It might be tricky to pronounce, but don’t let that put you off. Nizhny Novgorod is a fascinating city to explore - so don’t just come here for the football...
On the 24th of June, English and Panamanian football fans will head to Nizhny Novgorod for the second game of their campaigns. Although it’s easy to visit these days, until 1990 a holiday here would have been nigh on impossible. Named ‘Gorky’ and existing as the Soviet Union’s largest ‘closed city’, this was where the USSR’s biggest military secrets were guarded and its weapons made. Renamed as the decidedly harder-to-pronounce Nizhny Novgorod after the fall of the Soviet Union, these days it’s a metropolitan city of over 1.4 million. And with over 100 different nationalities to be found here it’s as vibrant as they come. For even the most well-travelled of football fans, you’ll want to make the most of your time here. So we’ve gathered five of our favourite off-the-beaten-track things to do during your stay.
1. Ride the cable car
Start your time in Nizhny Novgorod in style by taking a ride on what is perhaps the world’s most epic method of commuting. The town of Bor is connected with its larger neighbour via a high-wire cable car that spans a 3,660m journey crossing the mighty Volga and offering incredible views that’ll definitely beat the grey vistas of the tube. If you want to really get the most out of it, time your visit around sunset or sunrise to see the city and its surrounding landscape bathed in gorgeous gold light.
2. Visit the wooden architecture museum
In England you’d be hard pressed to find good examples of wooden architecture beyond your garden shed. But in Russia timber architecture has a rich tradition that stretches back to the early days of the nation. The heavily forested geography of Russia provided its people with cheap and convenient building materials for centuries. As these buildings became rarer, this museum was created in order to preserve examples of these beautiful wooden buildings. Built in 1964, this open air museum brings together buildings relocated from all over Russia and offers visitors fantastic examples of this traditional style of building.
3. Crunch your calves on Chkalov Stairs
For step aerobics fans, this one’s not to be missed. The Chkalov Stairs connect the city centre with the embankment of the Volga via an immense flight of stairs built to honour Soviet pilot Valery Chkalov’s record breaking flight from Moscow to Vancouver through the North Pole. With a whopping 1,500+ steps to stomp all over, this challenging ascent rewards its conquerors with commanding views of the city and surrounding countryside that’ll (just about) make up for the holes in your shoes after the climb.
4. Take in the museum of Andrei Sakharov
Known as the ‘Father of Russia’s Hydrogen Bomb’, you’d think that history would have painted Andrei Sakharov in a somewhat negative light. You’d be wrong however. The nuclear physicist went on to become an important human and civil rights activist within the USSR, a vocation that earned him a Nobel Prize, along with the anger of the Kremlin. After protesting against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan he was held under house arrest for seven years until finally being released by Gorbavchev in 1986. Today the nondescript flat in which he was imprisoned has been transformed into a museum dedicated to his achievements in both physics and politics. Located just 10km south of the centre, it’s well worth a visit.
5. Treat the taste buds to Gorodets gingerbreads
If you want to really impress the folks back home, what better way than to bring them back something that’s not only quintessentially Russian, but tastes great too? Russians have been mad about gingerbread for centuries. And while in Nizhny you’re only an hour’s drive away from one of Russia’s three historical centres for the craft. Head to the town of Gorodets to pick up a Gorodets gingerbread, famed for their whopping size and intricately crafted seals upon the icing.
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