If someone had to get from Coburg to St Petersburg in the 1790s? Would they travel overland by stagecoach or go up to the north German coast and get a boat round to the Gulf of Finland and enter Russia that way?

If they went by coach how long would it take to cover the 2,039 kilometers to get there?

Assume that the traveler was wealthy and was going to the court of Catherine the Great.

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    as far as I can imagine from fiction, the time spent on such a journey would have been greatly dependent on money the traveler was able/willing to spend. In Russia in the 19th century and probably several decades earlier there were so called "post tracks" (почтовые тракты). Which were a system of somehow maintained roads and stations with facilities for horses etc. If one had enough funds, he could travel at the highest speed horses were capable to, and change them on every station as quickly as possible, without wait. For 98% of people at the time the journey would have taken months, I think
    – d.k
    Jul 9, 2019 at 11:47
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    I've no idea how navigable German rivers were around then, but rather than ride straight north or north east to the coast, you could also imagine combining land and river travel while generally heading to the Baltic Sea. Doing so would likely compare well to other options from cheap, fast, and comfortable viewpoints. As a benchmark, it takes a week for a modern cruise ship to leisurely go from Berlin to Copenhagen. 2-4 weeks to go from Coburg to St Petersburg in the 1790s wouldn't seem outlandish. (A separate issue would have been avoiding war zones, but that arguably is a different problem.) Jul 9, 2019 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


That seems to be an inquiry about how Anna Feodorovna got from being Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in Bavaria to the Russian Tsar in 1795?

In that case, she travelled overland, by coach for quite a few days.

A description in novel format of that specific journey naming a few stations is found in — Therese Bichsel: "Grossfürstin Anna: Flucht vom Zarenhof in die Elfenau", Schwabe, 2013.

They started on 12 Aug 1795 and arrived two months later.

If the concrete example above shouldn't suffice:

Going by boat from way inland Coburg is not very practical. Nearly all major navigable river systems head North-West, emptying into the North Sea. Going around Denmark would certainly add a huge delay. Only Oder and Vistula are on the way to St Petersburg and flow into the Baltic. That would have been a possibility, but one with questionable advantages. Both rivers add a natural flow again away from the destination by a large degree. You'd also have needed at least change vessels once: embarking on a river boat, then change to sea-worthy.

The theoretical maximum travel speed at the time on land would be achieved by stage coach. Stagecoach travel was designed with speed in mind. Stages would average 60 to 70 miles in one day.

Possible modes of transport would then be coaches, somewhat in the style of a then comfy Berline, a Landauer or whatever style money could afford, perhaps even a very representative Grand Carosse. At that time probably looking like this:

enter image description here

Friedrich Philipp Reinhold: "Drei Studien einer Reisekutsche"

Around 1806, Napoleon's better half used this:

enter image description here

For ideal conditions in mostly German lands that would have meant up to 100km a day. (— Klaus Beyrer: "Des Reisebeschreibens „Kutsche“. Aufklärerisches Bewußtsein im Postreiseverkehr des 18. Jahrhunderts", in: Wolfgang Griep, Hans-Wolf Jäger (Ed.): "Reisen im 18. Jahrhundert" Winter: Heidelberg, 1986.)

This would make the optimum distance of between 1834 to 2400 km

enter image description here click on maps for larger view

a roughly 20 day trip. But that optimum could not be achieved in comfort, with entourage (only strictly necessary baggage needed?), excludes sight seeing, diversion, visits, detours, and discounts for the minimum of 4 border crossings
src: https://c8.alamy.com/comp/FD1K68/germany-1648-1795-17th-and-18th-century-germany-1902-antique-map-FD1K68.jpg

and actual road conditions. These would deteriorate somewhat the farther East the trip gets and would also be reduced in options. Meaning: fairly early on the trip, shortly after crossing the Elbe river. Just adding stages to be on major towns — which would be probably a requirement for higher-up in the social strata passengers — within the modern road system extends easily the journey to much more than 2600 km.

