For centuries, Russia's wealthiest families competed to build the grandest palaces in Europe. Spanning every esthetic from Rococo to Russian Revival, St. Petersburg's palaces are a designer's dream.
As Russia's imperial capital from 1713 to 1917, you'd expect St. Petersburg to have its fair share of spectacular homes. Those 200 years produced some of the most impressive palaces in the world, making tours of these stately homes an essential highlight of any visit to the city.
The wealthy Yusupov family built their elegant Rococo residence on the banks of the Moika Canal, with the wood-paneled library and gilded Palace Theater clear signs of their lavish lifestyle. However, this palace hasn't always been as pristine as it now appears, and was once the setting for one of the most notorious – and laborious – assassinations in history. According to Prince Felix Yusupov's autobiography, Rasputin was poisoned, shot and beaten in the basement of the palace, and when that didn't kill him, thrown into the freezing Malaya Nevka River. Forensics fans can see a recreation of this murderous affair in the palace museum.
If something about this address makes you hungry, that's probably because the Stroganov Palace gave its name to the delicious dish known as beef stroganoff. Legend has it that the recipe's invention was brought about by a toothless count in need of tender meat. Centrally located on Nevsky Prospect, just 30 minutes' walk from our Radisson Sonya Hotel, St. Petersburg, the palace's imposing pink façade is instantly recognizable.
In terms of sheer grandeur, the Winter Palace is almost unbeatable. The ancestral home of the Romanovs, including Catherine the Great, this palace is now the Hermitage Museum, which displays works by artists as renowned as da Vinci and Rembrandt. The building is hard to miss, presiding over Palace Square with its brightly colored walls designed in the Baroque style by Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Inside you'll find hundreds of rooms connected by velvet-clad staircases and massive tiled reception halls. As you'd expect, it's fairly popular with tourists, so arrive early to avoid the queues.
The Marble Palace
The stately Neoclassical Marble Palace wouldn't look out of place in an Italian piazza, a fact that's neatly explained by the name of its architect: Antonio Rinaldi. A dazzling array of 32 types of multicolored marble were used in its construction, including blue marble from Urals in the flooring and pink Karelian marble on the pilasters.
Designed for Catherine the Great's son Paul I by architect Charles Cameron, the opulent Pavlovsk Palace is surprisingly tranquil. If you arrive on a sunny day, spend the afternoon wandering through Pavlovsk Park, which was inspired by English gardens and includes a labyrinth and parakeet-filled aviary.
Also known as the Fountain House, the Sheremetev Palace remained the home of the family it is named after right up until the revolution in 1917. You can still view their private art collection, but today the building has a new role as the Museum of Music, housing exhibitions on the history of the Sheremetevs and a collection of 3,000 musical instruments. It's also a favored concert location, with regular performances by soloists and choral groups.