Volga Region : Middle Volga : Tatarstan : Kazan
With a population of about 1.3 million (2011 census), a rich history, deep culture and strong economic influence, Kazan holds the title of "The Third Capital of Russia" (after Moscow and Saint Petersburg), thus taking the title from Nizhny Novgorod. By many measures, Kazan has the one of the highest standards of living in Russia, following after Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Kazan has just recently earned the reputation of a sports city, due to its recent investments in this domain. Kazan organized the World Summer Universiade 2013, and will be a host city for FINA World Aquatics Sports Championship in 2015 and for FIFA World Cup in 2018 in Russia. It is said that one of the World Cup semi-finals may be held in Kazan! Both the World Cup and Universiade events are enhancing the city's booming construction. In the last couple of years, sport venues have popped up in Tatar capital, together with residential buildings and offices. Many of Kazan's professional teams, such as Rubin (football) or Ak Bars (hockey), have been recent Russia champions.
Kazan has long been a focal point of higher education in Russia. It remains a university city, with some of Russia's top universities including Kazan Federal University (KFU - formerly Kazan State University, TGGPU and the Kazan Finance Institute), Kazan State Technological University (KGTU), Kazan State Technical University (KAI), and KazanState Power Engineering University. Many foreign students study in Kazan, adding diversity to the city's tolerant. Schools in Kazan, and Tatarstan itself, tend to be ones of the best in Russia.
Located between Europe and Asia, having both Russian and Tatar populations, Kazan peacefully blends Muslim and Christian cultures. There are also many other religions represented in Kazan. For example, in the city center there are synagogue and new catholic church. This vibrant city with over 1000 years of history is an excellent travel destination, and the number of tourists visiting is rapidly increasing every year.
Kazan International Airport (IATA: KZN) is 30km to the southeast of the city centre. Aeroflot, S7, Transaero and UTAir fly between Kazan and Moscow, and Rossiya Airlines also flies to Kazan from Saint Petersburg. Flydubai and Turkish Airlines are the two international carriers which currently have scheduled flights to Kazan.
Wikitravel has a guide to Trans-Siberian Railway.
Kazan is easy to reach by train, as it is a major station stop for several west-east trains. Depending on the train, travel from Moscow's Kazan Station can be as short as 11 hours. A direct train from St. Petersburg's Moscow Station takes 25 hours. Kazan's train station is located close to the city center, with several hotels, restaurants, and the Kremlin within walking distance of the train station. Note that the ticketing office is not in the main (historic red brick) building, but in the more modern building with a clock tower next door; as one faces the main building from the street, the ticket office is to the left.
Kazan has a riverboat terminal on the Volga River and can be reached by river cruise as well  ]. River cruises down the Volga operate during the summer months (early May to end of September). Dozens of boats operated by different companies run from Moscow to Astrakhan. One way or return cruises may be reserved to/from practically any city along the Volga. Turflot.ru and infoflot.ru are several sites that offer tours.
Much of the city center is walkable, and the main attractions for tourists (the Kremlin and Bauman Street) are only for pedestrian traffic. Public buses are abundant and cheap, but one must have some knowledge of Russian to read the signs or ask where the buses are headed. Bus system maps are apparently hard to come by. Taxis are available and operate mostly an on-call service, rather than plying the streets for fares. They also congregate at a few taxi stands in predictable places such as the train station. A Metro system is being developed, with ten stations on the red line in operation as of early 2013, running between Avivastroitelnaya and Prospekt Pobedy.
A free map is distributed at the reception of hotels.
You can rent a bike from one of several Veli'k stands placed in the centre of the city, but as it requires usage of credit card, the registering procedure might be confusing. Here are some of alternative places to rent a bicycle from:
This is originally a coworking space/cafe, so try to explain their friendly staff that you need one of the bikes to ride. After leaving some kind of ID (standard procedure for sports equipment rental in Russia), you'll be off with one of the cheapest bikes for rent in town (2 roubles/min for the first hour, then the price gets reduced to 1 rouble/min.) ☎ +7 843 253 5219
A recently opened spot has brand new bikes to offer for modest 150 roubles/hour (prices go down if you rent from 3 hrs up to 6 hrs, after that the freezepoint is 650 roubles which is a daily rental cost). Open daily 12:00-22:00
Kazan celebrated its 1000-year anniversary in 2005, for which the city got a major facelift. Visitors today will be able to see many of the reconstructed or newly-constructed sites from the anniversary celebration.
