Russian Christmas Markets
December is the time when the city’s atmosphere is imbued with the New Year spirit. There is no doubt that the New Year in Russia is the most important and popular holiday. It is customary to make presents for your family, friends and colleagues for this holiday. For this reason crowds of people bustle about in big shopping centers and numerous Christmas markets to get nice gifts for their near and dear. Let’s see what is the best place to check out if you’re looking for a real Russian Christmas fair.
Christmas markets on New Holland Island
Christmas markets in St. Petersburg receive a format of a big festival where one can not only buy gifts, but also participate in many public activities. One of the major Christmas fairs this year is organized on the New Holland Island. This island had a military past, but today it more is famous for being a huge art space for kids and adults of all ages.
The Christmas fair on the island opens on December 17 and will be held till January 8. For three week lots of St. Petersburg stores, restaurants, and workshops will please visitors with their best products. Sweets and bakery, handmade toys, books, decorations, jewelry, knitting – this is by far not the end of the list! Apart from shopping one can find an activity to suit every taste: starting with classical ballet The Nutcracker finishing with skating and snowball fights!
Everyday they will organize fun games and workshops for the youngest guests and their parents. Different performances and competitions will also take place. And don’t be afraid to get cold – right on the place you can warm up with a cup of real Russian tea with blinis, pryaniks, pyshkas and other traditional snacks.
This year we will have a lot of foreign guests: New Year and Christmas traditions will be represented by Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, Ukraine, China, the U.S., and many others. You will have a great chance to get acquainted to the culture of different countries and also taste their national cuisine.
If you need any assistance with holiday events in St. Petersburg or museum visits feel free to contact the team of Hello Russia Tours. We wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Winter activities in St Petersburg
“How do you survive when it’s winter in Russia?’’ – One of the FAQs that every Russian tour guide has to answer. It’s not a secret that it’s pretty cold in winter in Russia (December, January and February) but it doesn’t mean that the life stops. In this series of articles, we are looking through the most popular winter activities in St Petersburg.
December is the time when people get ready for the biggest events of the year – celebration of New Year and Christmas. Even though the days are shorter it’s still bright on the streets all the time! The point is that there are a lot of Christmas and New Year decorations and lights everywhere. In the fairy atmosphere, it is a lot of fun to visit one of the Christmas markets in St. Petersburg.
Fortunately, there is a number of them to choose from or visit the all: Christmas market on the New Holland Island, another one will take place in St. Petersburg Sport and Concert Complex (SKK Peterburgsky). One can visit Christmas fairs in different art spaces, such as Etagi (74 Ligovsky Prospect), Lumber Hall (74C Naberezhnaya Obvodnogo Kanala) and Tkachi (40 Naberezhnaya Obvodnogo Kanala).
In winter in St Petersburg all the rivers are frozen and you can safely walk on the ice in St. Petersburg. It is a great chance for ice-skaters to do their favorite activity! In many city’s parks they organize outdoor skating rinks right on the ponds or lakes. One can go ice-skating to an ice village in Peter and Paul Fortress, located in the heart of St. Petersburg. On December 28, a new skating rink is going to be open right on the territory of the fortress. For those of you how does’t like active winter sports there’s an option to visit the Festival of Ice Sculptures.
“All the world is a stage” – W. Shakespeare said once and was right. No trip will be complete without going to a local theatre. Fortunately, St. Petersburg is the right place for you if you are a regular theatre goer. The theatre season is in full swing in winter. St Petersburg, being the cradle of the Russian classical music (many of the famous Russian composers were born or studied here) provides a lot of theatre options. Best Russian and international ballet and opera artists perform on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre. Among the most popular performances you can find the Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Giselle, Cinderella, Lady Macbeth, etc. If you’re looking for help to get your tickets feel free to contact Hello Russia Tours!
Find more winter activities in St Petersburg in our article Russian Winter (part 1)
New Year in Russia – never enough
New Year in Russia can truly be called the most popular holiday. It is so much loved here that it’s even celebrated twice! Believe it or not, but Russians do have two dates for to the New Year. The first one is January 1 – according to the Gregorian calendar. Another date is January 14 – the first day in the Julian calendar (it was used in Russia until 1918). Although the main events take place on January 1, many families still pay tribute to the old Russian New Year traditions and celebrate January 14 in their family circles too.
Let’s make a list of associations with the New Year in Russia: snow, festive fir tree and house decorations, gifts, fireworks, family circle… Looks like Christmas, doesn’t it? You will be surprised but Russian New Year traditions are very much similar to Christmas in the west. However, there are many customs typical for Russia only.
