Comment from St Petersburg Expert Igor
White Nights is one tradition that is indispensable for St. Petersburg in the summer. As many of you know, St. Petersburg is situated quite high on the globe and in the summer months, the sun rises early and the sun sets late. Though there are a few more cities in the world above 60th latitude like Norway, Canada and Alaska, people can enjoy this spectacular natural phenomenon in St. Petersburg. White nights are not unique to St. Petersburg, but only here is the beauty of nature combined with man-made wonder.
White Nights begins with the opening up of the bridges to let the ships through the Neva River. It is really spectacular to see those huge wings of bridges rising slowly above the wide expanse of waters. The opening of the bridges has occurred every night of the White Nights Festival for more than a hundred years, and never fails to attract a stunned audience.
People stroll along the embankments of St. Petersburg in droves, and is a non-stop party outside because it never grows dark until the wee hours of the morning. You can see street musicians playing instruments, circus fire juggling performances and karaoke singing on the open deck cafes.
Russian people really took to heart the commandment by Peter the Great, where he wanted to introduce conservative, pious and segregated people of the Moscovite boyar’s society to open air assemblies. The Moscovite boyar’s society comprised of confining women to their quarters, and going outside only for religious processions. Peter the Great knew how to work hard and unwind after a long day of running his Empire. So he obliged all his retinue to get together at a certain place, which was published in the official paper, and the owner of the place had to bear expenses of throwing a party. Everyone was obligated to show up. If an individual was not in attendance, they had to produce a medical certificate excusing them or they feared physical punishment. Nobody could refuse a toast for the tsar himself, or for his extended family, which comprised of drinking the “big eagle cup” (1 liter) filled with vodka. Those drinking bouts served its purpose because Peter and his trusted advisors listened in on drunken conversations of the crowd and were able to determine the mood of the society and eradicate some of the possible ensuing plotting as a preventative strike. But nobody is going to eavesdrop on you now and you can talk freely unless you are planning terrorist attack or something of course.
Visitors need to be cautious when trying to go back to their hotels because the underground metro trains that run under the river stop working at 12:30 a.m., and the bridges open at 2 a.m. There is no way to cross the bridge once it has opened until 5 a.m. Who knows, this could be a good thing if you want to spend a night on the town and paint it red. I do those bar hopping and crawling tours for willing customers, and would be more than happy to accompany you during this magic white night’s season.