BEST TIME TO GO
All year round
Summer White Nights May – July
Direct flights from London Heathrow to St Petersburg, 3hrs 15mins
“The lower the thermometer falls, the more abstract the city looks. Minus twenty-five centigrade is cold enough, but the temperature keeps falling as though, having done away with people, river and buildings, it aims for ideas, for abstract concepts. With the white smoke floating above the roofs, the buildings along the embankments more and more resemble a stalled train bound for eternity. Trees in parks and public gardens look like school diagrams of human lungs with black caverns of crows’ nests. And always in the distance, the golden needle of the admiralty’s spire tries, like a reverses ray, to anaesthetise the content of the clouds.” Extract from Joseph Brodsky ‘A guide to a Renamed city’ 1979.
So much of Russia’s romanticism is conjured up in the imagery of its harsh but beautiful winters. A winter infamous and inspirational to so many of Russia’s writers, musicians and painters, and where better to experience it than in Russia’s “Venice of the North”, St Petersburg, the historical hub of Russia’s intelligentsia since founded by Peter the Great in 1703.
Russia celebrates Christmas on the 7th January, so New Year marks the start of a ten day celebratory holiday and the atmosphere is lively. The city is covered in snow and the streets are glowing with Christmas lights and festive cheer. The weather will be quite chilly, but the warm reception one receives when you bundle into a cafe or restaurant is a welcome and comforting experience. Hidden behind the opulent baroque and neoclassical facades of the palaces and museums, are the magnificent jewel-like interiors which are virtually all yours to enjoy compared to the summer months where tourist numbers are at their peak.
Only in winter does one have the chance to jump aboard a troika sledge in the gardens of the Pavlovsk Palace, or when best to experience the century old tradition of the Russian banya – equivalent to a sauna and followed by an invigorating roll in the snow, or dip in the lake, nothing more romantic in a dark Russian Winter. First chronicled in as early as 945 AD by Slavic tribe of Drevlians. Don your felt hat and be prepared to be battered with Veniki – Eucalyptus or Birch branches to ease the circulation.
St Petersburg in Summer is beautiful, with long days filled with alfresco dining and concerts. Take time to wander the city, following the canals of the Neva River and coming across cafes and restaurants. The palace gardens also come alive during this time with impressive displays of fountains and landscaping. It is also the time, where many Russians retreat to their summer dachas, wooden ‘country houses’. Spend a day visiting some of these unique homes and meet the local characters.
From St Petersburg you can take the high-speed train to Moscow, 4hrs. The city is fascinating with much to see and we recommend three – four nights is sufficient. Unlike St Petersburg, the city is less ornate but by no means less intriguing. See the Seven Sisters skyscrapers that dominate Moscow’s skyline. These fierce structures are a blend of Gothic and Baroque architecture and were designed at the request of Stalin to celebrate the Soviet State. The Red Square is impressive with the colourful St Basil’s Cathedral and the vast wall of the Kremlin. You can visit the Kremlin, touring the churches and sacred spaces within the walls.
A highlight of the city is the metro. Each station is unique in design with beautiful mosaics, stained glass, sculptures and marble floors. Buy a ticket and enjoy jumping on and off the metro, discovering the inspiring and stylish stations.
Other must-see are the Novodevichy Cemetery where Boris Yeltsin is buried, Arbat Square, Boulevard Ring, Tverskaya street, Manezh Square, churches and Cathedrals, the university and the White House.
Summer: Pleasant average temperatures of 22°C with moderate to high humidity. The White Nights (all day sunshine) begin from the end of May to mid July. During this time, the sun only sets for an hour and the city is in a magical twilight state.
Winter: Temperatures can get down to -7°C so it is important to layer up as indoors, heating is at full blast. However, snow covered St Petersburg and Moscow are magnificent sites.