Fireworks, lavish dinners and extravagant parties – St. Petersburg offers the dedicated traveller many highlights on New Year’s Eve. Here is my list:
Visiting St. Petersburg in winter is a true insider tip. While many will think of the famous white nights, when the sun never sets, I actually recommend visiting the city of the Russian tsars over New Year. This little guide will tell you what to do on New Year’s Eve in St. Petersburg. But let’s start with the reasons to be the in first place, since many people might be scared of the cold temperature.
Reasons for visiting Saint Petersburg around New Year’s Eve
First of all St. Petersburg is literally empty during winter. The main component of a truly luxurious holiday is a relaxing atmosphere. While there are in fact quite a few nice hotels in St. Petersburg to cater to that need, museums, restaurants or the opera won’t. And let me tell you: St. Petersburg is all about museums and the fine arts. In summer most of your time visiting the second biggest city in Russia will be spent standing in a 3 hour queue waiting to get into the Hermitage (click here for my comprehensive Hermitage Museum Guide). You don’t want that. Sure you can purchase some tickets over the internet, but that will not change the fact that every attraction will be brimming with those hordes of tourists – upraised tour guide umbrellas everywhere.
Apart from having the city almost to yourself, there are other reasons for visiting St. Petersburg in winter as well: Hotels will be way cheaper during that time and getting tickets for the Marinski Theater way easier. Especially over New Year’s you will want to see a performance of the famous Nutcracker ballet in the theater it had its first performance back in 1892. Typically that ballet isn’t performed during summer. And if you are honest – winter is the season every one associates with Russia, so you really shouldn’t shy away from the cold and visit the country during that time of the year.
What do on New Years Eve in St. Petersburg:
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While Christmas is the most important day of the year for people in western Europe and the Americas, Russia is a little bit different. Communism and its (absent) take on religion made New Year’s Eve the most celebrated day of the year. While most Russians will celebrate at home, basically every major restaurant will offer special New Year’s events. If you truly want to indulge yourself, you will want to reserve tables at one of two major luxury hotels in St. Petersburg:
- Four Seasons Lion Palace
(I wrote areview of this truly spectacular luxury hotel here)
- The Belmond Grand Hotel Europe
In my experience both will organize a truly memorable New Year’s show you don’t want to miss – especially considering that a lot of well to do Russians will be celebrating there as well, adding a little extra glamour. Staying at these two hotels during that time will only enhance your experience. Here’s a picture from the Four Seasons Lion Palace New Year’s celebration:
Now be prepared that Russian celebrate New Year’s Eve a little bit different or rather they take it a bit more relaxed. While in Germany or Switzerland everyone will be waiting for midnight to start the fireworks, Russians actually don’t put that much emphasis on it. Normally your New Year’s dinner will last way past midnight (even though everyone will clink glasses when the new year officially starts). My last time there (which was at the Four Seasons Lion Palace) dessert was served around 1:30 am!
As for fireworks – citizens usually don’t fire them off themselves (I am not even sure if it is actually permitted). However, there will be official fireworks on the banks of the Newa right in front of the Peter and Paul fortress (picture above). The best place to see it is from the great bridge over the Newa leading from Palace Square in front of the Hermitage to the other side of the city. Half of the population of St. Petersburg will be on the streets to see it. Now here is the big but: The fireworks are usually scheduled at 3:00 to 3:30 am!
Is it worth to see it? Honestly – if you are used to the grand 4th of July fireworks in the USA, you might be disappointed. But being on the streets with all those people drinking, celebrating and being happy has its very own flair and you definitely should not miss it.
If you don’t opt for a grand dinner on this day, you can also go to Palace Square in front of the Hermitage. This is where you should go on New Year’s Eve in St Petersburg on a budget. Celebrations will start hours before midnight; there will be a huge stage and many performances and concerts. A few minutes before midnight the New Year’s speech of president Putin will be broadcasted and listened by all those hundred thousands on the square. Afterwards, they will continue with more performances on the central stage, finishing with the already mentioned fireworks at roughly 3:30 am.
Be adviced to bring warm clothing! The Russian winter can freeze St. Petersburg up to minus 30°Celsius! Most of all, get yourself some proper shoes; there might be a lot of snow (though they usually clean it completely away), and you will be standing a lot on the extremly cold ground. With no proper shoes, the cold will slowly seep into your whole body. Properly equipped this will be a lot of fun, though!
I recommend going to bed straight after the fireworks (even though a few clubs will party on till sunset if you are so inclined) and book a nice brunch for around noon the next day. Maybe at the Caviar bar at the Belmond Hotel – caviar and champagne – there probably isn’t a more Russian way to start into a happy new year.
How to spend the time before New Year’s Eve
There are so many options to while away the time before New Year’s Eve, but my preferences would be a special winter activity. Personally, I really came to love Russian ice rinks – they are so much bigger and more spectacular than anything you find here in Europe. Most important: they don’t make you feel like you were in a hamster’s wheel. The most lovely one is certainly the one at the Kirov Central Culture and Leisure Park – which happens to be not too far from the city center. Absolutely do go.
Of course, you can also go to one of the famous museums or just walk around Nevsky Prospect and do some shopping. If you are lucky you might even find an ice sculpture park. I have seen one at the Kirov Park and also inside Peter and Paul Fortress. Both have been quite the show!
Bonus to staying in St. Petersburg on New Year:
You might already know that Russians will celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. So staying in St. Petersburg for New Year’s Eve and then moving on to Moscow after a few days will enable you to celebrate Christmas twice! Once back home and once in Moscow! If you don’t know what to see in the Russian capital, here are 9 things to do in Moscow. (Of course, Christmas celebrations are by no means limited to the capital!)
What else to do in St. Petersburg in Winter?
Visiting the Catherine Palace might be well worth your time. While the gardens will be frozen over, the insides are just as stunning at one tenth of the crowd you will experience in summer (read my Guide To Catherine Palace here). Obviously the same applies to Peter and Paul Fortress on the other side of New, just in front of Palace Square (where the official fireworks of the city are started). If you want to visit the birthplace of St. Petersburg at your own leisure and without a crowd, then winter is the time to go. Read my guide on Peter and Paul Fortress to see what to expect! Only a year ago a Faberge Museum open. This really become my favorite small museum in St. Petersburg. It’s the biggest collection of Faberge eggs in the world as far as I know. Truly outstanding. Visiting famous Peterhof might not be the best idea in winter, though. All the fountains will be put into hibernation mode and without its signature feature, the castle actually looks a bit bland (I wrote an article about Peterhof here, just to give you an idea).
Anyway, I think you can easily spend a week inside the Hermitage and all its outbuildings. You really do not need to worry about too little things to do. Even a week will still feel like you’d need more time! St. Petersburg really is spectacular.
Ever experienced New Year’S Even in St. Petersburg? Or are you afraid of the cold? Share your thoughts with me in the comment section!