Once a Tatar fortress, it was largely destroyed by Ivan the Terrible. During the 16th and 17th Centuries, Russians reconstructed the Kremlin with new fortifications and Russian institutions (such as the Annunciation Cathedral). Many of the features of the Kremlin reflect Russian influence of that era, and the construction of the parapets and watchtowers is particularly reminiscent of other dominant Russian cities of the time, such as Pskov and Novgorod. Entry to the Kremlin is through the white clock tower (the Spasskaya Tower) at the end of Bauman Street. Entry costs 300 Rubles with a guided tour, or 20 Rubles to explore the grounds on one's own. There are several interesting things to see inside the Kremlin, including:
The legend of the Suyumbike Tower is that the Tatar Princess Suyumbike was betrothed to Ivan the Terrible, but she consented to marry him only if he could build the highest tower in Kazan in seven days. Ivan accomplished the task, but Suyumbike, rather than subjugating herself and the Tatar people to the Russian ruler, climbed to the top of the tower and jumped to her death. Locals do not seem to believe that the legend is true, but they appreciate the romanticism of it. At present, the tower is not open to climb the stairs.
Named after the 16th-century Tatar imam who died defending Kazan from Ivan the Terrible's army, the Kul-Sharif Mosque was completed in 2005 after ten years of construction. It is located within the Kremlin walls, making the Kremlin facility now a symbol of multicultural harmony in multiethnic Tatarstan. Entry to the mosque is free, although visitors must pay 3 Rubles for plastic slip-covers for their shoes in order to keep the floors clean. Visitors who climb the stairs to the third floor observation balcony do not need to remove their shoes. The prayer hall on the ground floor is open only to men going to pray and the second floor balcony is for Muslim women to pray. All women, though, should cover their hair in all parts of the mosque.
From the observation balcony, visitors can appreciate the beauty of the mosque, which is built in a modern design not unlike modern Turkish mosques. The dome in the shape of a lotus flower and the many windows give the prayer hall a bright and airy atmosphere. One uniquely local feature in the mosque is the malachite columns on the minbar (the free-standing pulpit). Some of the 99 names of God are inscribed on the inside of the upper dome and on the window glass, and the name Mohammed is written in a blue disk at the front of the prayer hall. Verses from the Koran, including an incantation against envy, are written on tile in the four corners of the hall, and the names on disks suspended lower in the hall are those of the four rightly-guided caliphs and some of the early prophets.
An interesting Museum of Islam is located below the ground floor of the mosque. Entrance is free, and a tour in English may be available if the English-speaking docent is on duty. The museum also has a booklet in English that explains the exhibits that can be helpful. Some of the exhibits include displays regarding the status of Tatar language in the Soviet era, some history of the building of the mosque (note the photo of prayers being held outdoors in the 1990s before the mosque was built), and on the lower sublevel is a history of Islam in Tatarstan, which mentions of Empress Elizabeth's attempt to convert Tatars to Christianity and Catherine the Great's edict allowing mosques to be constructed.
Affiliated with the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, this museum sometimes has special exhibits of interest.
The museum was one of several projects completed for the 1000-year anniversary celebration, and it is located on the former site of the Tatar sultan's mosque, which was destroyed by Ivan's army and a residence (?) was built in its place. The building fell into disrepair over the years and a Turkish company completed the renovations for the 2005 museum opening. One must first enter on the ground floor (located just to the left of the Suyumbike Tower) and pay the 20-Ruble entry fee. A group of energetic and chatty old ladies staff the museum, although none speak much English. The ground floor section of the museum is filled with gifts to Tatarstan from foreign dignitaries on the occasion of the 1000-year anniversary, as well as a reproduction of the sultan's throne (note the gold dome of the Koran case, which is meant to hold the Koran higher than the sultan's chair) and a reproduction of the mausoleum of the sultans, the original of which is said to be underground nearby: a small square monument marks the spot in the square outside the museum. To reach the second story of the museum, one must go outside and around the corner and climb the stairs in the courtyard near the Suyumbike Tower. There is no cashier on the second floor, so visitors much go to the ground floor section first. The second floor includes a narrative history of Tatarstan, from the early settlement of the Volga-Bulgars to the early Tatar state to Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to Tatarstan in the Russian Federation. The guide will insist that visitors also visit a small room on the side where medals and decorations given to the president are displayed.
The pedestrian zone that stretches between the Kremlin and Tokai Square and the Hotel Tatarstan. This is Kazan's Arbat, with boutiques, souvenir shops and kiosks, cafes, bars, and plenty of opportunities for people-watching. The statuary (such as a bronze carriage) is especially interesting.
The Temple of all Religions - On the outskirts of Kazan. Take bus number 2 from the center. Interesting building for architecture buffs as it features 16 towers dedicated to different religions. Construction is not complete and you cannot go inside. But it's worth a look from the outside.
