Proximity to the Arctic Circle has its pros and its cons. On the one hand, winter is long and dark (though, if you ask us, also quite romantic). On the other hand, there’s summer – with its joyous celebrations, its balmy temperatures… and its almost 24 hours of daylight. Welcome to the wondrous White Nights in St Petersburg (and the accompanying White Night Festival, Scarlet Sails, and even the White Night Marathon).
The name is no misnomer: given the fact that the sun barely dips below the horizon throughout late June and early July, St Petersburg never gets fully dark (it is, after all, the northernmost city in the world with over 1 million inhabitants). Instead, the sky retains a crepuscular hue into the wee hours – and revellers who’ve already enjoyed the heat of the day find they have the perfect excuse to continue the festivities late into the night.
Visitors to St Petersburg at this time of year will discover a city at its best. Midnight flâneurs, riverboat cruisers, and picnickers aside, there are also carnivals and concerts in the streets, celebrations of art and culture, and plenty of other long-running public events. For foreign travellers, it’s easy to get swept up in the spirit of celebration – and, given the proliferation of events, taking part is as simple as going for a wander around the busy streets.
Most of the events in the city at this time of year are organised under the broad banner of the White Nights Festival, which coincides with peak sunlight and stretches loosely from May to July. From classical music to fireworks shows, jazz events to literary occasions, there’s no shortage of culture to take in. One of the undisputed festival highlights, though, is the performance series by international music artists in the Palace Square. In the past, names such as Ringo Starr and Jethro Tull have taken to the stage – and played to huge crowds.
The peak of the White Nights in St Petersburg comes in the form of the Scarlet Sails – one of the best-attended public events in all of Russia. Held during the solstice, the show is a tradition that dates to the end of WWII, though recent years have seen it take on new heights of showmanship. Expect a huge fireworks show over the Neva River, combined with the presence of a real sailing ship with scarlet sails and musicians performing from temporary stages along the riverbanks.
It wouldn’t be the White Nights in St Petersburg without a bit of pomp and high culture. Offering that in large supply is the Stars of the White Night festival, held annually at the Mariinsky Theatre. This year’s event will feature performances by top balletic, symphonic and operatic talents.
Not all White Nights celebrations require all-night partying. The White Nights Marathon, for instance, profits from the good weather to host fleets of runners as they wend their way through the city’s pretty streets. Those looking to counteract the effects of the celebrations can register to participate for this year’s edition, which will be held on 28th June (note that registration occurs well in advance) – otherwise, visitors can stake out a spot along the street to watch the procession puff past.
It’s widely known that St Petersburg is the perfect city for jazz aficionados – and the Annual International Jazz Festival sets the stage for impressive feats of improvisation in the midst of the White Nights. The Jazz Philharmonic Hall will play host to national and international artists from 15th June to 1st July – the perfect way to mix up your party schedule.
And these are only the start of what’s on for the White Nights in St Petersburg. From street carnivals to a mini-festival that honours Dostoevsky, from raves that stretch to the early hours to the traditional opening of the drawbridges, visit St Petersburg during the White Nights and you’ll see the city at its joyful best.