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Ostankino TV Tower

   - darkometer rating: 1 -
Another great example of iconic Soviet mega-architecture, this concrete needle in the north of Moscow, Russia, was the tallest free-standing structure in the world when it was built (and is still the tallest in Europe), and features a freaky glass floor on its observation deck, and a cute old-school revolving restaurant. Needless to say the views are magnificent (weather permitting) but its more the element of “time travel” back to the USSR that makes this an interesting destination also in terms of dark tourism.    
More background info: The tower was planned to be finished for the 50th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution (see e.g. St. Petersburg), and indeed it was opened in 1967 after four years of construction work. It was designed by Nikolai Nikitin, whose other famous works include the Rodina Mat statue on Mamayev Hill in Volgograd, and the main building of Moscow University (the tallest of the “Seven Sisters” – see under Moscow).
It was quite an architectural-political statement at the time, as at 540 metres (1772 feet) the tower surpassed the until then tallest building, the Empire State Building in New York, USA, by almost a solid 100 metres (320 feet), and that at a time when the USSR had enjoyed a period of being ahead of its main Western rival in the space race too (celebrated nearby at the VDNKh and Cosmonautics Museum), even though that was soon to change.
The record height internationally was broken only eight years later with the opening of the 553 metres (1815 feet) CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, and more recently by several skyscrapers in Dubai, China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea as well as the Skytree TV Tower in Tokyo, Japan. But the Ostankino TV Tower remains the tallest structure in Europe.
Apart from its political implications at the time it was conceived, the tower also has some real dark history, namely when in August 2000 it caught fire, dramatically smouldering away at over 400 metres above ground and visible from far away. The tower was evacuated immediately and firefighters were called in. But one person, a lift operator, died when one of the lifts crashed to the ground, and three firefighters died in the efforts to put out the fire. When that was accomplished, there were still fears that the top part of the structure had tilted due to the fire and the tower might be at risk of collapse, but fortunately this turned out not to be the case. However, much of the tower's interior and transmission equipment had been destroyed.
The fire came at a time when Russia was being rocked by other dark episodes such as a major terrorist attack in the heart of Moscow and the sinking of the “Kursk” submarine just a fortnight previously (see Murmansk, Serafimovskoye cemetery and Central Armed Forces Museum). A few years later there was another fire and the tower was evacuated again, though this time the fire was only on an external platform and nobody got hurt.
Meanwhile the tower has been fully restored and modernized. The new observation deck and restaurant opened in 2009 and 2016, respectively.
What there is to see: A) the tower itself, B) the view from the tower. And C) behind the scenes technology if you go on a guided tour.
The tower is visible from miles and miles away but is indeed most impressive only from closer-up when you get a real feel for its enormous height. Its size really is impressive, even though compared to other TV towers in the world it is perhaps not the prettiest (that title I would rather award to the one in Hamburg or to the very iconic and uniquely designed Berlin TV Tower). The base of the tower is also remarkable in the way it spreads like a chicken's foot. That's because the foundations are actually relatively shallow (going less than four metres underground).
As for B), the view – that's a little harder to come by, as admission comes with a hefty price tag and the security measures before you can even get near the lifts are extreme (passports required!) – see below under access and costs.
But once you've cleared security and finally get to the lift you'll be whisked up in a super-speedy elevator ride that takes less than a minute.
On the observation deck most people first concentrate on the glass floor section where you can stand and look straight down between your feet to the ground a dizzying 337 metres (1105 feet) below. You may have to wait your turn as obviously people are fooling around with this and endlessly keep taking selfies.
Once you're finished with the glass floor bit you can begin to the enjoy the views over Moscow and beyond – in ideal weather you're allegedly supposed to be able to see as far as 70 km from up here. As you can see in the photos below, I wasn't quite so lucky. But on the other hand, the bad weather coming in as I was up there made for quite a dramatic cloudscape, so I wasn't too unhappy about that. Note that the tower is far from the city centre, so you won't get any bird's-eye views of, say, Red Square and the Kremlin!
But, weather permitting, you get especially good aerial views of the nearby VDNKh as well as the gigantic Hotel Cosmos and the Cosmonautics Monument to the east.
I've heard that sometimes the cloud layer is below the observation deck, so that the view is more like that from a plane, and hence you won't see anything of Moscow. The only buildings possibly sticking out from the clouds as well may be the new skyscrapers of the business district to the south-west.
Above the main observation deck is another one in the open air, where the views are not obstructed by windows (only by a metal security fence). But this outdoor deck was not available at the time of my visit, presumably because of the weather.
You can also go on “behind the scenes” guided tours that allow glimpses into the technical aspects of operating the TV tower – but since I only opted for the regular ticket for an unguided visit I can't say anything about those tours.
If you'd like to linger longer and enjoy the views while relaxing over a drink and/or snack (or even a full meal), you should head to one of the levels below where there are a couple of restaurants/café-bars. The lowest one is a proper posh and expensive full-service restaurant, but above it is a less formal alternative.
And it's the latter that my wife and I opted for to enjoy the retro fun of a revolving restaurant. So we stayed for a full revolution there (takes one hour) over some snacks and indulging in some Russian sparkling wine … that is: sparkling wine from the famous vineyards of Crimea, so what only a few years earlier would have been called Ukrainian sparkling wine (or “Shampanskoye”).
Finally, the tower is illuminated at night, which makes for quite a different impression. Not only do powerful lights send their beams up from the ground to the top half of the tower at a ca. 60-degree angle, but the tower itself is also partly clad in LED-lights that are switched on from around dusk and keep changing colour and the displays on the lower panels show large animated adverts. This makes it a bit cheesy, I must say, but still, better than just leaving it standing in the dark …
Location: in the north of Moscow, some 5 miles (8 km) from the centre (as the crow flies), and about a mile (1.6 km) south-west of the VDNKh.
