The Venice of the North, the City of White Nights, the cultural capital of Russia - St. Petersburg has so many names. All year-round tourists from around the world flock to discover this amazing city. One can stay here forever; St. Petersburg’s attractions are abundant.
However, architectural masterpieces are located not only in the center of the northern capital, but also outside of these boundaries . The suburbs of St. Petersburg are often compared to a pearl necklace, and indeed it is so. Unique parks and one-of-a-kind architectural ensembles encircle St. Petersburg and make you admire it again and again. Peterhof, Strelna, Tsarskoye Selo and other satellite towns were mostly conceived as summer residences for Russian rulers.
Museum-Reserve "Peterhof" was built as a countryside residence of Peter I thirty kilometers from St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland. It is famous primarily for its remarkable fountains. Peterhof has over a hundred exquisitely decorated fountains and several small waterfalls, which are unique because they operate without a pump, due to differences in the level of the ground.
Such a system does not have an equal anywhere else in the world! Perhaps the most beautiful is the Grand Cascade, designed by Peter the Great. It is a grandiose structure, comprised of a grotto with waterfall stairs located on each side. And, of course, we cannot ignore the large fountain "Samson" with a statue of the biblical hero, wrenching apart the lion's jaws.
But unique fountains are not all of what Peterhof is. There are beautiful parks, which without exaggeration can be called masterpieces of landscape design. And among the palaces the largest construction is the Grand Palace, located in the heart of the park. This three-story building with galleries and glittering domes stretches for three hundred meters along the terraces.
Walking around Peterhof you can easily imagine Peter I spending time in his residence centuries ago, feasting his eyes on the splendor created. It really is a tsar’s domain. Its range and scope, luxury, and the rich decoration of the place… without doubt is worth a visit!
Half an hour away from the center of St. Petersburg is the town of Pushkin, formerly called Tsarskoye Selo. On this vast territory (600 hectares!) there are parks and palaces. The most famous among them is the Catherine Palace. Once you have entered the Great Hall you cannot help but recall scenes from historic films. The abundance of mirrors, gold, richly decorated walls, painted ceilings…you seem to be transported back in time to an Imperial Ball, where ladies in magnificent dresses with crinoline dance waltzes and minuets with their cavaliers ...
The famous Amber Room in the Catherine Palace is another masterpiece of the 18th century. The whole room is decorated with amber and supplemented with mirrored pilasters. During World War II Germans took away all the amber, so the restorers had to work hard for twenty years to restore the room!
Silence, tranquility and superb landscape paintings can be found in Pavlovsk. Once a residence of Paul I was built here, which has now been turned into a museum. The highlight of this site is a luxurious landscape park. It may seem like a real forest to some, but in fact the park was carefully planned by the best landscape artists. Strolling along comfortable paths, you can make stops to rest in cozy pavilions or enjoy the look of the river Slavyanka with graceful bridges. The Pavlovsky park is decorated with numerous pavilions, monuments and sculptures. This park has plenty of things for you to see and enjoy. Many tourists stop by the sculpture of the "Three Graces", carved from a single piece of marble. And against the backdrop of a picturesque forest there is the colonnade of Apollo.
In the heart of the park area there is the Pavlovsk Palace, a golden and white building on one of the high banks of the river Slavyanka. Here you will discover a collection of sculptures, porcelain and paintings.
In Strelna tourists’ attention is drawn to two completely different buildings - the Konstantin Palace and the Road Palace of Peter I. If the former is distinguished by its scale and splendor, the latter is characterized by its unpretentiousness. The Road Palace is more like a modest Russian estate, next to which there is a small vegetable garden. Here gardeners of the Russian Emperor grew a variety of exotic plants, including potatoes brought from abroad.
Other than the palaces it’s worthwhile to see the Strelna Park. It is divided by flow channels that run into the Gulf of Finland. A beautiful landscape, fine sculptures, fountains… the artists, who created such a beauty did a marvelous job! Among the bridges that put the park together, there are drawbridges which St. Petersburg is famous for. Once you have arrived in Strelna, you will have a lot of time to peer into every secret corner of the park, sit by the fountains, and breathe the sea air from the Gulf.
Dreaming of an interesting boat trip? Then go to Kronstadt! It is a port city, which is located on the island of Kotlin in the Gulf of Finland. For many years the island could be accessed only by water. However, five years ago, a dam was opened, and ferries were made unnecessary. Thus Kronstadt can now be reached by any mean of transport.
Kronstadt was conceived by Peter the Great as a real fortress. From the sea, the city was defended by forts. A total of more than twenty forts were built. However, they are abandoned today, but in summer boat trips are launched for tourists and you can take a closer look at the fort.
Once you have visited the island, don’t forget to visit the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas , built to honor Russian sailors. Its gilded dome is visible from St. Petersburg. The temple is artfully decorated with mosaic patterns on the walls, and plates with the names of many sailors who died during various wars can also be seen decorating the walls.
Gatchina is a gloomy, mysterious and still a romantic satellite city of St. Petersburg, located 45 kilometers away. If you are going there with a guided tour, first you will be taken to the Gatchina Palace. This is not like the palaces that you have seen in Peterhof or Tsarskoye Selo. Rather, it is a medieval knight's castle surrounded by a beautiful park.
In the evening light posts cast mysterious shadows and the castle produces a rather gloomy appearance. There are various mystical legends about the Gatchina Palace. Your guide may tell you that according to a legend the castle is haunted by the spirits of the Knights of Malta, and that there is an underground passage below the palace. The latter, as historians say, is not a legend, but a real fact.
The underground passage begins at a secret staircase in the Emperor’s bedchamber and stretches for 120 meters from the palace to the Silver Lake. The Emperor Paul I often used his secret door to sneak out of the castle to the Silver Lake.
The lake is fed by underground springs and has a remarkable emerald color, reminiscent of mountain lakes. There is a cave on the shore, hidden by bushes. This is the way out of the palace - the grotto "Echo". Why is it called this? There is an interesting acoustic effect, discovered by the park’s visitors back in the 18th century. If you say something in front of the grotto, after forty seconds the words come back and repeat themselves very clearly.
This is what Gatchina looks like to tourists: mysterious, mystical, and full of riddles.
St. Petersburg and its surroundings are something that you fall in love with at first sight. This city has a soul that it is impossible not to feel. And, despite the capricious weather, which is so characteristic of the northern capital, you will not want to leave. It is best to pull on your warm clothes andcontinue wandering those streets, climb the observation platforms, and marvel at the Palace Square and its landscaped gardens.