After months of brutally cold winter (to UK standards), there is a sigh of relief that comes in May for St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia. They call them White Nights, when daylight extends far into the night, for almost 24 hours in mid-summer. This is when the city really comes alive!
St. Petersburg celebrates the end of every winter with White Nights, around 80 evenings from May until the end of July, a tradition that has been taking place every year since the city was founded by Peter the Great. The celebrations were a bit dampened during the twentieth century, you know, with war, famine and disease. But that’s all in the past.
For the last ten or so years St. Petersburg has been polished, invested in and is back on the map as a spectacular European city and the city’s White Nights are just as wild as ever! It’s true that many Russian cities enjoy long summer days but somehow, these short nights have become what St. Petersburg is today. It’s a season-long celebration of the city’s incredible beauty and local artist scene.
Parties and concerts, exhibitions and feasts pop-up all over the city during the summer, covering practically every city corner and bridge. Dance clubs and bars stay open until 6am on the weekends. There is always a ton to see and do. Here are just a few ideas to plan your flights to St. Petersburg around.
Summer festivals in St. Petersburg
Stars of the White Nights – It’s the classic arts that come into the spotlight during this festival: classical music, opera, ballet… Concerts and performances take place from May through to the end of July at the famous Mariinsky Theatre. The International Ballet and Opera Festival is not to be missed, book your tickets early.
Scarlet Sails – This is the most famous event during the White Nights Festival. Celebrations include fireworks over the Neva and the sailing of a 3-masted schooner. The tradition began at the end of WWII, to celebrate the end of the school year in June.
Carnival – If you’re going to catch the best of the carnivals, head to Peterhof to see live performances of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great recreating historical scenes from the past. The carnivals in Pavlovsk and Catherine Palace are also quite good.
Dostoevsky Festival (July 3) – Heralded by most as Russia’s most prolific novelist, it’s a 24h party celebrating the life of this local writer.
This, of course, is on top of the usual all-night festivities, street theatre performances and jam sessions along the banks of the canals and at 2am to watch the river drawbridges go up. It’s a spectacle to see, all lit up, although don’t get yourself caught on the wrong side of the river! Once the bridges go up to let the barges through, they don’t go down again till morning.
The longest days fall from June 11th to July 2nd.
Have you ever been to St. Petersburg? What’s your favourite thing about summer?