We weren’t expecting much from Nizhny Novgorod, maybe at the most some magnificent views over the Volga River. Boy, were we wrong! There are loads of things to see and do in Nizhny Novgorod, but the city’s hospitability is arguably Russia’s best. We were treated like kings! The 16th century Kremlin dominates the landscape. Two magnificent pedestrian streets start there. Wonderful historical churches, plenty of lavish neoclassical mansions, and cool sculptures populate the city. Great restaurants and first-class hotels complete the feast. What else can you ask for? You’ll be one of the few foreign tourists in town.
- 1 Nizhny Novgorod Fun Facts
- 2 Places to Visit in Nizhny Novgorod
- 3 Things to Do in Nizhny Novgorod
- 4 Where to Stay
- 5 How to Get
Nizhny Novgorod Fun Facts
Nizhny Novgorod is the administrative seat of Nizhny Novgorod Region (oblast) and of the much larger Volga Federal District. Therefore, the city is an important economic, transport, education, and culture center. In fact, it is one of the most important stops on the famed Trans-Siberian Railway. Besides, Nizhny Novgorod is Russia’s sixth-largest city in terms of population. Not only that, it is one of Russia’s oldest cities and the birthplace of one of the country’s most celebrated authors, Maxim Gorky. Shockingly enough, the city was off-limits to tourists until the 1990s!
One of the Oldest Cities in Russia
Since Nizhny Novgorod was founded in 1221, it is one of the oldest cities in Russia. The city is in the deep north, so no wonder people settled here so late. The Grand Duke Yuri II considered the confluence of the Volga and Oka Rivers to be perfect to build his fort. He named the place New Town or Novgorod. However, there is another more famous Novgorod, so he added Nizhny or Lower to distinguish it. Originally, it was Russia’s easternmost wooden fort. Over time, the city became the strongest fortress in the region.
City of Literature
Book lovers will probably know Nizhny Novgorod thanks to one man. The great Russian writer Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, better known as Maxim Gorky, is Nizhny Novgorod’s most illustrious son. He spent his childhood in the city before embarking on a journey across Russia and the World. He later lived in Tbilisi, Capri, Berlin, and Sorrento. In 1932, local authorities renamed Nizhny Novgorod Gorky to commemorate his return to Russia. The city kept the name Gorky until 1990. In 1971, the State Gorky Literature Museum opened in his native house in downtown Nizhny Novgorod. The museum hosts more than 100.000 articles including Gorky’s personal belongings.
Foreigners Were Not Allowed
During the Cold War, the Soviet government restricted access to hundreds of cities that produced weapons or conducted military research. Gorky city produced aircraft, ships, large machines, weapons, and ammunition. Thus, as from 1959 foreign tourists couldn’t enter the city. That said, Nizhny Novgorod was not closed to national tourism. Russians were allowed to visit the city, which at the time was a popular stop on river cruises along the Volga River. Fortunately, the ban was lifted in 1990.
Places to Visit in Nizhny Novgorod
Most places to visit in Nizhny Novgorod are in the center. We are talking about Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street in the upper town, the Kremlin, and Rozhdestvenskaya Street, in the lower town. Gorgeous historic houses, churches, theaters, museums, and galleries populate the center. No wonder the best bars and restaurants in the city opened here. Consequently, if you only have one day to spend in the city, focus entirely on the center. Time will fly as you intake the quaint atmosphere, people watch and take pictures. Zen!
I am sure you’ve heard of the word Kremlin. Yes, it’s the fairy tale medieval fortress that you find all around Russia. Nizhny Novgorod’s Kremlin may not be the oldest, nor the most impressive one in the country, but its location is simply spectacular. The fortress stands proud on the confluence of the Volga and Oka Rivers. The impressive 16th century city walls with 13 monumental towers are a sight you will never forget. The Archangel Cathedral, the House of the Military Governor (now the art museum), the arsenal, and the memorial complex from World War II are inside the Kremlin.
Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street
Located right in the center of Nizhny Novgorod, south of the Kremlin, we find Bolshaya Pokrovskaya, the city’s main street. The street was laid out in the Middle Ages. Wooden buildings lined it. In the late 18th century, it became the city’s main street and a magnet for the local elite. Indeed, generals, high officials, and princes built their mansions on the street. The Drama Theater, the State Bank, the Trade Union, and the Chamber of Commerce are some of the beauties that can be seen today. Do not forget to look for the numerous sculptures depicting ordinary people in everyday life scenes that dot the area. We loved them!
If Bolshaya Pokrovskaya is the city’s main street, Rozhdestvenaya is surely the second most important one. The street begins at the Kremlin, to the west, in the lower town. Enter the street from the Kremlin and notice the large statue of Minin and Pozharsky, a prince and a merchant that expelled the Polish Lithuanian forces from Russia. The Church of St. John the Baptist, one of the city’s oldest churches, presides over the plaza. Our favorite building in the city is here too. You will recognize the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as or Stroganov Church, by its colorful domes.
Things to Do in Nizhny Novgorod
There are plenty of things to do in Nizhny Novgorod outside of the city center too. Admiring the Volga River is a must. Walk along its southern bank and climb the lovely staircase that connects the embankment with the upper town. You can cross the Volga River on an aerial car. Outstanding views guaranteed. Without any doubt, the other side of the River Oka, right where it meets the Volga, is the most interesting area outside of the center. Locals refer to the area as Nizhny Novgorod Spit. Amongst the grandest buildings to visit are the grand city stadium, the lavish fair, and two 19th century churches. It’s also a place full of history.
