The Winter Palace (or 'Zimnyi Dvorets') was the main residence of the Russian tsars during winter. It is located in Saint Petersburg, at Millionnaya Ulitsa.
It lends its majestic presence along the bank of the Neva River. The palace is superbly designed in the Baroque tradition. It is particularly impressive because of its elaborately adorned rooms and halls (there are about 1,000 such halls and rooms!). It also has close to 2,000 windows, nearly 1,800 doors. The 200-meter façade is just awe-inspiring. It is filled with pillars, bays and statuary and sports the colors green, white and gold.
It was built between 1754 and 1762 and was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli. This was commissioned for Peter the Great's daughter, Empress Elizabeth, but she died before its completion. The Empress Catherine the Great was the first royalty to occupy the palace. Alexandra, Nicholas I's wife, had the magnificently opulent Malachite Room constructed. This became the meeting place of the Provisional Government established by Kerensky. The Winter Palace also figured in the Bolshevik revolution. The Bolsheviks occupied the Peter and Paul Fortress and fired on the Winter Palace. It is a blessing that they managed to hit only a small portion and the Winter Palace was spared from destruction.
At present, the Winter Palace is part of the State Hermitage Museum, along with four other buildings which also stand along the Neva River. The State Hermitage Museum boasts of a really extensive art collection spanning the ages, starting from Ancient Egypt to the early 20th century. It has unarguably one of the largest collections in the world. Its significance as an art museum is recognized worldwide. Priceless masterpieces found in the collection include works by Matisse, Van Gogh, Rodin, Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Rubens, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and many others. The collection was started by Catherine the Great and she had a Hermitage built to house the masterpieces she bought.
The Winter Palace exhibitions allow you to step back in time. The exhibits boasts of computer models covering the different eras and the various changes made in the Winter Palace, covering a span of 250 years. The exhibits cover the reigns of Nicholas I, Nicholas II and the modern times. The Winter Palace also features the Military Gallery, which has over 300 portraits of Russian military leaders who were part of defending the country from the invasion of Napoleon.
The Zimnyi Dvorets / Winter Palace is open for visits everyday except Tuesdays. On Mondays, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5p.m. and on the others days, closing time is until 6 p.m. Bear in mind that you can buy tickets only until one hour before closing time.