Summer is here, making you lazy and unusually active all at once. There’s already a backlog of posts accumulated, a majority of which is not surprisingly about my beloved St Petersburg. I’m even planning a post on where to eat out (and not) in the city. But first let’s get the most of St Petersburg in these early summer days. Here’s a combination of several days and various locations in St Petersburg under a common title – Three Spots to See St Petersburg from Above. There will be a lazy option, an obvious option and a not-so-obvious one 🙂 But all three are a must!
This is a not-so-obvious option. Smolny Cathedral which operates on-and-off as a place of cult, a concert hall and a gallery /museum also gives you an opportunity to see the city from above. This delicate baroque cathedral built by the prolific Italian architect F.B. Rastrelli (the same one who is ‘responsible’ for Catherine’s Palace and the Hermitage) back in late 18th century is one of the city’s symbols and this makes it even more attractive when it comes to mounting its bell tower and seeing the city from up there.
Some general information on Smolny bell tower observation platform: open from 10.30 till 18.00, closed on Wednesdays. You will see the city from the height of 50 m, first of all climbing some 277 steps and paying 100 rubles. While you mount the old-old stairs you enjoy the baroque music – not that you can hear the musicians from the concert hall because the tower is closed during the performances, but there’s a PA broadcasting Vivaldi an Co.
And now some notes on what you can actually see from the bell tower. The are in fact two (front) towers open to visitors between which you walk on the cathedral’s ceiling (!) and observe the centuries old brick work.
The view from both towers is not the same but the main point are: to the left Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge leading to the other (Vyborgskaya) side of the Neva, in the center – the city, to the right – the infamous Kresty prison and the Arsenal. The central view is what makes you really surprised. Due to the Cathedral’s location at the North-Eastern tip of the Central District, you can observe a condensed version of almost all the most significant sights of St Petersburg lining up in front of you.
On the top of the tower there’s a looped audioguide (in Russian) broadcast instead of the baroque music, telling you about the major sights. And what’s cool is that the use of huge binoculars is free of charge – and I can tell you I have never seen the city this way, with all those golden domes suddenly aligning in uncommon combinations.
All things considered, Smolny Cathedral offers you a an inexpensive way to spot a rare view on the city altogether with an insight into one of the oldest and tallest churches in St Petersburg. We went up there before the concert (which this time was a flop…), Smolny being a must-visit place for all the music loving folk. Also make sure to check out the park in front of the classicist ex-Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, later aka Smolny where Lenin used to work, the party HQ (featured on all the Soviet period postcard collections) and now the city administration.
The next option is the most obvious and most touristy spot – St Isaac’s Cathedral, right in the heart of the city. Unlike Smolny, St Isaac’s central dome is open as the observation platform. The view is the amazingly stunning 360′ picture of St Petersburg which is worth all the climbing, wind and a more expensive ticket 🙂 Unfortunately as with the Smolny, St Isaac’s Cathedral is hardly accessibly by handicapped people or those who get tired fast. There’s no lift as in Eiffel’s Tower, it’s all sweat and dizziness and short of breath combined with narrow stairs. It can also get veeery windy and rather cold up there (it’s open to all the winds St Petersburg disposes of – which is a lot :).
Again the line-up of the major sights is amazing and probably the best there is: St Petersburg is just all there at your feet. On the top of the tower there’s a looped audioguide (in Russian) but as with Smolny you can also borrow an audioguide in major European languages. The Cathedral’s location in the West of the central district, again close to the river (just as Smolny) gives you an opportunity to see the historical places of St Petersburg somewhat hidden from the Smolny‘s platform. And all the rusty and shiny roofs of St Petersburg lie in front of you!
St Isaac’s Cathedral is also a part-time church, part-time museum. Some general information on St Isaac’s Cathedral platform: open all year round from 10.30 to 18.00 with the possibility to see the city in the evening (18.00-22.30) from May 1st till October 31st. And even more excitingly during the White nights you can access the tower from 22.30 till 4.30 (from June 1st till August 20th, except for Wednesdays) to see the bridges open and all that stuff 🙂 It will cost you 250 rubles (it is cheaper in the morning and more expensive in the night) to climb 562 steps to the height of 43 metres.
The Cathedral itself has a very long story of construction and is dedicated to Peter the Great’s favorite Saint, St Isaac of Dalmatia. It was also badly damaged during the tragic days of the Siege as its golden dome was and is visible from really far. The bombs left their traces on the facade and the columns. Don’t miss the visit inside the Cathedral (a separate ticket), it strikes you with its monumental and imperial looks.
The last option is a non-conventional one, located in the central part of the Central District, on Ligovsky 74 in the loft project called Etazhi (=Floors, the platform being on the 6th floor). It’s not an observation platform which will marvel you with the breath-taking view but it gives you a feeling of being right there in the centre of the city, as if you climbed up the
rusty roof of one of the residential buildings.
It offers a rather down-to-earth view of the city with a possibility to picnic on top of the Leningrad’s ex-bread factory (the interiors have been partially preserved). They even organize rooftop concerts there and you can celebrate your birthday up there too. Make yourself comfortable on a puff chair or right on the artificial grass, look above and you will see the St Petersburg sky:
Apart from the inevitable cable and the busy Ligovsky avenue, you can spot some major sights (mostly domes). General information on the Etazhi observation platform aka Rooftop, Krysha: open 24 hours (at night via the hostel administration), the price is 250 rubles (or for free from 9 till 11) and you can stay there the entire day (with the help of a small cafe). The climbing to 27 meters above the ground is definitely an easy one although some might consider the roof itself a little bit unsafe. The view is not 360′ but standing there right above Ligovsky gives you a sensation of actually standing on a bridge.
All in all a very weird and at the same time relaxing place. Etazhi has also some nice cafes with take-away falafel or other inexpensive food on the mid-roof (pictured here), bookstores, ethnic shops, free and not that free exhibitions, a hostel, a co-working space and a newly established ‘street’ build with containers.
There are also other spots to see the city from above: check out for example the St Peter and Paul Cathedral‘s bell tower (yet to be climbed up by me) and the walls of the St Peter and Paul fortress. You can also try and get on top of one of the numerous roofs of the residential buildings but these are mostly inaccessible, though there are some guided tours offered here and there. Well, if you’re not afraid of doing something if not strictly illegal but definitely annoying for the building’s residents, of course. Better opt for Etazhi in the free morning hours – the whole walking of the roof there already feels a tiny bit illegal 🙂
More St Petersburg and even food soon!
Adding this to my St Petersburg series.