Preparations, decorations, celebrations
Preparations to the Big Day start long in advance. In December city streets “dress up” in bright colors and ornaments, Christmas markets and New Year fairs are organized, and many public activities take place on main squares: concerts, laser shows, public games, etc. It is also the time to go shopping for gifts! Many shops and markets provide special New Yew offers, which makes the shopping even more pleasant. People buy food for the festive table and start decorating their homes.
Russian New Year traditions: Who is Father Frost?
The main decoration of every home is a festive tree. It is beautifully decorated with lights, tinsel, garlands, and toys. At night to the January 1 a kind white-bearded man in a red gown comes over. He has a big sack behind his back. He is Father Frost (do not confuse with Santa Clause!) bringing gifts for kids. He puts them under the festive tree and disappears unnoticed while everybody is asleep.
Scents of tangerines for New Year
On December 31 people start cooking for the festive table. No matter what food restrictions you have or what diet you follow there’s a number of things that you have to have. Firstly, a big bowl of the Olivier salad. Secondly, a bottle of champagne. Thirdly, tangerines for New Year. The tangerines are known as a symbol of New Year – in the Soviet time when it was hard to get any fruit except for tangerines people were trying to get as many of them as possible. With times it became one of the Russian New Year traditions to buy tangerines for New Year.
When December 31 is about to come to an end everyone takes a seat at the festive table: people make toasts to say good bye to the passing year. At 11.55 p.m. the president appears on TV screens to make a speech and wish people a Happy New Year. Once he finishes, the clock of the Moscow Kremlin begins to chime and people make their wishes during the chiming. Then fireworks break out in the air marking that the New Year officially started. After midnight real fun starts: after a few hours of celebrating at home people go out to visit their friends and relatives, swap gifts and have fun together. The celebration takes the whole night: no wonder why the first 10 days of the New Year are days off – the people need to recover!
10 days of fun
New Year in Russia is an official holiday and many businesses and offices are closed on January 1 and the next 10 days – New Year’s holidays. It’s a great opportunity for many Russians to meet their relatives and friends, some go on vacation or do fun winter activities, visit St. Petersburg and Moscow or just stay home taking the advantage to relax.
Pavlovsk Palace and Park
St. Petersburg is known as the cultural capital of Russia. When you come to the city you understand why: there are a lot of impressive palaces and majestic mansions, great monuments and splendid bridges, numerous museums and great parks. What else can a traveler wish for? When you visit St. Petersburg you definitely want to see its main highlights such as the Hermitage museum or Peterhof Palace. One of the palaces that you should not forget about is the Pavlovsk Palace located in the countryside of St. Petersburg.
How it started: Pavlovsk park
Pavlovsk Palace and Park is for sure the most romantic residence out of all the palaces in St. Petersburg and suburbs. It is very quiet and peaceful there due to its remote location from the city bustle (the drive to Pavlovsk will take approximately 1 hour). The wonderful palace in classical style is surrounded by a fantastic landscape park. The Pavlovsk park strikes your imagination with its size – it covers around 600 hectares (almost 1500 acres)! In the mid-18th century the lands were Catherine the Great’s favorite hunting site. They used to breed and hunt animals there up until 1777, when the lands were given to Catherine’s son, Pavel (the Russian Emperor Paul I). The construction of the Pavlovsk Palace started only two years later.
Many prominent architects took a hand in the large-scale construction: Charles Cameron, Vincenzo Brenna, Giacomo Quarenghi, Andrey Voronikhin, Carlo Rossi, and others. The most up-to-date technologies and materials were used for the construction. The beautiful beige color palace is decorated with solid classical columns, reminding us of an ancient Roman temple. Its color contrasts with bright green trees framing the palace all around. The plan of Pavlovsk Park was laid out in a special way. All trees and bushes were planted according to the season of their blossoming or the time when they turn yellow and red. Thanks to this, beautiful contrasting colors surprised the royal guests with beautiful bright flowery patterns in the landscape.
How they lived there
Pavlovsk Palace was used as a family countryhouse of the Russian Emperors. It was more like a family nest of Paul I and his wife Maria Feodorovna. Pavlovsk Palace interiors include rooms decorated to their taste, a lot of furniture that they bought during their traveling in Europe. Maria Feodorovna enjoyed different handicrafts. Not only did she like to take care of her little Private Garden, but she also liked to read, paint, weave, carve and turn. In the museum halls one can see many pieces of decoration that were made by the tsarina’s hands – pictures, vases, ink pots, and others.
Many visitors say that this palace delivers the spirit of the 18th century to the fullest extent. Wether it’s true or not – up to you to decide! We highly recommend not to neglect this museum and find time to visit it.
