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Side Trips from St. Petersburg Travel Guide

Plan Your Side Trips from St. Petersburg Vacation

If St. Petersburg is the star of the show, then its suburbs are the supporting cast needed to tell the story. For every aspect of the city's past—the glamour and glory of its Imperial era, the pride and power of its military history, the splendor of its architecture, the beauty of its waterways—there's a park, a palace, a playground of the tsars

somewhere outside the city limits with a corresponding tale to tell.

From the dazzling fountains of Peterhof on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, to the tranquil estate of Pavlovsk to the south, to the naval stronghold of Kronshtadt, what surrounds St. Petersburg is as important to its existence and identity as anything on Nevsky prospekt. It might seem odd to tell you to get out of the city almost as soon as you've arrived, but you'll understand why once you've strolled through palatial rooms and vast grounds in the footsteps of the aristocrats and officers who made Russia a world power.

What draws most visitors, and residents as well, out of St. Petersburg are the elaborate residences where royalty and aristocracy retreated for relaxation. Of all the palaces in Russia, the one that generally makes the most distinct and lasting impression on visitors is Peterhof, on the shore of the Baltic Sea, some 29 km (18 miles) west of St. Petersburg. More than a mere summer palace, it's an Imperial playground replete with lush parks, monumental cascades, and gilt fountains. Tsarskoye Selo, now renamed Pushkin, was a fashionable haunt of members of the aristocracy who were eager to be near the Imperial family. After the Revolution of 1905, Nicholas II and his family lived here, more or less permanently. Pavlovsk was the Imperial estate of Paul I. The estate of Lomonosov, on the Gulf of Finland, is perhaps the least commanding of the suburban Imperial palaces. It is, however, the only one to have survived World War II intact.

A visit to this region takes you through a lavish trail of evidence of the Imperial spirit. These majestic old palaces, estates, and former nobles' residences—all on lovingly tended grounds—are within easy reach of St. Petersburg.

Two islands, one to the west and one to the northeast of St. Petersburg, set a different tone than the palace suburbs but are still of historic significance. The town of Kronshtadt, on Kotlin Island, has a long and proud naval tradition, while the monasteries of Valaam Archipelago date back to the earliest days of Christianity, more than a millennium ago.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Make a splash in the Peterhof Fountains The grounds surrounding Peterhof's Great Palace (nicknamed the "Russian Versailles") are filled with whimsical fountains. Beware, though trick fountains in the Lower Park might douse you in a burst of water.
  2. Let the glow of the Amber Room embrace you The original carved amber panels that once filled a room in Catherine's Palace went missing during World War II and their whereabouts remain a mystery. The panels have been painstakingly re-created and are a wonder to behold.
  3. Stroll in Ekaterininsky Park The landscaped park on the grounds of Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo) contains mirror-effect lakes, vast lawns, and impressive views of Catherine Palace. Enjoy a picnic lunch here in the summer.
  4. Get a glimpse of Russian naval might in Kronshtadt Experience a Russian navy town, taking in the Baltic Sea air as you tour.
  5. Walk on the wild side in Gatchina Park A lovely walk around Silver Lake is a charming escape from city fuss. You might see newlyweds attaching locks to a small bridge—a Russian wedding tradition.

When To Go

When to Go

To see the palaces and estates at their best, try to time your visits to coincide with spring or summer. Peterhof in particular is best visited in summ...

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