7 palaces in and around St. Petersburg you should visit right now

RIA Novosti/Sergei Guneev
There are more than 50 imperial mansions in St Petersburg and its environs—so much more than just the Winter Palace. RBTH has chosen 7 landmarks in the former imperial capital where you can find out about the strange habits and luxurious life of the Russian nobility.

1. The Menshikov Palace

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media
Built from 1710-27 the Menshikov Palace was one of the first stone buildings in St. Petersburg. Alexander Menshikov was Peter the Great’s best friend, a prominent statesman and the first Governor-General of St. Petersburg. Young Peter met him when the 16-year old Menshikov was selling pies on Moscow’s streets and later worked as Peter’s personal military servant.

St. Petersburg based script-writer Olga Kalashnikova calls Menshikov “an 18th century oligarch.” Yet at the same time she was surprised to learn that he was illiterate. When she was working on a documentary on him she found a document that he had signed. “He managed to make a mistake in his own signature,” Kalashnikova said.

Menshikov’s house was often called the Ambassador’s Palace by foreign diplomats because the majority of ceremonial receptions took place there, including marriage of Peter the Great and Catherine I in 1712.

2. The Yusupov Palace on Moika

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media
The Yusupov Palace was built in the 1760s by French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe. Mystical peasant Grigory Rasputin, who had a great influence on Tsar Nicholas II due to his healing powers that helped his hemophiliac son Alexei, was killed here on December 17, 1916. Count Felix Yusupov invited Rasputin to the palace, gave him desert with cyanide and participated in his assassination. You should make a reservation if you’d like to see the private rooms and special Rasputin exhibition.

“Russia seems charming to people, as they hope to see the fairy tale world of the tsars, aristocrats and 'intelligentsia,’” says Olga Cardamone, CEO of the Russian-American Eagle Travel Tours. “However, the crowds in Peterhof or the Winter Palace can ruin the feeling. Fortunately the Yusupov Palace still has this charm.”

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

3. The Sheremetyev Palace

Photo credit: ruspalace.ru
The Sheremetyev Palace unites both music and poetry in its two museums with its 3,000 instruments and Anna Akhmatova and Joseph Brodsky’s personal artifacts. It was built for the nobleman Pyotr Sheremetev in 1750-55 in the baroque style.

The main building of the palace now houses the Museum of Theater and Music where you can see Tchaikovsky’s piano, a Stradivari violin and Tsar Nicholas II’s cello. You can attend classical music concerts here for 100-200 rubles (less than $3).

The poet Anna Akhmatova lived in the southern wing of the palace in from the mid-1920s until 1952. You can enter her flat-museum from Liteiny prospekt 53. In 2005 Joseph Brodsky’s “American office” also opened, although he never lived here.

4. The Mikhailovsky Palace

Photo credit: Roman Vezenin
The Mikhailovsky Palace was built by Italian architect Carlo Rossi in 1819-25 for the Grand Duke Mikhail, Catherine the Great’s grandson. It’s noticeable from Nevsky prospekt and has a 10-hectare garden. Nowadays the palace houses the biggest collection of Russian art from medieval icons to Kazimir Malevich's “Black Square.”

“The Mikhailovsky garden is stunning, ” Dutch citizen Leonie Lavrova-Woldring, a nine-year resident of St. Petersburg, told RBTH. “Go for a walk there and see the beautifully lit palace at night.”

5. The Stroganov Palace

Photo credit: Alamy/Legion-Media
The Stroganov Palace is one of Nevsky prospekt’s oldest buildings, built in the baroque style from 1752-54 for Count Sergei Stroganov. Since then its exterior has largely stayed the same and the original design of Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who also built the famous Winter Palace and the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo (featured in Disney’s cartoon Anastasia), has remained.

Foodies should check out the Russky Ampir restaurant to try traditional beef Stroganoff, deer Stroganoff or pike perch in the Stroganoff style.

6. The Pavlovsk Palace 

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Legion-Media
The Pavlovsk Palace was the summer residence of Catherine the Great’s son Paul I and his wife Maria Fedorovna. During World War II the palace was looted by the Nazis, who made it the local Gestapo headquarters and set it on fire when they left. The best way to get to the palace in winter is by a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh ride, which can be requested on the museum's website.

Check out Yury Molodkovets’ photo project about Pavlovsk. Molodkovets especially loves Maria Fedorovna’s library, which at one time contained 21,000 items. “During World War II it was taken by the Nazis and was later was discovered in Austria in 1945 and given back to the USSR,” he told RBTH.

7. The Konstantinovsky Palace in Strelna

Photo credit: TASS/Astakhov Dmitry
The Konstantinovsky Palace in Strelna was the summer residence of Grand Duke Konstantin, Catherine the Great’s grandson. This palace was host to the G8 summit in 2006 and the G20 in 2013, so take a selfie in the halls where Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin discussed global affairs. The tour, which you should book in advance, will show you the billiards table where Vladimir Putin and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi once played pool.


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