Episode #9 Top 5 Moscow parks – №№5-3
I decided to take an episode break from Moscow history because really there’s so much of it, it’s slightly… well, not really slightly overwhelming. So to relax a little I wanted to talk about my most favourite thing in Moscow and actually anywhere – the parks.
But turns out one can’t just sit down and write a small relaxing park episode if one is in research mode. So… I’ve created a… no, not a monster. Just another episode with parts. This one will be just two part though! No more, no less! And they both are ready and recorded. So the next one will be out in the week after that one, on Monday as I always intended!
There are a lot of parks in Moscow, probably about a hundred if you count all the small ones and just green squares with a couple of benches and that sort of thing. Of course, I haven’t been to all of them yet. I doubt a lot of people who actually live in Moscow have been to all of them. But I have been to more than a dozen proper parks and to several dozens small ones and to countless squares. So I hereby declare myself qualified to judge. Because why not really?
Disclaimer: This episode may contain explicit language. And a lot of my feelings and opinions because this list IS my personal opinion! 🙂
#5 Gorky park/Парк Горького
This one is almost an honorary mention for me. I mean I like it but… I love the other four. And my number one I actually absolutely adore. Still it’s a good one. And it’s in the centre of the city.
Центральный парк культуры и отдыха имени Горького/Tsentralniy park kulturi and otdikha imeni Gorkougo which means Central park of culture and recreation named after Russian writer Maxim Gorky was opened to the public in 1928.
Although it has 4 parts and the oldest of those parts consists of three 18th century estates of Russian Князья/knyaziya (in British aristocracy terms that’s Princes, but not the royal ones, more like dukes). One of those estates was called Нескучное/Neskuchnoye which means Not boring. Lol
And later when the estates were combined the name stuck to all three with the addition of a word сад – garden. So it’s Нескучный сад/Neskuchniy sad. Not a boring garden. Well, that’s one way to name your park, isn’t it?
And it is the oldest park in Moscow because the oldest estate was created in 1753.
Not much is left of those estates (compared to some other estates outside of Moscow, for example). There’s a hunting lodge, a bathing house and several other small buildings, some pretty bridges, a fountain and a part of the park itself. And also a former Emperor of Russia’s residence. Because in the middle of the 19th century that place belonged to the crown. Now it belongs to Russian academy of sciences.
I’ve heard that in the 90s Tolkien fans used to gather in that part of the Gorky park and do some role-playing. But now they have grown up and can afford to go to some proper forests outside Moscow, I guess. And also the rest of the park is now very modern so there are too many hipsters to put on a proper Tolkien show.
Now there’s also the Green theatre. It is one of the largest open amphitheatres in Europe. It can sit 15 000 people. And it’s being used a lot to host all sorts of concerts, shows and entertainment.
My favourite part of Gorky park
My favourite part of the park is called Партер/Parter. That’s what in Russian we call the lower part of the theatre in front of the stage (think old-fashioned opera house). It’s the seats that are not in the boxes. It’s called that because it is the lower part of the park closest to the Moskva river.
That part of the park was created during the Soviet times. The first Russian Agricultural and handicraft industries exhibition was held there in 1923. After that, later in the 20s some important government people decided that it would be cool to have a park there. As a place for the people of Moscow to spend some quality time outdoors, do some sports, watch a show or a concert maybe and just generally have fun. They were trying to make Moscow a city of the future, and they thought a city of the future must have a place like that. The idea that I totally agree with, btw.
Anyway, a famous Soviet avant-garde and constructivist architect Konstantin Melnikov created a plan for it and in August of 1923 people of Moscow had themselves a park! It had exhibition pavilions, tennis courts, huge playground for kids, probably even a small children railway and of course a bunch of rides, the amusement park sort of rides I mean.
There was even a tower for parachute jumping there in the 30s. I can only imagine how that works… Hm. It didn’t survive long though.
In 1932 the park was named after that writer Maxim Gorky I mentioned before (whom I personally don’t really like!) It was the 40th anniversary of his literary and public career. And that’s when the park of culture and recreation became Gorky park for foreigners and Парк Горького/Park Gorkiogo for locals.
I’ve heard that central parks in a lot of Russian cities are called Gorky park too. But that’s what my ex-boyfriend said so I’m not sure I believe it. I haven’t seen all that much evidence to support it.
Fun fact: In 1933 the first in Moscow cinema for talkies – that’s movies with sound was build here. And the architect was actually from Brazil – Rodrigo Da Costa. But it was destroyed during WWII when the bomb fell on it.
