“It was a wonderful night, such a night as it is only possible when we are young, dear reader.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights
While the phenomenon of the “White Nights” or “Midnight Sun” is common to many northern cities, in no other place like in Saint Petersburg is it more celebrated, as no other major city can compete with the atmosphere that is created here during the summer nights.
Standing at a latitude of 59°57′N, St. Petes is the world’s most northern city with a population of over 1 million, and from late May to early July the sun never goes below the horizon so that nights and days become almost indistinguishable, creating the so-called “Beliye Nochi”. In a way, they could be seen as some kind of reward for all the cold an darkness that characterizes the city during winter time.
Officially lasting from June 11 to July 2, this is the time when Saint Petersburg is at its best, emanating “zhizni radost‘”, joie de vivre, from all its corners. During the day, people enjoy the warm weather along the canals, drink coffee at the many cafes on Nevsky Prospekt and sunbathe in the parks, while at night they indulge in the many concerts, festivals and parties all across the city.
So here are some White Nights experiences not to miss in Piter!
During the day:
- Eat morozhenoe (Russian ice-cream) from one of the many ice-cream carts and take a walk around the canals. You can start on Vosstanya square and explore the three intersecting canals, Fontanka, Griboedov and Moika (all worth visiting), as you walk to the Hermitage and continue on to the Admiralty embankment of the Neva.
- Sunbathe along the riverside of the Peter and Paul’s Fortress, or at one of the many parks, such as the Summer Garden or Aleksandrovsky Sad.
- Go swimming on Lake Ladoga, a short drive away from the city.
During the night:
- Stay up all night, obviously. You can start your evening with a nice dinner at some place like The Idiot (designed to resemble a Dostoevsky-era apartment), or Biblioteka, then go bar-hopping around Dumskaya ulitsa (cool bars: Fidel, Stirka, Mishka, Terminal, Tsvetochki), and finally head to one of the many nightclubs, like Dom Beat
- Watch the bridges split (but make sure you’re on the right side of the river to head back home, or you’ll be stuck there till 5 or 6 in the morning, here is the schedule)
- Go to the Mariisnky Theater and enjoy the Stars of the White Nights Festival, with its daily operas, ballets and open-air concerts
- Go to the Scarlet Sails Festival, or Alye Parusa, a huge celebration with fireworks that takes place on a night in the middle of June and that is hosted to remember the fairytale of a woman who was whisked away by her love on a ship with scarlet sails. Every year millions of visitors gather on the banks of the Neva to watch the reenactment of the ship and dance under the sky.
- Hang out at Taiga, an underground creative space that has a bunch of exhibition, event and creative spaces, a cafe, a book shop, even a hostel, and a nice courtyard with DJs and live music. A great place to hang out a meet cool people.
Hang out on Nevsky Prospekt, which is constantly buzzing with activities, as a variety of cultural events, including street theater and jam session go on throughout the night.
And once you’re done, get ready to do it all over again!
“Because it begins to seem to me at such times that I am incapable of beginning a life in real life, because it has seemed to me that I have lost all touch, all instinct for the actual, the real; because at last I have cursed myself; because after my fantastic nights I have moments of returning sobriety, which are awful! Meanwhile, you hear the whirl and roar of the crowd in the vortex of life around you; you hear, you see, men living in reality; you see that life for them is not forbidden, that their life does not float away like a dream, like a vision; that their life is being eternally renewed, eternally youthful, and not one hour of it is the same as another; while fancy is so spiritless, monotonous to vulgarity and easily scared, the slave of shadows, of the idea, the slave of the first cloud that shrouds the sun… One feels that this inexhaustible fancy is weary at last and worn out with continual exercise, because one is growing into manhood, outgrowing one’s old ideals: they are being shattered into fragments, into dust; if there is no other life one must build one up from the fragments. And meanwhile the soul longs and craves for something else! And in vain the dreamer rakes over his old dreams, as though seeking a spark among the embers, to fan them into flame, to warm his chilled heart by the rekindled fire, and to rouse up in it again all that was so sweet, that touched his heart, that set his blood boiling, drew tears from his eyes, and so luxuriously deceived him!” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights