Parks and Recreation
- Jun. 09 2015 00:00
Summer Garden, Diogenes
One of the joys of living in cities that were once tsarist capitals is that they have far more former estates, summer residences, and pleasure parks than your average republican city. And when you add in some parks created in the Soviet era, you have a wide range of outdoor spaces to spend your week nights and weekends.† Today's parks have sports and fitness centers, exhibitions and movies, master classes in the arts, dancing, and all kinds of festivals. Here are a few of our favorites of the season.
In St. Petersburg
Some people might think that the entire historic center of the northern capital is one enormous park with buildings, squares, canals, and bridges as decorations. But for a more concentrated green space, we like the city's most famous gardens. The Summer Garden, founded in 1704, is a miniature paradise of old-growth trees, flowers, burbling fountains, and statues — a place where you can stroll the paths or sit on a bench for hours. Amateur musicians often play classical music in the evening.
At the very end of Nevsky prospekt is another favorite place for locals and tourists, the Alexander Garden. This garden, which stretches along the Admiralty, was created in the mid-1800s and quickly became The Place for the aristocracy to stroll and gossip, and occasionally meet a member of the royal family out for a breath of fresh air. Today it is a peaceful oasis, with fountains, benches, and a few statues of prominent writers and thinkers — a good spot to rest after a morning spent in the Hermitage.
For quiet fun, we like Kirov Park, St. Petersburg's equivalent to Gorky Park. Now called Yelagin Park† with its namesake Yelagin Palace restored to historical perfection, it is a favorite place for family relaxation, such as boating, horseback riding, and other sports. It has a rich schedule of exhibitions, festival, concerts and other events for the entire summer.
For raucous fun, we like Krestovsky Island, which, despite some housing developments, still has pristine parkland for rambling, lots of sporting facilities for tennis and other games, and the amusement park Divo Ostrov — Miracle Island that opened in 2003. It has almost 50 different rides, some family-friendly, some "extreme" — that is, for teenagers with more courage than sense. There are also restaurants, cafes and food stands on the island, making it a delightful place for a trip on a summer day.
In the city center, our favorite park is the Hermitage, a small space behind Tverskaya ulitsa that is packed with flowers, paths, cafes, and events. Come for free lessons — everything from yoga to English for travelers — or to see an exhibition, or to watch a performance, or to dance the night away. There are festivals and events all summer for all ages and tastes.
To get away from the urban rat race, the best place in Moscow is still the Botanical Gardens, nearly 900 acres of paths wandering through woods, gardens, and fields, over little creeks and around ponds, through almost every climatic zone. It is magnificent in any month and almost any weather, but it is particularly spectacular in June and July when the rose garden is in bloom.
This year our new favorite family park is VDNKh, the former Soviet-era Museum of Economic Achievements that recently regained its old name and got a much-needed facelift. If you are interested in Soviet monumental architecture — this is the place to go. It's worth the trip to see the famous fountain with golden ladies representing the Soviet republics and decorated pavilions that once housed prize pigs and the wonders of ball-bearing production. Now they are filled with exhibitions, classes, dancing, book exchanges and all kinds of art. The park has set up new sports areas for ping pong, tennis and mini-soccer, and you can rent a bike or skateboard for zipping about the grounds. Film is shown in 3-D and in-the-round.† And there are festivals, events, concerts, and performances — and, of course, a variety of cafes, restaurants and food stands.
Our other favorite park is Gorky Park, the most popular recreational space in the city, where a quarter of a million people enjoy the free admission policy every weekend. Join the masses for yoga and fitness classes, sunbathing on the beach, rowing on the pond, bike riding and other sports (equipment rentals available). Check out cutting-edge art at the Garage, which is debuting its new building this summer. Attend concerts, films, exhibitions and festivals. Wander along the paths and watch the fountains dance to classical music. Then next weekend: rinse and repeat.