Our day at Peterhof was wonderful.  I mean how could a day that involves two ferry rides across the bay of Finland, an opulent Russian palace, an ancient Orthodox church, a wedding, and dozens of beautiful fountains be anything less than great?  Here’s our our day unfolded.  We decided against taking multiple hot, crowded busses out to Peterhof and opted for the direct hydrofoil ferry.  The ferries depart directly from the docks next to the Hermitage so made our way over and were quickly on our way.

Pulling away from the Hermitage

Peter and Paul Fortress

A huge ship that once belonged to one of the tsars but is now a restaurant, spa, and gym. Very interesting to see people running on treadmills through the windows.

And in case you're getting the idea that everything is perfect, here's a partially sunken boat.

Saint Petersburg' Football Stadium

New development along the Bay of Finland

After about twenty minutes of flying across the bay we approached Peterhof.

After talking with some people we met at our hostel, we decided to skip the lines and forgo the inside of the palace.  One of our favorite things to do when we’re visiting a new destination is to wander through the local botanical gardens and Peterhof had so many we were pretty sure we could fill up our day by exploring its extensive grounds.  When you get off the ferry you have this amazing view right up to the palace and its opulent fountains.

One of the many jewels in the Romanov's treasure chest of architectural wonders.

The Samson Fountain

Looking back toward the Bay.

Detail from one of the sculptures. The guilding, while over the top, was pretty amazing.

We wandered around the palace to the other side where the fountains were much more modest.

At this point I was on a mission.  From the hydrofoil we’d spotted a pretty impressive steeple and I wanted to go check it out.  So keeping our eyes up, we struck out to find it.  I was so delighted to see this:

This amazing church was pretty old and not very well maintained.  It certainly is not a popular tourist destination but it is so beautiful.

We wandered around and entered and to our complete delight stumbled into a wedding.  Knowing that it’s customary and respectful for women to cover their heads when entering Orthodox churches, I had brought a pashmina and quickly covered my head and shoulders and slipped into the sanctuary.  It was fascinating.  Everyone stood as there are no chairs or pews in most Orthodox churches.  Scotty tried to subtly snap a couple pictures and here’s what he got:

At this point the bride and groom had approached the iconostasis with the priest so they’re not very visible.  The ceremony was very somber and the air was scented with incense.  The choir music was amazing.  After a while, we decided to continue looking around the church and climbed up a lot of rickety stairs to the steeple.

View to Peterhof and the Bay

When we descended we found that the wedding was over and we almost exited the church right into the middle of the receiving line.  Stepping aside to let the happy couple pass, Scotty snapped this shot, which I love.

As you can see the church was so elaborately decorated – every square inch was brightly painted.  Worshippers come in and kiss the icons, passing slowly from one to the other. The other pictures from inside aren’t great as the lighting was really dim but we also saw a baptism ceremony after the wedding!  On our way out we encountered the bride and groom having their pictures taken with these really sad looking turtle doves.  The spent about 15 minutes torturing these poor birds with their clipped wings.  They would throw them up in the air for a picture and the poor birds would beat their little wings and just end up crashing on the ground.  At which point the handler would pick them up and hand them back to the couple for another take.  So strange.

After watching this for long enough to wonder where on earth PETA was, we made our way back to Peterhof.  I could post a ton of pictures but I’m going to focus on the fountains as there are many and they come in great variety here.

The Poseidon Fountain

The Dragon Cascade

The water spray that you see is from one of the many joke fountains. This one goes off at set time, drenching the passersby. As it was the middle of a heatwave, people had swarmed here in hopes of getting a nice cool sprinkle. They were all drenched.

The sky above the dragon fountain was so dramatic.

The Tree Fountain - this one was full of joke fountains. If someone steps on a certain stone it activates different parts of the fountain so you never know where the water is going to come from. Those Romanovs had such a sense of humor... Please note the woman to the left - she is wearing a pretty typical Russian tourist outfit - complete with three inch heels. If you look around the photo you'll see more examples.

