2018 FIFA World Cup: The 11 Host Cities in Russia & What to Do There

2018 FIFA World Cup: The 11 Host Cities in Russia & What to Do There

With the football championship around the corner, get ready to kick off your trip to the land of the Tzars this 2018!

Avid football fans are looking forward to the 2018 FIFA World Cup which will be held in Russia. If you are flying all the way to the largest country in the world to catch a match or two, grab the opportunity to do some exploring as well. Here’s an introduction to some of the attractions you can visit in each of the 2018 World Cup host cities in Russia.

Kazan

Image credit: Maarten

Founded in 1005, Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, is older than Moscow. Apart from hosting the 2018 World Cup, the city has hosted many other sports events, earning the name ‘Sports Capital of Russia’. The name Kazan (meaning ‘cauldron’ in Tatar) befits the city as it’s a melting pot of cultures, embracing both its Tatar and Slavic heritage.

Since most of the Tatar community is made up of Muslims, one can find mosques built alongside cathedrals in Kazan, such as Kul Sharif Mosque, Cathedral of the Apostles Peter and Paul and the Temple of All Religions. The Kazan Kremlin, a 16th-century Russian Tatar fortress, is not to be forgotten either. So once you are here, look out for these sites that will give you a better understanding of the Kazan community!

Nearest airport: Kazan International Airport
Recommended hotels: Shalyapin Palace Hotel (save) and LUCIANO Residence Kazan (splurge)

Samara

Image credit: Ivolga Ya

Samara is a Russian city which sits at the junction of the Samara River and the Volga River. Apart from being home to synagogues, cathedrals and even one of the largest mosques in Russia, Samara also played a leading role in the Soviet’s space endeavours. The city oversaw the construction of the Vostok 1 rocket which took the first man, Yuri Gagarin, to space. The USSR’s space ambitions and Samara’s role in it are documented in the Samara Space Museum.

If you aren’t up for space talks but down for basking in the sun or hiking up trails, Samara has just the right places for you. One can experience the pristine nature of Samarskaya Luka National Park, trek the Zhiguli Mountains, enjoy a stroll on the Samara Embankment, or just take in Europe’s longest river at the River Volga Lookout.

Nearest airport: Kurumoch International Airport
Recommended hotels: Renaissance Samara (save) and Lotte Hotel Samara (splurge)

Yekaterinburg

From mafia wars in the 90s to the execution of the Romanovs, the last imperial family, Yekaterinburg underwent a turbulent past to become the modern city it is today. Currently, it is one of the main economic and industrial centres of Russia, with a booming arts scene to boot.

Russia houses some of the most incredible looking places of worship and Yekaterinburg is no different. The city’s most famous site, Church On The Blood, rising tall with its clean white walls and reflective golden domes — almost innocent-looking. Yet, it stands on the execution grounds of the last imperial family, the Romanovs, which signalled the end of Tsar-dom for Russia. Aside from appreciating the darker side of the city’s history, you can get up to Vysotskiy Viewing Platform to enjoy the city’s beautiful skyline. As you carry out your fan duties during the World Cup, spare some time to indulge in the spirit of Yekaterinburg.

Nearest airport: Koltsovo Airport
Recommended hotels: Marins Park Hotel Ekaterinburg (save) and Visotsky apart-hotel (splurge)

St Petersburg

Russia’s imperial capital, St Petersburg, is a grand city that is home to many of Russia’s royal palaces and museums. It is the country’s second largest city and also one that holds high cultural and political significance. On the tourism front, St Petersburg is a major draw for travellers and is consistently ranked among Russia’s top holiday destinations.

Among the must-see attractions in St Petersburg is the Hermitage Museum, a monumental palace-museum. The five adjoined luxurious buildings which hold a collection of 3,000,000 items cover a massive space; thus, visitors require careful planning of their way around the establishment to make the most out of their visit. St Petersburg also houses a breathtaking iconic attraction: the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. This stunning church fashioned in Russian Orthodox architecture is accompanied by other outstanding cathedrals, namely the Kazan Cathedral and Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. Take a quiet stroll through this resplendent burg to take in the magnificence of the city while you are there.

Nearest airport: Pulkovo Airport
Recommended hotels: Kravt Hotel (save) and Petro Palace Hotel (splurge)

Sochi

Even if you are unfamiliar with Russian cities, this may not be the first time you’ve heard of Sochi. This coastal city had the honour of hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics and will be hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup, too.

With Byzantium ruin sites and museums peppering the city, Sochi caters to the interests of art and history fanatics. Be sure to visit Stalin’s Dacha, his summer house, to understand the infamous tyrant’s lifestyle. Nature lovers and adventurers will not be left out as they can find numerous natural sites to revel in. After all, Sochi is Russia’s summer and winter playground. Explore Sochi’s tea plantation, swim in the calm waters of the Black Sea, ski down the Caucasus Mountains, go on a quest to find waterfalls and hot springs, and indulge in the glorious views of the Ritsa lake and Mount Akhum.

