It is a widely known fact that any city has at least two faces: one for tourists and one for locals. If you are ready to walk off the beaten paths and experience another St. Petersburg, welcome behind the imperial facades. Here, you will find at least three urban sights that open up to those who are ready to wander into the unknown: rooftops, street art and well courtyards.
St. Petersburg roofs are what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or pizza to Rome – an ultimate symbol of the city. They have, for a long time now, drawn many people who wish to enjoy a panoramic view of the city from above. And the view is definitely inspired: due to the strict policy regarding buildings in the city center, it is not obstructed by the XXI century sky-scrapers and is very much preserved in its original condition.
Nowadays finding your way up might present somewhat of a challenge: access to many of St. Petersburg roofs is restricted by the people who live in the buildings due to their dilapidated conditions and excessive noise coming from unexpected visitors. A few of them are still open but require an experienced guide familiar with their locations. For those of you who do not want to go through the burden, there are quite a few «official» rooftops with simply a small fee to enter. One of the most popular is located in the loft project Etagi (Ligovsky pr., 74), a multifunctional art space in the center of the city. The view is quite impressive and will help you tick off another box in your St. Petersburg must-see list.
Built as a so-called «window to Europe», St. Petersburg has always been a free and liberal city, where self-expression is nothing but welcomed. One of the ways to do it is through street art, which St. Petersburg has plenty of. First comes to mind street art series that includes black-and-white portraits of famous people: Albert Einstein (Liteyniy pr., 37), Rowan Atkinson (Grechesky pr., 8a), Dr. Dre (Marata st., 16) and many others.
Another place to find artistic graffiti is in an «art yard», located at Zhukovskogo st., 6. Three houses have beautiful paintings on their walls including a breath-taking illustration dedicated to one of Alexander Pushkin’s fairy tales. Not far from it, at Italyanskaya st., 29, one can find a vivid image of the Colosseum hidden behind a classic and reserved street facade.
If you, however, are not in the mood for a full-fledged graffiti hunting all across the city, you can simply visit St. Petersburg Street Art Museum which is open during summer. A number of installations and contemporary art pieces will most certainly make sure your memories of St. Petersburg as of an artistic capital of Russia.
An architectural feature so typical for St. Petersburg is most easily translated literally: well courtyards – an enclosed area formed by the walls of two buildings, front facade and another wall in the back. Since building in St. Petersburg used to be (and still is) extremely expensive, houses were located very close to each other, forming a small square or rectangular area in between.
When you get to the well courtyard, listen closely. Tall and thick walls don’t allow any noise to come through and sometimes there is a chance to enjoy complete silence in the city center. Lift your head: there, you’ll see a small piece of sky, framed into St. Petersburg architectural beauty.
It is easy to come across a well courtyard anywhere in St. Petersburg, but a few of the most popular ones are located at the following addresses. No wonder they are called museums under the open sky: