May 16, 2018
From 14th June to 15th July, Russia will be hosting the 2018 FIFA football World Cup.
11 cities in the west of this vast and fascinating country have been chosen to host the World Cup matches, each with a wealth of attractions to keep visitors busy when there’s no football to watch. Here is a brief introduction to the host cities so if you are heading to Russia to support your team, you will know what to expect.
Ekaterinburg (sometimes spelt “Yekaterinburg”), Russia’s fourth largest city and the furthest east of the World Cup host cities, was named after Peter the Great’s wife, Ekaterina. It lies on the Iset River beyond the Ural Mountains just across Europe’s eastern border – making it the only host city in Asia. It was historically an important town on the route into Siberia, but, although sometimes counted as part of Siberia, locals consider Urals culture to be distinct from that of the peoples further east.
- Do – attend a show at the Ekaterinburg State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater; go shopping on Vaynera Street, the “Urals Arbat”, Ekaterinburg’s answer to Moscow’s Arbat Street
- Visit – keyboard Monument, a giant representation of a QWERTY keyboard; Church on the Blood; Ekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts; Europe-Asia Border Monument
- Taste – pelmeni, traditional Russian dumplings originally from the Urals region; shangi, buns topped with mashed potato and sometimes cheese or cream
Kaliningrad is the capital of Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian Baltic exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. Once known as Königsberg, the former capital of Prussia, it was a renowned center of learning that counts the philosopher Immanuel Kant among its sons. The territory was annexed by the Soviet Union following the Second World War and is now the westernmost part of the Russian Federation. The city’s colorful history has left its mark with a number of important museums and other cultural attractions as well as a diverse culinary tradition.
- Do – fishing in the Baltic; hiking in the forests near the city
- Visit – Königsberg Cathedral; Yunost Park; Museum of the World Ocean
- Taste – marzipan; smoked eel; Königsberger Fleck (tripe soup); Königsberger Klopse (Prussian meatballs); Ostmark beer
This city, which styles itself as the “Third Capital of Russia” as well as the “Sports Capital of Russia”, was once an important stop on the ancient silk road and is now one of the country’s premier tourist destinations. Major attractions include the Kazan Kremlin and the “Kazan Riviera”, a hotel and entertainment complex. Kazan is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan and the center of Tatar culture. With a population mainly composed of ethnic Tatars and ethnic Russians, it is a city with a rich cultural mix. Winters can be long and punishingly cold, but summers are usually pleasantly warm, making this an ideal host city for the World Cup.
- Do – boat trip on the Volga; day trip to Sviyazhsk Island
- Visit – Kazan Kremlin; Kazan Riviera; Kul Sharif Mosque; Soviet Lifestyle Museum
- Taste – kystyby (flatbread stuffed with mashed potato or millet porridge); kazylyk (air-dried horse sausage); talkysh kaleve (a traditional Tatar dessert); Tatar tea with dried fruit and milk
Russia’s most populous city and the only one with two stadiums set to host World Cup matches, the country’s capital can be an intimidating place for first-time visitors. However, once you adjust to the scale of things, it is a beguiling city that is home to an array of world-renowned attractions and iconic monuments that no visitor to Russia should miss. The tournament begins in Moscow on 14th June when the hosts play Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki stadium. The same stadium is the venue for the curtain-closer on 15th July when the eventual winner will be decided.
- Do – catch a show by the Nikulin Moscow Circus; watch a performance at the Bolshoi Theater (buy tickets well in advance); ride Moscow’s metro, surely one of the world’s most opulent and grandiose
- Visit – Red Square with St Basil’s Cathedral and the Lenin Mausoleum; the Kremlin complex; Old Arbat Street
- Taste – bliny (traditional Russian-style pancakes); vinegrette (a Russian salad consisting of beetroot, potatoes, carrots, pickles, onions and sauerkraut); caviar
5. Nizhny Novgorod
Although Kazan may call itself Russia’s third city, in reality, Nizhny Novgorod is widely considered to fulfil that role. A city blessed with some of the most beautiful natural surroundings in the country, Nizhny Novgorod is set to host four group World Cup matches, a round of 16 game and a quarter-final. The city was founded in 1221 – the name translates as Lower Newtown – and over the years, it has developed into an important economic center. Nizhny Novgorod is Russia’s fifth-largest city in size and is the economic and cultural heart of the Volga region. It boasts several important attractions including a 16th-century Kremlin.
