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When there’s snow on the ground and icicles in the trees, Russia’s hardy citizens don’t just bundle up and hibernate for a few months. No, these seemingly weatherproof natives see the winter weather as an invitation to get active outdoors with an abundance of wintery things to do in St Petersburg. So pack your warmest thermals and your fur-lined gloves – you’re certainly going to need them. From ice skating at Kirov Park to ice fishing on the Neva River and skiing at Tsarskoye Selo, there are so many snow-covered things to do in St Petersburg. And if you’re lucky, there’ll be a warming shot of vodka to welcome you at the end!
Evgeni Plushenko, Adelina Sotnikova, Irina Slutskaya – there’s a reason Russia is home to so many champion figure skaters. But you don’t need to be a practiced triple toe-looper in order to take to the ice in St. Petersburg. Visitors should follow the city denizens to St. Petersburg’s many parks, where open-air ice rinks woo skaters of all ages. Kirov Park on Elagin Island is always a good option.
Whether you’re travelling with children or are just the proverbial inner child, there’s nothing quite as energizing as a red-cheeked afternoon spent sledging. You can opt for a simpler vehicle, or, in some parks in St. Petersburg, rent a two-person model. Either way, follow the locals to favourite and appropriately sloped spots like Tauride Gardens or Victory Park.
At once a workout (for those who’ve indulged in a few too many caviar-topped blinis) and a way to take in the pretty, pine-covered countryside, cross-country skiing may well be the most efficient way to get around snowy St. Petersburg (unless you’ve got a pair of snowshoes at your disposal, that is). Tsarskoye Selo, just south of the city centre and home to a Romanov Palace, offers picturesque skiing turf and on-site rentals. And despite the cold, you may just work up a sweat.
But don’t think that Russians prefer to keep the pace set to “languorous”. For something a touch more rigorous than a gentle cross-country trek, a number of ski resorts and mountain retreats offer snowboarding, downhill skiing, and even heli-skiing. Many are far from the city, but accessible Okhta Park is close enough to attract flocks of St Petersburgers during the winter months.
When it comes to classic St. Petersburg winter “sports,” few are as entrenched as ice fishing. Just wait until the Neva River freezes over to spot thrifty fishermen – often covered in a thin sheet of plastic to protect them from the elements – hovering over a small hole in the ice. But perhaps it’s best to let the locals take the lead on this one – ice fishing may work best as a spectator sport.
If you’re planning to visit Russia for the New Year, come prepared in your cosiest furs – the holiday is famous for its exuberant street parties, no matter how thick the snow. In St. Petersburg, Dvortsovaya Square, across from the Hermitage, sees the biggest groups of revellers. In February, meanwhile, Maslenitsa – the Russian version of Pancake Day – lasts for a whole week, with numerous outdoor things to do in St Petersburg alongside family and religious traditions.
Not all Russian skaters prioritise their pirouettes. St. Petersburg is also the place to take in an ice hockey match. The Ice Palace, home to SKA St Petersburg, the local team, is a good place to see ice-bound competition. On days when they’re not playing, visitors can rent skates and give the rink a try.