Museum life today
Like other grand palaces in St. Petersburg, Pavlovsk Palace has a long and interesting story behind. Today the palace functions as a museum and our tour guides would be happy to introduce its history to you. It is really a very enjoyable tour to explore the Pavlovsk Palace interiors. A lot of historical events and many restorations took place in the palace. Today you can see its original glory. It’s hard to believe that by 1944 it was really badly ruined – the palace was under the Nazi occupation during the World War II. Many of the valuable museum exhibits were stolen or simply broken down, the palace was burnt, and the park was destroyed. Thanks to the titanic efforts of the museum staff and professional restorers the Pavlovsk Palace and Park literally rose up from the ashes and today keeps impressing its visitors.
If you are interested in taking a tour to the Pavlovsk Palace feel free to contact Hello Russia Tours!
Best Russian banya tradition
You will never understand the Russian Soul if you don’t experience a Russian banya (баня)! It is one of the oldest Russian traditions that is popular even today. The Russian banya is a Russian-style bath house. There’s no Russian who has never been to the banya. The banya is a Russian version of a sauna. Lots of countries have their own bathing traditions (remember a Finnish sauna or a Turkish hammam) but the Russian bath house is supposed to be the most extreme one. What else would you expect from the rough Russians? Here are a few facts about Russian bathing tradition.
Russian banya is hot!
Traditionally built as a small room or a separate structure the banya is used for experiencing wet or dry heat sessions. One of the main attributes to the bathing ritual is a venik (веник) – a broom made of birch or oak branches that secrets aromatic oils. The temperatures in the banya can exceed 90 degrees temperature (194 Fahrenheit) – quite a contrast to the weather outside in winter, huh? Don’t forget to take a felt hat to the banya! Our heads tend to heat up faster than our bodies so its highly essential to cover your head with something in the banya for protection, otherwise you can get overheated. Good news for ladies – the felt hats also protect the hair from the heat damage! Great!
Russian banya is healthy!
The Russian banya traditions have been formed for centuries. First banyas appeared in Russia in the 5th century! Since the ancient times the banya is supposed to have healing effect on human health. Hot steam opens the pores, cleans and hydrates the skin, and makes it smooth and soft.
After experiencing the first steaming, it’s time to get out and cool off. People take cold showers or jump into cool pools. Some Russians even jump straight into the fresh winter snow or take a swim in a ‘prorub’’ – an ice-hole in frozen rivers or lakes made for diving. Then the Russian bath house is the-entered and the time for ‘veniks’ comes.
Use venik in Russian banya!
People use veniks for hitting themselves or others to massage different body parts – the best spa ever! So, the venik is a broom made of birth or oak tree branches. To get the best effect from the massage session follow a few simple rules:
- The optimal position for the massage is prone position (lying with the chest down and back up) or sitting.
- Don’t forget to moisten the venik from time to time.
- Start the massage with light stroking along the body and then gradually proceed to whipping.
- It is better to have the venik moistened before use.
Russian bath house helps to make friends!
After each steaming it’s nice to take a break from the hot temperatures in a predbannik (предбанник) – an antechamber before the steam room. It’s highly essential to rehydrate yourself since the body loses a lot of water during the steam session. That’s when the Russian tea comes into play. All of the bathers gather around a table in the predbannik and have drinks and beverages. The most traditional ones are Russian herbal teas and kvas (квас) – a drink made from brown bread. The Banya is meant to be social. Break out the games and chat about life and other fun winter activities.
Russian Winter: What to do in St Petersburg in Winter
What to do in St Petersburg in Winter
Still don’t know what is the best time to visit St. Petersburg, Russia? Our city, being considered the cultural capital of the country is beautiful in any season! But for those of you who is looking for a real Russian experience we truly recommend to come to St Petersburg in winter! Described in many books and showed in numerous movies St. Petersburg in winter impresses deeply even the most demanding travelers! See how the city lives on at the coldest time of the year!
Scenic winter views
What comes to your mind first when you think of Russia? Russian colds, of course! It’s by far not a secret that in some parts of Russia the winter temperatures fall down to -40 degrees Celsius (-40 Fahrenheit) or even lower! Surprisingly, in St. Petersburg this is the time when the cultural life of the city goes at full blast! The theaters have already started their best shows and they will run the whole winter, all of the museums relax from summer crowds and remain almost empty waiting for you! Look out of the window of your hotel – the views are amazing! Grab a scarf and nice warm mittens and start your winter experience now!
One of the best advantages of the winter in St Petersburg is that the museums are not that crowded. From November till March it’s a low season for tourism, which means that you can come and enjoy world’s best museums without any stress. There are no lines to the entrances and you can spend as much time face to face with Da Vinci’s Madonna as you like. And there will be no one else in the hall! It is a great chance to visit the Hermitage museum – one of main tourist attractions of the city. Some museums offer special extended itineraries during low season. For example, the Catherine Palace opens extra halls (private rooms of Alexander II) that you will never see during summer. However, it also has a plus – you will not be pushed by huge crowds. These are just a couple of St. Petersburg top museums. There are hundreds of others – and they are all yours!
