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We’ve all heard of Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi, but what about Saransk – is that a name you’re familiar with?

Saransk is the capital city of the Republic of Mordovia. The city stands in the Volga basin at the confluence of the Saranka and Insar Rivers, about 390 miles east of Moscow. It was founded in 1641 as a fortress. These days, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Russia and world-famous for its sporting achievements, as it’s the home town of many Olympic and World champions.

Source: Wiki Commons, WildBoar

The city’s modern and European-looking streets attract thousands of tourists from all over the country. It combines historical buildings, Soviet-era apartment blocks, fascinating sports venues, crowded malls and cosy parks. It really is a friendly, exciting place to visit.

Pushkin’s Park is a great place to relax and watch the world go by, while there’s no shortage of churches and cathedrals, museums and memorials. The Cathedral of St Theodore Ushakov with its gleaming golden domes is particularly impressive, and well worth a visit.

Being quite a small city, there’s only one kind of public transport – the bus. However, they’re available everywhere from early morning to late at night. Alternatively, you can take a taxi. The prices are cheap, and the drivers friendly and outgoing. But maybe the best way to get around and see the sights is on foot. That way, you can go wherever you like and stop when you want – a great way to discover this fascinating place and its many wonders.

Where to stay

There aren’t as many hotels in Saransk as there are in the other World Cup 2018 host cities (the population is only about 300 000), and none directly near the Mordovia Arena, but there are various apartment rentals to choose from. In the centre, Saransk Hotel and Meridian are both within easy walking distance of the stadium, with a number of other hotels further away.

Of course, there are also apartment rentals, hostels, and a range of other options available for travelling fans, including a tent city, we believe! But for Saransk more than any other host city, you need expert, friendly advice on where to stay and finding the best deals. That’s why you need to partner with RNTO. Just give us a call on 0207 985 1234, and we’ll make sure you get the best-value accommodation available.

The stadium

The Mordovia Arena is part of a large new development just across the bridge over the River Insar from Saransk’s city centre. It forms part of a new area consisting of residential units, parks and shopping malls. The arena, also known as Saransk Stadium, will be the new home of Mordovia Saransk once the 2018 World Cup is over.

Its capacity for the tournament is 45 000 seats, which will be reduced to 28 000 after the World Cup by removing the upper tier. During the World Cup, the Mordovia Arena will host four first-round group matches.

The stadium is located on the eastern edge of Saransk, less than a kilometre (10-minute walk) from the city’s main Sovetskaya Square. Saransk’s main railway station lies a little further north, but still just a little over 2 kilometres away. At the moment, there aren’t many options to eat and drink around the stadium, but with the city centre nearby, that’s hardly a problem.

While most central parts of Saransk are all within walking distance of the stadium, you can take bus 44 if you’re in a hurry, though the route from the railway station is rather circuitous. It’s a quick connection from the bus terminal though. Alternatively, there are multiple marshrutkas (shared taxis) which run along Volgogradskaya Street next to the stadium. And remember: your FAN ID  allows you to travel free on selected public transport routes.

The tournament gets underway on 16 June at 7.00 pm, when Peru clash with Denmark. Three days later, Colombia take on Japan.

What to see

There are more than 40 churches and chapels in Saransk and its surrounding area which tell the history of the Mordva people. There’s a route that’s about 3 miles long that takes in the best of them.

Start at the Ioanno-Bogoslovsky (St John the Evangelist) Temple on Demokraticheskaya Ulitsa. The Church of St John the Evangelist is one of the few architectural landmarks in the Mordovian capital that dates back to the seventeenth century. There’s also a smaller Church of the Epiphany within the premises of the main church, but this is a modern building. The first written evidence of the adoption of Christianity by the local people dates from the sixteenth century. The first to adopt the Orthodox faith were the local elite, and by the mid-eighteenth century, the conversion of the Mordva people was more or less complete.

After leaving the church, walk towards Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa and take a ten-minute stroll to the Mordovian Erzia Museum of Visual Arts. You’ll need at least an hour to look through the museum’s collection, which contains more than 1500 items, including works by contemporary Mordovian artists, Orthodox icons and nineteenth-century drawings, etchings and paintings by well-known Russian artists.

