If you are spending more than a day in St Petersburg, a trip to the countryside will make a pleasant change from city streets. The two main choices are Pushkin to the south or Peterhof on the shore to the west.
Both are less than 30 km (20 miles) from the city centre. Pushkin has the more extravagant palace while Peterhof has more interesting grounds. Both offer exhausting queues during the summer season and are best seen on a pre-booked tour.
Pushkin is the site of the Catherine Palace, built in the 18th century for Empress Elisabeth, a beloved daughter of Peter the Great. Her court was one of the most splendid in Europe and she lavished vast sums of money on buildings at her suburban estate, then known as the Tsar's Village (Tsarskoe Selo).
Here is the fabled Amber Room. In the Second World War, when St Petersburg was besieged, Pushkin was occupied and the amber was carried away to Königsberg in East Prussia. There it was lost, probably destroyed in allied bombing. Reconstruction of the room, lined with mosaics of precious amber, was completed in 2001.
When the people of St Petersburg want to go on an outing, they prefer Peterhof, meaning Peter's Court, built for Peter the Great on the Baltic coast. In Russian it is now known as Petrodvorets but westerners understandably prefer the old name.
The fastest way to reach Peterhof is by hydrofoil. The voyage is not particularly interesting but takes only 45 minutes from the city centre. Buses are cheaper but heavy traffic can waste hours.