Promenade vistas, parks, Midway rides, esplanades, seaport, Winter Theatre, and Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel are all the hallmarks of downtown Sochi, familiar to many Russians since childhood. Indeed, about half the country has visited Sochi at least once, at one time or another. This walking tour we are suggesting should normally take two or three hours, but may take a whole day if you drop by some seaside café, or seek shade in the parks.
Your walk may begin and/or end at the railway station, which is right in the heart of Sochi. You can also travel pretty much anywhere in the city or on the coast from here, in most cases directly, without any transfers on the way. However, let’s first take a good look at the station for a few minutes: it’s worth it. Save for its twin brother, the railway station in Simferopol, Crimea, Sochi’s station is one of a kind in Russia, what with its blindingly white walls, tall arches, marble columns, decorative mouldings, massive wooden gates serving as doors, and patios with fountains and flowerbeds. It is the child of the great Aleksey Dushkin, the architect from Moscow, who made the same mistake in both his creations: the arbitrary sequence of the Zodiac signs on the face of the tower clock. The tower itself, dominating the downtown, has long since become a recognizable symbol of Sochi. The railway station was built in the early 1950s. Almost twenty years later it went on record as a federal architectural landmark along with Dushkin’s other works – he also designed some of the finest Metro stations in Moscow. Tourists may want to check out the gift shops, excursion agencies and hospitality agency inside the station.
Sochi’s sea-gate is 1.5 kilometres away from the railway station. The sea terminal, which is on the official architectural landmarks list, looks like a real palace. The former Marina, now a shopping and amusement centre, was built in the mid-20th century to the design of Karo Alabian and Leonid Karlik. With its majestic colonnade, open terraces, broad stairways and arches, and its 70-metre tower with a steeple, it is quite reminiscent of St. Petersburg’s Admiralty. The central tower is adorned with a sculptural composition: the female statues represent seasons of the year, the male statues stand for the cardinal points, and the dolphins symbolize the opulence of the Black Sea coast. Following a massive rebuilding and the addition of some new buildings on the northern pier, Sochi’s passenger port is now the largest in the Black Sea region. It remains open for supersize ships all year round. Global cruise expos and regattas take place here on a regular basis.
There are two noteworthy monuments next to the port. The one in the park across from the rotunda commemorates Peter I, the emperor who expanded Russia so that it gained access to the three seas: Baltic, Azov and Black. He did not, however, build any navy on the Black Sea, like he did on the Baltic Sea. The second monument, standing in the shade of some sycamores by the southern pier, depicts the seeing-off of the main characters of Soviet cult comedy Diamond Arm on their overseas cruise. That scene was actually filmed at the Sochi port.
- Central District, Ulitsa Voykova, 1
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Construction on the first and foremost Orthodox temple in the Chernomorsky Borough began in 1874, but would take 16 years due to financial constraints. Stones for the new church were taken from the walls of Alexandria Fort, which was the first edifice built in what was to become the town of Sochi. The ruins of the fort are only a few yards away from the church.
The architect, Aleksander Kaminsky, designed the snow-white church in a cruciform shape with an elongated front arm. The arms of the “cross” of the building have vaulted roofs, and the dome is in the middle. Sochi’s main Orthodox Church is 25 meters long and 17m wide, its belfry is 34m tall.
The church was converted to a granary in the 1930s, but reopened for services during the Great Patriotic War. Its nearly 1.5-century history and two renovations notwithstanding, the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, who is worshipped as Sochi’s guardian saint, today looks almost exactly the same as it looked when the very first service was officiated here.
Primorsky (Waterfront) Park, also known as the Upper Embankment, stretches from Festivalny Concert Hall to the plaza in front of the Winter Theatre. This is an excellent spot for walking, or you can sit on one of the numerous benches, overlooking the sea and the port. Primorskaya Hotel is one of the finest buildings on the waterfront. Its sand-coloured main façade with white balconies faces the sea. Built in 1936 to the design of Yan Rebain, Primorskaya Hotel is listed as an architectural landmark. Sochi’s famous bronze panther is forever stretching its paws languorously in the sun amid the palm trees by the hotel.
The Alexander Pushkin Library, tucked away in the shade of the trees close by, looks like a miniature castle. The Anchor and Cannon monument behind it was erected in 1913 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the breaking of ground for Alexandria Fort, from whence the town of Sochi began, and the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Royal Family. In the mid-20th century the monument was also designated to commemorate Russia’s victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829. The main components of this monument are over 200 years old. The cast-iron cannon was made in 1807. The anchor, cast at Votkin smeltery in 1779, was taken from a Russian warship that had sunk in a storm.
Primorsky Park is adjoined by the campus of the Russian International Olympic University.
- Ulitsa Primorskaya, Central District
The plaza in front of the Winter Theatre is where town festivals usually happen. Parking is allowed here on weekdays, but all auto traffic is blocked off on holidays and festival days. All festive processions and Victory Day and May 1 parades begin in Teatralnaya (Theatre) Square. Artists perform on the stage, which is usually set up on the wide stairs of the theatre. Sochi’s favourite festival takes place on the Theatre Square during the days of the international Cinetaur Film Festival. That’s when they set up an outdoor cinema in the square and lay down a red carpet for Russian and international film stars to walk into the theatre. The square is surrounded by a park. A few years ago a water spring was found here, and a pump-room built, where the local spring water, christened Plastunskaya, can be sampled free of charge.
- Ulitsa Teatralnaya, Central District
Sochi’s main esplanade, the Central Embankment, is a thin strip of land between the sea and the precipitous rocky shore, stretching from the port to the circus. This is the liveliest part of town in the summer. Locals and visitors alike come here in droves to spend time on the long beach, broken up into small sections by the wave breaks, equipped with deck chairs, aeraria, showers, massage booths and other beach appurtenances, even an outdoor cinema. Not to mention the innumerable restaurants and cafés of every description, with indoor and outdoor seating.
The promenade abounds in shops and gift vendors. For the pleasure and amusement of tourists, with or without children, there are also Midway rides, street artists, dancers, musicians and cotton candy makers.
The famous Zhemchuzhina (Pearl) Hotel, where Russian film stars are wont to stay during the Cinetaur Film Festival, faces the Central Embankment. At night, the film stars will come out and mingle with the crowd on the esplanade.
- Ulitsa Primorskaya, Central District
The statue of the sea god with his trident stands on the beach, across from the bottom of the climb to Primorskaya Hotel. The statue was originally crafted in wood by Vladimir Guslev. The wooden Neptune remained in place for decades, becoming one of the symbols of Sochi, but eventually the scorching sun, the rains and the occasional splashes of salty seawater took their toll. The wooden statue had to be replaced with a concrete one, but the locals and visitors don’t seem to mind. The erstwhile wooden Neptune can be seen in old photos, postcards and Sochi guides.
- Ulitsa Primorskaya, Central District, near Primorskiy Beach
The 2014 Olympic Games gave Sochi a much rejuvenated seaport, which today stretches as far as the mouth of the River Sochi. An incredible view of the downtown and of the Lazarevskoe seafront opens up from the plaza on the seaward side of the port’s northern pier. The city looks fabulous at night, illuminated by thousands of lights. The plaza with its perfectly smooth asphalt is a magnet for skateboarders and roller skaters. Young couples show up at sunset. They sit down on the railings, dangling their feet, the prohibiting sign notwithstanding. A giant stage was mounted in the square for the New Wave music festival in the Autumn of 2015, which put this spot on the national map.
- Ulitsa Voykova, 1, Central District