanov dynasty was overthrown in 1917. Not quite as architecturally elaborate as the nearby Catherine Palace, the building today is well-known for being the palace where the Romanov family was held under house arrest by the Bolsheviks after the Tsar resigned. Today, the museum inside houses personal belongings of the Romanovs and is open for the public to visit.
7. Catherine Palace
Three generations of the Imperial family used this pompous Rococo palace as a summer residence after it was built by Tsarina Elizabeth (daughter of Catherine I). The legendary Amber Room was brought here after it had been given to Peter the Great in 1716, and a stunning reconstruction of it can be visited inside the Catherine Palace. The original Amber Room disappeared or was destroyed during WWII, and it’s one of art history’s great mysteries. Tours to Catherine Palace, that can also be booked online in advance, usually include access to the replica of the Amber Room.