Scattered around St Petersburg are several Russian destinations that deserve a detour. Whether it’s the glamour of Catherine Palace at Pushkin or the majestic Kremlin of Novgorod, these locations combine historical pedigree with jaw-dropping beauty. Here, we’ve shortlisted the best day trips to take from St Petersburg.
For a taste of the St Petersburg of old, Yelagin Island – one of the three most famous St Petersburg islands (a grouping known as the Kirov) – is the place to go. With boating lakes and a neo-classical palace, Yelagin is part-island, part-pleasure garden – or at least it was for the Tsars. Historic and unspoiled, the island is completely traffic-free, which makes this a tranquil, beautiful place to spend a lazy afternoon. Catch the sunset from the west coast of the island and you might even spy the Gulf of Finland peeking out on the horizon.
It’s hard to imagine, but Catherine Palace was once a modest two-storey building commissioned in 1717. Now, nearly one kilometre in circumference and with over 100kg of gold just in decorations, the only thing topping the exterior bling is the opulence you’ll encounter inside. The gilded State Rooms and the historically significant Amber Room (re-opened in 2003), offer blindingly lavish décor, as well as artistic flair.
Best known for its English-style gardens that wrap around the Slavyanskaya River, Pavlovsk was originally built by Catherine the Great for her son, Pavel, to congratulate him on the birth of her grandson, the future Alexander I. Whilst Pavlovsk is a little more modest than some of the other Russian estates, there’s still plenty to see here. Take in tapestries, vases and Grecian alcoves, among many other treasures in a delightful mix of different styles.
Sitting pretty on the Gulf of Finland, Vyborg has been hit back and forth, like a shuttlecock, between Russia and Finland for much of its history since Peter the Great captured it from the Swedes in 1710. Full of cobblestone alleys, antique shops and picturesque fortifications, visitors love trying the local food, which revolves around pretzels, beer, smoked cheese and meats.
Admittedly quite a distance from St Petersburg (it’s between three and four hours by car), Novgorod is nevertheless worth the effort. Possessing possibly the finest kremlin in the country, the city’s history (as one of the Russia’s first settlements) ensures almost all of its churches, markets and museums are the most impressive of their type. It’s not all culture, however. Take a trip down the river, rent some roller blades or hop in a cable car to see the sights from up above.
St Petersburg needed protection as soon as it had been raised from its marsh, so to protect his new city, Peter the Great quickly built Kronstadt on Kotlin Island. Important as a naval base ever since, today its chief delight is the Naval Cathedral. Neo-Byzantine in style and alluring by nature, surprisingly few have encountered its giant dimensions (it has a 75-metre-high cupola) as it was closed to foreigners until 1996.
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.