St. Petersburg is set on the banks of the Neva River, 145 kilometres from the Arctic Circle, and its geography and climate are central to its appeal. And knowing what the weather is likely to do is essential to enjoying your trip.
St. Petersburg in autumn
Aleksandr Pushkin wrote: “Each time that autumn comes I bloom afresh / For me, I find, the Russian cold is good.”
Pushkin’s fascination with St. Petersburg in autumn is easy to comprehend. September and October offer golden foliage, minimal crowds and a moderate climate averaging 5–10 degrees Celsius. Autumn is the ideal time to cruise the canals or enjoy the Peterhof fountains, open until mid-October.
Temperatures start to drop below freezing around November, so pack your warmest winter parka.
St. Petersburg in winter
St. Petersburg in winter is pure magic: cold, broody and covered in a fresh blanket of white snow. Don’t leave home without your scarf, gloves and furry Russian hat.
Visiting St. Petersburg in February? Bring a hearty appetite for the Russian Orthodox celebration of Maslenitsa (“Pancake Week”). Celebrating the end of winter before Lent, the week-long festivities are a time of great cheer and all-you-can-eat blini (thin pancakes).
When the cold gets too much, you can take respite in a traditional Russian banya, or sauna.
St. Petersburg in spring
At the end of March, St. Petersburg welcomes the arrival of spring. Temperatures usually rise above freezing from April, and residents rejoice with celebrations of art and culture.
Ballet buffs can make a beeline for the city’s famed Mariinsky Theatre and its annual International Ballet Festival.
The St. Petersburg International Spring Jazz Festival in April draws musicians and performers from the blues, ragtime and acid-jazz scenes.
St. Petersburg in summer and White Nights
For a few awe-inspiring weeks from May through July, the sun ceases to set in St. Petersburg. Known as belye nochi (white nights), this is a period of revelry illuminated by a mythical sunny glow.
There’s plenty of culture on offer, including the Stars of the White Nights Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre. The annual Scarlet Sails event, a tribute to Aleksandr Grin’s story of the same name, brings together music, parading boats and fireworks.
Things quieten down in July and August. With the thermometer set in the mid-teens, you can enjoy a stroll around St. Petersburg’s many green spaces and explore the tsarist palaces.