Yet another joke fountain - you really never knew when the water would just come pouring down.

So those are the fountains we saw.  The variety from simple to elaborate is impressive.  There are also a whole bunch of buildings, here’s a sampling.

The leisure facility, complete with heated indoor pool.

One of the tsars wanted a place that was removed from all the stresses of life at Peterhof (cough, cough) and so he had this little beauty built. It was surrounded by a moat to emphasis the separation from the palace and was used specifically for dinner parties. Guest dined on the second floor, a place closed to any servants. Food was sent up for parties via a series of dumb waiters. Oh, to be able to get away from it all.

The dining house had great views of the bay.

Another building and I have no idea why it was built or for what it was used.

Another moat separated residence.

As you can tell we were treated to a pretty amazing day. The sky was constantly changing. From dramatic clouds to clear blue skies, it was perfect.

One of the many impromptu photo shoots we saw ev-er-y-where.

The two of us before we boarded the ferry to return to Saint Petersburg.

When we returned back to Saint Petersburg we made our way over to St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It was nearly sunset so we climbed the 250 stairs to the top and enjoyed some pretty amazing views of the city.

Saint Isaac's Cathedral

The clouds provided such a great background to the city.

The red building to the left of the garden is the famous Astoria hotel: sight of famous love affairs, the suicide of a poet, and other tales of intrigue.

Looking out toward the Peter and Paul Fortress and Hermitage.

In the thirty or so minutes we spent looking out over the city we both reached the conclusion that there was no way we were going to even scratch the surface of this city.  In every direction there were gleaming domes of churches, ornate palaces, and other buildings.  We both decided to admit defeat and just try to take in what we could while enjoying the fact that we were in Russia!  It is definitely off the beaten path for westerners.  While we were there we only heard English being spoken on the street twice!  And most restaurants didn’t have translated menus.  Even the ticket agents at the Hermitage didn’t speak a lick of English.  After our climb up the cathedral we were famished and found a restaurant that did in fact have a translated menu.  But its helpfulness was pretty limited.  I mean, what do you make of this:

Neither of us were brave enough to order the “grilled old sea dog” so we really don’t know what it is but I would love to hear your ideas!  I nearly fell asleep at dinner so we made our way back to the hostel and tried to get some sleep.

About Rebecca

Hi! After five years in Europe, I'm adjusting to life back in the US. I use this blog to record my adventures, post photos, organize recipes, and post about things that interest me.
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5 Responses to Peterhof

  1. Pingback: August in Edinburgh « Highland Happenings

  2. Scott Haven says:

    You guys captured some great shots! It makes me miss Saint Petersburg. That was such a sensational trip. I feel fortunate to have met you and shared a few moments together.

  3. Bethy Manor says:

    Oh Becca! Wow! What a day you two had at Peterhof. The picture of the Peter and Paul Fortress along with the view of the Hermitage was wonderful. I loved all the pics of the fountains and I can really imagine Scotty getting into the “joke fountains”. The brides’ dress was lovely and I too liked that picture.

    Water, water everywhere! All of those glorious fountains to see and a ferry no less to transport you. You know how I love water and I would have loved to have been a fly on your backpack or whatever you carried that day to have seen it all. Thank you so much for sharing all of your adventures with us back home.

    Some of your pictures should be “postcards”!

  4. POP says:

    Actually, as a menu sleuth, I have consistently found native or amateur Russian restaurant menu translations a science in its own right….. but for a little help, just go to for a cool translation of Cyrillic and in about 13 hours you come up with this winner for today’s Special:
    “…neither steamed, grilled or old, but fresh catch of Baltic dogfish, today caught, in season only today, broiled alive in mayonnaise/hollandaise batter and to be eaten only whole. Pole caught by old fisherman while sleeping beside nearby St. Pete canal………really enjoy! Served with fresh cucumbers only.”

    Seriously…those fountains are other worldly. I had no idea.

  5. Craig says:

    That’s awesome! We’ve been to St Petersburg twice this year (2011). It has so much history and your photos captured the proudness of the St Petersburg people.


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