catherine palace st petersburg

Catherine palace in St Petersburg

The Catherine palace near St Petersburg is one of the most visited attractions . This former summer residence of tsars is famous for stunning baroque-style interiors, opulent Amber room and a nice park. The Catherine  palace is situated in a suburb called Pushkin (but the historical name of the place is Tsarskoe Selo that means “the Village of tsars”).  The town is located about 30 km from St Petersburg, so a one-way drive takes about 1 hour and by public transport it will take even longer, about 1,5 hours.

The first palace was built there for Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great. However, in mid-18th century  it was enlarged and rebuilt on the orders of princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great. The palace has some of the most remarkable baroque-style interiors in Russia, but its main gem is the Amber room that is famous for the wall  panels made of this semi-precious stone. The original Amber room was stolen by the Nazi during WWII and today you will see its replica made according to the original design of real amber.

During  the WWII the Catherine palace was behind the front line from September 1941 to January 1944 , so the original interiors were extremely badly damaged. Even now restoration works are still in progress and only a part of the palace (a big part though) is open to the public.

Visiting tips:

  • Photos without flash are allowed everywhere except for the Amber room,
  • Big bags, backpacks and water should be left in the cloak room of the palace,
  • Book tickets to the palace or a private tour as long in advance as possible as from May to October and on holidays tickets are sold out almost immediately and waiting in lines for the tickets may take hours. More information on how to book the tickets will be given below.  Guides can book skip the line admission, so a private tour is worth the money.

Besides the Catherine  palace itself, you can enjoy a walk in the picturesque park. The main part of the park was designed in English style, so it looks natural. Pavilions in the gardens are open for visits only in summer, I will list just a few of them:

  • Cameron gallery –  a beautiful structure that looks like an ancient roman temple. It was built in 1780-s on the orders of Catherine the Great. If the passage on top of  the staircase is open, go up to take beautiful pictures of the gardens from the gallery.
  • Grotto pavilion – a nice pavilion on the bank of the Grand pond. It’s open in summer and admission is free. The interior is quite simple, but the place is special because they organize mini- performances  of traditional Russian singing there almost every day in summer. It’s free, so don’t miss it.
  • The Hermitage pavilion – the idea of the pavilion is exactly the same as in Peterhof: tables that could be moved between the floors using a kind of dumb-waiter mechanism. Originally there was no staircase in the pavilion, so the guests got to the second floor by a sofa that worked as a lift. Now they have an ordinary staircase, but you can still see the tables and how they used to function. Tours are in Russian only, I wouldn’t say that admission is very cheap, but the pavilion is very interesting.

Unfortunately, it’s rather difficult to visit the Catherine palace on your own. The first reason is that from May to October,  lines to the ticket office are so long that you won’t appreciate anything after standing there for hours. However, if you are lucky you can book a ticket in advance on the official website (more information below). The second reason is that getting to the Catherine palace from St Petersburg by public transport is not very easy as you will need to take  metro and a bus.

Booking tickets to the Catherine palace online:

I encourage you to check the schedule & ticket prices on the official  website before your arrival as admission time changes several times a year. During the high season (May to mid-October) and vacations at school, ticket offices  for non-guided visitors are open only during specific hours, so read all the information on the website attentively.

You can  buy tickets to the Catherine palace in advance on the official website http://tkt.tzar.ru/en/ , normally  they start selling them a month in advance. Just a limited number of tickets is available and they are sold out almost immediately in summer, so I recommend to plan this visit as long in advance as possible. The tickets sold on the website already include admission to the park.

After you book a ticket online, you will need to print the voucher, and then exchange it for real tickets in a special ticket office. From May to October you use the ticket office that is located near the gilded gate  next to the church of the Catherine palace. Your passport will be required. You enter the palace through the Church gate near the special ticket office and visit the park only after the palace.

If you are coming from late autumn till April, you need to exchange the voucher inside the palace in the ticket office # 4.  Starting from late autumn, admission to the park is free, so you enter the park first and then go inside the palace to exchange the tickets.

Important notice: online tickets allow admission only between 12:00 and 16:00, so it’s not worth coming earlier.

Getting tickets from the ticket offices of the Catherine palace if you couldn’t book them in advance:

If the tickets on the website were sold out, the only option for a non-guided visitor will be to get them from the ticket-office of the palace upon arrival.  If you are unlucky, this may take hours of waiting in a line, so I recommend this option ONLY if you are absolutely sure that you want to do it.

If you are coming to the Catherine palace in winter, admission to the park will be free and you can go right inside the palace to get the tickets. But if you are coming from May to October, you will need to  pay for admission to the park first (the ticket offices  that sell  park tickets are situated  at the entrances to the park) and then stand in another line to get the tickets to the palace.From May to October  ticket offices of the palace open for non-guided visitors at 12:00, but you can see the park before that time. Again, I very strongly recommend to check  current museum schedule and ticket offices opening time before your arrival.

If you feel that all that hassle is too much for you, consider taking a private tour of the Catherine palace  as we will take care of the tickets and transportation.

How to get to the Catherine palace

Transportation to the Catherine palace is not very straightforward. You can take a taxi or get there by public transport, in that case you will need to take the metro and a minibus. First, get to Moskovskaya metro station (it’s close to the bottom of the blue metro line). When you arrive at Moskovskaya, follow “buses to the airport” sign. Moskovskaya station is a bit tricky as it has many exits, so I suggest to find “Moskovskaya plashad” (Московская площадь) on google maps before your departure in case you are lost as the buses you need stop by that square. Moskovskaya ploshad (or Moscow square) is a big square with a monument to Lenin in the center, behind Lenin you will find a huge building called the House of Soviets.
That’s how it looks like:

Once you spot the House of Soviets, go there as the minibuses stop next to it . Usually they  have a sign “Catherine palace”, “Tsarskoe Selo” or “Pushkin”. You will need minibuses K 287, K 342, K347 or K 545. You tell the driver “Catherine palace” and pay him for the ride (at the moment the price is 45 rubles one-way, but it may change). It’s not an express bus, so there will be many stops on the way, the driver announces the Catherine palace as it’s a popular stop. If you have any doubts, ask the passengers or the driver if it’s the right place. The Catherine palace is a short walk from the bus stop – you can’t miss it.

Another option is to take a train from Vitebsky train station (you need to go out at the station called “Tsarskoe Selo), but this option is not very popular anymore as the train station is about 20-25 minutes walk from the Catherine palace.

Places to visit near  the Catherine palace:

The Museum of royal carriages – it’s not in the territory of the park, but very close to it. Admission is not expensive and if you have some extra time it may be worth going there. Just like the name suggests, you can see many royal carriages (including the one damaged by explosion when the emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded) & very impressive royal sledges.
http://eng.tzar.ru/info/price#courtcarriages

Alexander palace in Tsarskoe Selo

A short walk from the Catherine palace is Alexander palace that was built as a wedding present to the oldest grandson of Catherine the Great – future emperor Alexander I. It’s a beautiful neoclassical palace that is mainly famous for being the favorite residence of the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II.  Unfortunately, the palace is currently closed for restoration. http://eng.tzar.ru/museums/palaces/alex_ander