Glorious Peterhof: the Russian Versailles near Saint Petersburg

Maria Selezneva | Live the World

November 23, 2022

There are a lot of opportunities to embark on a one-day trip when you are staying in Saint Petersburg. The first thing that comes to mind is the Russian Versailles Peterhof, a municipal town located southwest from Saint Petersburg, on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. Founded as a glorious summer residence of emperor Peter the Great in the 18th century, today it is a perfect place for strolling and enjoying both architecture and nature.

A bit of history

© istock/scaliger

Until the 18th century, the land where now Peterhof is was occupied by two Finnish villages. Their names were Pohjajoki and Kuusoja. In 1705, the word ‘Peterhof’, translated from German as ‘Peter’s yard’, was mentioned for the very first time in the emperor’s travel diary. Back then, it was just one of many spots for hosting Peter the Great during his trips to Kotlin Island, where the fortified city of Kronstadt had been built. 

As a person who gained access to the Gulf of Finland, and thus, to the Baltic Sea, Peter the Great wanted to found the residence to commemorate the occasion. It was also meant to be one of the most outstanding and prominent residences in Europe. So, architecture and landscape works started in the 1710s, and after the years of hard and fast work, it was inaugurated in August 1723.

What not to miss in Peterhof

© istock/Vladislav Zolotov

Peterhof ensemble is very well-thought, and its main objects of interest are the following: Peterhof Grand Palace, Upper Gardens (in Russian - ‘Verkhny Sad’), Lower Gardens (‘Nizhny Sad’), Grand Cascade (‘Bolshoi Kaskad’) of fountains, and a Baroque-style Sea Channel (‘Morskoy Kanal’), also known as ‘Channel of Samson’. But as Peterhof has many beautiful things worth seeing, you should prioritize some crucial must-sees. Surely, you will not be able to see all at once, and maybe in some time, you will need to come back and revisit Peterhof

So, the first thing you have to see is the Grand Cascade which is considered to be Peterhof’s calling card. It is located right in the center of the whole composition, as there is the Grand Palace above, and below is the Sea Channel leading to the Gulf of Finland. The iconic sculpture of Samson, a biblical figure, winning over lion – is a symbol of Russia’s victory over Sweden. 

If you are visiting with a group, do not waste your chance to peek inside the Grand Palace to see its marvelous interior. It has quite a complicated background, being rebuilt several times by different architects and almost destroyed during World War II. It was restored in the middle of the 20th century. Also, Upper Gardens, with its fountains and perfect shapes, are absolutely worth seeing.

Other places of interest include Alexandria Park, less crowded with tourists, and the gothic Church of Saint Alexander Nevsky, as well as the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul and the artificial islands in Olgin Pond.

How to get there

You can reach Peterhof by the suburban rail. The train departs from Baltiysky railway station in Saint Petersburg, and it takes approximately 30 minutes to reach the final destination. Another way to get there is by a minibus shuttle, departing from the Baltiysky railway station and ‘Baltiyskaya’ metro station, as well as from ‘Avtovo’ and ‘Leninsky Prospekt’ metro stations.  

The most unusual and exciting way to get to Peterhof is by ‘Meteor’ motor ship heading off from the dock near Hermitage Museum in central Saint Petersburg. It is popular among guests of the city because traveling like this gives you a nice chance to admire the marine nature of Russian Northern capital. But prepare to pay a lot, as it is more expensive than other transportation means. 

© istock/solo122

When in Saint Petersburg, be sure to book a day to visit Peterhof, the glorious summer residence of emperor Peter the Great. Its fountains and the magnificent Grand Palace are adored by many people. In the summertime, especially when it is sunny, you have a perfect chance to take good photos there and enjoy the beauty of the 'Russian Versailles' near Saint Petersburg.

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