With the Fifa World Cup set to kick off on Thursday, we have rounded up an attraction worth visiting in each of the Russian cities hosting matches
The World Cup in Russia: key spots to visit between football matches
Are you planning to visit Russia for the 2018 Fifa World Cup? With football matches being played in 12 venues throughout 11 host cities, there’s a lot to see during the month long sporting event. From the massive The Motherland Calls sculpture in Volgograd to the simple street art around St Petersburg, we've rounded-up an attraction worth visiting in each of the host cities.
When many of us think of Russia, we think of the ballet, and rightly so, given the Bolshoi Ballet is internationally renowned and the company is one of the oldest in the world. The cultured would do well to include a visit to Bolshoi Theatre on their Moscow itinerary. The landmark was reopened in 2011, following a long renovation, and now offers better acoustics and new seating, but it is worth noting the season concludes on July 29. Performances over the next month include Cosi Fan Tutte, Ossia La Scuola Degli Amanti; La Traviata; and Romeo and Juliet, among others. Theatre tours are held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and last an hour. Russian tours start at 11.10am and English tours begin at 11.15am. Tickets can be purchased at the door on the day of the tour and cost 1,500 roubles (Dh88 per person). Find the Bolshoi Theatre at Teatralnaya Square 1. For more, visit www.bolshoi.ru.
The mountainous terrain and abundant nature throughout Sochi is open to exploration all year round. The mountain peaks, thick forests, waterfalls, caves and canyons attract tourists every year, so if you’re in Sochi for the World Cup, be sure to carve a few days aside for discovering the trails in the Caucasus Mountains. Tackle the terrain on your own or with a guide, but don’t forget your camping gear. Mount Fisht is worth a visit, it is the highest peak within the Lago-Naki plateau in the northern part of the mountains, and is home to a glacier and some of the best views stretching out to the Black Sea. For more on Sochi, go to www.visit-sochi.org
Street Art Museum
If you like street art, make your way to Okhta, the former industrial site, that is a 20-minute bus ride east of Ploshchad Lenina. Here you’ll find a collection of street art in a variety of forms, from murals on walls, to mixed-media installations set inside an old boilerhouse. The exhibition changes annually, with top artists from around the globe invited to contribute on differing themes. There are guided tours on weekends, at 1pm and 2pm respectively. We suggest calling ahead to make sure there’s an English-speaking guide available. The museum has been known to host outdoor concerts and other events. For more visit www.streetartmuseum.ru for more.
Samara Stalin’s Bunker
One of the more unusual attractions in this city is an underground bunker used to shelter the Chief of State back in the 1940s, during the period of the Great Patriotic War. Located under the Kuibyshev Regional Committee building, the bunker took 2,900 workers and 800 engineers and technicians to build it over a period of six months. As much as 25,000 cubic metres of Earth were removed and 5,000 cubic metres of concrete cast. This underground structure’s ground floor had two rooms, while the main chamber could hold 115 people. It is associated with some legends, according to which the bunker is connected by tunnels with other important facilities in Samara. It is also home to Stalin’s private office with a number of false doors. Open daily from 9.30am (10.30am on weekends), for more visit www.bunkerstalina.com.
This staircase is the longest in Russia, beginning at the monument to Chkalov in the centre of the city and connecting Minin and Pozharsky Square, the Upper Volga and the Lower Volga embankments. It was built to form a figure eight and consists of 560 steps, and there are two observation platforms. The staircase, which was the brainchild of Aleksander Shulpin – the mayor of the city during the Great War (1941-1945) – was inaugurated in 1949 and cost 7 million roubles (Dh412,000) to build. It is named after Valery Chkalov, the legendary Soviet pilot who was the first to fly from Moscow to Vancouver non-stop across the North Pole, and it was last restored in 2012-13. The best way to see the winding landmark is from the water. For more, visit www.welcome2018.com
‘The Motherland Calls’ sculpture
While in Volgograd, make sure to take time to check out one of the tallest sculptures in the world. The towering figure – all 85 metres of it – depicts a woman stepping forward with a raised sword in the sky and a defiant look on her face. The statue is located near Mamayev Kurgan, and was unveiled in 1967. There are 200 steps to climb in order to reach the top of the hill, each step representing a day of the Battle of Stalingrad. Once you reach the top, you can also get an impressive view of the Volga River as well as their new stadium. For more, visit www.vetert.ru/rossiya/volgograd
Cathedral of St Theodore Ushakov
This Russian Orthodox cathedral opened to the public in 2006 and is named after the Russian saint and 18th century admiral, Fyodor Ushakov. The Empire-style cathedral stands 62 metres tall and can hold up to 3,000 people. Along the perimeter there are four bell towers and 12 bells, while around the main bowl of the cathedral there is an observation deck where you can get a panoramic view of the city and its surroundings. The church is free to enter. For more, visit www.sobor-ushakova.ru.
The Keyboard Monument
The Keyboard Monument is an outdoor sculpture that features a giant-sized QWERTY keyboard. It was installed in October 2005 and sits on the embankment of the Iset River in the centre of the city. From a distance, it may appear to look like stones, but as you get closer, you will be able to make out each individual key. There are 104 concrete keys and the space bar weighs 1,000 pounds. Rumour has it if you type your wish and then hit the “enter” key, your wish will be granted. Or if you’d like to “reboot” your life, you can press Ctrl, Alt, Del. For more information, visit www.welcome2018.com
Stroll along the river and Pushkin Street
This southeastern Russian port city is home to just over one million people: when visiting, definitely take the time to walk along both the Rostov-on-Don embankment and Pushkin Street. The leafy green two-kilometre-long embankment stroll will take you down Beregovaya Street, where you will see plenty of statues of literary figures from Rostov (load your Google Translate app as nothing is in English) and will also walk past waterfront cafes and the hustle and bustle of city life. Alternatively, stroll down Pushkin Street – which is, yes, named after poet Alexander Pushkin – a large, leafy boulevard where you will find monuments to Chekhov, Kirov and of course Pushkin. Heads up: in the summer, temperatures can hit around the mid 30s – so plan your strolls for the morning or evening. For more www.dontourism.ru/en.
Immanuel Kant’s tomb
This beautiful city sits between Poland and Lithuania along the Baltic Coast and is dotted with old Prussian redbrick buildings. When there, you can go to an amber museum or explore Russian submarines at Museum of the World Ocean, but we’d also recommend a visit to Immanuel Kant’s tomb in the beautiful Konigsberg Cathedral (which was built in 1333). Kant is one of the central figures in modern philosophy, and he worked and lived in Kaliningrad. For more visit www.visitkaliningrad.com.
The Kazan Kremlin
Dubbed the “Third Capital” of Russia, Kazan is also officially the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan and has seen a complete renovation over the past 20 years, with many historical sites restored (however some were destroyed). A must-see is the citadel – or kremlin – an area in the centre of town surrounded by white limestone walls that was originally a Tatar fortress, but was largely destroyed by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century. The area is home to the beautiful Kul Sharif Mosque, which was built in 2005, and is named after the Imam who died defending the area from the army. For more visit www.kazantravel.ru/en
* additional reporting Nyree McFarlane and Evelyn Lau