Leaving the museum, walk another 500 yards through the garden square towards Sovetskaya Ulitsa to find the imposing golden-domed Cathedral of St Theodore Ushakov. Next to the cathedral is a monument to Fedor Ushakov – a Russian admiral who commanded the Black Sea Fleet in 1790–1792, and considered by many the town’s patron saint.

Next to the cathedral is the Alexander Nevsky Chapel with its octagonal dome, built in 2000 in memory of Mordovia residents who died as a result of wars and natural disasters. A hundred yards away is a monument to Patriarch Nikon (1605–1681), a venerated reformer of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Then head down to Krasnoarmeyskaya Ulitsa, to find the Church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin – actually, two separate churches built in 1734 and 1802. In 1882, a new bell tower was built between the two churches, uniting them as one.

Leaving the Assumption Church, go around the corner and you’ll find yourself in Pushkin Park. You can walk through the park, past a small town zoo, to come out on Moskovskaya Ulitsa. Turn right and walk a little further until you reach the Mordovia Local History Museum, whose most ancient exhibits go all the way back to the Mesolithic period. This is one of the few places where you can learn about the customs and traditions of the Mokshi and Erzia ethnic groups that make up the Mordva people, including the history of their gradual conversion to Christianity.

Next, walk down Moskovskaya Ulitsa towards Sovetskaya Ulitsa, back through Pushkin Park. After 15 minutes, you’ll come to the Mineralogy Museum with its collection made up of all the principal minerals, rocks and mineral resources of Russia and beyond.

Opposite the museum is the Mordovian Drama Theatre. The republic’s national theatre tradition dates back to the 1930s, although this particular building was constructed in 2007 on a spot previously occupied by a two-storey pre-revolutionary building, home to Saransk’s first movie theatre.

Saransk isn’t short of impressive squares, either. Soviet (Sovetskaya) Square is Saransk’s historic centre. The area used to have its very own kremlin, but it was burnt down in the 1800s. In the 1960s-1970s, the square went through a major overhaul. Historic buildings were removed, the square expanded and administrative buildings were added. Today, the square is home to the Mordovian capital administration and the House of the Republic – a monumental building that’s the residence of the head of Mordovia.

Then there’s Victory Square, which also forms part of the city’s historic centre, with its focal point – the monument to Mordovia’s soldiers who perished in the Second World War. Or Millennium (Tysyacheletia) Square, opened as recently as 2012 and dedicated to the unification of Mordovia with the peoples of the Russian state. The dominant element of this new pedestrian area is the Zvezda Mordovii (Star of Mordovia) fountain, 60 metres in diameter with LED lighting.

Other fountains worth seeing are the Forever with Russia complex with its monument depicting two women in national Mordovian dress holding an ear of wheat in their hands to symbolise the fertility of the Mordovian soil. It’s especially spectacular at night, when the lights are turned on. Or visit the ‘fountain descent’ on Moskovskaya Street, with its monument to Pushkin. The descent leads towards the city’s Pushkin Park, a great place to relax on a sunny day.

Bars and restaurants

Saransk may not have the widest choice of places to eat and drink of all the 2018 World Cup host cities, but you won’t have any problems finding somewhere suitable. There’s more than enough choice, including a number of sports bars which are sure to be popular throughout the tournament.

Whether it’s live music, great food, meeting other fans or just watching the World Cup unfold, there are plenty of options to enjoy the competition with a beer or two.

As always, the official Russia 2018 website has some useful recommendations.

Watch for free

Experiencing the glamour and excitement of the World Cup in one of the 12 stadia hosting the event is an unforgettable experience. But what if you can’t get a ticket – what’s the next best thing?

The ‘Fan Fest’ areas have giant screens set up in huge open areas where fans can watch all the action live. And the best thing about it is that they’re free!

