Imagine for a moment that you lived in the arctic circle. Winters are cold with long nights and short days (sometimes no days at all), but every summer for several precious weeks the days stretch on for…well, they just stretch on. Depending on conditions, between late May and July, regions located above the 59° 34’ latitude can experience days with constant daylight. And within one of those regions sits what is arguably the cultural capital of eastern Europe — St. Petersburg, Russia.
Founded in the 18th century, St. Petersburg welcomed the annual arrival of the “midnight sun” or “white nights” almost from the start, but then came the 20th century with World War II and the Soviet Union (which renamed the town Leningrad). After communism fell in Russia, the city reclaimed its original name (along with it’s position as a center for the arts), and for the white nights have become an international cultural event.
Here are 9 things you have to do while visiting St. Petersburg during its white nights.
Enjoy a Night Out on the Town…in the Daylight
St. Petersburg is pretty notorious for its nightlife, with posh bars and nightclubs. And what better way to take it all in than late at night with the sun blazing in the sky overhead? The extra hours of light and dose of vitamin C can help give you the energy to keep the party going. And while you’re out hoping from nightspot to nightspot in the sunshine, be sure to take a moment to watch the Neva draw bridges open up to let boat traffic move down the city’s famous Neva river.
Check Out the Summer Garden
With plenty of shady trees, bubbling fountains, and picturesque sculptures, it’s easy to see why this park located at the city’s center was once the private getaway for the Tsars. It’s now one of the most iconic locales you can find in the city, offering up its grounds for anyone to enjoy a stroll, pay a visit to its museum, or enjoy a sunbathing session.
Watch the Stars of the White Nights
Essentially the arts events series that kicks off St. Petersburg’s white night season, “Stars of the White Nights” is a festival organized by the city’s performance arts scene. From late May to the end of July, the city hosts dozens of classical musical concerts, plays, operas, and ballet performances.
Visit a Museum for a Long Night
As a cultural hotspot of Russia, it is no surprise to learn that St. Petersburg is home to a number of museums. One of the most popular events of the White Nights Festival is The Long Night of the Museums. During this much-anticipated event, the city’s most popular museums stay open all night, giving visitors the chance to explore the museums in a unique setting. There is no shortage of museums to visit during this time. Good choices include the Hermitage, the Michailovsky Castle, and the Museum of Alexander Pushkin. With so many collections to see at these locations, you will be glad that you had the extra hours to tour.
Attend the Annual International Jazz Festival
Music is a staple of the White Nights Festival. One of the highlights of this event is the annual International Jazz Festival. Each year, a variety of jazz artists from Russia and all over the world gather to thrill audiences with stirring music. The center of the action is the Jazz Philharmonic Hall, a stunning venue to take in the beautiful music. The music festival lasts approximately two weeks, giving visitors plenty of time to take in multiple jazz music performances. You will not want to miss catching a show within the dramatic backdrop of St. Petersburg.
Watch (or Maybe Run in) the White Nights Marathon
There is no better way to take in the sights and sounds of St. Petersburg than by foot. The International White Nights Marathon is a perfect way to see the city from a different viewpoint. The 42-kilometer race course takes you through some of the area’s most diverse neighborhoods. If the thought of running an entire marathon is too much for you, consider signing up for the shorter 10-kilometer race. If running is not your favorite activity, you can also take part in this event as a spectator. Simply line the streets of the course and cheer on all of the participants as they run toward the finish line.
Take a Boat Cruise and Watch the Drawbridges Open
Travelers who hop on cheap flights in July to the White Nights Festival also revel in the chance to take a boat cruise on the Neva River. During the cruise, you can get up and close and personal with the city’s many drawbridges. For example, you will enjoy an amazing view of the Palace Bridge as you cruise along the river amidst the twinkling lights. City officials raise the drawbridges during the nighttime hours in an effort to prevent traffic congestion. It is a feeling of great community to travel along the river with various other vessels and watercraft as they head out to the Baltic. Because the Neva River freezes over in the winter, the summer is the best time to see this attraction.
Stroll the City
Part of the charm of this festival is the simple act of just strolling through St. Petersburg. This lovely city provides stunning architecture along with an air of mystery around every corner. During the peak of the festival, the sun is fully visible all through the night. The light illuminates the city streets, making for an enchanting experience as you take in the beauty of St. Petersburg. Some companies even offer guided walking tours or segway experiences to enhance this activity. Because the restaurants and shops extend their operating hours, you will be greeted with plenty of energy throughout the night.
See the Scarlet Sails
The culminating event of white nights in St. Petersburg happens on a single night in June. It features pyrotechnics, live music performed on stages throughout the city, a sailboat with blood red sails making its way down the Neva, and an average attendance of roughly one million people (which makes it one the most well-attended events in Europe every year)