Top 10 Things to Do in St. Petersburg in Winter

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Winter in St. Petersburg is unforgettable. But after seeing so much northern beauty under so much snow you just need a shot of something warm, tender and cheerful. In this review you will get a glimpse of things you can do in wintery St. Petersburg to stay out of hibernation and not turn into an icicle. Here are ten reasons to visit St. Petersburg during wintertime.

 

1. Batten up your Sense of Beauty on the Tour of Russian Museums

It is next to impossible to visit all of the city’s museums on a single journey so if you don’t have a flying carpet, and a spare set of eyes, do not feel despondent. For those who want to do the city’s museums justice, there are a few musts, most pleasant to visit in winter. The first must is the Hermitage and its main branch at the Winter Palace. The Winter Palace is overcrowded in summer, but in winter it is as roomy as it gets.

Its top attractions include the Dutch paintings such as canvases by Rembrandt, works by Leonardo da Vinci including Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta, the marvelous main staircase, the mind-boggling Peacock Clock, and a splendidly decorated stateroom – the seat of of Russia’s first elected Parliament.

 

At the Hermitage you can buy a ticket that allows entry to the Winter Palace (the main building) and the General Stuff Building situated over the Palace Square just opposite the museum. Once there, don’t miss out on the French Impressionists, a collection of particular pride to the Hermitage.

Winter Palace on Palace Square in St. Petersburg on winter morning
  • There is not much Russian art in the Winter Palace; the best collections are either at the Hermitage’s another branch, St. Michael’s Castle, or at the Russian Museum – a separate entity.
Catherine Palace St. Petersburg
Catherine Palace in winter St. Petersburg

Feeling desperate for some winter magic, head to the Catherine Palace, where you will find a blend of the Russian royals’ opulent lifestyle. There you’ll see two splendidly designed palaces and some very extravagant outbuildings, with pristine nature of St. Petersburg countryside. The exquisite blue of the Catherine Palace façade reminds you that Russian sovereigns had good taste to go along with poor human rights record.

Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg
Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg

Another testimony to how discerning in matters of art they were is the Faberge Museum. It is here that 9 of the world-famous Faberge eggs are displayed, made by the order of the last two Russian tsars.

Apart from these three locations, the sites very much worth a visit are the Russian Museum, where you can see the prime examples of Russian art, Church of the Spilt Blood, with its one of the world’s largest and most beautiful collections of mosaics, and the monumental St. Isaacs Cathedral, still a museum even though it may soon be returned to the Orthodox church as a venue for religious services. Visiting at least half of these sites will enlarge your knowledge of the Russian culture.

 

2. Discovering the City Center on Foot

Church on Spilled Blood in Winter Saint-Petersburg

We created two routes that will help you unveil the city-center’s snowy landmarks. The first route covers two of St Petersburg largest cathedrals, its first ever shipyard, and the city’s main former royal residence. The route stretches from the stunning Zinger House, also known as Dom Knigi, to the St. Isaacs Square. On your way you’ll have a look at such locations as the Kazan Cathedral, home to the venerated icon of Our Lady of Kazan, the Mariinskiy Palace, one of the city’s most exquisite historic palaces, and the Admiralty, a former shipyard and fortress turned into a naval college and headquarters of the Russian Navy. Also on the menu are the Winter Palace, the former seat of Government and now part of one of the world’s largest museums, and St. Isaac’s cathedral, the city’s largest cathedral standing proud with its humongous proportions. On the approaches to the St. Isaacs, known to locals as inkstand for its massive golden dome resembling an inkstand, you are likely to still be full of energy so try and climb the Colonnade of St. Isaacs. The Colonnade sports a fascinating mosaic collection and is open every day apart from the third Wednesday of the month.

The second route extends over a part of the cityeast to the Nevskiy Prospekt, and includes one of St. Petersburg’s most historic grounds, a myriad of stately mansions, and a sculpture-studded park among other sites. During your walk you will pass the Field of Mars, where Russian revolutionists found their resting place and where young opponents of Kremlin gathered to protest. You’ll also enjoy the Summer Garden, a place where Catherine the Great met G. Casanova, and St. Michael’s Castle colored in breathtaking pastels. The castle is the subject of many legends, one of which claims that the spirit of Russian tsar Paul I wanders about the former royal residence, and sometimes even winks at visitors from a window. The belief springs from the fact that Paul I was killed in the castle in a military plot that allegedly involved his son, tsarevitch Alexander, future Alexander I.

This tour will have you wandering off the busy Nevsky and into the quieter part of St. Petersburg one of its most romantic and visually stunning parts. You’ll also have a look at some of the city’s most historically significant locations.

