Every year, for most evenings from May to July, the sun breaks every rule in the book. It resolutely shines bright over the world’s most northern city almost through the night. St Petersburg shares this latitude with Oslo, Norway, the southern tip of Greenland and Seward, Alaska but no other place manages to capture the essence of the white nights in quite the same way. This strategic placement makes it impossible for the sun to set low enough for the region to be in darkness, giving rise to the extraordinary phenomenon of the white nights. And with the annual White Nights Festival being a popular tourist destination, St Petersburg has come to be known as the land of the midnight sun.
Not that the white nights were always met with such exuberance. History has been rather ruthless with Russia, with the revolution, disease, and misrule making life a fight for survival rather than a time for celebrations. Till as late as 1991, the economy was still on shaky footing.
After a cold, rather dreary and dark winter, and even tougher history, now, the city of the Czars comes alive in summer. The city sits on what used to be a network of canals, rivers, creeks, streams that flowed between 100 islands. So everywhere you look, the views are expansive and totally worth being out in the sun at 2a.m. The river becomes a hub for travellers; both in the water and out of it and the views are expansive, with water and land bathed in festivity.
The streets are filled with revellers, venues booked with festival events, hotels and restaurants packed with happy tourists. With street shows, jam sessions, dances, film festivals and beach parties, St Petersburg becomes, for these few months, the heart of all things merry.
Book ahead. To where the sun never sets.