Climb Chkalov Staircase
Though downtown Nizhny Novgorod lies right south of the Volga River, somehow both were not connected until 1949 when the monumental Chkalov Staircase was built. The original plan to build the stairs came up in 1939, but had to be delayed due to the Second World War. After the war, the central soviet government wanted a grandiose staircase to honor the Battle of Stalingrad. In fact, the stairs were supposed to be called Stalingrad stairs. Today, they are called Chkalov Stairs after local hero Valery Chkalov. The stairs are east of the Kremlin and connect the long Minin and Pozharsky Square with the Volga embankment. Trust us, you won’t forget the views!
Take the Cable Car to Bor
Belgrade and Nizhny Novgorod have a similar outline. Indeed, the Serbian capital lies entirely south of the Danube, and Nizhny Novgorod south of the Volga. The industrial city of Bor is to the east, across the river. For centuries you could only go to and from Nizhny Novgorod on a boat. In 1965, a bridge was built crossing the Volga and reaching Bor after a long detour. Fortunately, in 2012 a cable car connecting Bor and Nizhny Novgorod directly open. You can now travel between the two cities in just 13 minutes. Though there is not much to see in Bor, the ride itself is a wonderful experience. Again, you’ll love the views.
Explore the Spit of Nizhny Novgorod
The Spit of Nizhny Novgorod grabbed the world’s attention in 2018 when its shiny new stadium hosted the FIFA World Cup. Indeed, the magnificent stadium is worth visiting even if you are not a football fan. That said, the Strelka as it’s called in Russian, is known for something else. It homes the elegant Nizhny Novgorod Fair, one of Russia’s grandest. The original fair was built in 1817. The current Russian Revival building is from 1889. It hosted the famous All Russia exhibition of 1896, the largest event of its kind at the time. The two churches nearby were built at the same time. These are the Transfiguration Cathedral and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, two of the most impressive churches in Nizhny Novgorod.
Where to Stay
There’s a reason why this post is titled Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s Hospitality Capital. Nizhny Novgorod boasts some of the best hotels in Russia. As mentioned above, many first-class hotels opened when the city hosted the football world cup. Today, the city has one five star hotel and more than a dozen four stars hotels. All of them are known for their refined Russian hospitality. Due to the plethora of places to visit in downtown Nizhny Novgorod, we suggest staying here. In fact, most hotels are not far from Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street. If the language barrier bothers you, choose an international hotel. That said, a lot of people speak English and the ones that don’t will help you anyway. We are telling you, people are nice in Nizhny Novgorod!
Hampton by Hilton
We stayed at the fabulous Hampton by Hilton Nizhny Novgorod. It was the first international hotel to open in town. Our room was spacious, bright, and with great city views. The hotel is a tall building, so ask for a top floor room, as we did. The hotel gives you access to the enormous spa and sports center next door. We went there every night to relax after walking all day long. The hotel excels in service. They treated us like royalty! The elegant guys at the reception surprised us with a very late checkout, so we could relax before our evening train. Many thanks!
Sheraton Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin
If you are looking for even more luxury, stay at the Sheraton Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, the only 5-star hotel in town. The hotel’s location between the drama theater and the Kremlin is superb! Some of its rooms overlook the theater and Bolshaya Pokrovska Street. Others have views over the Kremlin. Even better, the roof terrace lounge offers uninterrupted views of the whole city! The hotel has 176 deluxe rooms, including 25 suites. Guests staying in the suites have access to a club lounge. The hotel excels in class and style. Renowned Studio Jacques Garcia designed all of the hotel’s public areas.
Mercure Nizhny Novgorod Center
Another superb hotel that you should consider is the Mercure Nizhny Novgorod Center. The newest addition to the city’s hotel scene is just off Bolshaya Pokrovska Street, close to the Kremlin and most attractions. It offers 80 spacious and comfortable rooms, perfect to rest after a day full of activities. The restaurant offers top quality European cuisine and the 24-hour bar has tones of cocktails. Additionally, there is a conference room and a small fitness studio. It is undoubtedly one of the best hotels in Nizhny Novgorod.
How to Get
Probably the best way to travel around Russia is by train. They are comfortable, inexpensive, and a great way to meet locals. Not to mention the views of endless forests, lakes, and quaint little towns. However, to some, night trains are the best ones since spending a night on board saves time. We traveled from Vladimir (one of the Golden Ring cities) to Nizhny Novgorod on a fast train. The journey lasts roughly 2 hours.
From Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod you can either travel by fast day trains or take a slow night train. Actually, slow day trains do operate, but we suggest avoiding them. The fast train covers the distance in some 3,5 to 4 hours. The slow ones take over 6 hours. Take note that fast trains leave from Moscow’s Kurskaya Station, while the slow ones (including the night train) leave from Yaroslavskaya Station.
After visiting Nizhny Novgorod we took a night train to Kazan, another Russian gem. Our lovely carriage hostess Valeria took a great care of us. She didn’t let us skip dinner even though we had already eaten! At the moment, there are no direct trains between the two cities, so you have to transfer in the beautiful city of Arzamas. Please check the Russian Railways site for possible changes.
Nizhny Novgorod has an international airport (Strigino), but there are few flights to foreign destinations. Thus, most foreign tourists arrive to the city via any of the three airports in Moscow: Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo or Vnukovo.