If you are planning a trip to St. Petersburg in the winter, chances are your friends will say: “You should know better than that. The city is so cold and depressing at this time of year!” But, let’s face it, Moscow (and most of Russia) is not exactly the best choice for a beach holiday between the months of November and March. Moreover, there are many solid reasons for visiting Russia’s northern capital in wintertime.
No Tourist Crowds
The most obvious reason to go to during this time of year is the fact that St. Petersburg’s great museums and art galleries will be free from the usual gigantic queues, so you will be able to admire the treasures of the Hermitage or wander around the Dostoyevsky Museum uninhibited, forgetful of the cold outside. Hordes of tourists will not be blocking the view of the exhibits, and almost no sightseeing buses impeding traffic. Remember, however, that museum working hours may be altered during school holidays.
Winter is arguably the best time to visit the understated yet fascinating Arctic and Antarctic Museum. Its extensive collection featuring the spectacular dioramas “Winter in the Tundra” and “Walrus Colony,” among others, will transport you to the bitterly cold polar regions, so that the mild St. Petersburg winter will no longer seem all that freezing.
If you arrive in St. Petersburg during the traditional white nights season, your itinerary will be entirely shaped by taking long night walks, watching the opening of the bridges and going to bed at dawn. This is all very romantic, but it completely disrupts your circadian rhythm, as you risk waking up the next day just an hour or two before the museums close. If you are lucky enough to book a hotel room overlooking one of the charming canals in the city centre (and exceptional accommodations in St. Pete aren’t easy to come by in May or June), be prepared to put up with noisy youngsters who hang out in the street all night long, consuming sparkling wine or beer in blatant disregard of the laws on public drinking. During the winter, the nightlife in central St. Petersburg is concentrated in the bars and clubs on Dumskaya Street, so if you are feeling sleepless, the option of bar-hopping is readily available.
St. Petersburg is the home to hundreds of theatres, but most of them close for summer holidays. Therefore, autumn and winter are the times when theatre lovers can take advantage of a rich cultural agenda full of bold new productions, exciting events and festivals. Tickets to the famed Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky and Alexandrinsky theatres or BDT must be booked well in advance.
However, the city plays host to a multitude of lesser-known yet still remarkable theatres and studios with repertoires ranging from classical to experimental.
Performances by the Nebolshoy Drama Theatre, ON.TEATR Directors Lab, Grigory Kozlov’s Masterskaya and the Osobnyak are experiences that should not to be missed. Children will certainly enjoy the programme offered by the Zazerkalie (Looking Glass) Musical Theatre and St. Petersburg Music Hall or plays staged by the Kukly Theatre for integrated audiences of disabled and non-disabled young viewers.
St. Petersburg’s well-known palaces, churches and parks take on a different appearance when mantled with snow. To appreciate this, take any of the classical tourist routes around the city centre. The snow-covered Peter and Paul Fortress and St. Isaacs Cathedral resemble fairy-tale castles while the splendid Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk royal suburbs transform into a glittering wonderland.
The park at Peterhof looks enchantingly quiet and miles away from its summer impression without the sparkling fountains and the usual tourist bustle. Take a leisurely stroll along the picturesque alleys, but it is recommended that you keep away from the waterfront footpath – this spot is exposed to the piercing cold winds that blow off the Gulf of Finland.
The low tourist season also means cheaper plane and train fares along with better accommodation choices.
One of the best-value travel deals this winter is being offered by Rossiya Airlines, which provides flights to St. Petersburg departing from Vnukovo Airport, Moscow, with fares starting at $25 (one way). The tickets, available for sale until Oct. 31, are non-refundable and can be used from Oct. 26 to Mar. 26.