One of the best times to visit St. Petersburg is during the White Nights season, when the sun never sets and the city is alive 24 hours a day with festivals, activities, concerts and longer opening hours for museums, restaurants and shops. In this article I’ll explain about White Nights and what are the main events taking place in St. Petersburg during this period.
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0. WHITE NIGHTS of St. Petersburg
What are White Nights and when do they occur?
St. Petersburg is a city that is well known for its White Nights or in Russian, Beliye Nochi, an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs from the end of May to mid-July. During this period the sun never fully sets and the sky stays bright throughout the night with a light similar to the light of sunset (midnight sun).
It’s not a phenomenon unique to St. Petersburg
Many people believe that it is a phenomenon that occurs only in St. Petersburg, but the truth is that it is a phenomenon that is typical of the regions near the Arctic Circle, where there are other smaller cities in which this phenomenon is more spectacular.
White Nights can be experienced in many other cities in Russia, Sweden, Norway or Finland. However, it could be said that St. Petersburg has “appropriated” this phenomenon, being the city closest to the Arctic Circle. With its population of more than one million, this is where it is most enthusiastically celebrated, with different activities, events and festivals.
It’s a time for celebrations and festivals. Don’t stop the party!
White Nights of St. Petersburg have become a real attraction of the city and represent the beginning of a very festive period in the city, not only because they coincide with the St. Petersburg’s major public holiday (May 27), but also for many other reasons.
During this period people stroll along the streets at night, given the existing atmosphere, especially on weekends. Tourists take the opportunity to watch the city’s drawbridges being raised by taking boat cruises on the Neva River starting from 1:00 a.m.
This is also the time of the White Nights Festival at the Mariinsky Theater, with opera, ballet and classical music shows. There are also folklore shows, ballet and open-air opera.
With the arrival of the summer solstice, comes the Scarlet Sails Festival, which can bring together more than 1 million people. The Peterhof Fountains are also officially opened and the museums extend their opening hours.
Schedule of events for White Nights of St. Petersburg. Where to view it?
To get information about the schedule of events for White Nights of St. Petersburg, it is best to check the official website of events of the St. Petersburg Committee for Culture: https://billboard.spb.ru/
You can also check the schedule of events 2019 in PDF format (174 Mb). The city’s official tourism website also publishes information on events in the city: http://www.visit-petersburg.ru/en/event/
Public holidays in St. Petersburg during the White Nights season
In addition to the schedule of events, bear in mind that during this period there are 3 public holidays in the city:
Victory Day: May 9
Although the White Nights season begins most actively towards the end of May, it is worth mentioning the Victory Day holiday, that is, the celebration of the victory of the Soviet Union and the Allies over Nazi Germany on May 9, 1945 in World War II, or the Great Patriotic War, as it was called in the Soviet Union. In St. Petersburg it is celebrated with a military parade in the Palace Square, the same way it is celebrated in Moscow’s Red Square.
St. Petersburg’s Biggest Holiday: May 27
The city’s biggest holiday is celebrated every year on May 27, the day in 1703 when Peter the Great laid the first stone of the Peter and Paul Fortress, the historic heart of the city.
Russia Day: June 12
Russia Day falls on June 12 every year, on what would become the Day of Russian Independence, which occurred on June 12, 1990. It is a new holiday and in St. Petersburg you will find great excitement with street concerts, sports competitions, opening of exhibitions as well as fireworks.
Prior Tips for enjoying White Nights
- During the White Nights season the number of tourists in St. Petersburg increases, especially on the days when the main festivals are taking place. At this time the prices in hotels and restaurants are more expensive. Therefore, it is recommended that you book in advance if you are traveling on these dates.
- It is also convenient to buy online tickets in advance for the main museums and for the Stars of White Nights Festival at the Mariinsky Theater.
- If you sleep in a room without curtains, you may need a mask to be able to fall asleep more easily, given the excess night light.
Next, I’ll tell you in detail what are the main activities, events and festivals during the White Nights season in St. Petersburg.
