Having chosen end of June as a date for our visit, we soon realized that we will be arriving on the day every student in Saint Petersburg is waiting for – the day of the graduation. This big event is being celebrated with great honor and pride – famous Scarlet Sails in Saint Petersburg is a big thing in Russian former capital. Most of the events are usually reserved for students, such as concerts, best viewpoints along the banks of Neva river etc. However, there is a chance to see the fireworks even for simple folks. This is how we did it.
What is Scarlet Sails in Saint Petersburg
The event of graduation is celebrated in Saint Petersburg every year, usually on Saturday closest to the lightest white night of the year (end of June). The idea of the celebration is to set the young generation free in their new exciting journey after the graduation. The event is accompanied by light shows, concerts and eventually a huge firework. The main attraction is a red-sailed ship sailing along the Neva river – the Scarlet Sails.
City before the show
As we arrived just after lunch, we had a chance to walk the Nevsky Prospekt and enjoy the vibe of the day. The city was tight, packed with tourists, fresh graduates, their numerous relatives and all kinds of other crowds. You could see street musicians performing on every corner, some of them were truly great. The city was a buzzing nest – in a good way! By the way, if you are not sure how to spend your time in Saint Petersburg, consider this weekend guide.
Best place to see the fireworks
One thing to keep in mind before you head out to the city to see the Scarlet Sails in Saint Petersburg – you definitely need good shoes, plenty of water and perhaps few snacks. Although you might get access to some street food and toilets, be prepared to live without those for quite some time. Having studied numerous possibilities, I have come to a conclusion that the best place to see the fireworks would be Senatskaya square next to famous sculpture of Peter the Great (The bronze horseman).
Many fellow observers found their spots on that square, very good spots are right at the banks of the river, but those were taken very early. I read that some people reserve places as early as 17:00 of the same day (the show starts at 00:40). We arrived there around midnight and had to wait another 45 minutes for the show to begin. The fireworks were spectacular, the whole show lasted at least 30 minutes. We did see the lights of the visual show and lasers, but not the red sails. Sadly, those are best seen from the restricted areas with tickets. It’s the same with any classical music performances where the tickets are exclusive.
Getting back to hotel
Once the show was over, getting back to hotel proved to be tricky. Our hotel was at the beginning of Nevsky, around 4 km from where we were standing. Walking this much would take an hour, if your feet can handle it after all the standing and walking. Metro was working all night, but getting inside was impossible at the point. We ended up getting a taxi after walking halfway. Taxi trip took us almost an hour and included some crazy driving, but at least we could be sitting.
For this event I recommend getting a hotel somewhere near the event, so you could walk back without a problem. Beware that two main bridges are closed for the time of the event!
We ended up paying 500 rubles (8$) for the taxi ride, which was totally okay considering it took us almost an hour to drive (mostly stuck in huge traffic jam due to numerous road closures). If you ever need to get a taxi, it doesn’t hurt to bargain, or even better have someone Russian speaking with you. We heard some stories of tourists being charged triple that much for shorter ride, just because they were foreigners. In that case we recommend getting a taxi app called Yandex Taxi – great tool, very similar to Uber.
Alternative ways to see the fireworks
Another option is going on the roofs, we saw such tours being offered for 5000 rubles (80$). For even higher price you can see the fireworks from water, by taking a cruise on a small boat. Renting an apartment overlooking the Neva river is also a popular choice. Last but not least, you can try to book a table in a cafe or restaurant overlooking the Neva (at least 6 months in advance). The possible options are:
- Bellevue Brasserie at Moika Embankment 22,
- Alyye Parusa on Kronverkskaya Embankment 3,
- Letuchi Holandez at Birzhevoy Bridge.
Is it worth visiting Scarlet Sails in Saint Petersburg?
Yes and No. If you are planning on visiting during White nights, and it happens to be on the same date, then sure, go ahead. You may see some of the best fireworks in your life. However, considering all the trouble of getting there, finding the spot, and the going back, its just too much hassle. Of course, being part of the „party“ may be great and if your legs can handle the walking, you may be okay.
Either way, visiting the city during white nights a fantastic experience, if not for the festival, then for the general vibe. You may accidentally fall in love with it!