St. Petersburg has been given multiple symbolic names. Due to a great amount of rivers and canals present, it has been labeled as Northern Venice; Northern Palmyra because of its outstanding beauty. It is sometimes referred to as the Northern Capital of Russia and that is the result of it being the official capital for over 200 years during the Russian Empire. However, the name used more often than others is The City of White Nights. Importantly, during the season of white nights, the city is filled with a romantic ambiance. The locals and the visitors forget about the routine and each get the chance to be a dreamer for some time. In the white light of the night, not only the appearances of the famous complexes (palaces, churches, cathedrals, bridges, monuments and the city’s boundaries) fascinate one, but they also create an illusion of a fairytale and an unreality; the state in which one believes that any wish could come true.
When is it a good time to visit The City of White Nights
The duration of the season of white nights isn’t too long. It usually starts at the end of May and lasts until mid-July. However, this window varies every year. Generally speaking, the best time to come to catch it is in the middle of June or at the very beginning of July.
The question is: what are these famous white nights? Someone non-informed might believe that the white nights happen due to the sun not setting at all. This is certainly false. In reality, the white nights are the nights during which it stays light enough; in other words, it feels like it is dusk all night long. The high point of the season is the 22nd of June, the summer solstice. Importantly, for the entire summer the duration of the day in St. Petersburg, is quite longer than for instance, in Moscow. When preparing to enjoy the beauty of the white nights, keep in mind that the prices of the hotels of St. Petersburg are the highest during this season, so make sure that you make the reservations for your accommodations and transportation in advance. In recent years, thanks to a large amount of mini-hotels being opened, the situation with the lack of hotel rooms during the busiest days has improved. However, if you want to be in the city during the best time for witnessing the white nights, it is still highly recommended to book your accommodations a month or two in advance. If travelling by railroad, it is highly advised to purchase your tickets 45 days before the date of your trip.
How to spend your time during the White Nights in St. Petersburg
Naturally all cities, towns, and villages located at the same latitude as St. Petersburg, also experience the white nights. However, not in a single one of them, there are special events, or festivals that could compare to the ones held in St. Petersburg. It is a really beautiful city by itself, but in the shades resulting from the twilight and illuminated by the nearly setting sun, its streets gain a very special kind of charm.
Visit Various Celebrations, Festival and Exhibitions
The white nights are celebrated as early as May 27th, the day on which St. Petersburg was founded. This celebration is adored and loved by all of the locals and all of the visitors. There are lots of fun events and activities that are going on. Lots of exhibitions, concerts, and festivals are organized. The most famous among them are the children’s art festival “The Sounds and Colors of the White Nights,” the music and theater festival “The Starts of The White Nights” and the jazz festival “Swing of The White Nights.”
The most spectacular and grandiose event that takes place in St. Petersburg during the white nights is the Scarlet Sails celebration, which happens at the end of June, on a Saturday closest to the longest white night (usually, June 18th to 25th). The most fascinating and breathtaking show that is the climax of the festival, can be witnessed late at night: a majestic frig that has scarlet sails on it, travels through the Neva water area on the verge of the morning and the evening dawns, and is accompanied by the flashes of fireworks and laser flames. The spectators are mainly located on the Vasylievskiy Island and the Palace Square.
Lots of tours of St. Petersburg are organized in such a way that they take place during this festival in part, because the Scarlet Sails celebration is the only one in the world that goes to such lengths to celebrate the graduating high-school students. Moreover, it is the only one in Russia that has been included into the register of the events for the international tourism and in at least 20 of the European union countries, there have been recommendations made to visit this wonderful festival.
Observe the St Petersburg Bridges Opening
One of the most important attractions in St Petersburg bridges. In total, there are 342 of them. Among which 21 are drawbridges, 24 are only pedestrian, and 297 vehicle/transport bridges. Lots of them have some historical and cultural value.
In the summer during the white night’s season, the opening bridges become the signature move of St. Petersburg. Lots of tourists arrive with the main purpose of witnessing the bridges being opened and the vessels passing underneath them. As of today, there are 8 bridges that are being regularly opened:
- The Annunciation Bridge
- The Palace Bridge
- The Tuchkov Bridge
- The Exchange Bridge
- The Trinity Bridge
- The Liteyny Bridge
- The Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge
- The Alexander Nevsky Bridge
When planning on witnessing the opening of the bridges, make sure that you think twice when it comes to the location from which you should observe it. I recommend the following options:
- Plan on going for an enjoyable walk on one of the embankments: the Admiralty Marina, located on the southern tip of the Vasylievskiy split (the Palace Bridge only 15 meters or 49 feet away); or the Senate Marina (it is equidistant from the Palace and The Annunciation Bridges and is around 630 meters (2,067 feet) away from them); the 26 Palace Embankment (equidistant from the Palace and The Trinity Bridges, and is around 640 meters (2,099 feet) away from them); and finally, the Trinity Bridge dock (the bridge is only 10 meters (33 feet) away).
