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Tsar’s Village

Last updated: 06 April, 2024

Built in the 18th century as a summer retreat for the Tsars, Tsarskoye Selo, the Tsars’ Village, is the ultimate display of the extraordinary extravagance of Russia’s imperial rulers. Today, this extraordinary mix of palaces, landscaped gardens and glittering architecture outstrips even Versailles.

Highlights include the extravagant Baroque Catherine Palace, built by Empress Elizabeth with its famous Amber Room. The more restrained Alexander Palace was the primary residence of the last tsar, Nicholas II and his family, and their place of house arrest after the revolution. Recent restoration has updated the rooms inhabited by the last Imperial Family with their own furniture and possessions

Between them, amid the pristine sprawling gardens of Catherine Park and Alexander Park, Palladian buildings rise up between the trees and dozens of follies giving a glimpse of British, Italian and French architectural styles of the time.

Who to go with: tour operators

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Alexander Palace

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Sweeping yellow palace in front of pond

Experience

Built on the orders of Catherine the Great for her grandson, the future Alexander I, this extraordinary, neoclassical palace in the Tsars’ Village was also home to the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family and is considered one of the greatest creations by the renowned architect Giacomo Quarenghi.

Adult price: 6

Good for age: 13+

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Alexander Park

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Intricate bridge of small stream

Experience

Dotted with sculptures this 200-hectare park is wilder and more unkempt than Catherine Park, but deeply atmospheric; highlights include a ruined Chinese theatre and replica Chinese village alongside several Gothic follies.

Good for age: 18+

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Arsenal Pavilion

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Tower in woods

Experience

Located in Alexander Park, and built in the early 19th century, this imposing pavilion was one of the first museums in the country, housing the Imperial Weapons, and remains a military museum today.

Good for age: 18+

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Cameron Gallery

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Gallery with statue under blue sky

Experience

A traditional bath-house, based on the ruins of the Constantine Baths in Rome, the big draw here is the Agate Rooms – each covered in semi-precious stones, including malachite, lapas lazuli and alabaster. It also hosts temporary exhibitions.

Good for age: 18+

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  • St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

  • Bucket List Experience

A summer palace that’s a showcase for the grandeur of Imperial Russia, and a fascinating insight into the gilded lives of the Tsars.

Adult price: 10

Good for age: 13+

Catherine Park

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Statue of tsar in boulevard

Experience

Combining examples of French, English and Italian landscape gardening, the Catherine Park features a score of exquisite and highly varied follies, from Chinese pagodas to Italianate temples.

Good for age: 18+

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Chinese Pavilion

  • St. Petersburg, Northwestern Region, Russia

Chinese style pavilion over pond

Experience

A collection of Chinese-style follies dotted around Catherine Park, commissioned by Catherine the Greats at the height of the craze for Chinoiserie and oriental art in the late 18th century.

Good for age: 18+

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Hermitage Pavilion

  • St. Petersburg , Northwestern Region, Russia

Blue pavilion building in woods

Experience

Originally built as a guesthouse, the Hermitage is a confection of turquoise and gold, with ornate, gilded interiors apartments that give a unique insight into the wealth and splendour of Tsarist entertaining.

Good for age: 18+

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Logistics

Price from: £6
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The most efficient and cost-effective way to get to Tsarskoye Selo is via minibus (marshrutka) service running from Moskovskaya Metro Station on Moskovsky Prospekt. Numbers K-342 or K-545 go directly to the Catherine Palace and Park. Many sightseeing hop-on-hop-off services offer extension tours to Tsarskoye Selo.

Tickets can be bought online, although the palace’s website can be confusing; advance planning from May to September is essential. You best option is to book on an organised tour that will include transport and tickets. Plan on around 5 hours for a round trip from the city, including a tour of one of the palaces.

When to do it

Cruise ships often begin their days with an early entrance to the Catherine Palace, so later afternoon visits in summer may help avoid crowds. Winter offers a far more leisurely experience but the risk of heavy snow.