The ‘White Nights’ season, which is enthusiastically celebrated in St. Petersburg, exists between late May and early July when sun-filled summer days make way for an incredible and endless evening radiance. Although the White Nights are celebrated in other destinations too, no other major European city competes with the experience, nor the atmosphere of St. Petersburg during these summer months.
We bring to you our 6 ‘Must-Do’ experiences in the city if you want to celebrate the White Nights season just like a local!
1. Take a stroll in the early hours
During the White Nights season, many locals stay out into the early hours, taking advantage of the everlasting twilight; there is something so remarkable about taking a midnight stroll under the city’s romantically-lit sky. This tradition dates back to the early 18th century when Peter the Great first founded the city. Back then, celebrations were subdued by wars and the strict ruling of the Soviet state. Under Joseph Stalin, White Nights were extremely disciplined events, with just a small selection of classical music concerts to choose from.
2. Experience the Stars of the White Nights music festival
This music festival is renowned as one of the best in the world and was created in 1993 by General and Artistic Director of the Mariinsky Theatre, Valery Gergiev, as a ‘musical gift’ to the city of St. Petersburg.
Since then the festival has flourished, extending from 10 days to 3 months, presenting the best performers and soloists of the Mariinsky Theatre and featuring the works of so many great composers, such as the symphonies of Sergei Prokofiev; concerti of Ludwig van Beethoven; and the operas, ballets, and symphonic music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
3. See an Opera or Ballet
What better way to spend an evening in the ballet capital of the world? There are almost daily operas, ballets and classical concerts at the world-renowned Mariinsky Theatre, featuring Russian and International stars. There are also almost daily concerts at the Mariinsky Concert Hall. Tickets need to be booked up to six weeks in advance, as they experience a huge surge in popularity during this extremely busy period in St. Petersburg’s calendar.
4. Witness the Scarlet Sails celebration
Probably the most recognised event of the White Nights season, the Scarlet Sails celebration (also known as Alye Parusa) with spectacular fireworks and entertainment is one of the biggest annual public gatherings in Russia, with over one million people usually in attendance.
Traditionally, Alye Parusa marks the graduation of high-school leavers in the city and has been celebrated since the end of the Second World War. The significance of the Swedish brig with red sails, which sails down the Neva River during the evening, comes from a popular children’s book “Scarlet Sails” by author Alexander Grin, which encourages young people to believe in their dreams.
As the ship navigates its way along the river, the city’s skies are filled with an extravagant firework display and many of St. Petersburg’s public squares will host various musical and theatrical performances for revellers to enjoy.
5. Watch the Neva bridges open
Find the perfect viewing spot along the Neva River embankments or take a boat cruise to see the magnificent sight of the Neva bridges opening for passing boat traffic; a marked tradition of the White Nights season. The Neva River is the main waterway of St Petersburg, with all of its suburban towns situated along the banks and across the islands of the river’s broad delta. It is one of the largest rivers in Europe by volume of water and also one of the world’s shortest rivers at just 74 kilometres in length. The benefit of a river cruise is that almost all the major attractions of St. Petersburg are either placed directly beside the water and can easily be witnessed from a boat.
6. See the stars at Palace Square
Every summer in St. Petersburg the Palace Square becomes a stage for international music stars. Known for holding official military parades and political demonstrations in the past, Palace Square during the White Nights season hosts an abundance of musical performances, typically attracting big celebrity names and performers, including The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney in the last few years, so make sure it is on your must-do list.
This is just a small selection of the many remarkable activities and festivities which take place in St. Petersburg during the summer White Nights season. If you would like to experience the city as part of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains’ Land of the Midnight Sun tour, departing from Moscow on 17 June 2019 and culminating with three days in St Petersburg, please contact us for availability, or view the itinerary here.