White Nights in Saint-Peterburg

Romantic White Night in St. Petersburg

Although the phenomenon known as the "White Nights" is not unique to St. Petersburg, in no other northern city have they received such poetic and literary acclaim. What could be more romantic than a walk along the banks of the city's rivers and canals in almost broad daylight, no matter what the time of day? No other major European city can rival this experience nor the atmosphere on the streets of St. Petersburg during the summer months - lively, friendly, romantic and bustling with people throughout the night as well as the day!

From late May to early July the nights are bright in St. Petersburg, with the brightest period, the White Nights, normally lasting from June 11th to July 2nd. The White Nights (Beliye Nochi) are a curious phenomenon caused by St. Petersburg's very northerly geographical location - at 59 degrees 57' North (roughly on the same latitude as Oslo, Norway, the southern tip of Greenland and Seward, Alaska). St. Petersburg is the world's most northern city with a population over 1 million, and its stands at such a high latitude that the sun does not descend below the horizon enough for the sky to grow dark. In fact night becomes curiously indistinguishable from day, so much so that the authorities never need to turn the city's streetlights on!

Eat your fill of morozhenoe and arbus

Russians take their ice-cream making very seriously, and delicious, creamy Russian morozhenoe becomes ubiquitous in mid-summer. Buy some from an ice-cream cart and wander one of the breezy riverside embankments for a real taste of summer, St Petersburg-style. During the few brief hot weeks of summer, stalls selling arbus (giant, juicy watermelons) also sprout up all over the capital. Take one with you and head for a shady park.

Visit the Summer Garden and sunbathe by the Neva

St Petersburg’s Summer Garden is specifically designed for strolling during languid summer days. Walking along its shady avenues decorated with cool white marble statues and soothing fountains is a quintessential St Petersburg experience. Sun-baking by the Neva is also typically ‘Piter’ (as Russians lovingly call the city). Old-timers sunbathe standing up – for the all-over tan. The riverside walls of the Peter & Paul Fortress are a favourite sun-lovers’ hangout.

Stay up all night

You have to do this at least once during the White Nights season. There’s a kind of euphoria when you can stroll at midnight under a still-light sky. Start the evening with a breezy outdoor dinner somewhere like Terrassa (whose namesake terrace is open only in warmer months), then go dancing at one of the understatedly cool nightclubs such as Dom Beat. Or if you’re up for a night of bar-hopping, just head to Dumskaya Ul, where four of St Petersburg’s hottest drinking and music spots are located.

Watch the Neva bridges open

This is the signature tradition of the White Nights: watching the spectacle of the massive Neva River bridges heaving apart to let through boat traffic. Watch from the riverside embankments or take to the water on a boat cruise and slip right through the heart of the midnight city. If you’re on foot make sure you’re on the right side of the river to get back to your accommodation: the metro stops at 12.30am and with the bridges open until 5am, there’s no other way to cross the river.

See the Stars of the White Nights

Midsummer was traditionally when Russian performing artists took holidays or went on tour and St Peterburg’s stages were always quiet during this season...until 1993 when the Mariinsky Theatre’s Valery Gergiev founded the spectacularly popular Stars of the White Nights Festival. Between the end of May and mid-July, there are almost daily operas, ballets and classical concerts at the Mariinsky, featuring top-notch Russian and international stars. There are also outdoor concerts.

Be part of Russia’s biggest celebration

This is it, the high point of all the White Nights revelry. The Scarlet Sails event in late June is the biggest annual public gathering in Russia (over a million people attend). There’s a mock pirate battle on the Neva River, then a firework extravaganza, culminating in the appearance of a tall ship with blood-red sails. The imagery originates from a popular Russian children’s book, but the Scarlet Sails have become the consummate symbol of White Nights, and perhaps the most special moment of a St Petersburg summer.

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