Over 5 million people attended the 2014 Fan Fest events in Brazil. Not only are they a great way to follow your team and meet supporters from all around the world – they mean you can truly enjoy the unique culture and friendly hospitality on offer in each of the host cities and take home some amazing memories of Russia 2018.

In Saransk, head for Sovetskaya Square, right in the city centre. With room for 25 000 fans, it’s a great way to enjoy all the action from Russia 2018. And for more information, see the official FIFA website. See you there!

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If Volgograd is on the Volga, then it makes sense that Rostov-on-Don is … on the Don.

Twenty miles to the east of the Sea of Azov, which in turn forms a northern offshoot of the Black Sea, Rostov-on-Don is one of the more southerly cities to host this year’s World Cup. With a population of just over a million people, it’s a major administrative, cultural, scientific, educational and industrial centre and a major transportation hub of southern Russia, often known as the ‘Gateway to the Caucasus’.

Source: Wiki Commons, Moreorless

With its Don Cossacks, delectable fish and all the traditions of a large trading port, Rostov-on-Don treats visitors to the flavours of the Russian south. The city itself only came into being just over 200 years ago, but since then, it’s developed into a major trade centre and communications hub, thanks to its important strategic location and river transport network.

Where to stay

Mercure, Ramada, Radisson – you’ll find them all in Rostov, as well as plenty more hotels big and small. Maybe you’d prefer something a little more local-sounding, like the Nikolaevsky or Berezovy Dvor? Whatever you’re looking for, there’s plenty of choice in this bustling city.

Generally speaking, it’s probably best to go for something central. Although Rostov is a large city, its centre is fairly compact, and the stadium isn’t far away. There are a few hotels on the south bank of the river, close to the stadium (Golubaya Volna, Vysokii Bereg Park Hotel), but it’s not the most appealing part of the city. Of course, it depends what your priorities are, but staying near the centre and travelling out probably makes most sense.

Rostov doesn’t have a Metro system, but its bus network is extensive, efficient and very cheap. Buses can get a little overcrowded at peak periods, but plan your journey in advance and you shouldn’t have any problems. And remember: your FAN ID allows you to travel free on selected routes, so if you do need to use public transport, it shouldn’t be a problem. Route maps are posted on many bus stops, and the locals should be able to help if you get lost, or alternatively book a taxi. Again, they shouldn’t cost that much, and you don’t have to worry about finding your way.

Here at RNTO, our friendly, helpful advisers can provide all the assistance you need, finding and booking the accommodation that’s right for you. Just give us a call on 0207 985 1234, and let us do the rest!

The stadium

The Rostov Arena is yet another new stadium that’s been built specially for this year’s World Cup.

Source: kremlin.ru

The arena will have a capacity of 45 000 seats for the tournament, although this will subsequently be scaled down after the competition to just 25 000, providing a new home for FC Rostov. Its design is inspired by the ancient mounds of earth (Kurgans) that can be found in the region.

The Rostov Arena is located on the south bank of the river, not far from the city centre. It’s about 15 minutes’ walk to the stadium from the bridge over the Don, near Rostov’s centre.

Rostov’s main railway station is located on the western edge of the city centre, roughly 4 kilometres from the stadium. Trams 1 and 4 run right through Rostov’s centre from the railway station. Get off at the Voroshilovsky Prospekt stop and walk across the bridge to the stadium. Bus 39 provides a direct connection from the station to the stadium, but doesn’t run through the centre.

The first match of the tournament will be a big one – Brazil v Switzerland on 17 June. Following close on their heels are Uruguay and Saudi Arabia, just three days later.

What to see

Heading for the river is a great way to get your bearings in a city, and the Don is hard to miss! The Don River Lookout (Beregovaya Ulitsa), often referred to as ‘the Embankment’, is where visitors and locals alike can stroll along the riverside and take in some of the city’s best views. The Embankment is lined with restaurants, statues, fountains and a few shops. Importantly, it’s the centre of nightlife in Rostov. You’ll find a number of steamboats docked along the bank offering hour-long excursions – a relaxing way to get acquainted with this port city.