One of the best spots to take a photo of the Admiralty is at the northernmost end of Gorokhovaya Street. The spot opens to a magnificent view of its impressive golden spire also known as “the needle”.

Route #1

Route #2

 

3. Skating on New Holland

New Holland Island in St Petersburg
New Holland Island in St Petersburg

Arguably, one of the St. Petersburgers’ most favorite ways of spending winter evenings is going ice-skating. If you enjoy pirouetting on ice, set out for New Holland. Even though its name suggests some far-flung colonial possession, it is in fact a small island not far away from the Admiralty. More than simply a site with perhaps the city’s loveliest ice-rink and the coziest wood-fuelled fires, it is also home to a circular building called Butylka, a former navy-operated jail, now boasting three circular levels of classy stores and other commercial ventures. Butylka has it all; from stylish gyms, souvenirs stores and spas, all the way to hipster eating and drinking establishments.

  • The site opens at 9 a.m. and closes at about 10 p.m. on workdays and at 11 p.m., on weekends. For more information follow the link: www.newhollandsp.ru/

 

4. Enjoying Krestovskiy Island

Krestovsky Island
Krestovsky Island

When you grow tired of the city center’s hustle and bustle and want a little bit of seclusion and peace, visit Krestovskiy Island. Walk onto the city’s newest pedestrian bridge, which links the Krestovskiy Island with the northern part of the city, and don’t miss the lovely opportunity to take in the splendid view of the ice-covered Gulf of Finland. Also on offer is St. Petersburg’s new football arena, which costs a fortune, and a small zoo named after the mascot of the Moscow Olympics, the Tcheburashka.

Note that Krestovskiy is the main gathering point for those who want to celebrate winter holidays in a cheerful manner and keep in shape. It is here that thousands of sports lovers gather to jog, ski, or sometimes just to warm-up. After your bit of physical exercise head to one of the many stylish upscale restaurants located on the island.

5. Going Sledding in the Countryside

Russian winter can’t be imagined without going sledding. To get a thrilling ride head for Okhta Park, a new St. Petersburg skiing resort featuring quite steep runs, situated on Lyudmily Kedrinoi Street, at Syargi, some 35 km away from St. Petersburg. There you can see recently built skiing and sledding facilities with everything necessary for a few days of intense winter sports spree. It is arguably one of the best places in Russia to have a ride on a sled or enjoy other winter sports. Just remember that when there is no snow in St. Petersburg, it is always best to check the weather at the resort.

Ice Rink at Okhta Park St. Petersburg

To get there head to Parnas Metro Station, from where the minibus K.674 goes every 30 minutes. It stops on its way at the Okhta Park. You can reach the resort by boarding mini-buses number 627 or 680 at Devyatkino Metro Station. The two mini-buses also call at the resort.

The resort has a hotel, so check out the availability of rooms online.

 

6. Visiting Party Areas

Winter in Russia is arguably the best time for partying. If it is bleak and freezing outside, and people seem somewhat gloomy, then in the city’s innumerable dancing and drinking establishments you can always warm up by the tender glow of Slavic soul. The best areas to party are Rubinsteina Street and Ulitsa Belinskogo. If in need of a glass of wine or a dish of delicious cheese, make your way towards Ulitsa Belinskogoto start your evening in style. If willing to spend your leisure time in a more active manner, go straight to Rubinsteina Street. Lined with inviting and smart bars and eateries, and attracting the city’s party lovers, it is known as St. Petersburg Montparnasse. Here the night is always young and hypnotizing.

Usually most of the bars and similar establishments are open throughout the night.

Not far away from Ulitsa Belinskogo is the Golitsyn Loft, one of many creative workplaces recently opened in the city. See the map n.3 to see how to get there from Ulitsa Belinskogo. Golitsyn Loft is always full of youth and foreigners, and works throughout the night.

Map #1 shows you how to get from Mayakovskaya Metro Station to the further end of Rubinsteina Street.

Map #2 displays the way from Mayakovskaya Metro Station to Ulitsa Belinskogo

Map #3 traces the route from Ulitsa Belinskogo to Golitsyn Loft

7. Sweating it out in Russian Banya

Banya, also known as sauna, is possibly the most Russian of the pastimes on our list. It is enjoyable both in summer and winter.

