Hidden Treasures of Saint Petersburg — Gatchina
Gatchina is the largest town in Leningrad Region, one of its cultural, industrial and educational centers (Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute and Radium Institute, as well as other important educational establishments are located there). More than anything, Gatchina is famous for its history and sights — once an attempt at creating Russia’s exemplary town, it is still proud of its heritage. Its main attraction are parks, especially the Palace park beside the Gatchina Grand Palace — built in neoclassical style, it’s a monument from Paul I’s reign who tried to make Gatchina the permanent residence of Russian Emperors.
How to get there
There are two ways of getting to Gatchina using public transport — one is by train from the Baltic train station (you get there straight from Baltiyskaya subway station), or by bus or minibus (#631, #100, #K18 and K18A) from Moskovskaya square (subway station Moskovskaya). Both routes will take about an hour and get you near Gatchina’s city center.
What to see
Most of Gatchina’s sights are located in its old center; a lot can be said about each. Still, as it’s not a history article (you can always read that on some website, here, for instance, or get a guided tour), we’d like to suggest a possible route around the town and mention those sights that are not to be missed.
If you took a train to get to Gatchina, you can get off at "Tatyanino" train station to be closer to the town center or at "Gatchina Varshavskaya" for a slightly longer, but a more interesting route through the Priory Park. The latter will take you past the Priory Palace, an original building constructed of rammed earth for the Maltese Order in 1799. The palace is an interesting exhibit itself; it also holds concerts at its Capella, hosts different exhibitions and offers guided tours on its history, the Maltese Order and the palace’s creator — the architect Lvov, who was a really many-sided person and earned the title of "Russian Leonardo" in his lifetime.
Whichever route you choose, your main destination has to be the Palace Park. If you plan on entering it from the side of the Grand Palace, consider taking a small detour and looking at the Gatchina Connetable — a 600-ton obelisk not far from the palace on the cross of 25th of October prospect (main city's street) and the Krasnoarmeysky prospect. It’s really big, so you won’t have any problems finding it.
Upon entering, you can head straight for the Grand Palace (you surely won’t miss the monument to Paul I that dominates the square), or have a walk around the Palace Park, as there is lots to see — such sights as Birch House, plain on the outside but never judge it by the way it looks, the Mask Portal, the Echo Grotto, as well as many bridges, gardens and great stone gates are only some of its attractions. You can also rent a boat and have a tour around the park, as it’s situated on a lake complex (the boat station is closer to the park’s far end).
Both Palace and park often host different exhibitions, as well as mass events — like the Night of Music or different historic festivals, so be sure to check what’s on.
While visiting the palace and park will probably take most of your time, you might then want to rest and head for the train station or the bus stops — well, don’t miss the Pavlovsky Cathedral on your way back, as it is Gatchina’s main and most beautiful church.
Where to eat/rest
As was mentioned above, Gatchina is the biggest town in the Leningrad region, so finding a place to eat will be of no problem. Still, we’d like to recommend visiting the Sobornaya street — it’s a pedestrian area in the heart of Gatchina situated between its two major sights — The Pavlosvsky Cathedral and the Palace Park, and is not far from the train station. There are many cafés and restaurants there that offer different types of cuisine, as well as a couple of fast-food joints.
The road back
You can get back the same way you got there — by train or by bus. Note that the last trains for Saint-Petersburg leave at about 22 pm (so that passengers arrive in time for the subway) — be sure plan your time accordingly.