Talking about WWII, since 1943 and in the years after there was a sort of an exhibition of military vehicles. Among them was a German Tiger tank in working condition. So… I guess, some people really enjoyed that.
In the 50s there was a huge reconstruction and a lot of now very iconic parts were built. One of them is the main entrance building with the columns. I’ve heard there’s an observation deck on the part of that building. But I haven’t been there yet.
It was ok during the rest of the Soviet era but in the 90s it started to decline. There were too many rides, too many unauthorized shopping outlets and street food vendors. I’m guessing it wasn’t pretty. Because hardly anything from the 90s is pretty in Russia. Oh! And you had to pay an entrance fee.
Gorky park got it second chance in 2011 when its reconstruction began. All the illegal outlets and rides were taken down. New flowerbeds and lanes were created. The entry became free, also there’s free wi-fi coverage and areas with some really sleek modern design.
An epic ice rink was also built there. It’s 15 000 square meters. The biggest in Europe with an artificial ice (Like I said in my episode #7 Moscow loves the biggest stuff).
Anyway, it works even when the temperature is above zero. Well, about 15 degrees above zero tops. And there are separate zones for kinds, hockey, figure skating and just normal skating. Of course, you can rent skates and whatever other equipment you might want right there.
What can you do there?
The people who manage the park seem pretty cool too. They always plan amazing entertainment programs, there’s always something going on. The park is getting better and better, old areas get renovated. There is plenty of space and good roads to ride a bike, do some skateboarding, roller-skating or whatever type of not-walking you prefer. And you can rent that stuff right there too. Also there’s open air yoga in summer.
There are also areas for dancing! Not necessarily to some techno night club stuff. My friend and I once had a ton of fun dancing to some Latina music. And people were very nice there too. It’s not just a bunch of professionals, you know.
You can lie on the grass. Alternatively, there are those poufs, like sacks of tiny balls, you know what I mean, right? And mattresses. So you don’t have to lie on the grass unless you really want to. Those are completely free. You just have to find the ones that are not occupied.
If you wanna eat, there are cafes there and food trucks near the river. Also the park sort of continues along the river bank and spills into its newest part called Музеон/Muzeon. That one is even more of a hipster place than the Gorky park itself. So be warned. But it’s close to Tretiakovskaya Gallery and a district with a bunch of cafes, bars and all sorts of places to eat, drink and hang out. So this is also an option.
There often are art exhibitions there. Actually there’s a modern art museum called Garage in a park, a really nice co-working space, stations to charge your phone or laptop and lots and lots of other cool things.
You obviously can tell that all that work of people who manage Gorky park paid off because it is one of the most popular places in Moscow. It is regularly on top of park ratings in Moscow, Russia and occasionally Europe and the world. In 2015 it was in the top 5 most used geotags in the world! And in 2014 it was before the Red Square and the Louvre. Which sounds weird but then you remember the hipsters and it all becomes clear, doesn’t it?
So I think, if you are ever in Moscow, Gorky park is totally a place to visit. Oh! And the park stretches along the Moskva river which means lovely views and tourist boat rides if the season is right.
Important info: Gorky park is quite big – 300 acres which is 120 hectares. Obviously, it has several exits. And there are several underground metro stations nearby. So check your google-maps to find the closest to where you are and don’t assume it’s the one called “Gorky park/Park culturi”.
What I like about it: the atmosphere. It’s very light and modern and energetic and vibrant. Thanks to tons of young people who come there. Also I love just how user-friendly that place is and how much it has to offer. It caters to every taste basically.
What I don’t like: the crowds! Especially on weekends. Wikipedia says about 20 000 people come there on week-days and 100 000 on weekends. So… not a good place for some peace and quiet.
If the weather is good, most Moscow parks are crowded on weekends, that’s just the way it is. But in a bigger park it’s less noticeable. And Gorky park hardly resembles a forest, the trees don’t grow that close together, so you see more people than you would in, say, Botanical gardens. Also there’s always something going on there. Some sort of exhibition, market or show. Which is a plus for a lot of people. It’s just I really need my peace and quiet lately so that stuff doesn’t make me happy. But if you like your people-watching that’s a place to go.
#4 is The main Botanical gardens of Russian Academy of sciences/Главный Ботанический сад РАН
I talked about them in my episode #7 because Moscow Botanical gardens of Russian Academy of sciences is one of or possibly the largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world. It’s 892 acres or 361 hectares and it’s wonderful. If I were an anime character right now my eyes would get all heart shaped.