1. TOURIST ACTIVITIES during White Nights
1.1. Strolling around on White Nights: from late May to mid-July
Strolling around at night, as if it were daytime, by the city canals, along Nevsky Avenue or through the main pedestrian streets of the historic heart of St. Petersburg, is a real pleasure.
The city is bustling with excitement and filled with fun. Restaurants, shops and museums extend their opening hours. Hosts of kiosks and mobile food carts sell ice cream, known as morozhenoe. The most popular brands are Plombir and Stakanchik, which are served in a cone or cup-shaped wafer.
It is very interesting to see up close the raising of the city’s drawbridges from 1:30 a.m., and the night traffic of boats going through them.
If you like guided tours, some companies organize night-time walking tours during this period to see the city and its hidden spots at night or to take night tours in Segway, to name a few examples.
1.2. Take a cruise to see the opening of the drawbridges: from May 1
But the tourist attraction that draws most people in St. Petersburg during this time is a night cruise on the Neva River to see up close the city’s drawbridges, such as the famous Palace Bridge, being raised from 1:30 a.m. You will also be able to see the Aurora Cruiser up close or tour some of the city’s canals.
It is a sight to behold the number of vessels piling up to take this route and to see how, after the bridges open, large-tonnage vessels coming from the Volga and heading for the Baltic begin to pass through. The bridges are raised at night so as not to obstruct traffic movement during the day. During the winter the Neva River is frozen and there is no ship traffic.
1.3. Rooftop tours of St. Petersburg: from April
If a walking tour of the city or a boat cruise on the Neva River does not seem exciting enough, an option that has become very popular in St. Petersburg in the last few years are rooftop tours of the city, a different point from which to see the city in a way, of course, that is completely safe.
2. White Nights FESTIVALS
2.1. “Scarlet Sails” Festival: night of June 21 – June 22, 2019
The Scarlet Sails Festival is held at the height of the White Nights season during the summer solstice. It is a very crowded annual event (with figures of 800,000 or even 1,000,000 participants according to some), and it takes place on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice. In 2019 it will be held on the night of June 21 to June 22. The first festival was held on June 27, 1968.
It’s the party for high school students who have graduated and celebrate it in style. Students come from different places all across Russia.
At the Scarlet Sails Festival a huge, spectacular boat with scarlet i.e. very intense red candles sails along the Neva River. It is a replica of the original boat from 1857.
The festival takes place in two settings: a mega music concert in the Palace Square beginning at 10 p.m. for which tickets are required, and a fireworks show with music and a multimedia show that takes place on the waters of the Neva River in front of the Peter and Paul Fortress (It starts at 00:40 and is free).
The title of this festival comes from the novel by Russian author Alexander Grin, Scarlet Sails (1923), a love story that was made into a movie in 1961 by the Russian production company Mosfilm. You can watch it for free on the YouTube channel of these famous Russian film studios. On this channel you can also watch all the films by these studios for free. They come with subtitles in several languages.
2.2. “Stars of the White Nights” Festival: May 22 – July 21, 2019
The “Stars of the White Nights” Festival is one of the most important events during the White Nights season. It is a series of performances of classical ballet, opera and orchestra concerts at the Mariinsky Theater and the Mariinsky Concert Hall. The artistic director of the festival is Valery Gergiev.
This festival began with the first mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, in 1993 and has continued annually since then. Some of the stars that have performed there are Plácido Domingo, Olga Borodina, Alfred Brendel, Anna Netrebko, Carlo Maria Giulini, Yuri Temirkanov, Gidon Kremer, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Alexander Toradze, Deborah Voigt, James Conlon and many other classical performers.
You can buy tickets in advance on the theater’s website.
2.3. “White Nights” International Music Festival: July 20-22, 2019
The St. Petersburg White Nights International Music Festival is held every year in the city’s Ice Palace (ice hockey rink). In previous years there have been performances by international artists such as A-Ha, Deep Purple, Scorpions, Whitesnake, The Doors, Status Quo, Ringo Starr, Paula Abdul, Joe Cocker, Brian May, Chris Rea, Julio Iglesias, Joée Carreras, Eros Ramazotti , etc.
