The first thing that must be said about Christmas in St Petersburg is that while Christmas falls on December the 25th for those of us from the West, in Russia it is on the 7th January.
This is because the Russian Orthodox church still uses the Julian calendar which Russia as a whole followed until after the Communist revolution in 1917 (Interestingly, this is also why the commemorations for the October revolution take place in November).
Skiing resorts and Christmas theme parks around St.Petersbourg
Despite this, a visit to St Petersburg in the run up to December 25th can be an enchanting experience. For one thing, Russia in December is almost guaranteed to be covered in a thick and crisp white coating of snow. This will allow visitors of all ages to fulfil their winter wonderland fantasies. Just outside the city there are several ski and snowboarding resorts and also Christmas themes parks where kids can ride reindeer through snowy forests.
The city itself also has more than enough for most visitors. Christmas markets spring up throughout the centre of the city where visitors can buy anything from traditional Russian handicrafts, tasty treats or counterfeit designer clothing straight from China.
Although the temperatures can fall very low in December, in the appropriate warm clothing a walk along the banks of the Neva, either frozen solid or in the process, is a great way of seeing the city. Many historical ships and submarines are moored along the banks throughout the winter and the architecture on display is simply stunning.
Dining options in St.Petersburg
Just a few years ago the choices available to prospective diners in St Petersburg were dire, with microwave cooking a particular speciality. This has now changed and the choice available to visitors looking to warm up is almost overwhelming. The very top end of the market is dominated by extortionate prices and mafia bosses. Sushi has grasped the Russian market like a second home and Russian interpretations of traditional sushi dishes are interesting and, usually, tasty.
Christmas shopping in St.Petersburg
There are several souvenir markets scattered around city so visitors can do their Christmas shopping in St Petersburg and give all their friends and family Russian themed gifts. These specialise in reproduction Soviet artefacts which have a certain kitsch value. Be aware, however, that these places can seem to charge ridiculous prices but they expect you to bargain. You should aim to reduce their opening offer by 50% although you may have to settle for a little bit more.
St Petersburg is served by daily flights to every major European city and by less frequent flights to many others, although the flights can be more expensive than budget flights on busier routes.
Top 5 St.Petersburg hotels for a Christmas holiday in Russia
- Hotel The Brothers Kazamarov – 3-star hotel – double room from €82
- Hotel Northern lights – 3-star hotel – double room from €44
- Hotel Petro Palace – 4-star hotel – double room from €69
- Comfort Hotel – 3-star hotel – double room from €93
- Hotel Nouvelle Europe – 3-star hotel – double room from €43
Photo of Christmas lights in St.Petersburg, Russia, by Ambrosio Photography