Visiting Saint Petersburg without paying a quick visit to its surrounding towns is like having a cup of coffee without sugar. For me it may taste a bit odd, but for many others it would be the perfect taste.
It’s not a must, but it will make your trip more enjoyable, especially if you have more time to spend in Russia and have great curiosity about this country; whether about its long history, philosophy of life, or its people. And nothing is better than ambling around its small towns, where locals are simply doing their own errands, caring nothing about how they look to tourists. That doesn’t mean that people live in the larger cities are fake; Russians just never care how people from other countries think about them — that’s one of my favorite Russian traits (one that I am still trying to learn).
As you might read in other posts, Vyborg is one of the recommended towns to visit when staying in Saint Petersburg. Yet, due to its distance and long travel time to the city, you might think twice about going there unless you drive your own car or are planning to travel to Finland from Saint Petersburg. Don’t worry though, there are a handful of towns around Saint Petersburg which you can also visit if you become bored with this “second capital” of the Russian Federation (which is actually impossible to do).
With a long and complex history of occupation, war, and even rebellion, Kronstadt has become one of the most recommended towns in Saint Petersburg to visit—especially if you are a history aficionado and are curious about Russia’s military past. In addition, Kronstadt is one of Russia’s port cities, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see some ships anchored near the coast.
A Really Short Story About Kronstadt
Kronstadt was officially founded by Peter the Great during the Great Northern War (around the 17th century), when Imperial Russian forces took the island of Kotlin from the Swedes. With his ambitious plan to build a strong Imperial Russian naval force, Peter the Great started to fortify this small island, transforming it into a Baltic military base. The fortification was fruitful. Not only was it effective in a military sense, but the island also attracted Dutch, British, and German merchants through the old Hanse connection (a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe, founded in the middle of the 13th century).
During World War II, Kronstadt became the base for the Soviet Baltic Fleet and was an important training center for the Soviet navy. That might be why it suffered from several of the Luftwaffe’s bombing raids. One of the victims was Marat, a Soviet battleship that sank after the raid.
Nowadays, Kronstadt still serves as a Russian naval base, where ships anchor for a while before fulfilling their missions all around the world, sailing for months or even years. As a bonus, you can watch some fresh cadets, walking proudly in their uniforms, around the city in case you need some ‘refreshment’ for your eyes (wink wink).
How do you get to Kronstadt from St. Petersburg?
First of all, you need to find the metro (subway) station, Chernaya Rechka. Outside the metro station, there is a small bus station. Take the marshrutka (minibus) number 405 to Kronstadt.
What’s There in Kronstadt?
Kronstadt is small, but isn’t as tiny as I thought. To get to the main attractions around the city, we must walk patiently while enjoying the classic Russian view in the rain. Yeah, we were not so lucky and came at the wrong time. Keep in mind that autumn is not the best season to visit St. Petersburg and its surrounding towns. Summer is the most recommended option if you want to amble around safely and pleasantly, without thinking whether you have forgotten your umbrella, or without wrapping yourself up like a cabbage.
Just like any other town in Russia, Kronstadt is rich in—well, if your answer is history, you are correct, but Kronstadt is not only rich in history, but also churches. Yep, churches. Despite the presumption that Russia or the Soviet Union is a secular country, Russia has churches as far as the eyes can see. Some were surely built before the Soviet era and still maintain their original shapes, but some were also built after or during that period.
Not so far from the bus stop, a simple grey Orthodox church stands inside the gate, modestly decorated by nearly leafless autumn trees, creating a serene atmosphere during the tikhiy chas or siesta for Russians. Nobody was there, possibly because Kronstadt has less habitants compared to St. Petersburg. It’s no wonder we found no one ambling around that time.
The church was the Church of Vladimir, which is located on a street with the same name. The church was once made of wood, dated back to the 17th century, and had been restructured numerous times until it reached the current design. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to go inside. So, we just passed by, continuing our journey in Kronstadt.
Another must-visit church in Kronstadt—and the main icon of this town—is Kronstadt Naval Cathedral. The grotesque cathedral built around 1903-1913 was dedicated to all fallen seamen. Although it was closed for a while in 1929 and converted into a cinema and museum, the cathedral has fully returned to its initial purpose, though it is a bit different than the original. In this cathedral, visitors are allowed to enter and glance around to enjoy its beautiful interior. Before entering, visitors are expected to wear a platok or scarf. If you don’t have one, you can borrow it at the entrance. Short or mini skirts are strictly forbidden.
This was the first orthodox church I have ever visited and it left me reeling with amazement. To be honest, I have never seen any church as lustrous and cheerful as Kronstadt Naval Cathedral. Stunning altars, a colorful dome, dozens of iconographic painting, the absence of long benches like you might encounter in catholic or any other churches—it’s a truly unique structure.
Before entering, please read the rules at the entrance.
Square and Monuments
Right in front of the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral, there is the aptly-named Anchor Square (at the entrance, you might find two anchors standing elegantly, guarding the entrance to the square). On the right side of the square, a stone’s throw away from the cathedral, a monument of Admiral Makarov stands proudly, pointing his left hand, while his stoned eyes look far away. As one of the most important monuments in Kronstadt, Admiral Makarov’s monument visitors usually leave flowers or pray for loved ones who died in battle or in war. Sometimes, visitors simply wish to give their respect to the one who has spilled their blood for the sake of a nation.
According to history, Stepan Osepovich Makarov was a Russian vice-admiral, a highly accomplished and decorated commander of the Imperial Russian Navy, and an oceanographer, awarded by the Russian Academy of Sciences. His monuments exist not only in Kronstadt, but also in his native Mykolayiv, Ukraine and Vladivostok.
In addition to the monument, you can walk across the Makarov Bridge that leads you to the other side of the island.
The second monument you might find in Kronstadt is Peter the Great. It is located not so far from the port, right in the center of the park.
There are two main big museums available to visit on this island. Unfortunately, due to the limited time, I didn’t get a chance to visit either of them. Or maybe there were closed. I can’t remember why we didn’t pay a short visit to even one of them. But anyway, these are the top two museums worth visiting:
- Kronstadt History Museum. Offering a short journey through time to learn more about the history of this island.
- Naval Museum Kronstadt. Dedicated to underwater diving in Russia. The museum is quite small, so actually you don’t need much time to give it a visit.
As a souvenir from Kronstadt, you can buy a telnyashka (undershirt horizontally stripped in white and various colors – it may be sleeveless, although some come with long sleeves),which has become an iconic garment worn by the Russian Navy.