Kazan offers a lot of various events you can visit during your stay here - international opera and ballet festival, different types of music festivals, popular singers concerts and many other interesting things to do.Cirque du Soleil regurlary brings its shows to Kazan. And a must-see event in Tatarstan is a national holiday Sabantuy - tatar summer festival, which is celebrated in the beginning of June.
In summer 2013 four double-decker buses began circulating along their routes in Kazan by "City Sightseeing" company. Tourists will ride on them through the city's downtown and see the main attractions, historical landmarks, and architectural beauties of Tatarstan's capital with their own eyes, and not merely see them, but also learn many interesting things about them. The two-level tour buses have been equipped with an audio guide. The audio recording designed to acquaint guests will the city functions in eight languages: Russian, Tatar, English, French, Spanish, German, Turkish, and Chinese.
Bauman Street. The pedestrian zone that stretches between the Kremlin and Tokai Square and the Hotel Tatarstan. This is Kazan's Arbat, with boutiques, souvenir shops and kiosks, cafes, bars, and plenty of opportunities for people-watching. The statuary (such as a bronze carriage) is especially interesting.
List of events to visit:
Besides events, from the river station (речной вокзал) (close to the bus station, автовокзал) you can take boat trips on the Volga. Two-hour boat trips, without any stops, depart a few times a day (12.00, 15.00 and 19.00 on most days) for 180r. You can also take regular services to different places. To the river station you can take trolleybus 4 or 3 from Koljco (Tukaya sq). There are also various buses from other places; the river station is usually the terminal stop. The walk to the river station from the train station is very nice. Cross the railway tracks at the train station over the eastern bridge and follow the water for 20-30 minutes.
Souvenirs from Kazan reflects Tatar culture and ethnic colour. You can buy items with national ornaments and scenes from tatar folk tales, mosque figurines and many others.
The most popular souvenir, that each tourist want to buy, is tatar national male headwear "Tubeteika".
Tatar national handicrafts is especially known for its unique leather art and tanning. This kind of very soft, yet long wearing leather called "safyan". Using ancient technologies, craftsmen make amazing items from leather - shoes, bags, slippers, keyfob and etc.
Shopping and entertainment centers you can visit are:
Baumana Street has the largest collection of restaurants, cafes, and bars in the city. They range from acceptable to tourist traps. Places to eat off Bauman Street include:
Self-caterers can find a large supermarket (one of the Bakhetle chain) in the TsUM bulding across from the Mirage Hotel. The bakery across from the Milena Hotel on Tazi Gizzata Street has excellent bread and a few groceries.
Since the '70s, Kazan has long the reputation of being one of the least safe city of Russia. The "Kazan phenomenon" of street gangs even became a journalistic and sociological concept. However, since the late '90s, situation change fundamentally. Kazan has become host city for a lot of large international events. As a result there was a modernization of police, so crime rate decreased significantly. For example, during WORLD SUMMER UNIVERSIADE in 2013, a lot of citizens and guests shared their impressions, that they felt safe like never before, even walking in the city centre in the night.
Internet cafes and restaurants with WiFi are found throughout the city. Probably the most useful internet cafe for travelers is a small one across from the train station. From the main station building, cross through the park and cross the main street. It is at the corner to one's left, but hidden behind a newspaper stand and some kiosks.
The post office in Kremlyovskaya St. has seven computers with internet access, for around 36 rub./hour. Pay in advance at the register. Your unspent minutes will be refunded.
Tattelecom on the corner of Baumana and Pushkina, opposite the Koljco mall, has computers with ok Internet for 48 r per hour. Up Pushkina there are a few cafes and restaurants with free unprotected wifi. Also, outside of the Subway restaurant further up on Pushkina there is free unprotected wifi. Mcdonalds also has free wifi (on Baumana and by the train station).
The Raifa Monastery  In 30 miles from Kazan, on the shore of a beautiful lake, in the middle of the forest, behind a white granite wall, in the center of a great National Park you will find one of the pearls of 17th century Russian architecture: the Raifa Bogoroditsky Monastery. The greatest object of this monastery is the Georgian Mother of God icon, which in its day was venerated as a miraculous object with the power to heal the sick. Today the Raifa Monastery is among the most-visited in the world. The grounds of the monastery are located within the Volga-Kama National Park, where the terrain is a combination of southern taiga and deciduous forests. The park's botanical garden features more than 400 species of exotic plants from North America, Asia and Europe
Ancient city of Bolgar The National Park of Bolgar is one of few historical-architectural complexes left by the Volga Tatars. It is located on the bank of the Volga 120 km away from Kazan. Bolgar is related with the such names as Pushkin, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Kul Gali and many other famous people. It is a sacred place for all Tatars, a place of pilgrimage for Muslims, and a place generally steeped in legend and history. The National Park of Bolgar is an object of historical and cultural significance. In 1998 the Bolgar Historical-Architectural Complex was included in the provisional list of UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Russian Federation. In National Park of Bolgar you can visit Museum of Bakery, a museum of archaeology (at the time of writing this has yet to fully open), monuments of Islamic architecture from the 13th-14th centuries. To get there, buses depart from Kazan's South Bus Station (which itself can be reached by taking the number 22 bus from anywhere along Karl Marx Street in the city centre) at 14:00 and 17:45, while buses return from Bolgar at 05:30 and 13:30. The only hotel, the Hotel Regina, is located at the very north end of the town. Room rates start from 1,300 Rubles. Food options are limited, as expected, but an assortment of cheap eateries and a reasonably well-stocked supermarket can be located near the town's bus station.# Finally, entry to the site is free, although visitors may be charged for entry to the museums.
