Saint Petersburg is one of the most popular tourist cities in Russia. It is a beautiful destination throughout the year but Saint Petersburg turns into a magical wonderland when the city puts its winter clothes on. In fact, if you like winter vacations, Saint Petersburg is probably one of the best winter destinations on our planet and in this article, we’ll show you why.
Winter in Saint Petersburg lasts from the end of November to March. During this time of the year, al rivers and canals freeze and remain frozen until spring. The average winter temperature in Saint Petersburg is -9 ° C. However, this does not prevent locals from spending their free time outdoors. Russians love walking in winter parks, skiing and ice skating. During the New Year holidays, the city is illuminated with colorful lights, and Christmas trees decorate streets until spring.
Why should you visit Saint Petersburg in the winter
Winters in Saint Petersburg are extremely cold but there certainly are some advantages to visiting the city at this time of the year. The most obvious one is the beauty of snowy, illuminated Saint Petersburg. Additionally, hotel prices and the prices for most other services are significantly lower during winter. Also, theater season starts in the winter, ice skating rinks open, and there are no long queues in the museums.
Witness an Orthodox Epiphany
If you think the ice bucket challenge is tough, you should see the Orthodox Epiphany. Epiphany is a day in the Christian calendar that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. In countries where the majority of the population is Orthodox Christian, this day is celebrated by thousands of volunteers jumping in the freezing waters in the local rivers in attempts to catch the cross that the priest throws in the water. According to locals, the one who catches it will have a very prosperous year ahead. In Saint Petersburg, you can witness this at 17 different sites around the city, but the central and biggest event takes place at the bank of Neva River.
Go ice skating
Skating rinks open in many parts of Saint Petersburg The largest one, and perhaps the most popular, is in Kirov Park. An alternative is the ice rink on the New Holland Island, open from November to March. Each skating rink has an equipment rental point, as well as several cozy cafes where you can drink aromatic tea with traditional Russian pastries.
Explore the museums
Museums of Saint Petersburg are open all-year-round, but winters are special. Winter in Saint Petersburg brings a lot of thematic exhibitions in different museums around the city to attract more visitors. However, the museums are still not crowded because not a lot of people want to visit a city only 800 kilometers away from the Arctic Circle in the winter. This means that you can explore Saint Petersburg’s fines museum without rubbing elbows with other tourists and private tours are much easier to book too. Companies like PetersburgExpert organize private tours that allow you to stroll through the empty halls of the Hermitage and take your time to explore the Amber Room of the Catherine Palace without any pressure.
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Go ice fishing in the Neva River
In the early morning, you’ll always see several fishermen on the ice of the Neva. The Neva River is one of few places on our planet where you can go ice fishing in a metropolitan city. Once the strong wave of blistering cold hits Saint Petersburg, most of its rivers and canals freeze, allowing local fishermen to indulge in their favorite winter activity. If you want to give this a try, make sure you have an experienced fisherman with you. Someone who knows where to find a good bite, and more importantly, thick ice.
Enjoy the winter performing arts program
When talking about the advantages of traveling to Europe in the winter, it doesn’t get much better than this. All opera and theaters are open and running full steam and what’s more enticing than taking a walk on Saint Petersburg’s snowy streets and then entering a cozy, grandiose building to see Russia’s finest performing arts, like the Swan Lake, the Nutcracker, or some of the most popular Russian theater plays. However, keep in mind that you’ll probably need to book your tickets a few days in advance, especially in the days preceding New Year and Christmas.
Find a perfect present at one of the many street fairs
Public festivals are one of the oldest Russian traditions. Fairs in Saint Petersburg are opened not only during the New Year holidays but during Maslenitsa – a spring holiday that is celebrated for a whole week at the end of February or at the beginning of March. At these street fairs, you can buy traditional crafts, amazing food, unusual souvenirs and try some traditional Russian drinks and treats.
Experience winter street parties
Winters in Saint Petersburg bring a lot of street parties all over the city. You can find anything from themed and costume parties to peaceful Christmas gatherings for tasting ginger cookies. If you want to find the best parties head to Rubinstein Street and Ulitsa Belinskogo; this is where some of the wildest winter street parties in Saint Petersburg take place.
Take a walk in the parks of Tsarskoye Selo
Even though Tsarskoye Selo is technically a town of its own, the winter idyll of the former tzar residence is totally worth taking the one-hour drive from Saint Petersburg. You’ll get to see the former tzar palaces and other monuments in their white outfits as the thick layer of snow crunches below your booths. Some people might wonder why would you visit a park filled with gardens in the winter when all of its natural beauty is gone, but visiting the vast, and during this time of the year, relatively unfrequented parks is a rather captivating experience.
