Getting Oriented

The area around St. Petersburg is one big monument to its role as Russia's Imperial capital, from the time of Peter the Great (1672–1725) to the ill-fated Nicholas II, whose execution in Ekaterinburg in 1918 brought the Romanov dynasty to an end

While it's possible to reach all of the palaces by public transport, the simplest way to see them is to book an excursion (available through any tour company). The cost is reasonable and covers transportation, a guided tour, and admission fees. An organized excursion to any of the suburban palaces will take at least four hours; if you travel on your own, it's likely to take up the entire day. But whichever plan you opt for, you'll enjoy numerous sights filled with splendor and magic.

Connections between the palaces are limited, so it's not easy to see more than two at most in a day. Of all the places, the ones that make the most sense to do in tandem would be: Pushkin and Pavlovsk, Peterhof and Lomonosov, Peterhof and Kronshtadt, or Lomonosov and Kronshtadt.

Because this region is so close to St. Petersburg and most people visit on day trips, hotels are few and far between.

Summer Palaces. These status symbols of the royal elite—the Menshikov's Great Palace in Lomonosov, the Great Palace in Peterhof, the Catherine Palace and the Alexander Palace in Pushkin, the Great Palace in Pavlovsk, the Great Palace and Priorat Palace in Gatchina, and the Konstantine Palace in Strelna—are at the heart of any trip outside St. Petersburg. Even Russians who've already visited these tsarist wonders find themselves returning time and time again, drawn back not necessarily by the opulence but by the acres of beautiful parks and gardens, perfect for relaxing.

Kronshtadt and Valaam. The port of Kronshtadt is on an island connected to the city by a dam. Its landmarks include the grandiose Naval Cathedral and numerous forts in the waters around the island. The history of Kronshtadt embraces more than 300 years of Russian navy life. Valaam Island, a national park, is known for its virtually untouched natural surroundings, as well as for its religious history, which includes active monasteries. It's a very popular destination for Russian Orthodox pilgrims.

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