St. Petersburg and Moscow: Russia’s Imperial Crown Jewels (6 days)
Explore amazing Russian history and culture traveling to two Russian capital cities, vibrant and lively Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s most mysterious and majestic city. We have combined these two accessible cities in our most popular tour to Russia, packed with exciting excursions. Note: this tour runs vice versa.
The Palace Square
The heart of the Northern Capital, the Palace Square is one of the most magnificent architectural ensembles in the world. The square got its name after the Winter Palace, which was built by the architect F. Rastrelli in the middle of 18th century. In 1819-1829 a neoclassicist architect of Italian descent C. Rossi developed a project of a single architectural ensemble, glorifying the victory of Russian arms in the War of 1812. The Palace square is a witness of the most important historical events in the history of Russia, such as Bloody Sunday in 1905 and October Revolution of 1917.
Peter and Paul Fortress
The Fortress was laid on a small island on May 16,1703, during the Northern war. This day is recognized as the day when St. Petersburg was founded. The Fortress consists of six bastions, connected with curtain walls, two ravelins and a crownwork. Peter the Great supervised the construction along with his confidants. Built to protect the city from enemies, the Fortress has never been used for intended purpose. For a long time, the Fortress served as a political prison for state prisoners and revolutionaries. In 1924 it became a museum.
1764 is considered as the date of the foundation of the Hermitage. At that time the Empress Catherine the Great purchased a large collection of foreign artists’ masterpieces. She founded a small museum, where she used to spend many hours in seclusion. She called it Hermitage (the French word ‘Ermitage’ means ‘a place of solitude’). Today the complex of the State Hermitage includes six buildings, five buildings are open to the public. Their halls contain museum displays with a total number of over three million exhibits.
One of the world’s most famous palace-park ensembles, Peterhof was constructed in accordance with the wish of Peter the Great to create a summer residence which would be as luxurious as the French palace of Versailles. Peterhof has one of the world’s largest fountain systems – 147 active fountains. The overall concept of parks and palaces planning was developed by Peter the Great himself. Nowadays, the entire palace ensemble of Peterhof includes Great Peterhof Palace, Marly Palace, Monplaisir Palace, Upper and Lower parks, and numerous architectural elements: cascades, fountains, marble sculptures.
Catherine Palace and Park in Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin)
The construction of the summer ceremonial imperial residence started in the 1710 and lasted for over 10 years. The entire palace complex of Tsarskoye Selo includes the Catherine Palace, the Catherine park, the Alexander Palace, the Alexander park and numerous pavilions, monuments, bridges and other structures. After the 1917 Revolution the palace and park ensemble were converted into a museum, and the authorities gave the town’s best buildings to educational and health care facilities for children. In January 1983 the palaces and parks of the town of Pushkin were conferred the status of the State Museum-Preserve.
The world-famous Kremlin is located in the heart of Moscow, right adjacent to Red Square. The word “Kremlin” means “fortress inside a city”, and in fact, the Moscow Kremlin is a medieval fortified complex rising above the Moskva River on Borovitsky Hill. This citadel of domed cathedrals and palaces, which dates to 1156 but occupies a site much longer, was the religious center of the Russian Orthodox Church and the residence of the tsars. During the early decades of the Soviet era, the Kremlin became an exclusive enclave where the state’s governing elite lived and worked. Now it serves as a residence of the Russian president.
Red Square has always been the main square of the city, and its history dates back to the 1490s when a new red brick Kremlin was built in Moscow. The old Russian word for ‘beautiful’ and ‘red’ was the same; so Red Square means “beautiful square”. Standing in Red Square, you can see the most significant buildings of the Russian capital: the Kremlin, GUM department store, the State History Museum, Lenin’s Mausoleum and of course, St Basil’s Cathedral. For centuries the cobbled space by the Kremlin walls has witnessed parades, execution, markets – and nowadays a popular New Year ice skating rink.