Climb to the colonnade of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral is the fourth largest Orthodox Christian cathedral in the world. It is so big that it took more than 40 years to build. A lot of people visit this cathedral every day but a lot of people aren’t aware that the cathedral’s colonnade is open for visitors too. To reach it, you need to climb 161 steps but the view of Saint Petersburg surrounded by white, winter idyll is definitely worth it.
Relax in a Russian banya
Nothing beats a hot, steaming bath in the winter. Russian baths (banya) have been an important part of Russian tradition for centuries, especially during the winters. These bathhouses were considered to be a sacred place for Russians in the past because they combine the four elements of nature; water, fire, earth, and air. Even though not a lot of people find them sacred today, Russian banyas are more popular than ever, among both, locals and tourists. The typical banya ritual includes steaming for several hours in a wooden chamber with a small furnace. This helps detoxicate your body and refresh it after a long day of exploring the city.
Don’t be surprised if you see other people naked or if you see people hitting each other with sticks; supposedly, this helps stimulate blood circulation. I know it sounds strange but you should definitely try it. You’ll thank me later.
Walk the frozen Gulf of Finland
With its sandy beaches, granite boulders, and endless stretches of pine trees, the Gulf of Finland is one of the most popular destinations in Saint Petersburg. The fresh sea air and relaxing atmosphere make this part of the city one of the most pristine places to visit in the winter. In addition to this, when winter is at its peak, most of the Gulf freezes, allowing curious visitors the walk and enjoy the surreal views of the frozen Gulf of Finland.
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Try sledging in the countryside
Russian winter is never complete without sledging. In Saint Petersburg, this is a very popular activity, not only for children but also for adults. And there’s no better place to do this than the surrounding countryside. One popular sledging spot is the new skiing resort at Okhta Park, around 35 kilometers away from Saint Petersburg. With its modern facilities, it’s one of the best winter sports destinations in the region. If you want to reach Okhta Park, you can do so with minibus 627 or 680 from Devyatkino Station. Alternatively, you can always rent a car and drive on your own. Use this special offer to 15% off on car rentals in Saint Petersburg.
Enjoy the nature of Krestovskiy Island
If you ever get tired of the city center and want to see a more pristine, secluded part of Saint Petersburg, head to Krestovskiy Island. Located in the northern part of the city, connected with the rest of Saint Petersburg via the new pedestrian bridge, this is the best place to enjoy the view of the snowy, frozen Gulf of Finland. Today, the island is the go-to place for a lot of locals who want to go jogging, skiing, or indulge in other sport activities.
Check out some of the winter festivals
Mariinsky International Piano Festival is held every year in the second half of December in the concert venues of the Mariinsky Theatre. Every year, famous musicians from Russia and around the world gather in Saint Petersburg to participate in one of the biggest musical festivals in Europe.
Maslenitsa (Butter Week) is one of the most popular religious holidays in Saint Petersburg. It’s one of the oldest Slavic festivals and is celebrated during the last week before Great Lent. The main food of this festival are pancakes (that’s why the festival is also called butter week) and you can see hundreds of pancakes stands around the city.
Russian Winter Festival is one of the biggest winter festivals in Saint Petersburg. It’s the place to be if you want to enter the new year in style, with plenty of fireworks and extravagant performances.
Arts Square Winter Festival unites different forms of art and is the main artistic event in Saint Petersburg. The theme is different every year but the performances are nothing short of spectacular. The festival takes place every year between 14 December and 25 December at St. Petersburg’s Philharmonia.
Ice sculptures festival in Saint Petersburg features marvelous sculptures designed by famous sculptures from around the world. In 2019, the event took place in the Peter and Paul Fortress and the sculptures used 180 tons of ice to create the displayed sculptures!
Helpful resources for visiting St. Petersburg
First things first; to visit Russia, you need a visa. Despite Russia’s visa policy being quite strict, there are a few websites where you can complete this online. To get your Russian visa without wasting a lot of time and money, check out this website.
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For the cheapest flights to Saing Petersburg, Air France’s Oh-la-la deals get you up to 30% off on all flights to Russia.
Looking to save on accommodation? Use my Booking discount code and get 15% on all accommodation rentals in St. Petersburg. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something more fancy, this offer gets you 10% off at all Radisson Hotels in town.
Finally, if you’re planning to rent a car in Saint Petersburg, use this special offer and get 15% off on car rentals.
Did you ever visit Saint Petersburg in the winter? Would you like to visit someday? Do you think we forgot to mention some important winter activities? Let us know in the comments!
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