Located on the coast of the Gulf of Finland 29 km west of Saint Petersburg, Peterhof (or Petergof as the Russions say, it’s also known as Petrodvorets) is one of the major tourist attractions in Russia. Peterhof was built by Peter the Great as a summer palace and is not only famous for its lavish interiors but also for its beautiful fountain and pool filled gardens. It took over 200 years to complete and has Russian, German, French and Italian influences
Early arrival at Peterhof
We traveled to Peterhof directly after a night train from Petrozavodsk had brought us back from a visit to Kizhi Island, northeast of Saint Petersburg. After the eight hour train ride with just a little bit of sleep, we arrived at 6.30 in the morning at Ladozhskiy station. Though tired from our outing to Kizhi we decided to head to Peterhof straight away, as the weather forecast promised sunny weather and we were told that we could not check in to our Saint Petersburg hostel again until 2 in the afternoon.
So after taking the metro to Avtovo station and getting on a marshrutka (minibus) from there to Peterhof, we arrived an hour too early before the doors to the lower park and palace of the country residence of the Russian tsars opened. It was still nice and quiet then, with hardly any people in the upper park that’s open the general public for free. Cloudy, almost windless conditions and the fountains not yet turned on offered some great photo opportunities with the palace reflecting in the ponds.
Walking the gardens
When around 9 o’clock the gates to the lower gardens opened, the first tour groups had already arrived. We had a quick look at the world famous Grand Cascade, but with the fountains not working until 11 AM, it did not offer the view we were looking for. So we walked around the lanes of the lower gardens first for about two hours, taking a look at many of the 173 fountains, jets, sprays and pools as well as the Hermitage Pavilion, the Marly Palace and Monplaisir, Peter the Great’s original palace on the coast before a much bigger Grand Palace was built higher up, all requiring separate tickets to have a peek inside.
Grand Palace rush
We’d decided we only wanted to see the Grand Palace, though. It has restricted visiting times for foreign visitors, the first possibility starting at 11 AM. In hindsight we should just have just satisfied ourselves with the gardens, which in the meantime had become very crowded, like a Disney park. After paying one of the highest entrance fees during our stay in Saint Petersburg we were rushed through the rooms in about 25 minutes.
Bad tempered woman overseers tried to move the endless traffic of tour groups and the few forlorn individual visitors like us through the rooms as quickly as possible. In two of the rooms even an alarm went off when people stood still to admire the décor….. The rooms were beautiful (we cannot show you as taking pictures was forbidden), but by the time we visited Peterhof, we’d already seen so many great things that we’d become a little immune to Tsarist bling.
As we walked out we had a look at the monumental Grand Cascade and the gold studded fountains in front of the palace. Truly a sight to behold! It is possible to tour the grotto located just behind the Grand Cascade and see the technique behind it as well as to get close to the Grand Cascade, but seeing the long waiting line to get in we thanked for the honor. After more than five hours at Peterhof it was time to get back to the city.
Getting to Peterhof
We traveled to Peterhof by taking the metro (red line 1) to Avtovo station where minibuses are waiting to take you to Peterhof, a thirty minute ride. A quicker – but much more expensive – alternative way of getting there is by taking a hydrofoil from the city center. It takes about half an hour, but the first boat doesn’t leave Saint Petersburg until 10 AM, so it will already be busy when you get there. Be aware that Peterhof is closed on Mondays. For more information on opening times and ticket prices click here.
We visited Peterhof and Saint Petersburg in June 2016