One of the best things about living in St. Petersburg is the ring of interesting day trip destinations that lay in the city’s suburbs. One of my favorite places to escape the hustle of the city is the town of Kronstadt. About 30 km west of the city center, Kronstadt is located on the island of Kotlin. It was founded just a year after St. Petersburg; Peter the Great recognized the channel through the Gulf of Finland was the only access point for ships coming into the city, and thus set up several small defensive forts. Most of the forts lay in ruin around the island and can still be seen today. One of the most interesting is the “Plague Fort” (Чумной форт/Chumnoy fort) which built between 1838 and 1845, and from 1899-1917 housed a research laboratory for bacterial diseases including the plague. The fort can be seen from the bridge on the ride to Kronstadt, which takes the newly-built Ring Road. The best way to access the town is by taking the 405 marshrutka for 65 rubles, which leaves from near the Чёрная Речка/Chornaya Rechka metro station (as of May 2014).
Kronstadt is a lovely town with architecture similar to central St. Petersburg on a smaller scale. The streets are filled with young families milling about without the push and hustle of central Petersburg. Yet, there is plenty to do in Kronstadt. My top suggestions for a sunny afternoon:
1. Navy Cathedral/Anchor Square
The Navy Cathedral, located in Anchor Square, is one of Russia’s largest churches. It was modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and completed in 1913. Ladies- make sure to bring a headscarf, and shorts are frowned upon for men. The square is imprinted with the image of an anchor, visible from above, and also houses an eternal flame that memorializes Kronstadt citizens who died in the Russian Civil War 1917-1922.
2. Boat tour around the forts
There are daily boat tours that leave from Kronstadt’s main dock. The boats take passengers around the harbor and usually stop at a fort to explore a bit. Historical information about the area is given in Russian and sometimes in English upon request.
3. The docks/lighthouse
Kronstadt is the birthplace of Russia’s navy and is still home to many war ships and submarines. Much of the military zone is closed to the public, but at the end of a leafy green park with a large statue of Peter the Great, there are a few docks (from which the boat tours leave) that people can walk on. It is not uncommon to see teenagers dipping their feet in the water and there is often a person or two playing guitar. Ships fitted with large anti-aircraft missiles and young sailors running drills are visible from the docks. A small, tan-colored, wooden lighthouse stands at the end of one of the docks. In the mid-18th century, these docks were the only way foreigners entered the Imperial capital. The statue of Peter the Great was erected so that the founder of St. Petersburg would always personally meet his guests right off the boat.
4. The beach
During the summer, St. Petersburg can get oppressively sticky and stuffy – especially since most buildings don’t have central air conditioning! Being surrounded by so many canals can be tantalizing, but if you don’t want to risk swimming in factory runoff, head out to Kronstadt and take a dip in the Finnish Gulf. The main beach in Kronstadt is located right next to a large athletic park with a track, tennis courts, outdoor exercise equipment, and a soccer field. The beach itself is small but has a volleyball court, soft sand, and some playground equipment. Signs technically say no swimming, but it seems to be standard practice for the locals to swim here.
5. Savior on the Waters Church
Another beautiful church in Kronstadt, Спас на Водах (Spas na Vodakh) is located very close to the beach. Sparkling mosaics adorn the sides and inside walls. It is much smaller than Navy Cathedral and functions as a fully operating Orthodox church without many visits from tourists. Additionally, the art museum (recycled-metal sculptures decorate the front lawn) and the Kronstadt History Museum (Imperial style yellow with a fountain in front) are both nearby.
Additional Sites to Note
While strolling through the town, make sure to pass over the Bypass Canal and note the small statue of silver корюшка (koryushka) fish on the wall of the canal. Koryushka were one of the only sources of food available during the WWII Blockade of Leningrad and are beloved as a cheap, tasty, and heroic fish. Just past the Bypass Canal is the yellow painted Tide Gauge, which marks sea level. All depths and altitudes (even the heights of spacecraft) in Russia and some parts of the former Russian Empire are measured from the level of the Kronstadt tide gauge. The cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin visited Kronstadt in 1967 and called this spot the center of the universe.
During the summer months, English-guided tours to Kronstadt leave daily from outside Gostinny Dvor for about 650 rubles. Russian tours are offered year round.
During your tour, you will find plenty of carts and small stores to stop for an ice cream or bottle of water. After a day of walking around the city, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from: Eurasia serves sushi and pan-Asian cuisine; Старая Крепость (Staraya Krepost’/Old Fortress) serves pizza, kebabs, and (of course) sushi; Большая Черепаха (Bolshaya Cherepakha/The Big Turtle) is a bit more upscale and has a large menu with traditional Russian cuisine and seafood; Сказка (Skazka/Fairytale) is the local favorite – it serves traditional Russian food and is very kid-friendly.
Whether you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-path travel experience, an authentic look at Russian life, you’ve already seen the main tourist spots in St. Petersburg, or just want to escape the толпа (tolpa/crowd) of the city, Kronstadt offers a wonderful day-trip getaway!