See St Petersburg at its vibrant best during the White Nights

St. Petersburg is one of the world’s most northern cities, and its location means that during these three months it never really gets dark. You can walk around the city between 10pm and 5am and there’s no need for street lighting – the illumination by twilight is more than enough, and provides the ideal setting for any romantic outing!

For many this is a real time of celebration and with so many months of darkness and freezing weather during the winter, it’s easy to see why! The city puts on firework displays, all-night parties and cultural events which last long into the night.

The “Stars of the White Nights Festival” at the Mariinsky Theatre is one of the most notable features of the White Nights, and has become an internationally renowned celebration of the arts. Classical ballet, opera and orchestral performances form the basis of the festival, which was created by the first mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. Some of the stars who have performed here include Placido Domingo, Olga Borodina and Alfred Brendel.

Possibly the biggest, and most famous public event during the festival, though, is the ‘Scarlet Sails’ celebration. A really spectacular fireworks display and end-of-season show, it has become the largest public event in Russia, with an estimated attendance of over a million people. The tradition began after the end of WWII, when several Leningrad schools united to celebrate the ending of a school year in connection with symbolism of the popular 1922 children’s book Scarlet Sails by Alexander Grin. The “Scarlet Sails” tradition has evolved into a massive demonstration of freedom from “schools and rules” and takes place at the end of school year annually. The show includes a series of large-scale events on the waters of Neva River, such as boat races, and a massive mock battle with pirates, which culminates in the appearance of a tall ship sporting spectacular scarlet sails.

Along with the cultural events, the firework displays and the carnivals, there are also star performances in Palace Square from the likes of Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. Impressive venues at any time of year, but especially in the evening light!

There’s certainly no better time to go to St Petersburg, and this year will be no exception. The festival will run from 23 May to 24 July 2011, which gives you ample time to spend a long weekend experiencing the phenomenon for yourself.

Visit Russia this year and learn to speak Russian! Russian language courses are available in St Petersburg and Moscow. Alternatively, learn to speak Russian at home in one of Cactus’ many Russian classes in the UK and the US. If you’re already quite confident, test your Russian with our Russian language test.

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