Tsarskoe Selo, St. Petersburg, Russia
Tsarskoe Selo is a magnificent example of the extravagance of Russia's imperial past. Established by the Romanov Tsars, it's a suburban estate which in its grandeur, rivals even Versaille. Constructed in the 18th century, it consists of two vast and truly exceptional palaces set in extensive, landscaped gardens. The lavish Alexander Palace is undoubtedly impressive, but it's the Catherine Palace which is the one visitors come to see.
The Catherine Palace is renowned for its splendid baroque architecture and striking interiors, most famously perhaps its extraordinary Amber Room. Entirely unique, its walls are lined with slabs of bona fide amber - a beautiful but also incredibly expensive decorative technique. The room was looted in World War II and the painstaking and lengthy process to restore the room back to its original state cost more than $12 million.
To only focus on the Amber Room would however deny the rest of the palace's attractions. The so-called Golden Enfilade of state rooms, designed by Rastrelli, is particularly celebrated, as is the Great Hall. A vast 1000 meters square, its double aspect and monumental, arched windows not only provide incredible views over the estate, but allow a flood of light to reflect off a myriad of mirrors and vast acreage of gilded stucco. Also, don't forget to look up. The huge ceiling is covered in one enormous fresco, The Triumph of Russia.