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St. Petersburg summer

St. Petersburg's White Nights, which run from the end of May through to mid-July, are legendary. In the seemingly endless twilight, when the sun dips below the horizon for little more than an hour just after midnight, the city has an unforgettable, dream-like beauty that is truly breathtaking. The lack of darkness effects the very fabric of life in the city, and the whole town seems to be taking part in a two-month round-the-clock celebration. The streets are alive with people right through till morning, a motley flotilla of boats cruises the rivers and canals non-stop, and the city's nightlife is at its most active and exuberant, with a number of festivals and events.

Summer in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg, Russia
Summer in the Peter and Paul Fortress

All this makes it the most popular time of the year for visitors, so you need to make sure you book well in advance. Bear in mind also that the most popular sights and attractions can be extremely crowded, and queues are almost inevitable. Also, by the end of June, most of the city's great cultural institutions are on holiday until September. If high culture is the main aim of your trip, then you may well find spring or autumn more rewarding.

The great exception to this is the world-famous Stars of the White Nights Festival, which runs from the end of May through June. Now well established as one of the greatest classical music festivals in the world, it draws a host of international stars every year, and showcases the very best of local talent from the opera and ballet companies of the Mariinsky Theatre (better known as the Kirov abroad). Alongside the main festival, there is also the International Musical Olympus Festival, a unique event which gathers together the young winners of the world's premiere music prizes and gives them the chance to perform alongside some very big names.

This is also the perfect time to visit the Tsarist Palaces around the city, see the famous fountains at Petergoff - they are officially turned on at the beginning of June, with accompanying festivities - and admire the glorious parks in Pushkin and Pavlovsk. Again, though, bear in mind that that's what everyone else will be doing.

By the end of July, it's as if the whole city has a bit of a hangover. Nothing much of note is happening, and the majority of the inhabitants leave for their dachas or holidays elsewhere. The best thing to do is follow their example, and this is a great time to come if you're using St. Petersburg as a base to travel around Northern Russia.

From late May onwards, the weather is normally warm and humid, but not excessively so and evenings can be cooler even when the sun is still shining, so it's worth bringing at least one warm sweater. It should be pointed out that, if you're over the age of fifteen, shorts will immediately mark you out as a tourist, and do nothing for your popularity with the locals. The other thing to bear in mind is mosquitoes, which can be a nuisance, particularly in older buildings. The most effective protection comes from plug-in fumigators, which are cheap and readily available from kiosks, supermarkets and hardware stores. The most common brands are Raptor and Raid, and they should assure a decent night's sleep.

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