The State Tretyakov Gallery
The Gallery collection was started by Pavel Tretyakov, the owner of a successful textile firm, and became famous from the minute it was opened to the public in 1870. After Tretyakov’s death the gallery’s collection grew rapidly, especially after the October Revolution when private collections were nationalized and went to the State Museum Fund. Nowadays, the Gallery’s Collection contains more than 130,000 works of painting, sculpture and graphics, created throughout the centuries by successive generations of Russian artists.
One of the oldest museums of Moscow, located in the Moscow Kremlin, Armoury Chamber is a part of Moscow Kremlin Museums. Its collection is made up of unique items, which were preserved in the tzar treasury and in the Patriarch’s sacristy. The original clothing of Russian Tsars, thrones, carriages and gifts from ambassadors from all over the world are housed there. The most famous exhibits of the Armoury are the Monomakh’s hat, the symbol of autocracy in Russia, the royal crown, scepter and globus cruciger used to raise the Russian monarchs to the kingdom.
The Metro began operating in Moscow in 1935 with a single 11 km line connecting just thirteen stations, but it has since grown into the world’s fourth busiest transit system, spanning more than 300 kilometers and offering over 230 stops along the way. The Moscow metro remains the most reliable form of transport in the city, and more besides: many major stations were constructed as luxurious “palaces for the people”. In recent years Moscow metro system has been rapidly growing, a few new lines are being constructed, while some existing lines are almost doubled in length.
Arrival in St. Petersburg. You’ll be met and transferred to the hotel. Accommodation at the hotel. On the first day you will take a sightseeing tour which includes major St. Petersburg’s sites.
We are heading along Nevsky prospect towards Admiralty. The heart of the Northern Capital, the Palace Square is one of the most magnificent architectural ensembles in the world. In the centre of the Palace square you can see the Alexander Column, the monument devoted to Russia’s victory in the Patriotic War of 1812. The column, 47,5 m in height and 600 tons in weight, doesn’t fall due to precise calculations. The real jewel of the Palace square is the majestic Winter Palace, this fabulous pale green and white royal palace takes up 9 hectares of land and contains approximately five hundred rooms. We will visit the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood; it was built in 1883 -1907. The church is situated on the very spot where on March 1, 1881 the Russian Emperor Alexander II was killed by a bomb thrown at him. The Bronze Horseman, an impressive equestrian statue of the founder of St. Petersburg, Peter the Great, stands on Senatskaya Square, facing the Neva River and surrounded by the Admiralty, St Isaac’s Cathedral and the buildings of the former Senate and Synod. The golden dome of the St. Isaacs’s Cathedral can be seen from almost all parts of the city as it is the second historical building of St. Petersburg after the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Its construction lasted 40 years from 1818 to 1858 under the architect A. de Montferrand’s project. Decorated with nearly 400 sculptures, depicting iconographic scenes, the St. Isaac’s is the fourth largest cathedral in the world, its height is 101,5 m and its area 4000 square meters. From a viewing plarform on the dome drum you can see a stunning panorama of St. Petersburg.
We finish our city tour at the architectural dominant of the historical centre of the city, the Peter and Paul Fortress. The Fortress was founded on the small island during the Northern war. The fortress consists of six bastions, connected with curtain walls, two ravelins and a crownwork. Peter the Great supervised the construction along with his confidants. Many buildings inside the Fortress, Including the Peter and Paul Cathedral, were designed by architect Domenico Trezzini. The bell tower of the Cathedral is topped with a gold-plated spire with a flying angel, the symbol of St. Petersburg.
A day tour to Peterhof, Peter the Great’s summer residence, world known for its famous series of golden fountains. We are met by a view of the Upper Garden taking up an area of 15 hectares. It was lain out in the first years of the construction of Peterhof and for a long time it remained a kitchen garden: vegetables grew in patches; fish were farmed in three ponds that served as reservoirs for the fountain system. In the second half of the 18th century the Upper Garden acquired the appearance of a regular park and beautiful fountains.
