Our guide’s quote from the first day “get-acquainted tour” frequently echoes back to us as we navigate St. Petersburg. From the massive expanse of the public squares to the grandeur of the cathedrals to the opulence of the palaces, we can’t help but be blown away!
Palace Square is the primary gathering spot in St. Petersburg. Although you may catch a political rally or celebration of some kind, you are more likely to catch a concert or performance.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the largest orthodox chuch and the fourth largest cathedral in the world. The exterior features a total of 112 red granite columns, each hewn from a single block. The main dome rises 333 ft and is plated with pure gold. There is an accessible outdoor walkway around the top. The Cathedral survived Nazi shelling in World War II and briefly served as a museum of atheism under the Soviet regime.
Alexander III built this church as a tribute to his father, Alexander II, who was assassinated on this site by revolutionaries. Aside from it’s unique and colorful outside, the inside is just as impressive. The walls and ceilings are completely covered in intricately detailed mosaics — figures and scenes from the Bible.
You’ll have to wait until the end to see why this palace was on Frank’s must-visit list of sights(!). The Catherine Palace, known until 1910 as the Great Palace of Tsarskoye Selo, is a tourist favorite. It was the summer palace of Catherine the Great and is in the nearby town of Pushkin. We were unable to get tickets (sold out until July online!) so we joined a small group tour. The museum owes its beauty as much to the original architects as to the restorers who returned the palace to life after WWII. Of the 58 halls destroyed during the war, 32 have been recreated. The garden grounds go on forever. There are a few small “cottages” (a retreat from the summer retreat?!!) and a lake.
And the reason Frank wanted to see this palace?
The Prussians gifted nine Amber Rooms to the Russians. The panels were stolen from the palace by the Nazis in WWII and they have not been recovered. It took 28 painstaking years to recreate one of the rooms and they did it with real amber! It is absolutely jaw dropping!
Versailles was the inspiration for Peterhof, Peter the Great’s imperial summer palace just outside St. Petersburg. Often called the Fountain Palace, there are 144 fountains and over 200 statues in the 500+ acres of beautiful gardens! The palace, as Frank said, was “way over the top.” Gold gilding, fancy staircases, expansive murals — this palace was amazing. Interesting story. Hitler was planning to have a big victory party here, even going so far as to send out fancy invites. Stalin and his cronies didn’t care for that idea so they bombed it before they could have the party. Fortunately, the staff packed and hid away many of the valuables before they demolished it. This was probably the prettiest of the palaces we saw.