Russian Banya
Russian Banya

But during winter, after a fix of some good sweat-draining heat, you can jump out of the room directly into the snow or an ice-hole, and feel all the contrast of Russian life; it is for this that Russians enjoy going to banya. Arguably St. Petersburg best banya is Degtyarnye Bani, which offers pleasant heat in a nice setting. Apart from stylish interior it has both mixed and single sex sections to go along with a restaurant.1

Address: Degtyarnaya Ulitsa, 1, лит. А, Sankt Peterburg, Russia, 191024
Phone: +7 812 985-19-83
http://d1a.ru/en/

 

8. Plunging Deep into Social Life

Social life is warming up while the temperatures plummet. One thing to keep you out of hibernation in St. Petersburg is its cultural facilities rich in fine art and cheery get-togethers. This winter will treat you to at least 4 worth-a visit events:

  • William Ryan Key’s performance at the famous and timeless MOD club on the 18th of January 2019;
  • Shostakovich Symphony at the Mariinskiy Palace on the 27th of January 2019;
  • The exhibition called the époque of Rembrandt and Vermeer in the Hermitage, lasting from the 5th of September to the 13th of January 2019;
  • and Total Installations in the Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art, which will be on display till October the 30th.
Mariinsky Theatre interior

Also check out other exhibitions at the Erarta, and don’t miss the displays at the Manege Exhibition Center announced usually just one month in advance; these are some of the most interesting events on the art buffs’ to-do list.

9. Celebrating the Russian New Year and Christmas

One of the best periods to enjoy winter in St. Petersburg is January. The New Year’s first month is ushered in by a period of joyous festivities by night and lethargic calm of the street by day. By night reveling never stops; by day it is high time to imbibe the peacefulness of the museums and icy parks. Then comes the Christmas, and Orthodox Christians gather at the cathedrals and churches to celebrate the important religious holiday. The day is marked with colorful and solemn ceremony; but at night you still can feel the repercussions of the more popular and buoyant New Year. If the best place to have fun on the New Year’s eve is the Nevsky, then to share in the communion of believers at Christmas is best at Kazanskiy Cathedral, home to one of Russia’s most venerated icons, Our Lady of Kazan, and an impressive piece of architecture, modeled after the cathedral of St. Peter’s in Rome. Apart from celebrating the coming of the New Year and sharing the sense of benevolent mystery at Christmas, you really ought to go to the city’s Christmas fair.

Christmas tree on Palace Square in St. Petersburg

Christmas fairs are unavoidable followers of Christmas in most of Western Europe. Even though in Russia and other predominantly Orthodox countries the Christmas is celebrated in a more intimate and family fashion, St. Petersburg offers you an opportunity to feel what Russian winter fair is like. On sale will be specialties from most of the Russian regions: meat from Nentsi, jewelry from Komi; and even merchandise from other countries, European ones included.

Address: Pionerskaya ploschad
Nearest metro: Pushkinskaya or Zvenigorodskaya
Visiting hours: usually from 12 a.m. to around 9 p.m., but the schedule for the New Year season 2018 is yet to be announced
Website: vk.com/st.petersburg_christmas_fair

 

10. Paying Homage to Russian Performing Arts

Russian Ballet
Russian Ballet

St. Petersburg is probably the best place to go to theatre in winter. What can be more enticing, in the midst of a snow-covered city, then going to a warm, grand building, to see some of Russia’s best dramatic performances. And don’t forget about the fabulous Russian ballet. On the list of Russian exports it vies for supremacy only with AK-47 (apart from the natural resources).

If Moscow has gained its ballet fame thanks to its world-renowned Bolshoy Theatre, then St. Petersburg takes its own share of ballet glory on account of its Mariinskiy Theatre, well prized by the world’s ballet connoisseurs. Its mesmerizing performances are the stuff of legends far beyond Russian borders. Tickets may be expensive and tricky to come by but it is worth trying.

Obtaining tickets is even harder for one particular performance due to a rather obscure fact: in the days preceding the New Year and Christmas, in St. Petersburg there is a tradition for parents and their children to go to the theatre to see the Nutcracker, one of the Russian ballet’s main specialties. At the Mikhailovskiy and Mariinskiy Theatres the Nut Cracker starts in December 2018. If you want to follow the wintry custom, check out the following websites for more details: Mariinskiy Theatre or Mikhailovskiy Theatre


For sure, if you do but a half of it you will already have enriched your experience quite a bit. St Petersburg is a city of alternatives; it’s a sprawling city with many more places to call in on than described in our list. Try its superb restaurants and the Anglettere Cinema Lounge, where you can enjoy films in the languages of their origin. Don’t forget to wear warm clothes, though. It is always better to put on clothes even warmer than it seems necessary at first glance.
Particularly going to the riverside, where the wind may be biting and sometimes very strong. Try drinking hot tea when outside. It is one habit by which you can always spot a young St. Peterburger. In short, follow your sense of beauty and it will definitely lead towards something worth remembering while visiting Russia.

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