The centerpiece of the whole ensemble is the Grand Palace – Russian emperors ‘crown’ residence. It is located on top of the ridge separating the upper and lower parks and stretches for about 300 metres. The Grand Palace represents a symmetrical baroque composition. However, during the reign of Peter the Great, the palace looked very different, a small royal mansion was erected at the site. The chief architect of the royal court F. Rastrelli was the one who enlarged the Great Palace to its present size and remodeled it into a masterpiece of Baroque art. The interior of the palace poses a myriad of halls such as the Blue Reception Room, the Dance Hall, the White Dining Room and many others. Among the vast rooms, the Oak Study of Peter the Great occupies a special place. The Grand Palace is a unique historical and art museum with the collection of about three and a half thousand items, including paintings, fabrics, furniture as well as personal belongings of the former owners of the Palace. After visiting the Grand Palace, we will go out onto the terrace overlooking the panorama of the Grand Cascade – the gem of the superb Peterhof fountain system. The Cascade is unique in size, abundance of water, richness of the sculptural adornments.
Let’s go back along the Birch Alley to the Grand Cascade and once again enjoy the magnificence and beauty of the ensemble. Our tour in Peterhof is over, and we are going back to Saint Petersburg.
We will start the new day by visiting Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin) – a prominent landmark of the world architecture and landscape design of the 18th – early 20th century. In 1710 – 1720 a royal residence begins to be built in the location of estate, around which villages appear, as well as a settlement for the palace staff. Here many prominent architects, sculptors, artists brought to life the ideas of royal customers. For two centuries Tsarskoye Selo was a summer ceremonial imperial residence whose construction was a matter of national importance. After the 1917 Revolution the palace and park ensemble were converted into a museum, and the authorities gave the town’s best buildings to educational and health care facilities for children. In 1990 the palaces and parks of the town of Pushkin received its present name – The Tsarskoye Selo state Museum-Preserve.
On the territory of the Catherine and Alexander Parks having a total area of 300 hectares there are over a hundred architectural structures: from magnificent palaces and marble monuments to numerous pavilions, bridges that create a unique aura in the parks.
The centerpiece of the ensemble is the Great Palace of Tsarskoye Selo (Catherine Palace) – a splendid specimen of the Russian Baroque. The Great Hall, ceremonial chambers including the world-famous Amber Room astound with their luxurious decoration. The Amber Room is a famous masterpiece of the 18th century art. The gem of Russian Emperors’ summer residence was created by German craftsmen and gifted to Peter the Great. It disappeared without a trace during the WWII. In 2003 the Amber room was fully recreated and is currently available for viewing in the Catherine Palace. After the visit to the palace the panorama of the Catherine Park opens in front of us. The regular part of the Catherine Park takes up the territory between the Catherine Palace, the Cascade Ponds and the Great pond. We will have a stroll along the alleys of the park and see the Grotto and the Hermitage pavilion.
We are heading to St. Petersburg as our tour to Peterhof is over.
The rest of the day we dedicate to Hermitage museum, the city’s most visited museum, every year over three million visitors become acquainted with the extraordinary collections. Here you see the royal apartments of the Winter Palace, the Malachite Room and the famous of world art that focuses on European painting from the middle ages to the 20th century, including Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso, Renoir.
Transfer to the railway station for departure on fast-speed train to Moscow. Sit back, enjoy coffee and beautiful Russian landscapes on the way to Moscow.
Your first day in Moscow will start with a city tour and include a visit to the Kremlin as well as to Vorobyovy Hills for an overlook at the metropolis. This is the best way to know the city and learn about the history of the Russian capital. On our way we will make several photo stops; one of them is the stunning view of the Kremlin from the embankment of St. Sofia, walk the famous pedestrian street Arbat and do souvenir shopping there, see the Seven Sisters, skyscrapers designed in the Stalinist style and the gold plated domes of Novodevichy convent. As a religious centre, this convent was in its day second only to Kremlin, and among other daughters and wives of the Russian Tsars, Peter the Great’s half-sister Sofia was exiled here in 1679.