Fancy a Stella? Then head for the Obelisk on Teatralnaya Square. Affectionally known as ‘Stella’ by the locals, the obelisk, which looks like a winged tower, bears inscriptions on its base, while the golden lady (Stella) hovers between the wings on the south side.

Pushkin Street is a great place for a stroll. This highly ornate, landscaped boulevard is lined with trees, restaurants, food kiosks, flowers, benches, statues and memorials. A favourite place to gather near the eastern end of the boulevard is the wrought-iron globes depicting scenes from Pushkin’s most popular works. Pushkin Street leads into both the City Park (Park Gorkovo) and October Revolution Park with their meticulously cultivated garden beds, amusement parks and souvenir kiosks.

Fancy something a little more reminiscent of the Soviet era? Then you need to head underground! The underground pedestrian crossings dotted around the centre contain dozens of tile mosaics depicting scenes of Soviet life. For the most impressive ones, head for the intersection of Bolshaya Sadovaya and Buddyonovsky Prospect.

For a taste of the Cossack life, head east up the river to Starocherkassk, a town which cherishes its Cossack traditions. Visiting the Starocherkassk Historical and Archaeological Open-Air Museum is like stepping back in time. The architecture is fantastic, and the various displays really give a taste of what Cossack life is all about.

Or head south to Azov, today a cosy green town, but once the site of battles between the Russian and Turkish troops at the end of the 17th century, when Peter the Great and his army fought here for Russia’s sea access. All the major attractions are located near each other, and include the town’s History, Archaeology and Palaeontology Museum-Reserve, the self-explanatory Gunpowder Cellar, the town’s ramparts and Alekseevskie gates, a handful of churches and chapels, and a very impressive memorial to Peter the Great himself.

Tennis, trampolining, golf, river rafting and a monkey park where the kids can burn off some energy are all available in and around the city. So whatever you’re looking for, Rostov has it in bucketloads!

Bars and restaurants

Being located on the Don and not far upstream from the Sea of Azov, Rostov is justifiably proud of its fish and seafood restaurants. But like any major city, it’s full of choice when it comes to places to eat and drink. Whether you’re heading down by the river or into the city centre, you’re never far from somewhere to sit down and relax, enjoying the great tastes of Cossack country.

There are a few Western-themed or owned venues if that’s what you’re after, but Rostov is famous for its wide range of authentic local hostelries offering a warm welcome and quality wines and beers. The ship restaurants moored down by the river offer something a little different and some great views for you to enjoy.

So whatever your taste, just take a wander around the city and see what you find. Alternatively, if you’d rather plan your route in advance, check out the official Russia 2018 website.

Watch for free

A great tradition that’s grown up around the World Cup in recent years is the ‘Fan Fest’ areas – giant screens set up in huge open areas where fans can watch all the action live. And the best thing about it is that it’s free!

Russia 2018 continues this great tradition, with Fan Fest sites in all 11 World Cup host cities. They’re a great way to follow your team and meet supporters from all around the world, where you can enjoy the unique culture and friendly hospitality on offer, and take home some amazing memories of Russia 2018.

Rostov’s Fan Fest is located in Teatralnaya Square, a large square close to the city centre. With a capacity of 25 000, it holds more than half as many fans as can fit into the arena itself. So if you don’t have a ticket, or if you want to watch the matches being held in other cities across Russia, head for Teatralnaya Square and join the crowds, all cheering on their team to victory!

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If the World Cup had been held in Russia just 28 years ago, none of the games would have been held in Nizhny Novgorod for two important reasons:

  • Nizhny Novgorod didn’t exist then – the city was actually called Gorky;
  • As the Soviet Union’s largest closed city, it was strictly off-limits to foreigners.

Source: Wiki Commons, Maria Krivosheina 

But today, all that’s changed, and the people of this fascinating place that dominates Russia’s Volga Federal District are looking forward to welcoming football fans from around the world.

