With a city as rich in history as St. Petersburg, there’s no wonder that there’s plenty of great daytrips outside the city center. One of the most popular daytrips is to Tsarskoe Selo, literally “tsar’s village” in Russian, in the town of Pushkin, about 25km (~15 miles) away. Here’s everything you need to know before you go!
Tsarskoe Selo is just part of the town of Pushkin, named for the famous Russian author Alexander Pushkin. There is enough in Pushkin itself to merit a visit, but Tsarskoe Selo is the most impressive part of the town.
You’ll need to buy a ticket to Catherine’s Park in order to visit the opulent Catherine’s Palace. But the park is large and beautiful, with its own small lake, and was probably my favorite part of my visit to Tsarskoe Selo!
There are gardens and lots of other buildings (some of which charge separate entrance fees), but the best thing to do is to do a circular walk around the lake, also known as the Great Pond.
You can see the Kagul Obelisk, the Turkish Baths, and my favorite, the Marble Bridge. After the crush of tourists in the palace and at other attractions in St. Petersburg, walking at my own pace in the park felt like absolute freedom!
So many people visit just the palace before leaving Tsarskoe Selo and going elsewhere. Don’t do it! The park is beautiful and since you need to pay an entrance fee anyway, you really should explore it.
Catherine’s Palace is the name of one of the most magnificent palaces in all of Russia, the main attraction in Tsarskoe Selo, and in fact the main attraction for most trips to St. Petersburg.
Unfortunately, if you’re visiting in summer you will likely have to share the palace with several thousand other tourists. Queues will be massive: I waited 2.5 hours, 1 hour of which was before the palace even opened. To be honest, the overall experience isn’t the best. Remember that the palace doesn’t open until noon, and that even though it closes at 8:00pm, the last entry is at 6:45pm.
They only allow visitors into the palace in 15-minute increments during the busy summer high season. Once inside, you’ll need to wait in line again to buy your tickets. You’ll need to show your ticket to Catherine’s Park to buy a palace ticket, so make sure you don’t lose it!
Tours of Catherine Palace are done in Russian only, unless especially booked. I chose not to get a headset and wandered through on my own (as I really don’t know that much Russian). Unfortunately, there’s no information panels anywhere in the palace to give you a deeper insight. Tour groups are also shunted from room to room, and I kind of felt like we were just a herd of sheep. It’s inevitable that you’ll get trapped by a tour group during the palace circuit, even if you’re not on your tour. You also have to wear awkward shoe coverings over your shoes to help preserve the palace.
This was my experience visiting twice in the peak tourist season during the summer. I would absolutely love the chance to return and visit the palace when there are less tourists!
Alexander Park is located outside the gates of Catherine’s Park and the palace. The entrance to the park actually gives a spectacular view of the palace through the gates.
Alexander Park is free to visit, and is much quieter than Catherine’s Park. It’s a welcome relief, and is certainly worth a wander. There are attractions to see here as well.
Alexander Palace was unfortunately under construction during my most recent visit. It’s being renovated for a big re-opening in 2018, the 100th anniversary of the Romanov family’s deaths, but I got a chance to visit on my trip in 2014. There was no queue and more staff members than visitors, which after Catherine’s Palace was just amazing.
Only a few rooms were furnished during my last visit. However, the rest of the rooms were designed in a way that you clearly knew what they were. The Alexander Palace was the favorite residence of the last royal family of Russian, the Romanovs. They loved the coziness and familial atmosphere of the smaller palace. Seeing the rooms they lived in and loved was a highlight of my first trip to Russia.
The Alexander Palace will re-open to the public hopefully next year!
There are loads of options for getting to Tsarskoe Selo, mainly since the town of Pushkin is very well connected to St. Petersburg. But the easiest option is to get to Tsarskoe Selo is to take the Metro in St. Petersburg to Moskovskaya station, and then take a marshrutka (minibus) to Tsarskoe Selo.
Marshrutka #K-342 and K-545 run directly to Tsarskoe Selo, and drop off about a 5-minue walk away from Catherine’s Palace. Look for “дворець” (palace, pronounced “dvoretz” in Russian) on the side of the marshrutka, or “Царское Село” (Tsarskoe Selo). It’s also helpful to know that Catherine in Russian is Yekaterina, as Catherine’s Palace is also advertised on the windows of the marshrutka. To ask for Catherine’s Palace, it’s “Екатеринский дворець” (“Yekaterinskij dvoretz”). They will also generally have “Пушкин” (Pushkin, the name of the town) written on the side.
You can also take a train or a different marshrutka to the Pushkin train station, where you can get a marshrutka to the palace. But if you’re coming from central St. Petersburg, it’s far easier to get a direct marshrutka from outside the Moskovskaya Metro station.
To make sure you get on the right marshrutka, ask the driver when you get on for palace, Catherine’s Palace, or Tsarskoe Selo. The driver will also call out when the correct stop for the palace is. Then walk to the end of the road and turn right to get to the entrance for Catherine Park.
Tsarskoe Selo is a great daytrip from St. Petersburg, even with the heavy crowds in summer. For Russian history buffs (particularly any Romanov fans), it doesn’t get much better than Tsarskoe Selo, and seeing the palaces the tsars lived in. Together with Peterhof, the two palaces are the most spectacular attractions you can’t miss on a visit to St. Petersburg!