2.4. “White Night Swing” Jazz Festival: June 1 – July 31, 2019
The Jazz Philharmonic Hall hosts national and international jazz artists every year during the “White Night Swing” Jazz Festival, which takes place from June 1 to July 31, 2019.
2.5. “St. Petersburg Palaces” Festival: May 1 – July 31, 2019
During the months of May, June and July, the St Petersburg Palaces International Music Festival organizes concerts in the city’s most emblematic palaces: the Yusupov and Menshikov Palaces, the Hall of Mirrors in the Sheremetev Palace or the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo.
2.6. International Children’s Festival “Sounds and Colors of White Nights”: June 6-9, 2019
The White Nights Sounds and Colors Festival is held every year to support the most promising and talented children. It features singing, music, dance and drama competitions and takes place in the concert hall of the Azimut Hotel.
3. PALACES, CATHEDRALS AND MUSEUMS: special events during White Nights
3.1. Opening of the Peterhof Fountains: May 18, 2019
Every year the Peterhof Gardens start up their fountains in late April (in 2019 it will be on April 27), after the winter break. However, the official opening of the fountains takes place a little later, in 2019 on May 18, a day when there are festive activities with classical music and fireworks.
3.2. Museums Night: night of May 18 – May 19, 2019
One night each year, the museums of St. Petersburg, both the largest and the smallest, open their doors from 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m., with a special program that includes concerts, shows, historical re-enactments, etc. It is organized on the initiative of the Culture Commission of the City of St. Petersburg and is called Museums Night. A 400-ruble ticket gives access to all exhibitions.
It is an event that is held not only in Russia, but also in 42 other countries.
3.3. Climb to the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral: April 27 – September 30, 2019
An interesting tour that you can also take is to climb what is known as the colonnade of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the dome of this important religious building, which extends its night-time opening hours during the White Nights season. More information at this link.
4. SPORTS Events
4.1. International White Nights Marathon: June 30, 2019
The XXX International White Nights Marathon, takes place on June 30, 2019, a different way of getting another view of the city. If the marathon’s 42 kilometers are too many for you, you also have the option of running the short 10-kilometer race.
4.2. St. Petersburg WCS Nights: July 18 – 21, 2019
If what you like is dancing, St. Petersburg WCS Nights is held at the end of the White Nights season with competitions and dance workshops.
5. Forums and conferences on ECONOMICS AND SCIENCE
5.1. St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF): June 6 – 8, 2019
An event dealing with the world of business and the economy that has been held since 1997. Members of the business community from countries around the world come together to discuss the key economic problems facing Russia, emerging markets and the world in general.
Every year the Russian President attends this event which is held at Expoforum, the city’s convention and exhibition center.
5.2. White Nights Oncology Forum: June 20 – 23, 2019
The White Nights Forum is one of the biggest events in the field of oncology, bringing together specialists from Russia and abroad, with the main objective of joining forces in the medical community to improve the quality of medical care and reduce cancer mortality.
5.3. “White Nights” International Ophthalmology Congress: May 27 -31, 2019
The “White Nights” International Opthalmology Congress is the main Russian event for ophthalmology professionals both local, regional (countries of the former Soviet Union) and international.
6. LITERATURE AND FILM
6.1. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s White Nights (1848)
Finally, if you can’t travel to St. Petersburg during this period, I am giving you the option of participating in White Nights from your home by reading White Nights, the short 1848 novel by the famous Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky. You can read this work for free at this link.
6.2. Luchino Visconti’s Le Notti Bianche (1957)
You also have the option of watching one of the three French and Italian film versions of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel, the most famous of which is the Italian director Luchino Visconti’s Le notti bianche.
And speaking of film, to end this article I must also mention the St. Petersburg White Nights International Film Festival .
As you have seen, the White Nights of St. Petersburg have a lot to offer. In this article I’ve tried to put together only the most relevant events during this period but there are many more …
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