Tsarskoe Selo was once the residence of the Russian imperial family, as well as the location where any visiting nobility stayed. If you're looking to add a day of sightseeing to your list of things to do in St Petersburg, the Alexander Palace is a popular nearby attraction. Just fifteen miles south of St Petersburg is the town of Pushkin Russia, the site of the Tsar's Village, as the name is translated. Tsarskoe Selo was originally owned by a Swedish noble, but in the beginning of the eighteenth century, Peter the Great presented the land to his wife Catherine I as a gift.
Today, there are two imperial palaces on the property: Catherine Palace and Alexander Palace. While some tourists only visit the extravagant Peterhof Palace during trips to the area, there is much to be seen between these two palaces and the grounds as well. It would be easy to spend more than a day exploring the properties. During the summer especially, the lines at Catherine Palace can get very long, so it is wise to arrive early during these peak periods. If you’re traveling independently, you can take a local train that will bring you from St Petersburg to Pushkin Russia where the palaces are located; you can also get there as part of organized tour groups.
National holidays in Russia are another time to avoid Tsarskoe Selo if you want to enjoy the gardens of this magnificent country retreat with as few fellow visitors as possible. The palaces were home to spectacular pieces of art and craftsmanship, but unfortunately they were damaged during World War II. In 1941, the Nazis took over the town of Pushkin Russia and famously destroyed the beautiful Amber Room in the palace. After the war, restoration efforts began based on old photographs of the room. Many rooms in the Catherine Palace have been restored, but work is ongoing at the Alexander Palace and in the church.
Catherine Palace may be the more popular of the two for a few specific features. The Great Hall is extremely impressive, with its intricate mirrors and carvings, and a spectacular painting across the ceiling. The Great Staircase is made of marble, and clearly designed for an empress. The formal gardens are a favorite for many visitors as well. The palaces are closed on Tuesdays, so plan your visit between Wednesday and Monday; the palace is open from 10 am to 5 pm. For visitors who are interested in architecture or in Russian history, Tsarskoe Selo is one of the best attractions in the country to visit, along with such sites as the Hermitage Museum, especially as the palace complex is now honored by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage Site encompassing parts of St Petersburg and many other monuments.
While Catherine Palace is considered to be Baroque in style, the Alexander Palace is neoclassical. An interesting historical fact about the Alexander Palace is that after the Revolution of 1917, Tsar Nicholas II was held prisoner there, before the family was moved to Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, where they were executed. The nearby town of Pushkin was named after the famous Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, who was one of the first graduates at Lyceum. This school was opened in the beginning of the nineteenth century by Alexander I, and many important literary figures studied there amongst the beauty of the Catherine and Alexander palaces.