With the World Cup coming up quickly, it’s likely that millions of tourists will soon be flocking to Russia. And while it’s getting a little bit late to make these kinds of travel plans (the Cup begins in mid-June), this is still an event that can really feed into your wanderlust no matter where it’s held. Typically, the broadcasts do a nice job of showing off some of the cities and regions surrounding the stadiums – and in Russia that could be particularly interesting to see. Eleven different cities across the vast country will be hosting matches, and for those who take an interested beyond football it should make for a nice, month-long travel brochure for the country.
This is our own quick guide for those cities (and some of the matches that will be played in them).
Kaliningrad – The only host city in the portion of Russia that is completely within Europe, Kaliningrad will probably have a unique feel to it during the tournament. It will attract more visitors from Western Europe – particularly because its stadium will host the much-anticipated match between England and Belgium. The city is known for its Baltic Sea beaches, its rich history, and its status as the home of the great philosopher Immanuel Kant. The main attraction, aside from the beaches, is Konigsberg Cathedral, which was first built beginning in 1933 but which has since been reconstructed.
Saint Petersburg – Farther west than any other host city aside from Kaliningrad, Saint Petersburg will also be a big draw. It’s one of the most famous cities in Russia, known for a range of attractions including opera houses, former imperial buildings, and the Hermitage Museum. The city’s stunning Saint Petersburg Stadium will host matches throughout the Cup, including in the semi-final and third-place match.
Nizhny Novgorod – A hillside city overlooking the Volga River, Nizhny Novgorod is one of the true jewels of Russia. The city itself is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s generally one of the prettier places in the country. The city will host round of 16 and quarter-final matches, as well as some intriguing group stage contests such as Argentina vs. Croatia and Switzerland vs. Costa Rica.
Moscow – Moscow is unquestionably the best-known city of the bunch, and the capital of Russia. Visitors will enjoy all kinds of famous sights, including Red Square and the Kremlin, and needless to say the festivities should come across as all the bigger and better for being in this big, important city. In addition to several earlier stage matches, Moscow will host the Cup final.
Sochi – Sochi is one of the most fascinating destinations on the list for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s known as the “Russian Riviera,” having been built up essentially as a Black Sea resort town over the years. Sochi is a gorgeous place where visitors can enjoy everything from forest hikes to adventurous activities to luxurious accommodations and amenities. Additionally the city’s Fisht Stadium should be one of the more impressive at the Cup, and in this case it’s really worth looking at the match schedule, because Sochi will host a lot of good ones. Cup favorite Germany will take on Sweden, Portugal and Spain will put on perhaps the most anticipated match of the opening rounds.
Rostov-on-Don – This is a different sort of city, largely because it was once the capital of the Don Cossacks. Now it’s a city known for riverside views and a collection of museums. It should make for a very interesting stop for those specifically interested in the football, however, as a new stadium has been built right on the Don River and is expected to be quite a draw.
Volgograd – Volgograd joins Sochi and Rostov-on-Don as one of the southernmost cities involved with the World Cup, and should thus be pleasant from a climate perspective this summer. Known for a combination of industrial history and picturesque surrounding nature, it makes for an eclectic sort of destination. It’s also one of the more lightly involved cities, slated for only three matches throughout the Cup.
Saransk – Founded in the mid-17th century, Saransk is one of the most interesting cities on this list from a cultural and historical perspective. It’s technically the capital of the Republic of Mordovia, and has been shaped over time by two different ethnic groups called he Moksha and the Erzya. There are all kinds of lovely things to see in the city, ultimately making it one of the best opportunities for sightseeing at this World Cup. It will also be the location for Russia’s toughest match in the opening rounds, against Uruguay on June 25th.
Kazan – A relatively short distance northeast of Saransk, Kazan is located on the northern part of the Volga River, and is known as something of a university town. It may not make a huge difference, but as one of the cities farthest to the East, it could draw different crowds for the Cup – particularly given that it will host the likes of South Korea and Australia in some of the early stage matches.
Samara – Yet another Volga River city, Samara is best known for being the hub for Russia’s space program, and there are various attractions in that vein. One very cool thing about this city as regards the World Cup is that it has a brand new stadium (Samara Arena) that was designed with the theme of space exploration in mind. What exactly that will look like is anybody’s guess, but fans will find out both in group stage matches and in scheduled round of 16 and quarter-final contests at the arena.
Ekaterinburg – Farther east than any other World Cup city, Ekaterinburg is likely to be one of the cities that emerges from the event with more of an international reputation. It’s a very big, very modern metropolis with beautiful hotels and state-of-the-art infrastructure that should satisfy tourists. It’s actually a shame the city is only scheduled to host three matches!
Naturally there’s a great deal more to learn about all of these cities. But hopefully this gives you a general idea of what to expect should you be traveling to Russia, or if you’re just curious while you watch the Cup on TV.