Celebrating New Year's in Russia: Moscow or St. Petersburg

New Years Eve

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If you are traveling through Russia during the end of the year, you'll surely be looking for plans to celebrate New Year's Eve. As one of the most important holidays in the country, no matter where you are there will be some type of celebration, although the biggest festivities take place in the two largest cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. Each one has something unique to offer for New Year's Eve, and you should choose the city that most aligns with your desired plans.

Moscow is the sprawling capital city. It's a huge metropolis with over 11 million inhabitants, so the many bars and clubs throughout the city will be packed with people. St. Petersburg is by no means a small town, but with less than half the population of Moscow, it feels noticeably less chaotic. The city center has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its beauty.

Because the Russian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar, January 1 in the more widely-used Gregorian calendar actually matches up with Christmas Day. Russian Santa Clause delivers gifts on December 31, and many Russian families even put up a "New Year's tree" instead of the Christmas tree used in the West. Many people celebrate at home with family, and then go out later in the night to see fireworks or visit a bar.

Each city has its advantages, you just have to decide how you want to welcome in the new year.

The Weather

Both cities are going to be frigid on New Year's Eve—as you may be aware, Russian winters are notoriously harsh. The average high temperature in both cities is below freezing during the winter, and the lows can be bone-chilling. Even though St. Petersburg is farther north, its location along the Gulf of Finland helps maintain a—relatively—more temperate climate. But the "polar nights" of 24-hour darkness in St. Petersburg also keep the temperatures down, whereas Moscow receives at least a few hours of sunlight each day.

Whichever city you choose, prepare for the worst. Pack a heavy coat (or two), along with layers of thermals, long socks, and headgear. Snow is likely in both cities as well, so waterproof boots are also recommended.

The Big City Square Celebration

In St. Petersburg's Dvortsovaya Square (right outside the Hermitage), you can experience a big crowd of people watching the president's address on a big screen, fireworks, champagne, and a huge celebration. Then, when you finally manage to get out of there, you can wander along the banks of the Neva River (which will probably be frozen over) or walk down Nevsky Prospect to see if you can find a bar in which to warm up. Or you can go to the Strelka on Vasilyevski Island to watch the fireworks, then walk into the city afterward to see the celebrations.

In Moscow's Red Square, the celebration is much more epic. Thousands gather in the square to see the huge fireworks display at midnight over the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral, often with sparkling wine (or vodka) to celebrate. On the one hand, the atmosphere you will experience at Red Square is unparalleled. On the other hand, it's going to be extremely crowded—so avoid it if you don't deal well with huge crowds of people. You can also see fireworks at various parks around the city if you prefer to celebrate with fewer crowds.

The Parties

Whether you're looking for a restaurant, bar, or nightclub, it's recommended to make reservations or book advance tickets, if possible.

Although many families dine in at home together, you should find that restaurants are open and serving special New Year's menus for the holiday. They can fill up fast, so definitely call ahead.

Because it's a family holiday, locals may go out to one of the main squares to see fireworks or celebrate in the street, but many people return home afterward, instead of staying out to party all night long as in other countries.

That being said, Moscow is famous for lavish clubs and extravagant bars. You can expect to find large-scale parties happening in the biggest clubs, as well as formal events in five-star hotels. St. Petersburg is more low-key, and while you shouldn't have a problem finding wild parties, in general going out is a more intimate experience.

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