New Year celebration
New Year is a family holiday for Russians and one of the biggest celebrations at a time. Holiday preparations start long before the day. People buy presents and gifts for friends and relatives, decorate their houses and, of course, the New Year tree. However, different events and celebrations last for the whole New Year’s Eve. Late at night on 31st December families and friends gather together at the festive table and at 11.55 p.m. president’s speech appears on TV screens. And it’s just the beginning! The whole night is brightly celebrated: some stay with their home parties, while others prefer to have fun out. All the main streets and squares are decorated with garlands, ornaments and New Year lights, which creates a spacial fairy spirit. New Year is a national holiday and the first week after that is always very relaxed – many offices and business are closed, people go out to meet friends and relatives, watch New Year shows and fireworks and just have fun activities together. Isn’t it the perfect time to visit St. Petersburg?
Russian banya in Russian winter
The best way to warm up in the winter take is to take a heat session in the Russian banya! Still don’t know what it is? Learn more about the Russian banya in our special article.
Find more winter activities in our article Russia seasons: Winter activities (part 2).
St Petersburg cats
Every city has its symbols. St. Petersburg is not an exception. There are many symbols of the city, including the State Hermitage, the Mariinsky Theatre, Palace square and others. However, not so many people know about an alternative symbol of the Nathan capital of Russia – St Petersburg cats. The most famous of them are Hermitage cats, a cat couple at Malaya Sadovaya street, Lab Cat of St Petersburg State University, and others. Let’s learn why St Petersburg cats are so special.
Cat Monuments in St Petersburg
One of the first cat monuments in St Petersburg was a kitty, that was placed on a plinth in 2002. It is a monument to a Lab Cat. It is located in St. Petersburg State University courtyard on the Vasilievsky Island. The creation of the monument was initiated by the Department of Anatomy and Physiology of the University. It was meant to become a way to show appreciation of what lab cats have contributed to the progress of the mankind.
But let’s backtrack a little. Other St Petersburg cats, Elisey and Vasilisa, «live» on parapets of two buildings of Malaya Sadovaya street. Bronze animals were created by a renowned St. Petersburg sculptor Vladimir Petrovichev. They were given gifted to the city as a symbolic meaning of love to cats. Although there are many theories as to what they might symbolize, the most popular one is related to the days of the Siege of Leningrad. During the Siege, the city suffered from a terrible shortage of food. On top of that it became flooded with rats that began to destroy the small food supplies. The city population at risk to die from starvation. However, the army managed to bring cats to the city, who had a very important task: they had to get rid of rats, which they did perfectly. In a few weeks the city was purged form the rats. Completely. Nowadays, the two bronze kitties are a popular tourist attraction. It is believed that if you throw a coin to the cat and it stays on the parapet, your wish will come true. Don’t forget to make a wish before throwing a coin!
Almost 300 years ago, similar issue emerged at the State Hermitage. As soon as the Winter Palace was built it got inhabited with rats quite quickly. It was a clear threat to the art pieces in the building. Elizabeth of Russia heard of the same situation in the town of Kazan and how cats helped to solve it, quickly and efficiently. She ordered those cats and soon enough the Winter Palace was rat-free. Ever since, the Hermitage cats became an integral part of the museum history. Nowadays, they are officially considered a part of the Hermitage staff, each with a yellow bow, its own passport, a place to sleep and regular visits to the vet. They are not allowed to visit the museum halls and for the most part live in the basement where they hunt rats, however, you can see some of them outside during summer. our guide would be happy to share their stories about the Hermitage cats on a private tour to the State Hermitage.
Other Cats in St Petersburg
There are also quite a few cats located outside the city. A perfect opportunity to meet the most popular ones is through your private tour to Peterhof. Three similar cats near the Red Lake are believed to make dreams come true. Each of them, however, is responsible for different things. The white cat will help with the family issues. The black one protects from mean people and bad vibes. The red one will give confidence and courage. The only thing you have to do is ask – whisper in the ear and be ready to have your life turned around.
If you are fond of interacting with those cats that are actually cats, not monuments or symbols, there is a cafe in St. Petersburg called «Respublika Koshek» (The Republic of Cats) with a division of Cat Museum, an art cafe, a library and a room full of different cats. Pet them, hold them, hear their stories from the staff – and enjoy an unforgettable experience.
As you can see, cats are indeed one of the most popular «unofficial» symbols in St. Petersburg. No wonder cards, magnets and mugs with cats on them are sold virtually everywhere. Pick your souvenir – and let St. Petersburg stay in your memory as the most cat-friendly city in the world. With Hello Russia Tours you’ll know the most unusual facts about St. Petersburg.