St. Petersburg White Nights Festival

When the winter snow and cold finally departs from St. Petersburg in early May, many locals begin to look forward to the warmth of summer that finally returns to the shores of the Neva. From late May to early July the nights in St. Petersburg are bright with the ‘White Nights’, with the brightest period normally lasting from 11 June to 2 July every year. St. Petersburg is actually the world’s most northerly city, with a population of over one million people. Due to being so far north the sun, when setting, does not go under the horizon deep enough for the sky to move out of early dusk and into night. This leaves the sky a bright colour all night from 11.30pm onwards until sunrise which gives you the beautiful white colour after which the White Night Festival is named after.

Whether you choose to visit  St. Petersburg on your Baltic cruiseholiday in the winter or summer, exploring the city by foot can show visitors a treasure trove of Russian opulence. But for those who are looking for a more balmy temperature compared to the unforgiving months of winter, where temperatures can plummet down to an average of -8°C in January, the White Night Festival period is more preferable. For those who are tempted to explore the city by foot overnight, take advantage of the light setting and summer warmth. Every night the bridges that connect the five main city islands raise, which is a popular event for people to view, however it is worth noting that the bridges do stay raised until 5.00am so do make sure you are on the correct side of the river if you do want to take in the spectacular sight.

Festival Highlights

During the festival the highlight has to be the Scarlet Sails show which is based on the Russian fairy-tale, “Alye Parusa” (“The Scarlet Sails”) by Aleksandr Grin. Crowds gather on the banks of the Neva at the Winter Palace while fireworks go off to classical music, as the famous ship with its red sails passes by to celebrate the love story of young Assol and her prince. In 2011, it was estimated that 3.5 million people watched the Scarlet Sails parade and fireworks in person, so if you are heading down to the banks be prepared for it be busier than normal.

For those looking to continue their exploration of historic St. Petersburg then the carnivals, which take place across the city, are a great way to enjoy some interactive entertainment. The largest carnival to take place is in the Peterhof suburb, which re-enacts events from the reign of Peter the Great and his wife Catherine the Great. These performances spill out into the streets allowing for guests to join in and mingle with the costumed performers transporting you back to St. Petersburg’s more decadent past.

Festival Food

Food is an important part of Russian culture. Although different to the larger, heavier meals more common across Europe, the Russians use the festival period to indulge in traditional fares such as pickled vegetables, chicken wraps, borscht and more. Throughout the festival numerous little restaurants and food stalls stay open late to cater for those who are looking to enjoy the white nights.  And if you’re looking for something to give that final kick to make it through to morning, then there is the most well-known of Russian fuels – vodka! 

Marco Polo will be sailing from Rosyth and Hull in late June 2017 for 12 nights to the Baltics and St. Petersburg with an overnight stop in the city. For our full range of cruises to St. Petersburg, please click here.

Our favourite Baltic cocktail

To celebrate the White Nights festival, below is a recipe for our favourite Russian cocktail, the Black Russian, which is also available on all of our ships. Maybe you'll enjoy one your next cruise to St. Petersburg?