Nearest airport: Sochi International Airport
Recommended hotels: Hotel Subbota (save) and Sochi Marriott Krasnaya Polyana Hotel (splurge)

Kaliningrad

Fondly known as “Little Russia” by the locals, Kaliningrad is not as popular as other Russian cities nor does it have an extensive list of tourist attractions on its menu. But, the city does offer cultural gems, if you prod hard enough. Established by Teutonic knights, Kaliningrad went on to be part of Poland, Prussia, Germany, USSR and finally became part of modern-day Russia.

This tumultuous journey has definitely made its mark on the city as you can see the architecture of different eras on Kaliningrad buildings. This city saw the birth and life of the renowned philosopher, Immanuel Kant, whose tomb can be found in the Königsberg Cathedral. The cathedral also organises organ concerts for music lovers to enjoy. Apart from philosophy and music, Kaliningrad is also obsessed with amber. With the largest amber deposit in the world, the city’s economy revolves around it. Amber is even celebrated by having its own museum. So, walk around the city’s shopping spots and you are bound to find jewellery and novelties, made out of amber, to take home.

Nearest airport: Khrabrovo Airport
Recommended hotels: Hotel ibis Kaliningrad Center (save) and Crystal House Suite Hotel & Spa (splurge)

Nizhny Novgorod

Image credit: Rukaba

As one of the oldest Russian cities, Nizhny Novgorod is home to multiple museums, theatres, universities and churches. The Kremlin is undeniably the main attraction of Nizhny Novgorod. Dating back to 1500, this old fortress walls some of the city’s oldest buildings and other sites, such as the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael, an art museum and a war monument.

Nizhny Novgorod’s Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary looks like it is straight out a fairytale. The colourful gold-detailed church from the 17th century looks stunning against an evening backdrop and is the charm of the city! And finally, turn up at the city’s old street, Bolshaya Pokrovskaya, for an evening stroll and a warm cuppa.

Nearest airport: Strigino International Airport
Recommended hotels: Minin Hotel (save) and Sheraton Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin (splurge)

Rostov-on-Don

Image credit: Moreorless

This port city that lies along the Don River is ideal for coastal activities, including taking a walk along the embankment or enjoying a relaxing boat ride down the river. Rostov-on-Don, although not famous with tourists, does have its own quirks.

One can experience the local Russian lifestyle here by trying the local food from the Rostov’s Central Market or by visiting the parks along Pushkinskaya Street and Bolshaya Sadovaya Street. Pushkin Street is also popular for its cafes and restaurants in garden settings accompanied with historical statues. After having a bite in one of the cafes, spend some time in Bogoroditsa Cathedral, where orthodox Russians worship under beautiful domes.

Saransk

Image credit: Wildboar

Named after the Saranka River that flows through the city, the capital of Mordovia is rich with historical and cultural heritage. Religious coexistence can be found in Saransk – one can spot both mosques and cathedrals in the city, including Cathedral of St. Fyodor Ushakov where French influence can be seen in its architecture.

Planning on a short picnic to bask in the Saransk atmosphere? Head down to Pushkin Park to enjoy the sun, have some treats and watch families spend a relaxing afternoon in the city’s recreational hub. The city also holds art and history museums, if you prefer the indoors.

Volgograd

Volgograd, which rests along the Volga River, saw one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War: the Battle Of Stalingrad. No trip to the city would be complete without visiting its most popular and sacred attraction, The Motherland Calls. It’s the tallest statue in Europe and commemorates those fallen in the battle.

After a solemn visit to the war memorial complex, take a stroll down Komsomol Park or feast your eyes on Lake Elton to calm your mind. At nightfall, visit the city’s small planetarium to gaze at the sky over the charming city of Volgograd.

Moscow

Finally, we are down to one of the most vibrant cities of Europe — Moscow. As the heart of Russia, Moscow is undoubtedly the nation’s most popular tourist city and it does not disappoint! There are so many sites to look out for that you will most likely be dog-paddling in Moscow’s sea of attractions. In fact, even their Soviet-era metro stations are so exquisite that they are attractions in their own right!

This gem of a city has something to offer for all. It houses the popular icons of Russia, such as the Red Square, Moscow Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum. Shopaholics can satisfy their hunger at Izmailovsky Market, Arbat Street and the city’s most popular department store, GUM. If you are into museums, do not forget the State Historical Museum, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the Bolshoi Theatre. Once you are done for the day, take a dip at one of Russia’s banyas (saunas) — the most spectacular being the centuries-old Sandunovsky Banya.

Nearest airport: Sheremetyevo International Airport (International + Domestic flights); Moscow Domodedovo Airport (International + Domestic flights); Vnukovo International Airport (Domestic flights only)
Recommended hotels: Moscow Holiday Hotel (save) and Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya (splurge)

Russia’s rich history and culture are bound to suck you in for a ride around the vast country. So, while basking in the heat of the World Cup, take time off to do some sightseeing in the cities that are hosting the upcoming football championship!

About Author

Begum Khalida
Begum Khalida

A curious yet quirky oddball who believes that she is the spirit animal of Matthew Gray Gubler. Apart from having a part-time job of having to correct the pronunciation of her name, Khalida is a passionate tea enthusiast who also loves to read, daydream, travel and watch a plethora of dramas.

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