Grand Palace

Top choice palace in Peterhof

Image by Ksenia Elzes Lonely Planet

The Grand Palace is an imposing building, although with just 30-something rooms, it is not nearly as large as your typical tsarist palace. From the start of June to the end of September it is open to foreign tourists only between noon and 2pm, and again from 4.15pm to 5.45pm (to 7.45pm on Saturdays), due to guided tours being only in Russian at other times (it is quite possible to leave your group, however).

While Peter’s palace was relatively modest, Rastrelli grossly enlarged the building for Empress Elizabeth. Later, Catherine the Great toned things down a little with a redecoration, although that’s not really apparent from the glittering halls and art-filled galleries that are visible today. All the paintings, furniture and chandeliers are original, as everything was removed from the premises before the Germans arrived in WWII. The Chesme Hall is full of huge paintings of Russia’s destruction of the Turkish fleet at Çesme in 1770. Other highlights include the exquisite East and West Chinese Cabinets, the Picture Hall and Peter’s Study. The Throne Room is the biggest in the palace, with Peter's red velvet throne as centrepiece, while the Picture Hall lives up to its name, with hundreds of portraits crowding its walls.

After WWII, Peterhof was largely left in ruins. Hitler had intended to throw a party here when his plans to occupy the Astoria Hotel were thwarted. He drew up pompous invitations, which obviously incensed his Soviet foes. Stalin’s response was to pre-empt any such celebration by bombing the estate himself, in the winter of 1941–42, so it is ironic but true that most of the damage at Peterhof occurred at the hands of the Soviets. What you see today is largely a reconstruction; the main palace was completely gutted and only a few of its walls were left standing.