Enjoy a traditional Russian lunch at the local restaurant
Continue sightseeing in Moscow with a visit to the Kremlin (residence of Tsars and Patriarchs), Armoury Museum with unique collection of gold, silver and jewelry, beautifully decorated royal carriages and unique religious artefacts. You will see the famous Kremlin highlights created by Russian medieval craftsmen Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon, which weigh over 240 tons together, and visit several of the Kremlin’s cathedrals. After the Kremlin tour we invite you to take a stroll in one of the largest squares in the world, the Red Square, which situated next to the walls of the ancient Kremlin. Then you can visit one of the Moscow’s symbols, the spectacular St. Basil’s Cathedral commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century to commemorate a military victory. We will explore the famous GUM department store and make a wish at the beginning of all Russian roads at Kilometer Zero, see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexandrovsky Garden – the place where Russians come to remember their family, friends and companion-soldiers who lost their lives in the most brutal war of the 20th century.
Today you will take a trip to the largest and most important Orthodox monastery – the St. Sergius Trinity Lavra, located 42 miles northeast of Moscow in the town of Sergiev Posad. The Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is a unique monastery complex and the spiritual center of Russian Orthodox Christianity (‘Lavra’ in Greek means the most significant monastery). It was founded in 1345 by St. Sergius of Radonezh, monk and hermit from Rostov whose ascetic existence attracted numerous followers. St. Sergius was declared patron saint of the Russian state in 1422. The same year the first stone cathedral was built by a team of Serbian monks who had found refuge in the monastery after the Battle of Kosovo. Traditionally, Muscovite royals were baptized in this cathedral and held thanksgiving services here. Over the centuries a unique ensemble of more than 50 buildings and constructions of different dates were established. In the 16th century the monastery was surrounded by 6 meters high and 3,5 meters thick defensive walls, which proved their worth during the 16-month siege by Polish-Lithuanian invaders during the Time of Trouble. The Cathedral of the Assumption, echoing the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Moscow Kremlin, was erected between 1559 and 1585. The cathedral is much larger than its model and namesake in the Moscow Kremlin.
Spend evening on an exclusive Moskva river cruise on a comfortable Radisson yacht. Every day all year round you can join the 2.5-hour cruise along major sights of Moscow: the Kremlin, New Novodevichy Convent, St. Basil Cathedral, the University of Moscow etc. During the cruise you can order dinner.
In the morning you will visit All-Russia Exhibition Centre. Opened in 1939 as the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, this centre hosted the Soviet Union’s – and some of world’s – largest argicultural, industrial, social and scientific expo. Over the eight decades, the chief exhibition of Russia has seen a lot: it survived the war and post-war reconstruction, renovation of pavilions in the 1950s, and the period of their transformation into trade outlets in the 1990s, five renamings and finally revival, which began in the spring of 2014. This great Moscow landmark attracts upwards of ten million visitors and participants annually. It is a unique historical and architectural complex that served as the central point of the Soviet ideology, where you can now admire the great scale of architecture and art of the Soviet era.
Our Moscow Metro takes approximately 2 hours and covers 10 most beautiful metro stations. Tour starting at one of the Moscow metro stations will let you enjoy the impressive interiors of Circle, Red and Green lines stations and see the walls covered with mosaics and frescos, staying under the light of enormous and beautifully decorated lamps.
We invite you to visit the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the national treasury of Russian art and one of the largest museums in Russia. The Gallery collection was started by Pavel Tretyakov, the owner of a successful textile firm, and became famous from the minute it was opened to the public in 1870. After Tretyakov’s death the gallery’s collection grew rapidly, especially after the October Revolution when private collections were nationalized and went to the State Museum Fund. Here you can see the outstanding collection of Russian medieval icon painting, works by best-known Russian artists of the 18th – first half of the 19th century, masterpieces of national art dating to second half of the 19th century and a collection of art works of the turn of the 20th century.
Farewell dinner will complete your final evening.