- Pass under the opening bridges on a water trolley or a motor ship. If you go on a night sail, you’ll be able to see all of St Petersburg’s embankments the way they look from the water and the most fascinating spectacle is witnessing several of the bridges open or drawn apart. Live-music fans, saxophone and grand piano admirers, in particular, are encouraged to consider tours with live music on board while those who would like to be a little bit more active have the option of going on a tour with disco music and fun dances under the starry skies.
- Make a reservation in one of the restaurants. For instance, the restaurant Korushka located on the Hare Island, right next to the Peter and Paul Fortress and the split of the Vasylievskiy Island can be seen right out of its windows. The venue is open until 1am and the located nearby Palace Bridge is opened at 1:10 am, so you’ll be able to enjoy a delicious dinner and then get to the embankment just at the right time to see the drawbridge open. Another nice option is the Blagodat’ restaurant located on a frigate that is stationed right next to the Trinity Bridge. The premium floating-restaurant on the barge called Volga-Volgawith an open deck is located between the Trinity and the Liteyny Bridges, and not long before the opening of the bridges it goes on a one-hour cruise on the Neva River. The restaurant complex, that includes 3 on land with a good view restaurants, and one open only in the summer floating restaurant Letuchiy Gollandets (The Flying Dutchman). It is located on a 3–mast clipper boat, an exact copy of the 1748 Dutch fluyt, that has a view onto the Exchange Bridge. Also located in that area on the jetty, is a karaoke-restaurant DoZari. Over the summer, it has an open terrace right near the water. One can enjoy the picturesque views of the Neva River, St Petersburg’s bridges and the Vasylievskiy split out its windows. Every night the guests are offered a karaoke show called Do Zari(translates as “Until the dawn”) that includes a performing band, famous artists/actors and free of charge karaoke.
- Observe the opening of the bridges from a rather unusual place, by signing up for a tour of the St. Petersburg’s roofs. There are a couple of locations in St Petersburg on both banks of the Neva River that give you the chance to see not only the Palace Bridge but also the Annunciation, Trinity and Liteyny Bridges. In a cozy and friendly company, under the warm covers and talking about the history of the bridges in St Petersburg, their secrets and legends, you will have the chance to see St Petersburg’s signature move and pride (its bridges), learn some interesting facts about the drawbridges; how they are opened and etc.
Go for a Bike Ride Around the Streets of St Petersburg
During the white nights season, you feel as if it is daylight outside during the night. Moreover, the streets and the roads are almost completely empty. Therefore, one can go and see the city sights and not be in a rush, and your health might only benefit from it if you get exercise involved. The only inconvenience is the drawbridges, so make sure that you plan your bike-ride taking into account their opening times. What is the best way to pick your route? The answer to this question might vary depending on your preferences and the city itself just predisposes your exploring it. Just in a matter of 2 or 3 hours, you will be able to see St Petersburg from multiple beautiful angles: the embankments, the squares, the canals… It is highly recommended that you begin your journey from the Smolny Cathedral, and then through the Tavricheskiy Sad (a garden), find your way to the embankment. There you can take a look at the Aurora Cruiser and enjoy the views from the Trinity Bridge. After that, by crossing the Field of Mars you can make your way to the Church of the Savior on Blood and then riding along Nevskiy Prospect, or the embankment head to the Palace Square. From there, taking the Admiralty Embankment, you will get to the Alexander Garden and the St. Isaac Cathedral. This route is assembled of multiple of the most important sights, and secret corners, which actually make up St. Petersburg. You can rent the bicycles, the roller skates, or the scooters. You can rent all of them from one location and they give you different options of getting on the move!
Take a Bus-tour
Every night throughout the summer, the city-visitors are offered nighttime tours on Panoramic Tour Buses. When the weather is playing against you and it is gloomy, windy or rainy, going for a walk will result in you getting soaking wet. Taking a bus-tour is the best alternative to avoid that. Moreover, St Petersburg has a certain charm to it during this kind of weather, and it would be a pity not to see it! In case you want to see even more of nocturnal St Petersburg, you could take a combined tour that consists of a ride on a bus and a motor ship. These types of tours are usually available from April and until October. You can admire the beautiful views out of a vintage car. Your driver will also be your tour guide.
