Russia’s Capital of the North is a firm favourite on the must-see city lists of many globetrotters. St. Petersburg offers seemingly endless attractions, beautiful architecture, stunning scenery and a cultural feast. Add to that a fantastic nightlife, and you’ve got the perfect travel destination.
The city offers something for everyone, all year round. But it is summer in St. Petersburg that draws the biggest crowds. While many will choose to visit during quieter seasons to avoid the crowds, there is a reason why the summer months are so popular, and why so many travellers embrace the crowds.
Aside from the myriad of normal things to do in St. Petersburg, summer offers the iconic White Nights celebrations, and all the festivities that go with it. Warm weather, endless days and a buzzing atmosphere transform the city into a truly magical wonderland.
During those first exciting moments of planning a summer trip to St. Petersburg, it’s worth bearing in mind just how far north the city actually is!
Summer temperatures generally reach an average of 25°c, with a chance of rain. Don’t let this dampen your spirits though! While showers are not uncommon, you’re unlikely to experience extended periods of heavy rain.
Early May can be cool, and in extreme conditions, you might even experience a little snow! They say that a summer’s day in St. Petersburg can showcase all 4 seasons.
What to Pack
With such a varied climate, it’s worth packing for every eventuality. Well, perhaps you can leave the thermals and ski wear at home! Generally, light shirts and cargo pants work well, with a light sweater or jacket for the evenings.
Smart casual is the order of the day, and be prepared to keep covered if you plan to enter any orthodox churches. Shorts will mark you out as a tourist, and it’s worth taking some smarter clothes for concerts and other more formal events. Take an umbrella or waterproof jacket just in case of showers, but if you’re short on space, you’ll easily pick one up!
The Dreaded Visa!
Or more accurately, the rather easy to obtain Russian Visa. As long as you apply in advance, and arrange your visa before setting off, the process is very simple and painless. While there are several types of visas, most people require only a simple tourist visa, which is typically good for 30 days.
You can apply for a visa online, through a number of services. A letter of invitation is required, and most services will issue this for you. Alternatively, you can obtain a letter yourself via email, from the hotel/accommodation you’ll be staying in.
Be advised that if you’re visiting St. Petersburg as part of a cruise, you don’t need a visa if you’re part of a cruise organized tour of the city. If you’d prefer to explore by yourself, you will need to get a visa in advance, as it’s very tricky once you’re at sea.
Frankly, there are countless hotels, hostels, guest houses and other places to stay throughout St. Petersburg. Whatever your style, you’ll find something to suit you. However, be sure to book well in advance, as many places fill up for summer long before the snows of winter have melted.
The City of White Nights
The number one reason most people consider summer in St. Petersburg the prime time to visit, has got to be the phenomenon of the white nights. The nights start to brighten up from late May, but it’s normally between June 11th and July 2nd that the real white nights occur.
During these weeks, darkness gives way to a prolonged twilight. It’s a time for lovers and old romantics, who stroll along unlit streets and enjoy quiet corners of stunning city parks. Bars and cafes serve well into the night, and one soon becomes lost in time.
Dates for Your Diary
The Stars of the White Nights – 26th May – 23rd July: Head to the Mariinsky Theatre to indulge in a show you’ll never forget. Merging the best opera, ballet and orchestra, the breathtaking performances run most nights throughout summer. It’s wise to book in advance, as the show is immensely popular with visitors and locals alike.
Victory Day – 9th May: A huge city-wide celebration, complete with traditional parades, fairs, a concert and the grand fireworks display.
The Scarlet Sails (Alye Parusa) – 25 – 26th June: An iconic St. Petersburg event, synonymous with the white nights. It’s one of the largest gatherings in the world, with over a million spectators in attendance. Traditionally a celebration for school leavers, the event showcases theatrical performances, firework displays and the symbolic ship with scarlet sails, all from the banks of the Neva.
The Opening of Peterhof Fountains – 19th May: Head to Peterhof Park to witness the fountains and the park return to life as a winter slumber. To celebrate, an all-day festival is held.
Night of the Museums – 19th May: A huge number of museums open special exhibitions and sideshows on this magical night.
Other Things to Do in St. Petersburg
Besides the hugely popular festivals, concerts and fairs that are held throughout the summer, St. Petersburg offers visitors a wealth of more personal experiences.
Sunbathe by the Neva
The iconic river Neva cuts through the city and offers plenty of small beaches, ideal for sunbathing. Alternatively, head for the Peter and Paul Fortress and join the locals on the riverside walls to indulge in a spot of sun worship. Grab a creamy Morozhenoe – or ice cream – and enjoy an unexpected taste sensation.
Stroll Through the Summer Gardens
Specifically built for summer, these shady gardens are a visual feast. From the high reaching chestnut trees, to the bright marble statues and fountains, it’s the ideal place to escape the hubbub of the city. Pick up a juicy green watermelon (Arbus) from a street vendor and tuck in under the shade of a tree.
Stay Up and Watch the Neva Bridges
Each night the bridges of the Neva lazily rise up to allow boat traffic through the city. Sitting by the river banks and taking in this spectacle is an old St. Petersburg tradition. They open up at around midnight, and close again at around 5am. Stay up with friends and enjoy a long, chilled out night of light.
Escape the City for a Day
If the hustle and bustle is getting too much for you, jump on a train and in an hour, you can be at the Baltic Coast or Lake Lagoda – the source of the Neva. Cool off in the icy waters, taste the salty sea breeze, or enjoy a picnic. So close to the city, yet you’ll feel a million miles away.
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down
Summer in St. Petersburg may be busy, but it’s worth the crowds. There is simply so much to see and do. The festival atmosphere lasts all season, with excitement buzzing in the air. Just be prepared to book in advance and you’ll enjoy everything this spectacular summer city has to offer.