As winter rolls in, the temperatures drop and sunlight becomes a rare sight. And yet, the city of St. Petersburg doesn't seem to become much darker, as it emits a light of its own, with snow reflecting the bright lights of lively holiday decorations and with festive New Year's markets spreading warmth and cheer throughout the streets. The best way to beat the doom and gloom is to stay active, so here is some advice on what to do and where to go in these winter months.
Stay upbeat and healthy
It's only natural that so many are prone to feeling down in the winter. The low temperatures, rough weather and lack of sunlight are some of the factors that cause such moods. Dietitians and health experts often suggest hydrating often and maintaining a constant exercise routine - even a small, but regular amount of physical exertion goes a long way towards elevating the spirit. Researchers also suggest that going for a stroll in the winter is also good for your health. If you do feel like you’re coming down with a bug, get in touch with your local doctor (here’s how), tuck in and binge your favorite show.
In the winter it becomes especially important to maintain a healthy level of Vitamin D, which is often found in fish, dairy, cereals and most yellow-colored fruits and vegetables. Russians are also very fond of fish oil - many of us still have horrible childhood memories of having to ingest the nasty-smelling (and tasting) pure fish oil. Thankfully, these days it’s available in trauma-free pill form.
Another crucial factor is social contact. Fight your inner couch potato and resist the desire to hibernate - instead, get out and spend some time with others. Many wintertime activities, even simple ones like snowball fights - are much better with company. Or, perhaps, you’d even be interested in paying a visit to the Russian banya? In that case, we’ve written up a guide (Part 1, Part 2) to help you prepare.
Take a trip
St. Petersburg is just as pretty a sight in winter as it is in summer; however, it’s also a good time to get out of town. Pick a clear, sunny day and get on a train or a bus to one of the city’s many satellite towns and villages - or visit the shores of the Gulf of Finland, covered in mountains of ice and bordered by rich pine forests. There are a plenty of small, shoreside settlements in the region which you can visit by taking a suburban train from the Finlyandsky Railway Station.
You could spend an entire day in some of the area’s historical towns such as Gatchina, Pavlovsk or Vyborg, enjoying an outing while learning about their culture and history (for a detailed list of places to visit, see our handy guide). Just don’t forget to pack a lunch, grab a thermos and dress for the weather!
The winter months are also when many Russians go on their vacations - not necessarily to escape the cold, but merely to avoid the dreaded winter boredom. So, if you’re willing to take it a step further, why not take a short trip abroad, as many do? Maybe you have a break in your studies, or maybe it’s the winter break - or just pop there and back over the weekend. Many bus companies service routes from St. Petersburg to numerous European capitals such as Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga and others. Several companies, such as Luxexpress, AMG, Infobus or Ecolines have websites in English, with routes covering the territory from St. Petersburg all the way up to Central Europe. Just make sure your visa allows you to travel to EU countries.
One way to avoid boredom is to maintain an active lifestyle. There are a great number of winter sports you can partake in during the cold season: skiing, snowboarding, tubing and ice-skating are just some of the options. The outdoor ice rinks in Victory Park, on Pionerskaya square and on Yelagin Island are especially favored by skating enthusiasts. Ice sliding is a much-beloved activity that doesn’t require much skill or equipment, so you may often see children and adults partake in it on playgrounds or simply on the sidewalk. In the recent years there has been a resurgence in the popularity of bigger, temporary slides reminiscent of the ones built during the olden times. You’ll likely find one in most large-ish outdoor parks in the city, and you can even rent a “vatrushka” seat there for a reasonable price.
Venues in the city, as well as many resorts in the region, rent out the necessary equipment, provide training and space. You can learn about some of these in our winter sports guide, but do mind - some of these services might only be available in Russian, so, as it often is in Russia, it’s better if you bring along a local friend to help you out with any misunderstandings!
ITMO’s very own KronBars sports club also has plenty of equipment, trainers and departments dedicated to the various winter sports - as well as a welcoming community.