Thanks to years of loving restoration, New Holland Island in the centre of St. Petersburg is fast becoming the city’s favourite park. This small, triangular islet is the first space in the metropolis wholly dedicated to all things culture, gastronomy and leisure. From a once historical shipbuilding yard to a captivating cultural hub, this is the Corinthia Insider’s guide to New Holland Island.
New Holland Island began life in the early 18th century, as Peter the Great set about creating his imperial city. Tucked away from the public between two canals, it served first as a shipbuilding yard for the Russian admiralty, then in the 1800s it was procured as a naval prison, nicknamed The Bottle for its distinctive ring shape. It remained as such until the 1917 Russian Revolution, when in the following decades New Holland Island was gradually neglected.
In 2010, founder of Moscow’s prestigious Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Dasha Zhukova, took on the challenge of redesigning the island as a lively cultural hub. Seven years later, and three centuries after its creation, New Holland Island has been given a fresh lease of life.
Today, little cafés and food kiosks serve up tasty snacks on the sprawling lawn at the centre of the island, making it the perfect place for picnicking on balmy summer afternoons. A couple of the island’s original buildings have been revamped as dining spaces. At The Bottle House, the deli’s bright awnings line the ground floor of the former prison, while across the avenue, The Foundry, once the blacksmith forge, now offers a deli, bar and sophisticated restaurant serving everything from smashed avocado on toast to traditional Russian borscht.
New Holland comes alive in the warmer months with concerts, theatre and al fresco cinema on two stages. But year round, art lovers will find regularly changing shows in the Exhibition Pavilion and sculptures around the lawn. For quirkier cultural experiences, The Foundry hosts fascinating lectures, film screenings and even cookery workshops. Afterwards, treat yourself to a spot of retail therapy on the second floor of The Bottle House with vintage stores, quirky fashion retailers and a branch of the arty Garage Bookshop.
During the long summer days visitors can hire all sorts of sporting equipment from boules to badminton rackets. Alternatively, take a cycling, yoga or ballet class on the third floor of The Bottle House or for something a little less strenuous, unwind in the spa. During the winter, the lawn transforms into a festive wonderland with a huge ice rink, silent disco skating sessions and an enormous, decorated Christmas tree.
New Holland Island offers plenty to keep little visitors happy. Next door to the toddler sandpits, a near life-size recreation of one of Peter the Great’s old ships serves as the children’s playground, kitted out with slides, rope bridges and telescopes for hours of fun.
New Holland Island has not yet completed its incredible regeneration. The fourth and final phase will come to a close in 2025 but, while more galleries, stores and restaurants will pop up around the park, the central green lawn will remain the heart of this vibrant space.
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.