The best city to visit in winter is St Petersburg, Russia. People enthuse about the White Nights in midsummer, but winter is the time when the sky really is white (or pink or orange or purple) at night from the reflected snow lying on the ground. The combination of pinky skies and light-blue Baroque and yellow Neoclassical architecture under a blanket of white snow (which hides all the dirt you would otherwise see in other seasons) makes for a truly magical sight. The theatre season is in full swing, so this is the best time to catch a world-class opera or ballet at the Mariinsky every night, when prices are at their most reasonable (no festivals to inflate the prices). That nip of vodka or tea round the samovar is all the more welcome when it is freezing outside. The summer residence of Peterhof is actually best visited in winter, when the fountains are switched off and there are no crowds at all in the gardens – only you and the silent pavilions next to the frozen sea, a white blanket extending as far as the eye can see, to the other side of the Gulf of Finland. Rainer Maria Rilke was so entranced when he saw the Grand Palace in winter that he exclaimed: "Das ist ja das Schloss der Winterkönigin!"
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