It was founded in 1945. It was Academy of sciences’ 220th birthday and Soviet government decided to give them a bunch of land in the north of the city as a present. Just kidding. The plans to create their own proper Botanical gardens had been around for at least half a decade before that but there was the war going on, ya know. The WWII, I mean. And there wasn’t a lot of time for creating gardens, as you might imagine.
A bit of history and what you can see there?
Before the gardens there were forests (and fragments of those were preserved as a part of the park). And they are first mentioned in chronicles of 1584 (fifteen eighty four) because Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, the father of Peter the Great, liked hunting there. Probably on the estate of count Шереметьев/Sheremetiev which was called Ostankino and now it’s a part of the larger park close to the Botanical gardens.
The gardens consist of 13 parts but you don’t notice it all that much because only a few are fenced off. Among them is a rosarium and a Japanese garden that opened in 1987.
By the way, it was created by actual Japanese landscape designers, so it’s not a Japanese garden as people in Russia imagine it, but a proper one. It’s probably the most popular among people who visit the gardens. Even though there’s an entrance fee, around 4 euros. The same goes for the rest of the exhibitions. But just walking in the park is free.
There also is a gorgeous oak grove with trees that are about 200 years old, a dendrarium or arboretum and conservatories.
The old one is smallish but the new one which was opened to public this June and is the biggest glass conservatory in Europe. In Russian they both are called Фондовая оранжерея/Fondovaya oranjereya.
Interesting fact: the plant collection of those conservatories has often served as a donor for other conservatories in Russia and former Soviet republics but its basis came from Potsdam in 1947 and parts of it belonged to Hermann Goring. Oops…
In total there’s about 20 000 species of plants in the whole of Botanical gardens. They are organised so that you can see different types of climate zones that are usual for all the former Soviet republics (including Russia, of course) and the conservatories show you flora of other parts of the world.
Since it’s a garden of Russian academy of sciences there’s also laboratories and a lot of research going on. But that stuff is not for general public.
What can you do there?
So what can you do there except looking at the plants? Tons of people ride bikes, scooters, skateboards and anything that would move them. I don’t think you can rent them there though, so bring you own.
Picnicking can be nice, but there are no cafes there, so bring your own food. And you’d need to bring something to sit on the grass if you don’t want to sit on a bench. There are some events there from time to time, but it is not an amusement park in a traditional sense.
Although Botanical gardens border another huge park – VDNKH. That’s Выставка достижений народного хозяйства/Vistavka dostijeniy narodnogo khosiaystva – Exhibition of achievements of national economy. It’s an exhibition centre built in Soviet times but there’s a park land between the pavillions. Tons of stuff is happening there all the time. So theoretically you could go there to eat and rent equipment. There used to be a fence between them but it was taken down recently.
But I have to warn you: don’t attempt to explore both parks on foot at once unless you’re prepared to walk a lot. Really -really a lot. I did it once and I love walking and do a lot of it but that… was not fun in the end. So, one at a time. Or ride something.
How to get there
Here’s a bit of a life-hack for you: Ironically the metro station called Botanical garden is not the closest to the main entrance. The closest is actually Владыкино/Vladyikino. It’s 3 minutes from there to one of the side entrances that leads you straight to the main building and the pond in front of it. And if you turn around, you’ll see the main entrance.
What I like about Botanical gardens: the trees! The grass! The ponds! The general sense of tranquility. The fact that you can go from the lane with tons of people going by to some remote or just secluded corner where there’s nobody around. And you can sit and lay on the ground.
What I don’t like: The toilets there are sparse so I’m guessing a lot of people go into the more foresty parts not just to look at the plants.
And on that note we’re down to our three finalists. Next one is
#3 Aptekarsky ogorod/Аптекарский огород
It can be translated as Apothecary’s garden so a garden for medicinal herbs. And basically it’s another botanical garden. This one belongs to Moscow state University and its biology department. And it’s way smaller than the previous Botanical gardens – just 16 acres (6.5 hectares). It’s the smallest one of my favourites and the expression green oasis totally fits that one. It’s in the center of Moscow close to the metro station Prospect Mira. Which is translated as an An avenue of peace, btw.
It’s the only one that you have to buy a ticket to. It costs about 4 euros. It’s open from 10 am and closing time depends on the season.
Aptekatsky ogorod is the eldest botanical garden in Russia and it was founded by Russian tzar and later Emperor Peter the Great in 1706. Personally. Well, at least the legend says that he personally planted a pine, a silver-fir and a larch-tree. And the last one is said to still be there in the garden.
