The erstwhile Russian capital really comes into its own at winter. Its snow-powdered Baroque spires are the stuff of fairy tales, the Neva River is transformed by brilliant swathes of ice and the city’s many parks are muffled beneath sparkling white throws, making this a very good time to wrap up warm and head outdoors. Enjoy winter as the locals do by gliding out across St Petersburg’s al-fresco ice-skating rinks. With most places hiring out skates and a refreshingly broad range of ages and capabilities braving the sport, it’s a very enjoyable way to take in the city’s scenic wintry landscapes.
The artificial wedge-shaped island of New Holland was originally constructed in the 18th century, and still bears fascinating marks of history despite a more recent commercial facelift. Now home to parks, boutique shops and trendy cafés, come winter, its main attraction is a 2,000m2 sprawl of prime skating surface. The rink’s surface is cleaned every hour, making this a winning contender for the best skate in St Petersburg. Need a break? Nose out some hot spiced wine or steaming coffee in the nearby Christmas Market.
In the south of St Petersburg, Moskovsky Victory Park comprises 68 hectares of pristine lakes, tended gardens and pretty woodlands, scattered with monuments and sculptures to commemorate the heroes of World War II. Once winter settles in, the park’s tennis court arena is transformed into a picturesque family-friendly skating rink. Families and groups descend on its brilliant white surface over the weekends, usually with dizzying levels of figure-skating expertise.
The best ice-skating rink in St Petersburg for younger, less confident skaters is at Laplandia Park. The dimensions here are much less intimidating than other outdoor rinks and it tends to be comparatively quieter. For a break from the rink, there is a friendly trio of reindeer at the park offering alternative entertainment for children.
Apart from being blessed with extraordinary natural beauty a stone’s throw from the bustling metropolis of St Petersburg, Kirov Central Park on Yelagin Island is infused with festive spirit come winter. Dustings of snow cover the forests and there’s an enormous twinkling Christmas tree towering above the main skating rink. For those who prefer something a little more off-piste, hire some skis or a sled. While the slopes here are no Sochi, they offer gentle runs through some very pretty environs.
This pristine 4,000m2 ice rink is where Russia’s Olympic speed skating champions train. Don’t let that put you off, though. When not in use by the professionals, Udelny Park is open to the public. As one of St Petersburg’s largest ice-skating rinks, it’s understandably very popular and on weekends it fills up with keen skating enthusiasts. But during weekdays, the peace of this place is palpable, and it offers a prime opportunity for less nimble skaters to practice their figure of eights.
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.