This major industrial city was founded in the 13th century. Located about 270 miles east of Moscow, ‘Nizhny’ stands on the banks of the mighty Volga River, where it meets the slightly less mighty Oka River. Although the population is predominantly Russian, around 100 different nationalities live within the city. The climate is temperate continental, with warm summer days to enjoy all that the city has to offer … and the football, of course.

The city’s proximity to Moscow is a definite bonus in terms of getting around as the tournament progresses. So why not choose Nizhny as your base for this year’s World Cup? And with RNTO as your Russia 2018 partner, you’re guaranteed a competition you’ll never forget!

Where to stay

With a population of around 1.3 million, Nizhny Novgorod is a good-sized city by anyone’s standards. And as you’d expect, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to finding somewhere to stay during the competition.

Things have changed a lot since Nizhny lost its ‘closed city’ status back in 1990. The city’s infrastructure has been updated in terms of transport and accommodation, and while it may not offer quite the same degree of choice as its larger neighbour Moscow, you’re sure to find somewhere that fits the bill within your available budget. But to be on the safe side, it’s certainly worth booking as soon as possible to secure the best deal in the location you want.

If that means staying near the stadium, the choice is somewhat limited, admittedly. There are a few hotels to choose from near the stadium, though, and many more apartment rentals. The Nikitin, Titul and Shinel hotels are all a short walk from the stadium. A little further away, the massive Marins Park Hotel is another good option, while there are a few more hotels around Moskovsky train station.

But unlike some host cities, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium is fairly centrally located, and within walking distance of many of the central attractions. And remember: your FAN ID  allows you to travel free on selected routes, so if you do need to use public transport, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Whatever your accommodation needs, we can make all the arrangements for you. Call us today on 0207 985 1234 for friendly, helpful advice and the best deals to suit your needs.

The stadium

Nizhny Novgorod Stadium is one of the venues that’s been built specifically to host the World Cup.

The stadium’s design was inspired by the nature of the Volga region, and consists of a semi-transparent facade that can be lit up at night. The seats are divided over two tiers. This 45 000-capacity venue will become the new home of FC Olimpiyets once the World Cup’s over.

During the competition, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium will host four first-round group matches, one round-of-16 match, and one quarter-final.

Standing on the west bank of the river Volga where the Oka and Volga meet, it’s less than 3 kilometres from Nizhny’s historical heart and the Kremlin on the other side of the Oka river, and less than 2 kilometres from Nizhny’s main railway station (Moskovsky), so you can walk there from most central locations. The city also has three Metro lines, making getting around simple.

Right next door, there’s a large shopping centre with various places to get something to eat, while just south of the stadium, along the Oka River, lies the Strelka area, which includes the Nizhny Novgorod Fair and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which is worth a look and has a few places to eat or drink.

The action kicks off on 18 June when Sweden take on the Korean Republic, followed three days later by Argentina v Croatia.

What to see

There are more than six hundred historic, architectural and cultural monuments in the city. Among them there are eight theatres, five concert halls, 17 movie theatres (including five for children), eight museums and seven parks.

Nizhny Novgorod has an extraordinary art gallery with more than 12 000 exhibits, an enormous collection of works by Russian artists and a vast accumulation of Western European and East Asian artworks.

In terms of religious buildings, the Pechersky Ascension Monastery features an austere five-domed cathedral dating back to 1632 and two rare churches with tent roofs, dating from the 1640s. The city’s most original and delightful churches were built by the Stroganovs in the early Baroque style. Don’t miss the Virgin’s Nativity Church in the city centre.

Other notable churches include the huge domed Transfiguration Cathedral, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (the third tallest in Russia) and the Church of the Nativity, one of the most beautiful in the city, not forgetting the recently reconstructed Church of the Nativity of John the Precursor, which stands just below the Kremlin walls and was used during the Soviet period as an apartment house.

There’s also a mosque in Sennaya Square, where Muslim worshippers go for Friday prayers, and the centrally located Nizhny Novgorod Synagogue, built in the 1880s.