- Do – ride the cable car across the Volga to Bor; stroll down the pedestrianized Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street; climb the steps of the Chkalov Staircase
- Visit – house-museum of Maxim Gorky; Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin; Minin and Pozharsky Square
- Taste – shchi (soup made from soured cabbage popular all over Russia but that originates in this region); oven-baked mackerel; fish soup
A port city in south-western Russia located on the Don River, Rostov-on-Don is the administrative capital of Rostov Oblast. The region is a center of Cossack culture and the city features several traditional orthodox churches worth visiting. The city has a limited tram system but there is an extensive and efficient bus network for convenient transport. The city’s stadium is due to host four group matches and one round of 16 World Cup match.
- Do – shop for a bargain at the Central Rinok (something like a bazaar or farmers’ market); watch a performance at the Rostov State Opera and Ballet Theater; stroll down Pushkin Street, one of the city’s most ornate boulevards
- Visit – Starocherkasskaya, a museum town and former capital of the Don Cossacks, located around 27km from Rostov-on-Don; Rostov-on-Don Zoopark; botanical garden, one of Russia’s largest; city riverfront
- Taste – local fish from the river; crayfish
7. Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg, formerly also known as Petrograd and Leningrad, is Russia’s second largest city. While Moscow is the country’s administrative capital, Saint Petersburg is Russia’s cultural heart. As one of the northernmost cities to be hosting World Cup matches, in summer, the days are long and the nights are short. The city has played a pivotal role in Russia’s history, not least as the birthplace of the Russian Revolution, and the city is home to a multitude of sights and attractions. The historic center of the city is listed by UNESCO, and in the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg boasts one of the world’s great museums./p>
- Do – river and canal tour; walk along Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s most famous street; watch a ballet or opera at the renowned Mariinsky Theater
- Visit – the Hermitage, one of the world’s largest and most important collections of art; Peterhof, a former imperial palace; Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood; Peter and Paul Fortress
- Taste – Beef stroganoff, one of Russia’s most famous dishes; Uzbek cuisine (there is a large Uzbek community in the city); Baltika beer (the ubiquitous Russian beer has its headquarters here)
Russia’s sixth largest city was formally founded in 1586 and has several claims to fame. It is now the administrative capital of Samara Oblast, and during the Second World War, it functioned as the country’s second capital. It also played an important role in the Soviet Union’s space program. Located in southern Russia, the summer climate is hot, and the city is renowned for its long and picturesque embankment as well as its town square, the largest in Europe. The city is also known as Russia’s beer capital, and beer-lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to taste the local brew.
- Do – three-hour guided tour run by the Tourist Information Centre, every Saturday at 1pm; boat tour on the river; walk or bike along the 5km Samara Embankment pedestrianized area; take a dip in the Volga
- Visit – Kuibyshev Square, the largest in Europe; Lenin’s Bunker; Samara Space Museum
- Taste – Zhigulyovskoye beer; Volga fish; vobla (salted, dried fish)
The bustling and modern capital of the Republic of Mordovia, Saransk is known as one of the most pleasant cities in Russia, although it receives few foreign visitors. It is located in the Volga basin at the confluence of the Insar and Saranka rivers, the latter giving its name to the town. With a population of a little over 300,000, Saransk is one of the smallest World Cup host cities; the Mordovia Arena is set to be the venue for several group games. The region is an important cultural center for Finno-Ugric people and is home to the Moksha and Erzya ethnicities, groups with their own distinctive cultural identities and languages.
