New Holland Island, St. Petersburg

Ways to unleash your inner hipster at New Holland Island:

  • Watch Art-Films under the Stars.
  • Boogie on Ice at the Friday Night Skate-Disco.
  • Cosy Up with a Book at the Niche Bookstore.
  • Make a Flower Crown in the Wild Herb Garden.
  • Shop for Ethical Christmas Presents at the New Year’s Market.
  • Take Part in Russian Ethnic Traditions during the March Blini Festi-val.

“You are (on) an Island.”

 New Holland Island, St. Petersburg

Photo by Express to Russia staff

In five, neon-blue words and two ingenious brackets, the Coney-Island-esque sign shining over Labor Square says it all. Firstly, New Holland re-ally is an island. In a city compromising of 42 islands that may not seem significant, but it is unique in being the only man-made one. And, like most of St Petersburg’s impressive sights, its existence is thanks to the revolutionary vision of one man— Peter the Great.

The second meaning of the sign will be made apparent as soon as you cross over the arched bridge and step onto the island’s cobblestones. Time passes at its own pace here. The gardens bloom earlier, on the loungers lined up on the mini-beach the sun feels so much warmer and when the grey days of November come, the lawns are still a brilliant green. Sheltered from the goings-on in the city by the 18th-century ship-building workshops and the wide canals, it truly feels like an island to it-self.

New Holland Island, St. Petersburg

Photo by Express to Russia staff

The last meaning lies at the heart of the island. Being so ingrained in the nature of New Holland it can be difficult to pinpoint. It starts with bike stands by the entrance where children’s scooters are parked unlocked. The feeling gets stronger when the amiable concierge offers to take your heavy coat and bags. Suddenly, you fling your shoes off to run across the lawn or forget your age and whoosh down an ice-slide. Now you feel the magic: You are an island.

Freed from all the layers of clothes, away from the false pretense of high-streets, the usually unexpressive faces of petersburgers open up. The people here haven’t come to show off or party into oblivion. They’ve come to enjoy a weekend stroll, a movie night, a game of bowls. They’ve come to enjoy life.

“Islands in the stream, nothing in between….that is what we are.”

New Holland Island’s History

New Holland Island, St. Petersburg

Photo by Express to Russia staff

To the ordinary visitor, New Holland can seem like quite a mystery. Un-like most buildings from the time, the facade of the main warehouse, though exceptionally grand in design, was never plastered and left bare-bricked. An arch of magnificent proportions only connected the exterior-facing columns — leaving the remaining columns free-standing. Its most distinguishing building is peculiarly shaped— a sort of hollowed-out cyl-inder. New Holland’s fascinating history, not Masonic theories (as some bizarrely attribute to the island due to its triangular shape and circular building), explains all these mysteries away.

New Holland Island, St. Petersburg

Photo by Express to Russia staff

The island was built to provide fire-safe storage for the navy’s timber. Crucially important for the young city’s security, New Holland’s first wooden warehouses were constructed just one year after St Peters-burg’s founding in 1703. Like much else built at the time, New Holland was heavily influenced by the Dutch. Peter the Great himself worked in a Dutch shipyard and it is presumed that the Dutch craftsmen he brought back to St Petersburg gave New Holland its name. Much of the Imperial Navy’s 500-strong fleet was built here, but it would take another great tsar— or rather tsarina— for the island to progress past the wooden sheds Peter had set up.

As soon as Catherine the Great seized power from her infirm husband, she went about strengthening Russia’s armed forces. Under her orders, New Holland’s wooden warehouses were rebuilt in brick. The war with the Ottoman Empire, however, quickly drained the navy’s coffers. Con-struction at New Holland was halted and wasn’t resumed until a Russian billionaire’s (Abramovich) acquisition of the island.

Did you know? New Holland has always been known for its pioneering foresight. The cylindrical building at the center of the island was built in the 1830s as a naval prison. Along with its design which was ground-breaking, the way the prison was run was also unbelievably original. While serving their sentence, prisoners were trained in a profession so they could earn a living once they were released.

The Perfect Day Out
What to do at New Holland Island?

New Holland Island, Perfect day, St. Petersburg

Photo by Express to Russia staff

Lazy Summer Sunday

  • Sunrise Salutations: During the height of the White Nights, the sun rises as early as 3:30 am! Though not quite at sunrise, the morning yoga classes on New Holland’s lawns are the perfect way to start the day. There isn’t a better way to get that feel-good summer zing and, like all the best things in life, you won’t have to pay a penny. Context, the dance studio that organizes these classes, has decided to give back to the community and run them on a donation basis.
  • Picnic on the Lawn: New Holland’s lawns are one of the few in the city which aren’t fenced off. Though yoga is a great way to enjoy them, we believe we’ve found an even better way: just lie down and luxuriate in the sun. When you get peckish, break your siesta either with a homemade picnic or a takeaway box of deliciousness from one of the island’s many cafes (I recommend the smoothies from Surf-Coffee). If packing your own picnic, keep in mind that glass bottles are not al-lowed on the island.

New Holland Island, Perfect day, St. PetersburgPhoto by Express to Russia staff

  • Petanque and Ping-Pong: All manners of ball games can be rented out for free from the information stand. Streetball is especially fun, as is the giant chess set. Just be sure to arrive early on weekends and sign up for a time-slot as it is extremely popular.
  • Sun, Sand & Ice Cream: Only New Holland Island could be home of something so fantastically absurd. In the heart of old-fashioned St Pe-tersburg Dasha Zhukova, the creative power behind New Holland and ex-wife of Abramovich, installed floating beaches and giant flamin-goes. Refreshing in every sense, it is the place to be during St Pete’s surprisingly frequent dog days. Grab a mango sorbet, your favorite book and collapse into one of the beaches’ loungers— now you know what bliss feels like!
  • Swing the Night Away: Yorkshire photographers, Mariinsky balleri-nas, urban botanists— New Holland manages to attract the most fas-cinating of St Petersburg’s avant-garde to perform or lecture in its pa-vilion. The most eccentric of its visitors, however, has to be the jazz bands who play boogieliscious tunes on select evenings from May-October. Entrance is usually free and dancing is encouraged!

Did you know? Each year, new dimensions of the island are opened up. Construction works are planned to continue till 2025. By that time, there should also be a concert hall and art gallery to accompany the cafes, shops and stu-dios which are already running.

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