From the end of May to the beginning of June St. Petersburg is lit both day and night with a golden glow that provides a relaxed atmosphere and a romantic aura. This celebration of light has enchanted visitors, inspired poetry, and given rise to the name White Nights.
“On such nights, it’s hard to fall asleep because it’s too light and because any dream will be inferior to this reality. Where a man doesn’t cast a shadow, like water,” Joseph Brodsky – Russian Poet
At 59 degrees 57′ North, St. Petersburg is in the same latitude as Olso, Norway and Seward, Alaska. It is also the world’s most northern city with a population over 1 million and holds the largest celebrations in the world for this gift from nature. The phenomenon called White Nights occurs when the sun is hanging on the horizon and causes the city to be light both day and night. During this time the city comes alive with tourism, festivals, and a breathtaking show from nature. The dusk meets the dawn and the people of the city are active at all times of the day and night.
White Nights in St. Petersburg is booming with tourists and shore excursion passengers. Finding a hotel in St. Petersburg can be very difficult and most tourists and cruise ship passengers book their rooms well in advance. The best location for enjoying white nights is in the center of St. Petersburg. A note for handicapped visitors – There are not many hotels with wheelchair access. One hotel which includes handicapped access and rooms is Hotel Vera.
What to do in St. Petersburg during White Nights
The City of St. Petersburg has created a festival with various cultural and musical events called the White Nights Festival. The Festival includes performances by Russian singers, ballet dancers, musicians, opera singers, and famous guests.
Stars of the White Nights
The “Stars of the White Nights” includes classical ballet, opera and musical performances at the famous Mariinsky Theatre and Concert Hall and is one of the main attractions during White Nights. Most of the performances start in the evening (at 7:00pm) but day performances also sometimes available. Again, best to book in advance as tickets to these performances can be sold out in advance.
Walking in the City
Walking in the city during White Nights is a very popular activity for both tourists and local residents. The air is warm and the sun burns bright enough in the sky that street lights are not necessary. Many of the main attractions in the city can be seen simply by taking a walk through the historic center of St. Petersburg. Some notable attractions that are within walking distance include St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress, the State Hermitage Museum, and the Church of Our Savior. As this is a very romantic time many couples can be seen walking arm in arm through the city streets.
Bridges of St. Petersburg
Walking along the Neva River can really give a clear picture of why White Nights is such a special event. Along the way tourists can see the bridges opening to allow ships to pass. Each bridge opens at a different time (near 1am) and close again in the morning (near 5am). Be sure to check with your hotel or tour guide to know the bridge schedule. In the evening the Neva will be bustling with people waiting to watch a bridge open to the heavens.
With an annual estimated attendance more than 1 million people, the Scarlet Sails celebration is the largest public event anywhere in Russia and is another main attraction during the White Nights Season. Many of the guests at this celebration are high school and university students celebrating the end of another school year. The Scarlet Sails celebration includes fireworks, musical performances, and spectacular water-show including battle with pirate boats on the Neva River.
The celebration began after the end of World War II and was created to symbolize a popular children’s book by Alexander Grin, also titled Scarlet Sails. The celebration includes a boat with scarlet sails which sails along the English Embankment and the Admiralty Embankment towards Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum.
Carnivals of the White Nights
Various carnivals are organized in and around St. Petersburg during White Nights. The largest and most famous of these carnivals takes place in the suburb of Peterhof. Historic events from the time of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great are reproduced by professional actors with costumes from the same time period. Carriage rides abound and the atmosphere is regal enough for a Tsar or Tsarina.
Another such carnival is organized in the suburb of Pavlovsk. Finally, Palace Square in St. Petersburg also hosts multiple carnival events and performances which give a glimpse of the opulence enjoyed by the Tsars and Tsarinas.
Super Star Performances
White Nights attracts international superstars who perform each summer at Palace Square for hundreds of thousands of jubilant fans. Famous groups such as The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Scorpions, and even Paul McCartney have graced Palace Square with their musical talents. As each year brings different performers it is best to check in advance to see which artists will be arriving to St. Petersburg.
About the Author: TJ Travel is a fully authorized and licensed tourist company offering a selection of St Petersburg shore excursions for cruise ship passengers and general St Petersburg tours. Our friendly and multilingual St Petersburg tour guides will ensure your visit to our beautiful city will be truly unforgettable. The shore excursions and city tours we offer include the most famous and memorable sites in St. Petersburg including the Hermitage, Peter and Paul Fortress, Peterhof, Pushkin, and perhaps some sites you can’t find in a guidebook.