The Beauty of Winter in Russia
“You’re going to Russia in the winter?!” is a question that anyone traveling to Russia during the winter months is guaranteed to hear. The question is often followed by, “Are you crazy?” Contrary to popular belief, traveling to Russia in the winter can be a pleasurable, fulfilling, and exciting experience. There are many activities and celebrations that travelers can take part in during the winter, experiences that summer travelers will hate that they missed out on.
Russia has a certain feeling during the winter that is almost indescribable. As you step outside the first breath you take makes you feel exhilarated and refreshed. Улицы (streets) and buildings are blanketed in a beautiful layer of snow, trees are a frosty white, and the Neva and canals are frozen over. The people of St.Petersburg wholeheartedly embrace the weather, as you will see children sledding everyday, snowmen and ice sculptures being constructed in the parks, and people flaunting winter gear that is unique compared to Western styles.
While you may have heard of the famous Белые Ночи (white nights) festival, there are many advantages to traveling in the opposite time of the year. Mornings start slowly and naturally, and you can watch the sunrise over the glistening, frozen Neva on your walk through the city. Although the sun sets early, St.Petersburg is never truly dark. Bridges and streets are covered in lights to celebrate the winter holidays, with colorfully lit-up sculptures and trees are scattered throughout the city. Buildings are lit up as well to display the impressive architecture.
When I arrived in St.Petersburg I was nervous about making the half hour walk from the city center to my apartment in the dark, however I found that my entire route is lined with light-decorated trees, buildings, and bridges!
It only seems fitting to visit St.Petersburg’s biggest attraction, the Winter Palace, during the winter months. The palace was the winter residence of all Russian tsars from 1732-1917, where as during the summer the tsars lived in Tsarskoye Selo, a palace just outside of St.Petersburg. If the tsars only stuck around the Winter Palace during the cold months, why should tourists act differently?
It is actually during the winter months that many Russians will come to St.Petersburg as tourists. Russians have time off for the holiday season, and it is a perfect time to come visit the imperial capital of Russia. Staying at a hostel during these months is very inexpensive, and many of the hostelers are Russians from other regions of the country. A hostel stay during the winter is a way to make genuine Russian friends, to learn more about the diverse subcultures throughout the country, and to practice your Russian language.
Additionally, Russians have large celebrations for the New Year and for Christmas, which foreigners are welcome to take part in. The celebration of New Year’s Eve in Moscow can be compared to that of New York City’s celebration in the United States. Festivities do not end with the start of a new calendar, as Russian Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January. Even when the holidays finally end, the joyful air seems to linger on.
Although the weather can be cold, there are many ways that Russians stay warm. Russian comfort food is meant to be eaten during cold weather, such as a hot bowl of борщ (borsch, beet soup) or щи (cabbage soup). It is very festive to drink a mulled wine, or to stop at one of the many чай (tea) or espresso stands throughout the city to warm up! If that isn’t enough to make you feel warm and cozy, another option is to experience the rich cultural tradition of the Russian banya, which you can read more about here.
If you are planning on traveling during the winter months, don’t make the same mistakes that Napoleon and Hitler made! Be sure to pack warm clothes, such as hats, scarves, gloves, jackets, and sweaters. Just remember that Russians do not use cold weather as an excuse to underdress.
Winter is an important aspect of Russian culture that should be celebrated. So enjoy the winter months and try to have the Russian spirit by embracing the cold weather and all that it brings! Grab your шапка and a cup of чай and head outside, it’s an experience you won’t regret! 🙂