Fun fact: People who managed the garden were usually foreigners. And the first was a German doctor and botanist from Leipzig Traugott Gerber. And the type of flowers called gerbera, Transvaal daisy or gerber daisy is named after him. They are not from Russia, though, not in the slightest. But he did study European Russian flora and wrote several books about it.
When Russian capital was moved to St Petersburg, Aptekarsky ogorod was no longer needed as such. So Moscow university bought it and turned into a botanical garden in 1805.
And everything was going awesome, until Napoleon happened.
He happened to Russia in 1812 and well, you know the end if you’ve read War and peace. If you haven’t, btw, don’t. Really hate Tolstoy and that monstrosity that he wrote. Yes, I have difficult relationship with Russian literature. I’ve read too much of it probably. Anyway, you always can watch some adaptation. Or I can just tell you that Napoleon never conquered Russia but he did occupy Moscow. Well, there was a strategic maneuver behind that but in any case there was a huge fire in Moscow right at that time.
And Aptekarsky ogorod suffered a lot. Its management had to sell part of the land to restore it.
After it opened to the public
Even restored it still was primarily for scientists, students and researchers. But in the 1850s someone finally had a bright idea to make it accessible to public. They installed benches, decided on the entrance fee and voila! – Aptekarsky ogorod became popular! Its plant collection was really good (still is), it was well-known and respected in Europe, management was clever and enterprising until the Russian revolutions came about.
Soviet government sure didn’t have much time for plant collections. So conservatories got essentially destroyed even before WWII came about, and during the war a bomb shelter was created under it and instead of herbs and exotic plants people were growing vegetables there. Scientific laboratories that have always functioned there didn’t give up though. And were studying vegetable growth and that sort of subjects.
After the war the garden was restored, and was very popular and lots of people came there, because it was the only botanical garden in the center of the city, I guess.
What’s it like now
But the end of the Soviet era meant nothing good for it either. Luckily in the middle of the 90s it got its current managing director. And that man created a miracle. He turned a run-down place into a thriving beautiful and very popular garden with 300 000 visitors a year. And that number is constantly growing.
Actually they have the most popular instagram of all the botanical gardens in the world and the most popular among all the landmarks and tourist destinations in Russia. And it’s gorgeous! I’ll leave the links to instagrams of all the places I’ve mentioned in the shownotes at journeyswithgigi.com, btw. Because really having a park instagram in your feed is like a breath of fresh air amid all the selfies or a reminder to get out.
What can you see/do there?
All year round you can check out stuff in the conservatories, they have a great orchid and succulent collections. There’s an evergreen corner. Actually, one of the photos on my site was made there.
There’s also a park itself. It may not be huge but it’s still impressive when you realise that some of those trees are hundreds of years old. There’s a very nice cafe near the entrance and a gift shop and the shop where you can buy plants. Of course, in warmer seasons there is always some flowers blooming.
And it also is one of those places where something constantly is going on. All sorts of classical music concerts, jazz concerts, events for kids, eco fashion week, lectures, flower festivals and exhibitions, there’s even a theatre there. To sum up, there’s so much life there! It’s amazing how it all fits into such a moderate amount of space.
What I don’t like: I wish it was bigger. Also it’s kinda pricey, so not somewhere I would go every day, probably. Although, if you live in Moscow and wanna go there every day, there are some options.
What I like: how beautiful it is and how tranquil even though there are loads of people there all the time
To know what are my numbers 2 and 1 tune in next time 🙂
Because now it’s time for the segment
How do you say it in Russian?
I decided to go with the food again and deal with the other thing that might affect your choice of food – allergies. So I’m allergic to or I have an allergy to sounds like У меня аллергия на/U meniya allergiya na.
For example, I’m allergic to peanuts is У меня аллергия на арахис (arahis)
and I’m allergic to nuts is У меня аллергия на орехи (orehi)
I’m allergic to honey is У меня аллергия на мёд (miod)
I’m allergic to bee-stings is У меня аллергия на пчел (p-chel)
I’m allergic to strawberries is У меня аллергия на клубнику (klubniku)
I’m allergic to seafood is У меня аллергия на морепродукты (moreprodukti)
I’m allergic to citrus fruit is У меня аллергия на цитрусы (sitrusi)
And that’s all for now.
Till next week.
Gigi, from Russia with love and parks!
Aptekarsky ogorod – official site. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have a page in English. But at least there are pretty pictures