This guide to visiting Catherine Palace is intended for the budget traveler. That is, the kind who prefers to spend less, but experience more when visiting a tourist attraction. You see, although it is possible to visit Catherine Palace in more comfortable ways (e.g. an organized tour) – we find that visiting attractions by ourselves lets us experience the local way of life that little bit more. By this, we mean taking public transport, and seeing how the local people go about their daily, regular lives.
Read on for all the information you need on Catherine Palace!
What is Catherine Palace
Catherine Palace is one of the two famous palace’s that can be found in the Saint Petersburg surrounding areas. The other palace, Peterhof, is probably the more famous (and more visited). However, in the winter months, it is recommended that you visit Catherine Palace instead.
Catherine Palace was known as the summer residence of the Tsars, i.e. the Russian royal family. It is often associated with Catherine The Great, but it was actually named after Catherine I who had it built. However, it was actually Empress Elizabeth (her daughter) who created the grandeur that is synonymous with the location today.
The striking blue and gold of the facade are what attract visitors to the Palace. We found that their colors only shone more in the snow of wintertime. It’s not just the exterior color of the building that makes Catherine Palace warrant a visit, however. Check out the ornate detail and awe-inspiring decorations inside the palace. Also, the vast outside recreation areas mean this should be top of your Saint Petersburg bucket list!
How to get to Catherine Palace
There are actually two possible methods for arriving at Catherine Palace on your own. Obviously, we can only recommend our method. The other way involves getting a metro, a train and then having to get a taxi. That all seems a little OTT.
So the first step for arriving at Catherine Palace is to hop on the amazing Saint Petersburg Metro. You will need to go on the Blue Line in the direction of Kupchino. This is the very last stop on the line, and the central station Nevsky Prospekt will be the best bet for a departure station.
It should take 40 minutes from Nevsky Prospekt to arrive at Kupchino. You need to head for the exit Vitebsky Avenue (the blue signposts will have it in English). When you get outside you will see a line of old soviet buses, called Marshrutka’s, waiting. You will be looking for the bus with the number K-286 or K-342. Catherine Palace is located in the town of Pushkin. Make sure the sign on the front of the bus says this. Ask the driver for confirmation to make sure. The cost of the bus is approximately 40 RUB (0.45c each) and provides a good insight into real Russian life.
You will realize that you have made it to the town of Pushkin after about 40 minutes. The bus can drop you off 200 metres from the park, but we recommend you get off in the main square. This means you will be able to see the lovely Cathedral of St. Catherine. From there, Catherine Palace is only about 3 blocks away.
Inside Catherine Palace
Catherine Palace costs a cool 1200 RUB (~€13) to enter. Tickets can be bought on the day in the palace, but it is recommended to buy them in advance on the website – http://tzar.ru/en.
Of course, when we went to buy our tickets online the website was under maintenance so it was not possible. This caused a bit of panic as everywhere you read it is almost mandatory to buy the tickets online. Everyone else was probably in the same boat, but we had no trouble getting our tickets. There were also no queues! Bear in mind that this was wintertime, however.
Included in your ticket is a guided tour of the Palace. Unfortunately, we can’t tell you too much about the tour as we didn’t receive it. We had no idea and just entered on our own. We started to realize something was wrong when we entered the room and were shouted at for not covering our shoes. Turns out they supply shoe covers at the entrance. This was to stop snow/sludge from ruining the floors.
The Palace tour includes the following highlights:
- The Main Staircase
- The Great Hall and Antechambers
- State Rooms (including Amber room)
- Alexander I Memorial Rooms
Of these, the Great Hall and the Amber Room are by far the highlights. The Great Hall is the largest room in the Palace and occupies the whole width of the palace, with glass windows on either side. Look out for the baroque decorations throughout the room and the ceiling painting.
The Amber Room is the highlight of the Palace and is the reason most people visit here. Amber surrounds the whole room. Where there is no amber there are imitation paintings of the stone, to give the illusion of such.
When the Germans invaded the town of Pushkin during World War II, they seized Catherine Palace and removed all the amber panels from the Amber Room. Königsberg Castle then became the home of the amber. Then, the amber gets lost when the war is over. To this day, nobody is sure where it went to.
The amber panels were recreated in the mid-1980s and so, for this reason, it is clear to see that the Amber Room is a recreation of what it was like during the Tsarist times. The Russan royals lived in great opulence and beauty it is evident to see. Imagine, having a room such as the Amber Room at their disposal.
After the tour you are free to explore the expansive grounds of Catherine Palace, included in your ticket.
Outside Catherine Palace
The outside area of Catherine Palace (Catherine Park) is HUGE! You could, and we did, easily spend a few hours just strolling around the park. I can imagine that it would be a lot more interesting to stroll around in the summer, but the snow that winter provides gave a different perspective of the park.
Return to Saint Petersburg
Making your way back to Saint Petersburg is a simple as reversing your steps from the arrival into Pushkin. Where you were dropped off on the main square is where you can get the bus to Saint Petersburg. It was a Saturday when we visited, so it was quite busy. However, the buses going back were very frequent. Check each bus for a blue ‘M’ sign, which means it will stop at a metro. We let a few Marshrutka’s go by (as they were crowded) before hopping on one which took us back to Kupchino. From here we got back on the metro and into Nevsky Prospekt and central Saint Petersburg – Simple!
Tips for Visiting Catherine Palace
- Stop off in the main square of Pushkin to see the Cathedral of St. Catherine.
- Travel to Catherine Palace on your own – it’s super easy and lets you get an authentic Russian experience!
- If you can, sneak away from the tour group to get the Amber Room to yourself – it’s a lot smaller then you would think!