Possibly the best time to visit St Petersburg is in June, during the white nights. In the weeks around the summer solstice, it stays light until nearly midnight and the streets are full of life as everyone makes the most of the long evenings. An arts festival runs throughout the month, including a series of classical ballet, opera and music events that culminate with the Scarlet Sails celebration, Russia’s largest public event. Millions take to the streets to enjoy an enormous fireworks display and party.
During a stay in Saint Petersburg, you will become well-acquainted with Russia’s unique flavours. Some dishes to try include:
Bliny – thin pancakes which are typically served as an entree. For sweet bliny, the most popular accompaniments are varenye (sweet fruit preserve) or honey, while for savoury tastes, sour cream, caviar or herring are favourites. Not to be confused with blinchiki, which are French-style crepes.
Borsch – a soup made from meat or chicken bouillon with beetroots, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables. Borsch can be hot or cold and varies according to the cook (but mama always makes it best).
Pelmeni – little balls of minced meat wrapped in thin dough and boiled in water, often served with sour cream, mushroom sauce, tomato sauce, butter, vinegar or mayonnaise.
Selyodka Pod Shuboi – the name means “herring under a fur coat” and this is a tasty herring salad with layers of fish, beetroot, carrot, potato, onion and egg, topped off with mayonnaise.
Solyanka – another popular soup, made of different kinds of meat, pickled cucumbers, olives, pepper and spices.
Syrniki – thick cottage-cheese pancakes mixed with sugar, eggs and flour. They are eaten with sour cream, varenye, or honey and are especially good with tea. Popular as a dessert or sweet breakfast.
Vareniki – pieces of thin dough filled with everything from berries and cottage cheese to potatoes or buckwheat. They are boiled and served with sour cream or butter.
The nesting Russian dolls are the quintessential Russian souvenir. There are Matryoshkas for all tastes, ranging from the mass-market to exquisitely painted one-offs. Ask at the school for where to buy the right doll for your budget. Believe it or not, they only date back to the late 19th century when a Russian toymaker was inspired by a traditional Japanese design.
The night train to Moscow
If you want to visit Russia’s capital – perhaps to continue your Russian course– the best way to get there is on the night train. The seven-hour journey takes you through the Russian wilderness and straight to the heart of Moscow. Tickets go on sale 45 days before the journey and the cheapest sell out first.
Get tickets to the Ballet…
St. Petersburg is one of the great dance capitals and an evening at the ballet offers the perfect opportunity to dress up and enjoy the elegant city at its finest. The most famous theatres are the Mariinsky (Kyrov) (mariinsky.ru) and the Mikhailovsky (mikhailovsky.ru). The performance will be of the highest standard, but be sure to pay attention to the buildings themselves, which are extremely grand.
Theatres typically post their play-bills about 3 months in advance and tickets without any mark-ups can be bought directly from the theatres’ websites, although not all tickets for the Mikhailovsky theatre are sold through the website; some are only available through the ticket offices in Saint Petersburg. It is strongly recommended to buy your tickets in advance during the main tourist season from May to September.
…or the ice hockey, football
The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) is generally considered the second-best hockey league in the world, after the North American NHL, and Saint Petersburg’s SKA Ice Hockey Club is the first in the KHL to average more than 10,000 supporters per game. Tickets are available from the KHL website (tickets.khl.ru/actionList.do)(in Russian). Local football club Zenit (fc-zenit.ru) are now regularly in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, which they won in 2008. Tickets should be purchased directly at the stadium and prices range from 500 rubles (US$17) for the smaller matches to upwards of 2,000 rubles (US$67) for the best seats at the most important matches.
To watch, read, listen
Piter FM (2006) Director: Oksana Bychkova
Russian Ark (2002) Director: Aleksandr Sokurov
The Captivating Star of Happiness (1975) Director: Vladimir Motyl
Saint Petersburg cinemas
You can find several cinemas along Nevsky Prospect, in shopping malls and elsewhere in the city. The Aurora at Nevksy Prospect 60 sometimes shows films in their original language. Some nightclubs (for example The Place and Griboedov) and cafes (Coffee Station) show movies from time to time. For art-house cinema, Dom Kino (Karavannaya str., 12) is a popular destination and shows winners from the major film festivals. Neighbouring Rodina Cinema Center shows a broader selection, from blockbusters to children’s cartoons.
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Overcoat by Nicolai Gogol
Naletchiki Bad B by Bad Balance
Dusty Fact by Splean
Anything by Arkady Severny (there are over 80 albums to choose from)
Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky
If you know where to look, there are some great venues to enjoy in Saint Petersburg. Certain parts of the city have attracted clusters of nightclubs: Par.spb (par.spb.ru), Café Tarkan and Live Park share the same building near Gorkovskaia metro. The cultural centre at Pushkinskaya 10 is home to the artsy Fish Fabrique, Experimental Sound Gallery (GEZ 21) and more.
You may well find yourself in a converted bomb shelter at some point during a night out in the city: clubs including Griboedov (griboedovclub.ru) and Tunnel have turned the wartime relics into party havens. Popular jazz venues include Jakata (5, Bakunina Ulitsa), Red Fox Jazz Club (rfjc.ru) and JFC (jfc-club.spb.ru), which is directed by one of Russia’s most respected jazz musicians.
Keep your eyes open for posters and flyers because venues come, go and relocate regularly. And if you feel the urge to drink fizzy wine, you can try Sovetskoye Shampanskoye: cheap Soviet-era bubbly!