The White Nights (Белые Ночи, “Beluye Nochi”) is the term for the time of year in summer, from early June to late July, where northern cities in Europe like St. Petersburg experience very long daylight hours. While many other northern countries (particularly Scandinavia) will experience this as well, St. Petersburg is famous for its White Nights celebrations, and being one of the best places in the world to experience the long daylight.
White Nights is basically a huge party in the summer, and anyone in the city seems to be invited. The best time for White Nights is generally June 11-July 2, although anytime from late May to early/mid July will be great. There are special events, like the big Scarlet Sails celebration on the shortest night of the year, and other late-night events across the city.
I’ve visited St. Petersburg twice now for White Nights—the first time I got quite sick and wasn’t able to experience it at all. On this second trip, I felt like I did White Nights right! Here is my guide for White Nights in St. Petersburg:
- The sun might not go down, but the bridges do go up! Because St. Petersburg is a city built on a river with many different islands. The bridges are the main connection in the late evening/early morning, when the Metro stops running. You can find schedules for the bridges pretty much anywhere. But make sure you’re on the right side of the river if you’re out partying. Most bridges go up sometime between 1:00am-5:00am, with Palace Bridge being the first to go up. If you’re on the wrong side of the river from where you’re staying, you’ll just have to wait until the bridges go down again to cross and get home for the night.
- Check sunset/sunrise time in advance. This way, you can plan out your night to be able to see both the sunset and the sunrise (if you stay out late enough—or wake up early enough!). You can also check out the weather, and see if it will be cloudy (which isn’t ideal) or not.
- Boat cruises are a great way to experience White Nights. I was lucky enough to be invited on a midnight boat cruise by a school group in my hostel. So I got to experience it for free! Nearly all boat cruises will hang out by Palace Bridge on the Neva River when the bridge goes up. Palace Bridge is the most important bridge (and they play some fun classical music). I highly recommend this, as it was one of my highlights of White Nights!
- Borodabar does great cocktails, and Beer Family Restaurant on Nevsky has amazing views. I didn’t go to too many bars in St. Petersburg, but I absolutely loved Borodabar near the Kazan Cathedral. The cocktails were excellent, not too expensive, and the place had a really nice atmosphere. My top pick for bars in St. Petersburg! I also stopped at Beer Family Restaurant on Nevsky Prospekt for a drink on their balcony. The views of Nevsky and the city were fantastic!
- Drinking in public is okay, but only in paper bags. I’m not totally sure about whether drinking in public is legal in Russia (I did see two guys swig vodka on the Metro…), but I think drinking alcohol is okay as long as it’s in brown paper bags. And you’re not doing anything stupid or illegal, but I’d like to think that’s a given. There are a few 24-hour small liquor stores near Palace Square where you can get whatever you like, and they’ll open bottles and give you brown paper bags. Anywhere along the Neva River by Palace Bridge there will be loads of people drinking, but I’m not sure if this is just a thing that’s allowed during White Nights (because White Nights) or not. I never got stopped or questioned, and I was drinking and taking pictures all night/morning. Just be discreet if you see any police.
- Head to Palace Square for music. During White Nights, the whole city stays up to party! Whether it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday, there will be something going on, somewhere. But the place to be is Palace Square and around the Winter Palace for live music. I heard some great musicians (who were really quite talented) playing to massive crowds of people for 30+ minute sets. Best of all, it’s free! It’s definitely one thing you have to experience during White Nights.
- The Burger King on Nevsky Prospekt is open 24/7 with free bathrooms. While lots of the city does stay awake to party for White Nights, lots of businesses do close late at night. All the public toilets (which I wouldn’t want to use anyway…) will be shut late at night. So if you’re out drinking and seeing the city, the Burger King on Nevsky Prospekt is the best place to use the bathroom for free. It’s also a great place to satisfy those drunk food cravings because it’s location is close to everything. I definitely went there three times in a 6-hour period to use the bathrooms.
- Isaac’s Cathedral Colonnade opens especially for White Nights. One of my bucket list dreams was going up to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and seeing the view of the city late at night. The colonnade is open from 10:30pm-4:30am. The cathedral is closed on Wednesdays, the ticket office closes at 4:00am, no discounts allowed and the price was 400 rubles. It’s amazing to see the city at night. When I went up it was pretty cloudy so I couldn’t see much, which was a bit of a disappointment. I went up at about midnight, so if it’s cloudy I’d recommend heading up either a bit earlier (10:00-11:00pm) or after sunrise (just before it closes at 4:00am). It was well worth the money and one of the coolest things I experienced during White Nights.
Being in St. Petersburg and finally fully experiencing White Nights were some of the most amazing moments of my life. I stood in an empty Palace Square at 3:30 in the morning, with not a single soul around (besides Adam, and a guy a ways off who was playing the saxophone). Seeing the bridges go up was surreal, and watching the sun slowly rise over the banks of the Neva was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
I may have gotten back to the hostel at 5:30 in the morning, I may have been super tired the next day, and I may have not done all the White Nights things I wanted, but it was still incredible.
If you’re thinking about planning a trip to St. Petersburg for the White Nights, I can’t recommend it enough. It was one of the most magical experiences and left me with memories that will last a lifetime!
Have you ever experienced white nights somewhere in the world?