But the dominating feature of the city’s skyline is the grand Kremlin, located on the hill near the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers. Built between 1500 and 1511, it’s guarded by 13 red-brick towers. Unfortunately, the Bolsheviks destroyed most of its buildings, and today, the only ancient edifice left within the Kremlin walls is the Archangel Cathedral. The 18th-century buildings inside the Kremlin currently house the Legislative Assembly, Philharmonic and the Arbitration Court.

The Kremlin is also home to the Military Technology Museum. All the equipment on display was manufactured in Nizhny Novgorod, and is in good working order. Most impressive is the T-34 tank which stands next to the Eternal Flame and the sculptural memorial commemorating the soldiers of the Great Patriotic War.

A staircase connects the Kremlin with the Volga River, offering a panoramic view of its surroundings. The staircase itself was constructed in the late 1940s by German prisoners of war who were forced to work around Gorky.

You’ll also find great views of the city and beyond from the Strelka (or ‘Spit’), where the River Oka flows into the Volga. On a clear day, you can distinctly see that the water of the two rivers is a different colour (the Volga’s is darker and thicker). This is where you’ll find Nizhny’s stadium (nearest Metro station is, not unexpectedly, called ‘Strelka’).

Also worth a look are the apartment museums of famous Russian writer Maxim Gorky, and of Andrey Sakharov, known primarily as the father of the hydrogen bomb, who both lived in the city.

There’s no end of things to see and do in Nizhny, but no visit can be complete without a stroll down the city’s pedestrian main street, Bolshaya Pokrovskaya, or Pokrovka. It’s the liveliest street in town, connecting the two main squares: Ploshchad Minina i Pozharskogo and Ploshchad Gorkogo. Pokrovka is always crowded, with tourists milling about in the gift shops, checking out Semyonovo nesting dolls and Gorodets gingerbreads.

Bars and restaurants

The most popular places to eat and drink in the city centre are either around Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street, or closer to the river around Rozhdestvenskaya Street.

Shustry Shmel on Ulitsa Alekseyevskaya is worth a visit just for its unusual name. But there’s more on offer – in particular, its many Russian craft beers. The more familiar-sounding Franky on Ulitsa Zvezdinka is a worthy option if you fancy a taste of 1950s America. Or try the ‘English Embassy’ further down the road for something a little more genteel, and a great kids’ menu.

There’s plenty of choice to suit every taste in Nizhny. And needless to say, most will be showing the matches live. For a more extensive round-up, visit the official Russia 2018 website. Na zdorovye (cheers)!

Watch for free

If you’ve watched the World Cup in previous years (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t?), then you will have seen the ‘Fan Fest’ areas – giant screens set up in huge open areas where fans can watch all the action live. And the best thing about it is that it’s free!

Russia 2018 continues this great tradition, with Fan Fest sites in all 11 World Cup host cities. They’re a great way to follow your team and meet supporters from all around the world, where you can enjoy the unique culture and friendly hospitality on offer and take home some amazing memories of Russia 2018.

You’ll find Nizhny’s on Minina i Pozharskogo Square, next to the Kremlin and a busy pedestrian street. This unique location in the heart of the city is the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere of the world’s greatest football event. With a capacity of 15 000 people, where better to support your team and enjoy the moment!

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Saint Petersburg is one of Russia’s most picturesque cities. Home to the country’s iconic FC Zenit football team, it’s a city full of history and wonder.

Known at different times as both Petrograd and Leningrad, St Petersburg is just over 300 years old, yet it’s crammed full of incredible sights and amazing stories of achievement, hope and, at times, suffering. As the place where Russia’s most famous revolution took place, it’s effectively the birthplace of communism. And while today, traces of the city’s Soviet past still remain to fascinate foreign visitors, St Petersburg is one of Russia’s most Westernised and progressive cities.

Source: https://pixabay.com/en/saint-petersburg-peter-st-petersburg-2612675/

Also known as the ‘Venice of the North’ (because of its dozens of canals and waterways) and an open-air museum, you’ll never tire of exploring this wonderful place. And because it’s not that far from the Arctic Circle, football fans will have the added benefit of enjoying the city’s ‘White Nights’ – that time of year around the summer solstice when the sun’s rays never fully leave the sky. Being so far north, the sun only just dips below the horizon for a short time each night, meaning you can party from dusk till dawn with the locals, who also traditionally make the most of this special time of year.