For the first two thirds of the trip, clinging to postal roads would map a trip along these lines:

map of Postal routes Germany 1757 enter image description here

Setting the first stages most probably at a route from Coburg – Judenbach – Grefenthal – Saalfeld – Neustadt – Gera – Zeitz – Pegau – Leipzig

But as that is a journey through lands of closely connected ancestry, visits to grandmas and uncles would be likley?

Then on to something like this

enter image description here

arriving in the Russian Empire:

enter image description here

For a 'recorded stations' travel route of:
–– Leipzig (156 km from Coburg)
–– Torgau (50 km)
–– Frankfurt a.d. Oder (139 km)
–– Küstrin/Kostrzyn nad Odrą (28 km)
–– Landsberg/Gorzow Wielkopolski (43 km)
–– Schneidemühl/Piła (112 km)
–– Bromberg/Bydgoszcz (84 km)
–– Kulm/Chełmno (38 km)
–– Graudenz/Grudziądz (27km)
–– Marienwerder/Kwidzyn (30 km)
–– Braunsberg/Braniewo (93 km)
–– Königsberg/Kaliningrad/Калининград (58 km)
–– Tilsit/Sowetsk/Советск (97 km)
–– Riga (250 km)
–– Dorpat/Tartu (221 km)
–– St Petersburg (270 km)

The resulting map suggests a frame of travel stations to be along these lines:

enter image description here

That means some stops are still missing. The first day of travel very probably did not end in Leipzig, but somewhere on the way. Especially near the end of the journey the distances get too large. For example between Kwidzyn and Braniewo making a stop at Elbing/Elblag would present itself. But between Tartu and St Petersburg, the distance is just too big for a coach to do it in one day. The above route is now calculated to be on modern roads by car to be at least 2028 km (1 day and 8 hours non-stop travel)

For a nice map giving the historic (German) names in the region Prussia, Poland, Lithuania, take a look at the 1796 version available at ChrOnoAtLas (direct-link, below a scaled down to SE-needs 2MB version). enter image description here

Another stop before Riga would probably be Mitau, as evidenced from being a hub in WikiBooks Baltische Länder: Von der Aufklärung bis zur Entstehung der Nationalstaaten providing for example a bilingual map for Kurland (More maps for Lithuania). And as @Pieter Geerkens noted in comments another likely stop would be the then up and coming city of Schaulen/Siauliai. For mapping the route for the large gap in the final stations it seems indeed likely that the route would be somewhat more closer to the coast.

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    Thank you so much for that very helpful answer and for the maps which I especially wanted! Yes, it is about Juliane's joourney to St P and I have a copy of the German novel you mentioned, though my German is pretty basic! I cannot imagine how exhausting and tedious such a journey of 2 months would have been!! Jul 10, 2019 at 11:43
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    From what is generally known, land based travel between the continental capitals was the preferred method. Sea based travel (which relies on wind and currents) was considered unreliable and fraught with danger. In winter the Baltic sea was often impossible. Relais of horses were more common place. In winter, travel to St. Petersburg was in many was easier due to the snow, since the road conditions were not the best. Jul 20, 2019 at 12:40
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    I now know the precise route the family took to Russia - does this differ much from the route you kindly logged on the map above? Coburg-Leipzig-Torgau/Elbe-Frankfurt/Oder-Küstrin-Landsberg/Warthe-Schneidemühl-Bromberg-Kulm-Graudenz-Marienwerder-Braunsberg-Konigsberg/Preussen-Tilsit-Riga-Dorpat- arrival at the Palace at Strelna on the road from Peterhof to St Petersburg Aug 20, 2019 at 13:24
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    I suspect that small towns like Siauliai likely had attractive inns, and that the journey from Riga probably went up the coast to Pernau and Tallinn rather than cross country. The journey from Kaliningrad to Riga more likely went through Kaunas and Panevezys than direct. Aug 20, 2019 at 16:17
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    Thank you very much for these details. Greatly appreciated. Aug 26, 2019 at 11:48

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