Immortalised in a thousand works of film and literature—and with good reason—Christmas in Russia’s cultural capital is truly inimitable. The gilt domes of its many churches gleam ever brighter against a backdrop of snow-swept streets, the frozen Neva river and bright festive installations, making this elegant Imperial city feel even more magical. If the sheer beauty of this northern city isn’t enough to tempt you, we’ve here collated our favourite elements of a festive season spent at Hotel Astoria.
Orthodox Christmas traditions
There’s no need to miss Christmas with friends and family as Russians adhere to the Julian calendar, celebrating Christ’s birth on January 7th. As the locals break a 40-day fast, Christmas Mass is held throughout the city’s churches, the most popular of which takes place at the grand Kazan Cathedral and makes for a poignantly atmospheric ceremony.
You don’t need to be religious to get into the festive spirit, however; simply gazing at the towering Christmas tree in front of the cathedral, hearing the ancient bells chime and admiring the parade of joyous locals attending mass is an experience in itself. And on January 19th, there’s another tradition worth seeing: in celebration of Epiphany, brave souls crack the ice on the Neva and go for a frozen swim, warming up with vodka afterwards.
Ice skating and troika rides
Bundle up warmly in your finest and head to the Neva, where if the river has frozen over, you’ll find skaters dressed in colourful outfits twirling on the surface. If there’s no ice there, however, cross the bridge to New Holland island, where an al fresco rink is set up each year. Looking out to the Baltic sea, it has a heated area for changing into elegant white figure skates, available to rent.
Alternatively, let our concierge arrange transport to Pavlovsk Palace, a beautiful neoclassical mansion built by Catherine the Great. This former Royal residence is surrounded by breathtaking gardens, and undoubtedly the most atmospheric way to experience them in winter is from the comfort of a troika, or traditional three-horse carriage.
Christmas markets and festive food
St. Petersburg’s Christmas markets are many. Amongst the larger are those on Moskovskaya Square, Pionerskaya Square and at Gatchina Palace, a former Romanov residence. Enjoy concerts and grottoes, gift-hunting and fairground rides, and taste the traditional pork roast, pierogi and mulled wine, all steaming in the chilly air.
Theatres and museums
The city’s major museums, such as the Hermitage, can be crowded during the summer, in particular for the duration of the White Nights, but this isn’t the case at Christmas. Explore their extraordinary exhibitions of fine art and priceless antiques during the colder months and you may just have time to yourself.
Theatres won’t be empty, however. With the festive season’s arrival come the annual Christmastime shows. We recommend The Nutcracker at the Mariinsky Theatre, just minutes from Hotel Astoria; the world premier of Tchaikovsky’s famously festive ballet took place here in 1892 and has taken place almost every year since. Bright, bold and with a haunting soundtrack, this tale of transformation and renewal is a spectacle to behold.
Book your Christmas stay at Hotel Astoria by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling +7 812 494-57-57 and experience Christmas in St. Petersburg.