Take a Walk on Nevskiy Prospect
Nevskiy Prospect is the main street of St Petersburg and it stretches out for 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) all the way from the Admiralty Building to the Alexander Nevskiy Square. The part of it that is most visited is from the Admiralty Building until the Vosstaniya Square and it spans 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles). Almost every building located on Nevskiy Prospect has its own legend, and there are even a couple of guidebooks dedicated only to this street. It is also frequently mentioned in the novels and poems of the classical Russian writers. The most outstanding sights that you could see there, are the Palace Square, the Arc of the General Staff Building, the Literaturnoye kafe (Literary café), which Aleksander Pushkin (a famous Russian poet) loved spending time in, a well-known department store called Passage, the embankment on the Moyka River, the Stroganov Palace, the Singer House with a globe above its glass dome, and the wonderful Kazan Cathedral. Right behind the Griboyedov Canal, there is the Great Gostiny Dvor (another department store),the Eliseyev Emporium, the Catherine the Great Square with the Alexandrinsky Theater at its end, the Anichkov Bridge with the famous sculptures by Peter Clodt, the Fontanka embankment, and the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace. Importantly, Nevskiy Prospect is one of the objects listed in the World Heritage Organization – UNESCO.
Take a Look on to The City From the Gulf of Finland
If this is not your first time visiting St Petersburg, and you want to add some new impressions to your vacation, make sure that you rent a yacht (it comes with the captain and the crew). The white nights season is the perfect time to go on a trip into the open water, especially, on a luxurious yacht that will take you all the way along the northeastern coast, from Petrodvorets to the Valaam Island. It won’t come as a great surprise that such a tour would be significantly more expensive than a bus tour but the experience gained will exceed all expectations.
Reach St Petersburg’s Clouds
Most of the airplane tours take off from the Kronstadt Airport. The price of the tour depends on its duration and the chosen route. Usually, the flights vary from 15 minutes to an hour. The flights above St Petersburg are only allowed in certain sectors which are the outer part of St Petersburg’s Ring Road and the western part of the outskirts of the city from which you can see the Vasilyevsky Island; the Krestovsky Island and Lakhta.
If you want to see the city-center from the sky, helicopter is your only option. It’s the only aircraft allowed in the airspace above the Northern Capital. In order to see the city’s environs, the surrounding forests, fields, and the architectural masterpieces, from a new perspective, you could ride an air balloon. You can bring your entourage along or be placed into a group of 4 or 5 people, in case you’re alone.
Challenge yourself to Kite surf
Not only St Petersburg is the city of rivers, bridges, museums and theaters, but it is also the city of the Baltic winds, and the Gulf of Finland, with its sandy beaches and shallow water marine environments. The white nights season is an excellent time to try out kitesurfing. You can rent out all required equipment and get an instructor that will teach you in 1 or 2 hours how to kite surf at nighttime. Kitesurfing is a relatively new extreme sport that is not too difficult to master as long as you have an experienced instructor. Depending on the direction of the wind, and the weather conditions, your training would take place on multiple accessible kite spots of St Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast (an administrative region in which the city is located).
Dance all night long until the dawn
The St Petersburg’s nightlife is full of fun events. Nightclubs with cool discos, karaoke bars, rooftops, and roofs where you can dance have become the signature move of the city. The white night season is the best time to go and explore multiple rooftops and the roof-bars on which endless dances are complemented by impressive panoramas of the old city-center and the Gulf of Finland, in the rays of the rising sun.
Enjoy the dormant virgin nature in a park
In the northwestern part of the city, right on the border of the Pre Nevskaya depression (geology), in the northern part of the Neva Bay, there is a large park dedicated to St Petersburg’s 300th anniversary (Park trehsot letya Sankt Peterburga). It was founded in 1995, to celebrate the city turning 300 years old. There were in total, 900 trees and bushes planted (300 rare trees; 300 decorative apple trees and 300 bushes) to symbolize this number.
The central building of the park is a lighthouse-like column. Right behind it, there is a gulf (a part of which is in the city) with a lovely sandy beach. There are also fountains, and a swimming pool, present in the park. There is a monumental complex called Sila and Spravedlivost’ (which translates as “force and justice”) and another monument dedicated to Peter the First. Also, there is a concert venue that has an occupancy up to 1,500 people.
The area of the park is enormous (54 hectares or 133 acres), and is really well looked after. There are: emerald lawns, paved paths that are perfect for roller-skating or biking. There are also photo-shoots held in the park. People go for relaxing walks, and enjoy the moist air. There are multiple sites to rent sports equipment which are mounted for you to take advantage of.