Island-town Sviyazhsk The place where the Sviyaga River flows into the Volga forms the idea for Push¬kin's lively tale of the Island of Buyan. Sviyazhsk was built by Ivan the Terrible as a fortress for the siege of Kazan, and it went on to become the first Orthodox Christian city in our area, the center of the spread of Christianity. The island also became home to the Uspensky monastery and the Ioanno-Predtechensky nunnery. The architectural composition of today's Sviyazhsk includes perfectly preserved churches, such as the antique wooden Troitskaya Church (built in 1551), Nikols¬kaya Church, and Uspensky Cathedral. When Alexander Pushkin first saw Sviyazhsk, he was overjoyed. It seems the city was exactly what he imagined for an ideal fairytale setting: beautiful island on a tall mountain, located exactly in the middle of a great river. This island with its surprising history cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Elabuga This charming 1000 year old trade center that located on the shore of the river Kama and surrounded by natural beauty is one of the oldest cities in Tatarstan. Throughout its history the city was the cradle of Russian trade, where diverse waves of remarkable people flowed together. Most of its buildings have been preserved in their original condition to this day. Examples include the memorial house museum of Ivan Shishkin and the homestead museum of N. Durova, a famous heroine of the Fatherland War of 1812. Tragic circumstances led the city to become the last refuge of the poet Maria Tsvetaeva. Not far from the Elabuga is the famous Elabuga mound “Chertovo gorodishe” - the remains of a fortified settlement from the Volga tribes of the first millennium В.C. The surviving stone tower is a symbol of Elabuga. On the banks of the river Toima, five kilometers from Elabuga, archaeologists discovered the Ananinsky burial ground, which lends its name to an entire Iron Age culture.
Kysh-Babay Residence (Tatar Santa Clause) The residences of Kysh Babay and Kar Kyzy are located in the village of Yana Kyrlay, in a pine forest on the bank of the river Iya, 60 kilometers from Kazan. The fairytale journey begins with the forest ”customs” where Shaitan leads you into the estate of Kysh Babay. The map of Shurale leads guests to path filled with adventures. Among the tales, mysteries, miracles, and fairytale characters you will meet Shurale (the Wood goblin), Shaitan (the Devil), Uburly Karchyk (the Witch), Azhdaha (the Dragon), Batyr (the Kinught), Altynchech (Goldilocks), Tahir and Zuhra (Romeo and Juliet).
Chistopol The historic town of Chistopol was founded in the 18th century. This town is truly a living museum, with streets and buildings that preserve the spirit of past days. A walk around Chistopol introduces you to the quiet, very special beauty of the Russian countryside. The Melnikov House, the grounds of Uspensky Monastery, St. Nicholas Cathedral - these places all enhance the feeling that the city was built with care and love. You can find very interesting Boris Pasternak museum here. A few kilometers from Chistopol you'll find the remains of Juketau, a city of the ancient Bolgar Kingdom which served as a trade center during pre-Mongol period.
Tetushi The pearl of Tetushi is historico-architectural natural park “Dolgaya polyana”. Tourists visited this place say that you feel peace and calm. Local people claim there is anomalous zone with positive energy. Even Khans of Ancient Bolgar used to come to this place for several days to recover peace of mind. There are a lot of old buildings, dated from 1700th. You can even be lucky to see real archaeological excavation! And of course you can enjoy beautiful and splendid nature of Tetushi. Fond of historical reconstructions? Then summer reconstruction of battlefield on Vshiha mountain is definitely worth visiting! You can not only watch, but also participate!
Laishevo When you will plan your visit to Tatarstan, please note, that in the end of May there is a big ethnic festival Karavon. For nine years annually more than 10 thousand people come to take part. And according to legend, this festival exists more than 300 years! Here you can dance in a round, have a look at the town of craftsman, take part in national amusements and feel cheerful and holiday atmosphere among wearing national costumes people. This festival is definitely worth seeing!