A series of opera and ballet performances, a carnival complete with period costume dress, a mock pirate battle, live shows by big name acts & fireworks. Believe it or not, there is one event where this all goes down – The White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg.
Although the phenomenon known as the "White Nights" is not unique to St Petersburg, in no other northern city have they received such poetic and literary acclaim. What could be more romantic than a walk along the banks of the city's rivers and canals in almost broad daylight, no matter what the time of day? No other major European city can rival this experience nor the atmosphere on the streets of St. Petersburg during the summer months - lively, friendly, romantic and bustling with people throughout the night as well as the day!
There are White Nights events around the world, but the original and arguably most spectacular is the one held in St. Petersburg, Russia. The title White Nights or Beliye Nochi in Russian, comes from name given to those summer solstice evenings in high latitude locales that don’t descend into darkness, instead have late sunsets and early sunrises with twilight lingering in between. Painterly skies that leave one speechless are to be expected.
From late May to early July the nights are bright in St Petersburg, with the brightest period, the White Nights, normally lasting from June 11th to July 2nd. St. Petersburg is the world's most northern city with a population over 1 million, and its stands at such a high latitude that the sun does not descend below the horizon enough for the sky to grow dark. In fact night becomes curiously indistinguishable from day, so much so that the authorities never need to turn the city's streetlights on!
The middle of summer is the time when the northern capital of Russia is a magical experience. During the longest days of the year, Saint Petersburg turns into endless walking: the historic city center, river Neva and small canals, even after midnight, have a romantic golden glow, and thousands of people – citizens and tourists – go for a walk.
The White Nights season is the perfect time to be a tourist in St. Petersburg as it means you literally have more hours in the day (of sunlight that is) to do your sightseeing.
Not only that, but shops and restaurants tend to stay open late, so you are always able to keep yourself busy, and you don’t have that blanket of darkness that causes a sense of uneasiness in a foreign city to hold you back.
In addition to the longer sightseeing hours, the White Nights Festival makes it a great time for a tourist.
The last ten days of June in St. Petersburg turn into the White Nights Festival – a time full of around the clock activity. This international arts festival fills the city with top opera singers, ballet dancers and musicians putting on performances in the “Stars of the White Nights Festival”.
The “Scarlet Sails” celebrations happens during the White Nights Festival and involves a huge public event with fireworks that also marks the end of the school year in June. A high school graduation celebration attended by all ages, the first dates back to post-World War II and draws its inspiration from the 1922 children’s book Scarlet Sails by Alexander Grin. This is where the mock pirate battle comes in, culminating with that fantastical fireworks display. Tons of boats full of pirates take sail on the Neva River, while millions of people watch the event.
Several carnivals present themselves to the public during the White Nights Festival, with the most popular one being in the suburb of Peterhof, where actors apparently don Peter and Catherine the Great costume dress and reenact historical events. There’s also pop performances at the Ice Palace. While this year’s star act has yet to be announced, previous years’ guests include Ricky Martin, Julio Iglesias, Joss Stone and Sheryl Crow. The weekend festival-in-festival is also a song competition for young artists.
There are many activities specially organised during this period. If you’re looking for unique experiences, getting on a bike at midnight and going on a tour of the city that ends at 2 in the morning could be something worth writing home about.
The canals and waterways of St. Petersburg are what make it feel like Venice, and the best way to experience these rides might just be at midnight during the White Nights Festival.
By taking a tour at this time of day, you get to experience the vibe of the city at “night”, as the sun finally sets and the bridges and buildings take light.
Nothing can be better than going out during this amazing period of time, observing raising the bridges, meeting people and absorbing the magical atmosphere of the city!
Team Veena world