As the mercury dips below zero and deep drifts of snow gather atop the onion spires of Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg transforms into a glittering winter wonderland. Candy-coloured palaces appear as if dusted with icing sugar, while from early December, the city’s streets burst to life with the sparkle and bustle of seasonal markets and fairs. Here, we explore the finest St Petersburg Christmas markets, where you can savour aromatic glintvein, shop for locally crafted gifts and warm up with plenty of festive cheer.
St Peterburg’s official and largest Christmas Market commandeers Pionerskaya Square during the festive season. While its competing fairs emphasise Russian foods and handicrafts, Pionerskaya Square has a far more cosmopolitan outlook and celebrates diverse Christmas traditions from around the world. Spend an afternoon perusing the 150 or so pavilions, sampling fragrant dishes from as far as Mumbai, cheer festive performances from local singers and seek out regional honey and berry varenye (preserve).
Set amid the rugged exposed brick walls and crumbling pillars of the fire-ravaged Annenkirche Church, St Peterburg’s Christmas Charity Market puts a dramatic spin on tradition. This most atmospheric of settings is home to a quaint market where quirky handicrafts, one-off antiques and vintage clothing from local traders are all for sale. Thanks to the dilapidated church’s incredible acoustics, the accompanying musical performances are spellbinding.
In the heart of St Petersburg, next to Nevsky Prospekt’s dazzling illuminations, Ostrovsky Square Fair comprises an array of family friendly ingredients. Soak up its distinctly convivial atmosphere as you sample sugary Russian confectionery and sip on spiced glintwein. Children can meet Ded Moroz, Russia’s answer to Santa Claus, after he swoops down Nevsky to light St Petersburg’s Christmas tree. There’s also an abundance of interactive games and fairground rides to keep younger visitors amused.
New Holland Island is a recently regenerated arts district and something of a trendy enclave. Each Christmas, its New Year Bazaar welcomes crowds to gather at the gourmet and gift stalls surrounding the twinkling eight-metre Christmas tree. Performances of The Nutcracker flicker out from a big screen, nodding to a timeless seasonal tradition, while children can learn the secrets of Santa’s elves at creative toy-making workshops. Perhaps most alluring of all is New Holland Island’s outdoor ice rink, where skates are available to hire.
Located at the passenger port of St Petersburg’s Marine Façade, WinterFest is a week-long celebration with a riot of live performances, DJ sets and plenty of activities to keep younger visitors entertained. Interactive areas with board games and air hockey, plus zany science masterclasses will keep little ones occupied while you kick back with some fresh blinis and garlic-seasoned borscht sausages. Everything culminates in a spectacular giant fireworks display on the closing night.
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.