Brief Gatchina HistoryGatchina was a gift from Catherine the Great to one of her best-known lovers, Count Grigori Orlov. Orlov, however, was in ill health at the time the gift was given, and Gatchina soon passed to Catherine the Great's son Paul, who made renovations to the palace to capitalize upon its militaristic design work. During his reign, it was designated as the official residence to the Russian emperors, which underscores Gatchina's importance and current efforts to restore it to its former glory.
Gatchina was also important to Nicholas I, Alexander II, and Alexander III, the latter of whom spent most of his time here. Nicholas II grew up in Gatchina, though other palaces are more frequently associated with Russia's last tsar.
During WWII, German troops occupied the Gatchina Palace, and it was reduced to a shell of its former magnificence. The damage was extensive and the restoration work slow and laborious, but some rooms of Gatchina are now open to the public and the grounds are a popular attraction even though many of the outbuildings have yet to be restored.
Visiting GatchinaGatchina is less popular than either Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo, and, admittedly, there's less to see here. But the relatively few crowds and the sincere restoration efforts visible on the Gatchina tour make up for what it still lacks in imperial splendor. Its attitude is also less official and more friendly than other palace destinations in St. Petersburg, which are so choked with tourists that the atmosphere can become a little tense during the high summer season.
Your best bet for enjoying Gatchina to its fullest potential is to read something about its history and the individuals who lived here. Then you'll be able to appreciate the palace's place in history and envision life at Gatchina Palace for its famous owners.
Sights at GatchinaIf you've never been to Gatchina, you may be wondering what you can see there. Some parts of the palace and its grounds are still in states of disrepair, but you'll still enjoy plenty of sights, both in the palace itself and on the palace grounds.
Within Gatchina Palace, you'll see Emperor Paul's state bedroom and throne room, drawing rooms, dining rooms, and more. Within the park, lakes are a major feature of the landscape, and outbuildings are positioned to take advantage of these bodies of water. Points of interest include the Temple of Venus and the Priory Palace.
Gatchina Palace Hours of OperationGatchina Palace is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, with the last entry for visitors permitted at 5:00 pm. The park follows the hours of operation for the palace. Both are closed Mondays and the first Tuesday of each month.
Admission FeesAs at other palaces in the Petersburg area, Gatchina charges a fee for entry to the main palace and each of its outbuildings. Another small fee is required to enter the park. However, the prices for entry into each is less than at Tsarskoe Selo, so it's possible to see major sights of the complex even if you're on a budget.
Expect to pay around 7 USD for entry into Gatchina Palace. A ticket to both the palace and the park will run around 9 USD. Outbuildings on the grounds will cost a few dollars entry each.
Find information about special exhibitions and floor plans at the Gatchina Palace website
Getting to GatchinaGatchina is located about 50 kilometers south of St. Petersburg. It's accessible by train from Baltic Station in St. Petersburg to the Gatchina-Baltiyskaya station in Gatchina. Minibuses also go there, and these can be boarded from three metro stations: Moskovskaya, Kirovskiy zavod, and Prospekt Veteranov. The ride is under an hour, so you can easily tour Gatchina in a day.
The town of Gatchina is worth exploring, since its history is enmeshed with the history of the palace. After all, it was gifted to Count Orlov along with the palace, which was typical in feudal Russia. The town has two cathedrals, and you'll also find small shops and eateries.