The first recorded mention of the city is in 863 AD. It was the capital of Slavic Krivichs tribe in the ninth century. Smolensk is a city with great history. Since XII century it was a capital of the princedom, but since 1522 it became a city of Moscow kingdom. In 1596 the great fortress was built to protect people. Now this fortress is the most interesting sight of the city. It's bigger than Moscow fortress (the Kremlin). The length of its walls is about 6.5 km.
Several kilometers from Smolensk lies the Katyn (Russian: Катынь; Polish: Katyń) forest. In 1940, the forest was the site of a massacre of some 4,410 of Poland's intelligentsia, political elite, soldiers and high-ranking military officials. The term "Katyń massacre", however, has come to encompass a series of massacres of Poles by directive of Joseph Stalin. In total, 21,768 Poles of various professions (professors, doctors, soldiers, lawmakers, and police officers) were murdered at the hands of the Soviet Union's NKVD. In 2007, Andrzej Wajda, one of Poland's most esteemed film directors, whose father had been murdered in Katyń, released a dramatic film titled Katyń that examines the massacre and its effects on Poles in the years immediately after.
On April 10, 2010, nearly 70 years to the day after the massacre, Polish President Lech Kaczyński along with an entourage of high ranking officials and other notable Poles were en route to a memorial service to be held in honor of the victims of the Katyń massacre when the their plane crashed in Smolensk, killing everyone on board.
From Moscow several trains from Belorussky Railway Terminal reach Smolensk in 5-6 hours. Some of them reach into Europe as far as to Paris and Nice (in summer only). The same trains can be used to reach Smolensk from Belarus. Daily express connects Smolensk with Bryansk; there are regular trains to and from Saint Petersburg and Vilnius.
Several times a week there are buses connecting Smolensk with such European cities as Paris, Madrid, Riga and some others. Most of these buses originally start their journey in Moscow and make a stopover in Smolensk. Other buses run to Mogilev, Kaluga, Velikiye Luki, Kursk and Tver. Daily buses run to Mstislavl, Belgorod, Bryansk, Moscow, Oryol, Saint Petersburg and Tula. The road from Moscow to Smolensk takes about 4.5-6 hours (depending on possible traffic jams in Moscow), the price of a single ticket starts from 800 rubles (approximately €16.5 or $22).
By car and by thumb
Smolensk is situated on the M1/E30 and A141 highways. Е30 goes from Berlin to Moscow through Warsaw, Brest and Minsk; while A141 connects Oryol to Vilnius through Bryansk and Vitebsk. Both highways are good for hitchhiking - bear in mind that E30 is about 6.5 km north from the city.
By bus, minibus, tram or trolleybus
A single ticket for bus, tram or trolley use (different tickets for each kind of transport) costs 14 RUB/€0.3 purchased from the service person in the bus (cash only) and is valid for a single ride. No special validation needed. It is highly recommended to buy the ticket, because the controls are regular, especially during the first days of each month. There is a number of discount tickets for students and elderly people, in public buses (trams or trolleys) only. The list of public transport routes is found here (in Russian), their timetable is given here (note that not all buses are included). There is an enormous fleet of minibuses on the same routes. The price is the same as with a public bus (you get no paper tickets in a minibus, though). Minibuses operate every 10-15 minutes, which makes them more convenient than a bus. During rush hours, however, minibuses are often cramped.
There are several cab companies offering their services. A regular cab may cost about 130 RUB/€2.7 if you need to get from periphery of the city to the center. You should always call a taxi by phone, even if you see a taxi on the street nearby. Street taxis may charge a higher price than taxis called by phone. Every company has their phone number written on its vehicles; it's very convenient for tourists.
Currently Smolensk is not a bike-friendly city due to the lack of cycling lanes. However, the central park area, the streets nearby as well as a big green area to the south-west are easy to use. In case you decide to go cycling, note that some inhabitants are riding on sidewalks while others prefer the right side of the road.
The historical part of the city (within the Fortress) can be easily explored on foot. Note that the area is sometimes hilly and several central streets are paved so choose appropriate footwear.
Smolensk offers countless opportunities to sample both local cuisine and international favorites. A diversity of foreign cuisines is also available - sushi restaurants in particular are currently in vogue.
Smolensk is a relatively safe city; however, crimes do occur. Use typical common sense. Avoid dark alleys - like you would anywhere else. Check the advice from your Foreign Office for entry requirements, health, safety, local laws and customs.
When visiting bars and restaurants make sure you know the price before you order and keep track of your spending, so no cheating is possible. Beware of scammers who strike up conversations out of the blue and invite you to visit their favorite club or bar; this is often a favorite way for the fraudsters to rob the foreigners, and the police are unlikely to help if you get scammed.
Also note that in winter months, streets in Smolensk might get quite slippery. Take a pair of grippy shoes or, even better, boots (to prevent twisted ankles) and a waterproof raincoat. Take care as ice patches are often hard to spot, even when they appear to have been cleared or melted. Wearing non-grippy shoes could result in injury.