The town stands on the left bank of Volga river, about 200 km north-east from Saratov, and is the largest and most developed centre in Saratov region after Saratov itself. The population is less than 200,000 people which are ethnically mainly Russians and Tatars, but also there are few representatives of the other groups such as Ukrainians, Mordovians, Kazakhs and some others.
Balakovo belongs to the huge territory which in the Middle Ages was called Dikoye Pole (wild field). Different Nomad tribes were crossing and living in that territory before it was finally occupied with Turkic tribes which were belonging to Mongolian Empire and after the decay of the Empire became independent small states. And all of those states were conquered by Russia under the rule of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century. Officially Balakovo starts its history from the year 1762 when Russian Empress Cathrine II made an order to create settlements for old-believers. Later the Empress also sent here the families of German immigrants.
During 18th and 19th centuries Balakovo was a village which didn't belong to any aristocratic or noble family, so this fact itself as well as the spirit of old-believers who are famous for their diligent work and discipline character contributed to the successful economical development of Balakovo. It was part of Samara province before 1911 when it went under the administration of Saratov and received a status of town. At the beginning of 20th c. a lot was made by Mamin dynasty for Balakovo. Mamins were old-believers, who became very rich by trading with agricultural goods within Russia as well exporting them abroad. Mamins founded in Balakovo the factory producing engines which has been successfully working ever since surviving in Soviet time and II World War.
The years between Socialist Revolution of 1917 and 1960s were not remarkable for the history of Balakovo. The battles of II World War didn't reach Saratov region, and the number of population stayed small.
But starting from 1960s Balakovo has experienced significant changes. It turned into a very important industrial hub in Central Russia. In 1960-1980s a number of plants were being built here, such as Hydro-Electric station, Nuclear Power station, Warmth-Electric station, few different Chemical factories, Rubber Technical goods production, as well as many minor industries. People from all over USSR of different specialisations were sent to Balakovo for work. At the same time Balakovo also developed engineering studies, and engineering education is still the leading type of education there. The population immediately grew to about 250,000 people, and the look of the town got serious modernisation.
At the moment Balakovo is having the tendencies similar to the other provincial towns of Russia with young people leaving to bigger cities, but at the same time still people from surrounding villages and the immigrants from ex-Soviet republics arrive here because still Balakovo is an industrial centre with many jobs available.
The easiest way to get to Balakovo from Moscow is a direct train which runs every day and the journey takes 21 hrs. The ticket for general sleeping class costs about 1500 rubles, and 2nd class ticket is under about 2500 rubles. You can also fly from Moscow to Saratov and take a bus or taxi to Balakovo. Bus would take 2-5 hrs with ticket cost varying from 300 to 500 rubles.
There are also bus services to Balakovo from almost all neighbour towns and cities.
During the industrial revolution of 1960s, Volga river was split into two parallel directions near Balakovo with one of the springs creating a channel for Hydro-Electric station. Since that time one part of Balakovo, the older one, has been standing between those two routes of Volga, and a new part of the town is clearly on the left bank of the river.
Almost all objects of tourist interest are in Stariy Gorod, the older part of Balakovo. You can easily move inside of Stariy Gorod by walk, but if you want you also can take a bus. The old and the new parts of Balakovo are conected with bridge over the channel, almost all local buses would go over that bridge.
You should at least have Russian dictionary or phrases book with you, people in Balakovo mostly do not speak any foreign language. Rarely you can find a young person who knows basic English, while older generation could not say a word rather than in Russian. The names of the streets and other written indications on the streets are only in cyrillic letters. So unless you know Russian or have a Russian speaking friend or guide with you, it would be quite a difficult thing to travel in Balakovo.