- Do – take a trip 80km out of town to the Smolnyi National Park; watch a puppet show at the State Puppet Theater of the Republic of Mordovia; check out the fountain in Millennium Square, one of Russia’s most impressive
- Visit – Orthodox cathedral and cathedral square; Memorial Museum of the Great War and Labor Exploits 1941-1945; Museum of Mordovian Culture
- Taste – pachat (Mordovian pancakes); “Bear’s Paw” (a patty made from beef or beef liver and sprinkled with bread crumbs); poza (a traditional alcohol-free drink made from beetroot)
Already famous for hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi is now set to be the venue for four group games, a round of 16 game and a quarter-final during the 2018 World Cup. The city is located on the Black Sea coast and has long been a popular summer destination for Russians, although it still welcomes very few international visitors. Despite having hosted the Winter Olympics, the climate is actually subtropical, and those attending World Cup matches in the city can look forward to comfortable, balmy weather. The area has a history stretching back to Roman times, and Sochi boasts several ancient monuments. The forest surrounding the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Do – relax in the Riviera Park; spend time close to nature in Sochi National Park; various water sports including yachting and kitesurfing
- Visit – Loo Temple (ruins dating back to the Byzantine period); Godlik Fortress (also from Byzantine times); Stalin’s Summer Residence; the Anchor and Cannon Monument
- Taste – shashlik (grilled meat kebabs); seafood including mussels and Black Sea oysters; khachapuri (Georgian cheese-filled bread)
Formerly known as Tsaritsyn and Stalingrad, the city is most famous in modern history as the site of the Battle of Stalingrad during the Second World War, widely regarded as the bloodiest battle in history. Well over a million soldiers are thought to have perished in the fighting. The city is now the capital of Volgograd Oblast and is an important center for manufacturing and industry. During the World Cup, the Volgograd Arena is due to host several group matches.
- Do – shop in the Central Department Store, one of the city’s landmarks; explore Volgodonskaya Street, the heart of the old town
- Visit – “The Motherland Calls”, the tallest statue of a woman in the world (twice the height of the Statue of Liberty); Panorama Museum (with artefacts from World War II); Repnikova Mansion/Memorial and Historical Museum
- Taste – Olivier salad (known as “Russian salad” to the rest of the world); vodka (because it has to be on our list somewhere!)
An introduction to the Trans-Siberian Railway
A prominent item on the wish list of many travelers and an experience that can exceed all expectations, a trip to Russia offers the chance to embark upon one of the world’s great railway adventures. It should be understood that the “Trans-Siberian” is not some kind of special service but rather the backbone of transport across this huge country.
The Trans-Siberian Railway traces a line from Moscow in the west to Vladivostok in the far east, with the Siberian part of the journey beginning after Ekaterinburg. Non-stop travel from Moscow to Vladivostok takes seven days, but it is possible to break the journey down by stopping off at cities along the way. There is no “hop-on-hop-off” ticket, you simply buy a ticket for the section you wish to travel and then buy a new ticket when you are ready to move on.
For the full experience, buy the cheapest class of ticket. The trains are safe, and you will meet a host of invariably friendly and welcoming Russians of a multitude of ethnicities. The railway crosses at least five time zones, but trains always run on Moscow time, meaning that after a few days, nobody seems to know what the real time is. After Irkutsk, it is possible to branch off and take the train to Ulaanbaatar and on to Beijing (the “Trans-Mongolian”) or to travel into North-East China (the “Trans-Manchurian”).
At some point, vodka will probably be involved. </>
Check out this article for more info on travel in Europe.
Some important Russian phrases
Not everyone in Russia speaks good English and it will help you if you can learn a few useful phrases before you go. Here are some of the essentials.
English Russian Transliteration
Hello Здравствуйте Zdrastvooyte
Hi! Привет! Preevyet
Goodbye До свидания Do sveedaneeya
Yes Да Da
No Нет Nyet
How are you? Как дела? Kak dyela
Pleased to meet you Рад встрече с вами Rad vstreche s vami
Please Пожалуйста Pazhalooysta
Thank you Спасибо Spaseebo
You’re welcome Пожалуйста Pazhalooysta
Do you speak English? Вы говорите по-английски? Vi gavareetye po angleeyskee?
I’d like a beer Я хотел(а) бы пива Ya khotel(a) by piva
Cheers! (to health!) За здоровье! Za Zdarovje
It’s delicious! это вкусно Eto vkusno
I don’t understand Я не понимаю Ya nee paneemayoo
Don’t leave without your Wi-Fi connection
If you’re heading to Russia for the World Cup, you’ll want to stay connected while you’re away. For a practical and convenient Wi-Fi solution, click here to check out our portable Wi-Fi devices that give you unlimited internet access on the go.