If the great cities of Europe competed for the title of ‘Most Beautiful’, St Petersburg would be right up there. Yet it’s not just the majestic historical buildings or classical artistic traditions that make a St Petersburg tour so compelling, it’s a diverse, exciting and prosperous city of 5 million people, in the midst of a new era of cultural expression. The very best St Petersburg tour will tap you right into the heart of the city’s vibrant energy.
From early June through the end of August, the city of Peter the Great is an all-night town. The streets are packed with people, both locals and tourists, right through till morning. Here are our 7 top picks for you to do in St Petersburg in summer:
1. Walk through the Tsarist Palaces and Parks
St Petersburg is home to Russia’s best preserved and most elaborate constructions from the extravagant Tsarist era. Brimming with baroque palaces, classical sculptures, royal gardens and grandiose cathedrals, walking around St Petersburg is like wandering through a living museum. See the famous fountains at Petergoff – they are officially turned on at the beginning of June, with accompanying festivities – and admire the glorious parks in Pushkin and Pavlovsk.
2. Take a canal boat tour or a river Cruise
Did you know the city of St Petersburg is crisscrossed with canals that have given it the nickname the ‘Venice of the North’? If you’re enjoying St Petersburg in summer, taking some time out for a leisurely canal cruise through the heart of the city is a must, sailing under photogenic bridges and taking in many of the city’s famous landmarks along the way.
This is also the perfect time to take a Russian river cruise, on which you’ll take in the sights, sounds and history of Russia’s heartland from the comfort of a modern cruise vessel.
3. Watch the Neva bridges open
Navigation season in Saint Petersburg starts in April and ends in November. During this period drawbridges (moveable bridges that let ships pass through) of St. Petersburg are opened for a few hours during the night. A walk along the embankments at this time or a ride on a cruise boat in the Neva river will leave an unforgettable impression about St. Petersburg at night.
4. Enjoy a contemporary art scene fuelled by a hip, youthful vibe
St Petersburg isn’t all about the old masters. The city’s reputation as a hub for art and culture has carried on into the modern era, and young artists, writers, musicians and designers continue to flock to the city. While in St Petersburg, visit the Loft Project ETAGI (a huge multifunctional creative space complete with galleries, bookstores and hip cafes) or New Holland Island, a former industrial area now being turned into an uber-cool visual and performing arts space.
5. Experience the White Nights
As the world’s northernmost large city, St Petersburg experiences wondrous ‘white nights’ in the peak of summer, when the arctic sun stays out late, and eventually never sets. Plan your summer tour between late May and early July to experience the full splendour of the polar nights. The lack of darkness affects the very fabric of life in the city and the whole town seems to be taking part in a two-month round-the-clock celebration. The streets are alive with people right through till morning, a motley flotilla of boats cruises the rivers and canals non-stop, and the city’s nightlife is at its most active.
The St Petersburg so-called “White Nights Festival” is an annual international arts festival known for its all-night celebrations, kicking off in mid-June and ending in mid-July. Now well established as one of the greatest classical music festivals in the world, it draws a host of international stars every year, and showcases the very best of local talent from the opera and ballet companies of the Mariinsky Theatre (better known as the Kirov abroad).
6. Be mesmerised by the scarlet sails show
The Scarlet Sails event in late June is the biggest annual public gathering in Russia (over a million people attend). There’s a mock pirate battle on the Neva River, then a firework extravaganza, culminating in the appearance of a tall ship with blood-red sails. The imagery originates from a popular Russian children’s book, but the Scarlet Sails have become the consummate symbol of White Nights, and perhaps the most special moment of a St Petersburg summer.
7. Try a Russian fusion cuisine at the best summer terraces
Restaurants in Russia’s second city range from luxurious establishments fit for a tsar, to humble cafés that serve down-to-earth traditional local food like pancakes and soups. For visitors, there’s a huge amount to explore, from traditional Russian cuisine in palatial surroundings to modern rooftop terraces serving international fusion menus.
Summer in St Petesburg is all about being outside, and one of the best ways is to eat out at the Summer terraces, which are pleanty in the second capital of Russia.
What to pack for a St Petersburg tour?
From late May onwards, the weather in St Petersburg is normally warm and humid (from +18C to +25C), but not excessively so and evenings can be cooler even when the sun is still shining, so it’s worth bringing at least one warm sweater. It should be pointed out that, if you’re over the age of fifteen, shorts will immediately mark you out as a tourist, and do nothing for your popularity with the locals. Bear in mind, even the weather in St Petersbug is really hot and dry, there is almostalways a chance of rain, so don’t forget to take your umbrella with you.
While you will find summer wear acceptable, do bring less casual attire if you plan to enter Russian Orthodox churches, which will require that men and women have their legs covered and women have their shoulders and hair covered.
Evening concerts, which are prevalent during St. Petersburg’s White Nights, will also require less casual attire than what would be worn for daytime sightseeing.
Are you thinking of taking a St Petersburg tour? Just in time for the Russian summer? Check out 56th Parallel’s Treasures of St Petersburg tour to discover these amazing city or combine your St Petersburg holiday with a tour of Moscow.
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