What to expect on a winter trip to Sankt Petersburg
Visiting the northernmost metropolis during the icy Russian winter is an exceptional experience. Here’s why.
It is colourful
In winter you can genuinely appreciate the colourful facades of Saint Petersburg’s buildings contrasting with the cold, misty white-grey weather. Whether it’s the green of Winter Palace, the light-blue of Catherine Palace or the pink of Belosselsky-Belozersky Palace, the colours will warm up your frosty day.
The richly decorated facade of the Church of the Savior on Blood stands out of its grey surroundings, and the cupola of Isaakievskiy Sobor almost shines in the snow.
There are no crowds
Forget about queuing for tickets in front of the Hermitage or the entrance to Tsarskoye Selo. Just get in and admire the masterpieces without any hustle. Take as long as you like, outside it’s cold anyway.
Tip: Decide beforehand which galleries you want to visit. Hermitage is the second largest museum in the world. Unless you can spend days there, it’s impossible to see everything.
It is cold
Yes, it is dark, cold, icy and everything else you would expect from a Russian winter. But the weather transforms Piter, as locals call Saint Petersburg, into an enchanting city.
The streets glow, the views over the frozen Neva canals are magical, and the icy gardens of Catherine Palace in Pushkin make you look for Ded Moroz (Slavic Father Frost) behind every corner.
Good to know: Bring many layers and thermal underwear if you plan a long walk outside. Temperatures can quickly drop below -20°C (-4°F). Warm boots with anti-slip soles are practical too.
The mornings are late
In winter, the sun rises late. In January it is between 9:15 and 10 am. Thus you can stay inside and enjoy a long Russian brunch. Start your day with some blini (pancakes) with caviar and a glass of Krymskoe Shampanskoe.
Images by Norman Ducoffre
A perfect place to taste the luxury breakfast is the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe close to Newski-Prospekt. Even if you’re not their guest, you can get a buffet breakfast as a walk-in.
The evenings are long
The same applies to the evenings; the sun sets early. Stroll around and enjoy the nicely illuminated streets and frozen canals or spend the evening in one of the fantastic restaurants.
Appreciate the cosy atmosphere of the traditional Dachniki restaurant. Try their yummy solyanka soup to warm up on a cold winter day, followed by pelmeni or vareniki (Russian and Ukrainian ravioli-style pasta). For modern Russian cuisine, head for Вкус есть (Taste x Eat) restaurant. You won’t be disappointed.
After the delicious meal, brace yourself for the winter outside with excellent Russian vodka.
The Theatre Season is on
You can use the long evenings to pay a visit to the famous Mariinsky Theatre. Choose a ballet or an opera and be amazed by the unforgettable performances.
Good to know: Prebook the tickets. Be sure to book through the theatre website and not an agency asking for the double price.
Arrive early at the theatre. There are queues due to security checks. The dress code isn’t strict anymore, but be aware, that a visit to Mariinsky is an upscale social gathering so you may be sitting next to a lady in an evening gown.
Winter holds the city in frigid grip
Winter might not be the usual time to visit Saint Petersburg. But you’ll get an idea of how locals cope with freezing temperatures.
Being the northernmost city with almost 5 million citizens, the winter isn’t always white and romantic. Cars drive on spikes, so the roads get damaged instantly. That creates tons of dust on the streets. The icicles hanging from the roofs are giant, and they fall on the pavement quite often.
However, the dirty and icy streets don’t discourage Sankt Petersburg’s ladies from wearing high heels. They do it very elegantly and don’t slip once. Also, the density of fur coats is unreal.
Good to know: In spite of the cold outside, inside it’s always hot. In restaurants, hotels and even in the underground, the temperatures are tropical. Therefore, dress like an onion so you can put the layers on and off easily.
Don’t be afraid of the cold and enjoy the frozen metropole!
Photo credit: Thank you, Norman for the great pictures of our brunch at Belmond.