Russia – Discover the Unknown

The White Nights festival in St. Petersburg

Culture vultures with a penchant for staying up late: this one’s for you. In midsummer, on account of its latitude, St Petersburg becomes the city of the white nights. The sun sets late into the evening and dark, when it finally comes, is fleeting. The resulting long hours of daylight are known as Beliye Nochi. From the middle of May until the middle of July, the city’s residents receive their reward for enduring the harsh northern winter.

The city of St Petersburg marks the occasion with a White Nights Festival. A packed calendar of events makes this the best time of year to visit. The streets are lively and the city’s many performance venues showcase the very best in the world of the arts. Classical music, opera, art and ballet are all represented.

Preceding the main event is the city’s Night of the Museums. If you were a fan of the Ben Stiller movie franchise, this is your chance to recreate it for real – minus the chaos, of course. From 6pm on May 18th until 6am on May 19th, almost 2000 museums big and small open their doors for an all nighter. Special events including workshops, historic reconstructions and temporary exhibitions await those who are prepared to forgo bedtime. Entry is free, so it’s the perfect excuse to try out a museum you’d otherwise skip.

Exciting though that is, it’s only the pre-show for the main event. The annual Stars of the White Nights runs from May 23rd until July 29th. The highlight for many is the Scarlet Sails show. Locals call it Alye Parusa. It takes its name from a 1922 children’s book by Alexander Grin. In it, he writes of a boat with scarlet sails that heads in the direction of the Winter Palace along along the city’s English Embankment and Admiralty Embankment. The event marks the end of the school year, and everyone’s in celebratory mood. Held the weekend closest to the summer solstice, it’s a chance for those graduating high school to let their hair down and release all that stress that has built up over months of study. Fireworks and live music make this a night for all, no matter what your age.

The programme known as the Stars of the White Nights shines the spotlight firmly on St Petersburg’s most elegant venues, such as the Mariinsky Theatre, the Conservatoire and the Hermitage Theatre. Nightly performances play to a sell out crowd – get your tickets early to avoid disappointment. This summer at the Mariinsky, perhaps you might see Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, or Verdi’s Requiem, or Wagner’s Parsifal. Another Tchaikovsky favourite, Swan Lake, takes over the Hermitage Theatre for the summer season. Elsewhere in the city, June also brings rock legends KISS as well as electronic music duo The Chemical Brothers.

If all that’s too high brow, you’ll be pleased to learn that summer is St Petersburg’s carnival season too. Don’t miss the period costume parade around Peterhof Park complete with lavishly decorated horse-drawn carriages. The focus is also on the Catherine Palace and the Pavlovsk area, plus military parades and star performances in Palace Square. Still too much? You can always take a stroll with your significant other and share an ice cream on the banks of the River Neva. But whatever you do, don’t miss summer in St Petersburg.

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