Founded in 1221 by Grand Duke Yuri II of Vladimir at the confluence of two rivers, the Volga and the Oka, Nizhny Novgorod is today Russia’s 5th largest city by population. As one of the few cities that managed to escape Mongol devastation, Nizhny Novgorod became an important political hub during the Tatar period, competing with Moscow for the power in the region till 1392, when it was incorporated into the Muscovy. Still, its Kremlin, built in 1508-1511 under the supervision of Italian engineers, became one of the strongest Russian citadels and by the mid-19th century, Nizhny Novgorod had become the trade capital of the Russian Empire. The Soviet rule then broke all trade connections and turned Nizhny into an industrial center, renaming it Gorky in 1932. The old name was restored only after the fall of the USSR.
Why you should stop there
Located only 6 hours away from Moscow, you may easily think that there’s little point in stopping so early and decide to ride straight to Perm or Yekaterinburg for some much needed rest before continuing on to the Siberian steppes. Well, don’t let yourselves be deceived by practicalities, because Nizhny is actually worth seeing, and, honestly, it’s probably one of the most pleasant stops you’ll find on the Trassiberian, if not the best. Here is a list of pluses that set Nizhny apart from the average Russian city:
- It has a city center, which is not something to give for granted in Russia
- It’s quite pretty, there’s lots of historical buildings, monuments and typical wooden houses that are relatively well-kept. Rozhdestvenskaya Street for instance has remained almost untouched from the 18th century
- You get to see the Volga, the longest river in Europe
- It has one of the greatest Russian Kremlins, which overlooks both the Oka and the Volga rivers
- It’s an old city, so there’s lots of history and culture!
And okay, it ain’t Saint Petersburg, but its a good recharge of beauty and history before moving on to Siberian cities (yeah, we’ll talk about them later), so don’t miss it if you can!
UTC +3 (= Moscow time)
How to move around
The city is divided by the Oka river into two parts: the Upper city on the hill located on the right bank, were the historical part of Nizhny lays, and the Lower city, on the left bank, which is newer and mostly consists of industrial districts.
The Metro has two lines, both connected in Moskovskaya station, so coming by train from Moscow, you’ll be able to catch the metro directly from there. If you have to go to the city centre in the Upper city, take line 1 (Avrozavodskaya) from Moskovskaya, direction Park Kul’tury.
There is also lots of urban buses, yet the city center is quite small so you’ll most likely be able to walk to every sightseeing location.
What to see
The Kremlin: although there is no documented proof of it, a legend claims that the initial project was developed by non other than Leonardo da Vinci, due to the striking resemblance of his sketches with the actual kremlin schemes. Inside you’ll find the WWII monument with the ever-present eternal flame, a number of tanks and other military trucks, a reasonable art museum, souvenir shops and an orthodox church. Also, as it lays on top of a hill at the confluence between the two rivers, you’ll get to admire a beautiful view along the Volga.
Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street: it’s the main shopping street, with a wide pedestrian area that goes all the way from Gorky Square to the Kremlin. It’s definitely a good place for a walk as it is full of interesting and artsy buildings, including an Art-Nouveau clock tower next to the mighty Bank of Russia building. There’s also lots of cute little restaurants and cafes, which make it the right place to stop and eat.
The Cable Car: it connects Nizhny Novgorod with the town of Bor across the Volga River. This 3660 metres long ropeway with peaks at over 80 meters is a great way to get a view of the Volga from up high at a very small price, as it is mainly used by locals as everyday transport, and it takes only 13 minutes. Once in Bor, there’s not much to see, except for Russian suburban tristesse, so you might as well head back directly.
The Church of John the Baptist & the Monument of Minin and Prince Pozharsky. Minin was a simple butcher and when the Polish army invaded Russia, he Minin helped gather an army and together with Prince Dimitry Pozharsky was able to defeat the invaders. In Moscow you will find the original copy in front of Saint Baisil’s cathedral on Red Square, which was actually taken away from Nizhny and substituted with a copy.
A half-day excursion to Gorodets, an old town about 30 km from NN, also known as “Город Мастеров”, the Town of Masters. It is indeed famous for the craftsmanship of its inhabitants in woodcarving and other artful decorations of all sort of things for everyday use. The Town Museum, right in the centre of the village, will showcase all such arts. The building itself is quite interesting as it was build using an old technique of assembling wooden trunks without the help of nails. Also, don’t forget to try Ivan Chai with decorated praying biscuits at the Museum’s cafeteria!
Others: Upper Volga River Embarkment, Rozhdestvenskaya Street, Gorki Museum, Earmark (the Fair), Cathedral of Alexander Nevskiy, Pechersky Ascension Monastery, Church of the Nativity of Most Holy Mother of God etc. etc. etc.
Eat & Sleep
Eat: Bol’shaya Pokrovskaya Street is packed with all sorts of restaurants and cafes, from traditional Russian ones to international fast foods. A cute place is Biblioteka, it has nice atmosphere, a small terrace and good Italian food at reasonable price.
Sleep: Yes Hostel (Kulibina 3, less than 10 EUR/night) ; Smile Hostel (ul. B. Pokrovskaya 4, very central, less than 10 EUR/night).