White Nights, Big City: St. Petersburg’s One-of-a-Kind Festival
Every year St. Petersburg, Russia plays host to an international arts festival that celebrates the season of the midnight sun. No, we’re not talking about the latest teen vampire drama from bestselling author, Stephenie Meyer. Midnight Sun is the natural phenomenon that occurs each summer near and above the Arctic Circle (it happens at the Antarctic Circle too, but there it’s largely enjoyed only by penguins).
At this time of year, the sun remains visible for a continuous 24 hours, weather permitting, never dipping fully below the horizon line. The sky is so low you feel like you can almost touch it. The sun is hazy, looming over the horizon, illuminating St. Petersburg’s classic European-style architecture and causing the golden cupolas of the city’s Russian churches to glitter. When it’s this light out at midnight, who’s interested in sleeping? Jetset Extra has a few tips for the insomniac traveler or late-night reveler looking to celebrate this unique time of the year.
When to go:
Book now to visit St. Petersburg through early July. This is when the nights are at their brightest.
What to do:
For the Culture Vulture:
St. Petersburg and the famed Mariinsky Theater put on an 8-week long festival called Stars of the White Nights. It’s the crown jewel of the festivities and is happening on now through July 21st. Over the course of the festival, you’ll find over 90 opera and ballet performances, symphony and chamber concerts and solo performances by Russian and international stars. Click here for a schedule of events and to purchase tickets to festival performances.
Best Photo Op:
You and one million new friends will enjoy the spectacle of sight and sound known as the “Scarlet Sails.” Essentially a celebration for recent graduates (think one massive blow-out grad night party for the whole city), the show begins with rock-star entertainment featuring hot Russian pop stars on the Palace Square. To cap off the festivities, a tall-masted boat sporting snazzy scarlet sails navigates the Neva, giving the event its name and kicking off an amazing laser and pyrotechnic show. This year’s Scarlet Sails takes place on June 19.
The best way to enjoy White Nights is to do what the locals do—hang out in the streets until 3 am. Since it never gets dark, no one wants to go to bed. Young people crowd the bridges over the Neva river, some sing, some walk in large groups, laughing and talking, along Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main promenade where everyone goes to see and be seen. Street vendors with portable grills tempt you with kebabs, hot dogs, and sweets. No trip to St. Pete’s is complete without cruising your heels down Nevsky. But watch out—The bridges along the Neva river go up between 1:30 am and 5 am to allow for boat traffic, so make sure you’re on the same side of the drawbridge as your hotel or you’ll be pulling an all-nighter.
Heat Things Up:
Russia is known for its vodka and caviar, and we’ve got the perfect prescription for those who over-indulge. Detox at a local banya or Russian bathhouse. These hot, cold, and steamy saunas are an interesting cultural experience, particularly if you enjoy being beaten by birch branches. Check with your concierge before you book your banya. They know what’s “hot” and can even book your appointment for you, if Russian isn’t in your repertoire.
Where to stay:
The Grand Hotel Europe unveiled 17 renovated Terrace Rooms in May, just in time for White Nights. Located on the hotel’s top floor and boasting panoramic city views, these suites have spacious private terraces that let you take in the 24-hour twilight. The rooms overlook Arts Square and the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood—one of the most stunning sights in St. Petersburg.
Can’t make it this year? In addition to its annual White Nights festivities, St. Petersburg is set to celebrate its 300th birthday in 2013 which gives you plenty of time to learn to say “Buy me a drink?” in Russian.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
1 Theatre Square
Concert Hall: 37 Dekabristov Street
Grand Hotel Europe
Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa 1/7
Tel : +7-812-329-6000