Where to stay

As one of Eastern Europe’s most visited cities, St Petersburg is hardly short of places to stay. From simple backpackers’ hostels to some of the world’s top hotels and everything in between, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in this dazzling tourist destination.

You’ll find many of the world’s top hotel chains in the city, but there are also plenty of independents which may prove more to your liking, offering more in the way of individuality and tradition.

Of course, location is also an issue. St Petersburg Stadium is in the north-west of the city, so finding somewhere to stay nearby may be your priority. But with the city’s extensive public transport facilities, and in particular its cheap and efficient metro system, getting around should be pretty straightforward. And remember: your FAN ID allows you to travel free on selected routes.

Whatever your accommodation needs, we can make all the arrangements for you. Check out the website or call us on 0207 985 1234.

The stadium

St Petersburg Stadium – which is the new home of the city’s FC Zenit – will have a capacity of around 68 000 for its World Cup matches, and occupies the site of the former Kirov Stadium. Completed in April of last year at an overall cost of over $1 billion, it’s one of the most expensive stadia ever built.

The first official match it hosted took place on 22 April of last year, when Zenit beat Ural 2-0 in a league match.

Source: Wiki Commons, Andrew Shiva

The stadium looks like a spaceship, its roof held up by four masts. It will host four first-round group matches, a quarter-final, a semi-final, and the match for third place. It also hosted four matches during the 2017 Confederations Cup, including the final.

Its towering stands are spectacular, the views out to the Gulf of Finland from behind the seats are wonderful, and its ‘spaceship’ design is unmistakable. And for a few thrills before the football kicks off, the vast park on the approach to the ground contains a number of white-knuckle rollercoaster rides.

Located on the western tip of Krestovsky Island in the north-west of St Petersburg, the stadium lies about 7.5 kilometres from Palace Square in the city centre. The nearest metro station is Krestovsky Ostrov on the purple line 5, which runs right through central St Petersburg. You then have a pleasant 25-minute walk from the station to the stadium through Maritime Victory Park.

Alternatively, buses 10 and 25 stop a little closer to the stadium, just a 15-minute walk away. Bus 10 runs through central St Petersburg, while bus 25 runs through the northern parts of the city.

What to see

St Petersburg is the artistic and cultural capital of Russia, drawing people from all over the world to marvel at its stunning architecture and drink in the history of the place. Admittedly, any fan’s priority in travelling to the World Cup is to watch their team hopefully progress through the competition and share the atmosphere of this amazing sporting occasion. But it would be a shame to travel to St Petersburg and not experience some of the unique attractions on offer.

The city’s State Hermitage is the biggest museum in Russia, housing over three million precious paintings, sculptures, items of glasswork, porcelain, ancient artefacts… Partly housed in the former Winter Palace, it’s a true gem of Russian and world history, attracting thousands of visitors every day.

Travel a short distance from St Petersburg and you’ll find Peterhof. Home to seven imperial palaces and gardens and 23 museums, this ‘Russian Versailles’ is one of the country’s most visited tourist attractions. Created on the orders of Peter the Great, its most popular highlight is its fountain system. Every day at 11.00 am, thousands of tourists gather in the lower garden to watch them burst into action. Why not join them – you’ll be glad you made the journey!

Nevsky Prospect is the main thoroughfare through St Petersburg. You can spend a day simply walking from one end to the other, enjoying the many fascinating sights and places to eat and drink along the route. It stretches for over 2 miles, and as well as its countless restaurants and cafes lining the pavements, it’s also the best place for shopping in St Petersburg. Where better to pick up some souvenirs of Russia 2018?

The colourful Church on the Spilled Blood with its onion-shaped domes stands in the historic heart of St Petersburg, not far from Nevsky Prospect. It commemorates the memory of Alexander II, one of Russia’s tsars, who was fatally wounded by a terrorist on this very spot.