Google maps locator:
Base of the tower: [55.8197, 37.6117]
First security gate: [55.8191, 37.6154]
Ticket office: [55.8185, 37.6159]
Access and costs: restricted, way out of the centre and requiring a little effort and patience (with security), and: you have to present your passport (!!); admission is also not exactly cheap.
Details: First of all, if you want to go up the tower you have to bring your passport (or other ID, but passports are the safest choice)! If you don't, then there's no way you'll be allowed past the perimeter fence, even if you already have a pre-paid ticket. Bear that in mind.
To get to the tower first take the metro line 6 (orange) to VDNKh, get out at the northern exit and walk past the Cosmonautics Museum to the Monorail station “Vystavochny tsentr”. Take the Monorail going west two stops to Teletsentr. From there you have to walk ca. 400 yards in the direction you've come from along Ulitsa Akademika Korolyeva and then turn right into Novomoskovskaya Ulitsa and continue along the fence for another ca. 300 yards to get to the security gate to the whole complex.
Alternatively you could also come from the west, first taking metro line 9 (grey) to Timiryazevskaya and change to the Monorail's western terminus station of the same name there and head east two stops to Telestentr from there.
If you feel up for it you can also walk it all the way from the VDNKh along Ulitsa Akademika Korolyeva westwards, which takes about 20-30 minutes.
At the security gate you have to show your ID and pass through metal detectors just like at an airport (i.e. including emptying pockets, taking off belts, etc.). No large bags are allowed, but a small handbag or camera pouch are OK to take in. Any larger items can be left at a storage room.
After that you have to make your way to the ticket office, which is in a different building to the south of the main gate. Once you've bought a ticket, or collected your pre-paid ticket, you are allowed to walk the path (partly covered) to the base of the tower.
At the entrance to the base of the tower, the whole security spiel begins again (empty pockets, have bags inspected, show ID and ticket, pass through metal detectors). It's probably fair to say that the inside of Ostankino TV Tower is at least twice as secure as any airport departure lounge.
Before taking the lift up you get a security briefing – in case the tower has to be evacuated (this is probably because of past accidents – see above). I don't know if that is a regular thing or just because of some heightened state of alert.
Visitors are let in in batches, a) because of the limited capacity of the lifts, and b) to make sure the observation deck is never too crowded at any one time. Once up there you nominally have a maximum of an hour for enjoying the views – unless you also go to the restaurant (see below) – though I didn't see that policy being enforced in any way. Most people don't stay anywhere near that long anyway
As you can probably imagine, the whole process of ticket issuing and repeated security checks can take a lot of time. That's why even if you pre-purchased a ticket online you are still asked to turn up an hour before your allocated time slot! Buying a ticket ahead of time online makes sense only for making sure that you do get a slot, but it's not really a fast track option.
I did in fact try to purchase an online ticket, but I never got the system to work (there was always some sort of glitch or complete crash along the way, if the relevant website was even available at all), so in the end I gave up and just risked it, i.e. turned up without a pre-purchased ticket. It may have helped that it wasn't a busy day (maybe due to the weather) and so I had no trouble just getting a regular ticket on the spot.
Prices: regular tickets to the observation deck cost 1000 RUB on weekdays, 1200 RUB at weekends and holidays. In the week there's a 40% discount during the first two hours (for the 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. slots), i.e. then a ticket costs only 600 RUB. Children aged 7-16 pay half. NOTE that kids have to have ID too! If they don't have a passport yet, bring a birth certificate or something. Note also that no children under 7 are allowed.
Guided tours called “Tower behind the scenes” regularly cost 1500 RUB (also on weekends), and only 900 RUB at 10 and 11 a.m., children 800/500 RUB.
You can also hire an audio guide, either at the ticket office or from the souvenir stand on the actual observation deck. I gave it a miss.
Hours of operation: daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., ticket office is open from 9:15 a.m. to 9:55 p.m.   
Time required: For just enjoying the views briefly you could perhaps make do with a a quarter of an hour or so (plus up to a full hour for passing through all the security and queueing at the ticket counter and lifts, of course), but if you've made the effort of coming here, and paid dear money for it, you could just as well spend a little longer. If you head for the revolving café-restaurant below, note that a whole revolution of 360 degrees takes about one hour (this does not detract from your allotted maximum one hour on the observation deck).
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see under Moscow.
The two sites that most easily combine with the TV Tower are the VDNKh and the Cosmonautics Museum, both accessed from the Monorail station near the tower, going east to “Vystavochny tsentr” (see access above).
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Going up the tower for the views is in itself rather a non-dark, almost mainstream tourism activity to begin with. Nothing much of regular tourist interest is nearby, except perhaps Ostankino Palace and the park behind it just north of the tower.
Otherwise head back into the centre of Moscow.
  • Ostankino 1 - tallest TV towerOstankino 1 - tallest TV tower
  • Ostankino 2 - the baseOstankino 2 - the base
  • Ostankino 3 - glass floor on the observation deckOstankino 3 - glass floor on the observation deck
  • Ostankino 4 - revolving restaurantOstankino 4 - revolving restaurant
  • Ostankino 5 - anniversaryOstankino 5 - anniversary
  • Ostankino 6 - VDNKhOstankino 6 - VDNKh
  • Ostankino 7 - Hotel Cosmos and Cosmonautics monumentOstankino 7 - Hotel Cosmos and Cosmonautics monument
  • Ostankino 8a - the weather turnsOstankino 8a - the weather turns
  • Ostankino 8b - grey, rainy and glomyOstankino 8b - grey, rainy and glomy
  • Ostankino 9a - at duskOstankino 9a - at dusk
  • Ostankino 9b - by nightOstankino 9b - by night

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