Autumn in St Petersburg, dubbed ‘Golden Autumn’ by poet Pushkin, is arguably the city’s most beautiful season. The illustrious Summer Garden is transformed with colourful autumnal hues, the Russian Imperial Palaces are beautifully framed by falling leaves, and the crisp air cleanses the city after a warm summer. Autumn also means a reduction in crowds, making it one of the best times to enjoy sightseeing in St Petersburg. Follow this guide to discover why Russia’s shortest season is also its most captivating.
The first stop on any ‘Golden Autumn’ itinerary should be a stroll through the Summer Garden. When the leaves turn from green to orange and red, the landscaped park is at its most beautiful. Bright white sculptures stand out against a backdrop of rusty-coloured trees and the historical Summer Palace, with its yellow and brown façade, almost blends into the foliage. A short five-minute drive from Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg, the Summer Garden is the ideal location for a crisp morning walk.
Far from lacking in entertainment, autumn is a busy events season in St Petersburg, with a variety of offerings showcasing the best of the city’s arts scene. Visitors can enjoy a host of theatre shows and festivals, such as the International Alexandrinsky Theatre Festival and the Baltic House Theatre Festival, and music events including the Early Music Festival and the International Organ Festival. It’s also a great opportunity to enjoy an opera or a Russian ballet performance in one of the city’s impressive theatres.
While crowds flock to St Petersburg in their thousands during the summer months, autumn is much quieter. This means shorter queues and uninterrupted photo opportunities at all of the city’s highlight attractions. Visit the State Hermitage Museum to explore over three million artefacts and artworks in the stunning settings of the grand palace; discover Russian art at the State Russian Museum, housed in the Mikhailovsky Palace; or delve into history at the Peter and Paul Fortress. And, while you’re at it, why not squeeze in a few palaces and traditional churches, too? The Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood looks particularly pretty in the golden autumn light.
There’s a reason so many postcards of St Petersburg’s grand palaces are taken during the autumn; the imperial estates on the city’s outskirts are even more beautiful when surrounded by forests of orange and red. Visit Tsarskoe Selo to discover Catherine Palace, Alexander Palace and their gardens in a new light. The neo-classical Pavlovsk – the youngest grand imperial estate in St Petersburg – is also exceptionally striking in autumn with its large lake, creatively landscaped gardens and impressive baroque-style Grand Menshikov Palace.
While autumn doesn’t linger for long in Eastern Europe, culinary connoisseurs in Russia make the most of it while they can. The autumn season is when Russian comfort comes into its own, and local menus are dominated by slow-cook soups (zuppe) and stews, which are traditionally cooked in ‘pechka’ ovens. As it’s mushroom season, people will scour the forests for fresh fungi, which will then appear in bountiful quantities in popular local dishes.
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.