One famous monument you may have seen on TV (especially if you’re a fan of ‘Top Gear’ and saw them race through the city) is the Peter and Paul Fortress, with its huge golden spire reaching up to the heavens. St Petersburg’s official citadel, it marks the spot where Peter the Great founded his new city back in 1703. Inside its Peter and Paul Cathedral is where you’ll find the tombs and graves of most of Russia’s tsars.

If you have the time, travel just 16 miles from St Petersburg to visit the Catherine Palace with its unique Amber Room. This stunning palace was created by the daughter of Peter I, Russian empress Elizabeth, in honour of her mother, Catherine I. The highlight of any visit is the spectacular Amber Room, but the whole ensemble and its grounds are well worth seeing.

Like Moscow, St Petersburg’s subway is a tourist attraction in its own right. It’s so deep that locals spend about 50 hours a year on the escalators alone. The subway itself is like a museum, its vestibules and platforms decorated with great artworks, precious stones, mosaics, and gilded crystal chandeliers. And the good news for travelling fans is that all stations have signs both in Russian and in English. For the most stunning stations on the network, take the red line, and keep a special eye out for the Narvskaya, Kirovsky Zavod and Avtovo stations.

A great way to take in some of the best views the city has to offer is from the water. A boat ride along St Petersburg’s rivers and canals is a great way to see how the city developed as one of Russia’s main sea and river ports. In total, St Petersburg has 93 natural rivers and channels, and 20 man-made canals, the main one being the River Neva. Most of its tourist attractions are built on their banks, so what better way to see some of the best of what St Petersburg has to offer than by relaxing on the deck of a tourist boat?

St Isaac’s Cathedral is the biggest in St Petersburg and one of the city’s tallest structures (its golden dome can be clearly seen from all across the city). The giant dome is made of cast iron covered with about 100 kilos of pure gold. The interior decoration is equally striking with its abundance of gold, marble, paintings and mosaics. Today, the cathedral operates as a museum, but still welcomes worshippers early in the morning.

For a taste of the city’s more recent history, the legendary cruiser Aurora is well worth a visit. Russian tsar Nicholas II and his family attended its launch ceremony in 1900. Anchored at Petrovskaya embankment, the ship is a museum and monument to the Great October Revolution, having fired a blank shot on 25 October, which symbolised the start of the Revolution.

There are countless other sights across the city, all well worth a look. You could start with Senate Square with its famous statue of the Bronze Horseman – a monument to the city’s founder, Peter the Great, which opens out onto the River Neva. Not far away is the Admiralty building, which personifies the idea of Russia as a maritime power. The Admiralty’s tower, with its weather-vane in the shape of a small sailing ship, is one of the city’s most easily recognisable symbols.

Then there’s the Alexander Garden, one of St Petersburg’s finest outdoor places, teeming with locals at any time of the year. The garden is decorated with fountains and busts of Russia’s classical authors such as Gogol, Zhukovsky and Lermontov, as well as the composer Glinka. Or head for Palace Square with its Alexander Column, topped by a figure of an angel which was made to resemble Emperor Alexander.

Alternatively, the Mikhailovsky Palace is the venue that hosts the Russian Museum with its excellent icon collection. Or maybe you’d simply prefer a little jogging or cycling through St Petersburg’s many parks, gardens and squares. Or check out the city’s skate parks, go-cart track, horseriding facilities…

Bars and restaurants

Like Moscow, St Petersburg is awash with great places to eat and drink … and watch the matches, if you haven’t got a ticket. Wherever you are, you’re never far from a bar or eatery to suit your taste and budget. There are plenty of suggestions on the official Russia 2018 website.

Watch for free

All 11 World Cup host cities have their own Fan Fest site, where fans can gather and watch all the matches for free on the giant screen. St Petersburg’s is located on Konyushennaya Square, in the heart of the historical city centre, right next to one of the city’s main sights – the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. With a capacity of around 15 000 fans, it’s the next best thing to being in the stadium and cheering on your favourite team in person!

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