After Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Kazan is arguably Russia’s nicest big city and its most multicultural one. The capital of historical Tatarstan is home to the country’s only Kremlin with a mosque inside. Included in Unesco’s World Heritage Sites list, it is quite unique. However, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Kazan. The place to be is Bauman Street, the pedestrian street lined with neoclassical buildings and churches, cool cafés, and lots of street performers. Another pedestrian street is Kayuma Nasyri, with loads of colorful wooden houses and old mosques.
Things to Do in Kazan
Explore the Kazan Kremlin
One of the most important things to do in Kazan is visiting its grand Kremlin. Ivan the Terrible built the medieval citadel to replace the ruins of the former residence of Kazan Khans. This monumental fortress is close to the confluence of the Kazanka and Volga Rivers. Hence, the views are outstanding and sunsets unforgettable. The Kremlin is home to the Governor’s Palace, several museums, towers, churches, and a mosque. The lavish Kul Sharif Mosque is from a recent date. It stands on the place of an old mosque destroyed by Ivan the Terrible. The Kremlin’s oldest structure is the Annunciation Cathedral from the 16th century. However, its most famous landmark is the Söyembikä Tower, whose origin is unclear. It owes its name to the Kazan queen Söyembikä, who threw herself to her death from the tower.
People Watch on Bauman Street
Kazan’s main drag Bauman is a 1,3-kilometer long pedestrian street in the city center. It bears the name of Nikolay Bauman, a local revolutionary hero. This lively street is where everything happens. Restaurants, bars, shops, churches, and museums line the street. The street begins at the Kremlin and goes all the way to Pushkin Street. Nevertheless, the pedestrian area doesn’t end there. It continues, albeit with a different name: Peterburgskaya Street. At the beginning of the street, close to the Kremlin, you’ll find the late 17th-century Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. Closer to the end, you will see the Epiphany Church with its red bell tower. Take your time, and be sure to notice the little stars on the floor dedicated to Tatar celebrities!
Soak Up History on Kayuma Nasyri Street
Another pedestrian street well worth spending time at is the historical Kayuma Nasyri. Unlike Bauman Street, there aren’t many shops or commerce of any type. Instead, you’ll find several mosques and some of the most colorful wooden houses in Russia. Kayuma Nasyri is the best-preserved aristocratic street in the Old Tatar Settlement, one of Kazan’s oldest neighborhoods. Noble Tatar families, rich merchants, and representatives of the higher clergy owned the 19th-century houses that line the street. The highlight of the street is the beautiful Märcani Mosque. It marked the beginning of a multi-faith religious tolerant society in Russia, proclaimed by Empress Catherine II at the end of the 18th century. It is the oldest mosque in Kazan and all of Tatarstan, but also one of the biggest.
Visit Kazan’s Most Important Church
The Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral is Kazan’s most distinguished church and one of its spiritual symbols. Upon arrival, you will immediately notice its unique colorful decoration. The church belongs to the so-called Russian baroque, a style that dominated the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Russia. Though it’s unclear who built the church, its resemblance to the early 18th century churches from Ukraine is quite evident. The church impressed many Russian emperors, including no other than Catherine II. Not only that, but three famous Alexanders also visited and wrote about it: Pushkin, Von Humboldt, and Dumas.
Bike along Rivers and Lakes
Biking is, without a doubt, one of the most fun and relaxing things to do in Kazan! The mighty Volga and the Kazanka Rivers surround the city. Additionally, several canals and the Kaban Lakes cross it in the middle. We biked along the rivers on a newly built promenade enjoying the views, and through a bizarre new luxurious neighborhood. Then we went to the National Cultural Center Kazan and turned on Pushik Street to see the Opera House. From there, we biked all the way to the Kaban Lakes. We went back to the bike rental shop along the Bulak Canal. The shop is right under the Kremlin, between the Kazanka River and Baturina Street. Don’t forget to bring your passport or any other valid ID.
Admire Soviet Brutalist Architecture
Just like all other big Russian cities, a variety of brutalist buildings from the Soviet Period dots Kazan. A bunch of large soviet residential blocks lies on the eastern outskirts of the city. Another massive soviet neighborhood is north of the center, across the Kazanka River. You can see that one from the top of the Kremlin. Among the many interesting buildings, our favorite was the abovementioned National Cultural Center Kazan. Built in 1991, it is one of the most active museums in Kazan. You’ll recognize the building for its simple red tuff façade and the tall obelisk named Freedom.
Discover Kazan’s New Kitchy Architecture
One of the things that caught our eyes when we were in Kazan’s Kremlin is the plethora of new interesting buildings. Once we got closer, we realized how unusual they are, with weird decorative elements and materials. The one building that we noticed immediately is the so-called Agricultural Palace, which is the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazan. You’ll easily recognize this lavishly decorated building by its 20-meter high bronze tree. Critics say it combines everything from the baroque to the renaissance, but tourists love it! Another building that we loved for its bold kitschy appearance is the Tatar State Puppet Theater. Its castle-like structure seems to come from a Russian fairy tale.
Visit the Temple of all Religions
One of the most interesting things to do in Kazan is to go on an excursion to the Temple of all Religions. This colorful temple is on the outskirts of the city. Consequently, you will have to take a public bus, hire a private taxi, or book an organized excursion. We are not talking about a religious building, but rather a cultural center. Its architecture incorporates an orthodox church, a mosque, and a synagogue. Though it is still under construction, it will eventually have 16 domes, representing the 16 major religions in the world. According to its authors, the Khanov Brothers, it’s a temple of culture and truth.
Learn about Tatarstan and Russia at a Museum
Kazan has several interesting museums. If you didn’t have time to visit the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, you are lucky. The Kazan’s Hermitage exhibits some of its pieces. Apart from temporary exhibitions, the Hermitage displays European, Asian, and National art from different periods. The National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan’s premier museum, is across the Kremlin’s main entrance. Here you’ll find large archeological and ethnographic collections. If you have Soviet nostalgia, visit the Soviet Lifestyle Museum inside a communal flat. If you are looking for something even more unusual, visit the Museum of Chak Chak dedicated to the traditional Tatar dough pastry.
Try Tatar Cuisine
Contrary to our expectations, we enjoyed food all around Russia. It is usually very well prepared, and there are plenty of dishes to choose from. Tatarstan is a great place to savor food since it combines local cuisine with Russian and Asian influences. The Echpochmak, a triangular pie, the Chak-chak, a sweet soft dough, and the Koymak, a kind of pancake, are its highlights. We had lunch on a beautiful terrace in Tatarskaya Usadba. They offer delicious food, but you have to be patient with your order. If you want to try typical Tatar food, go to Dom Tatarskoi Kulinarii. If your thing is quick, delicious, and cheap local food, go to Dobraya Stolovaya or Tubatay. Finally, if you want to try something even more exotic, the Rubai offers delicious Uzbek food.
Join a Local Festival
Kazan hosts numerous events and festivals all year round. Our last day was a holiday. Locals were singing and dancing to their national songs. Later we realized that we had attended the celebrations of Tatarstan national day. The city’s greatest local festival is Sabantuy. It takes place after the crop planting and includes horse races, wrestling matches, and all kinds of singing events. If you happen to visit Kazan in February, you’ll be delighted by its Opera Festival. If you visit in July or August, don’t forget to attend the Kazan Jazz Festival. The concerts are held inside the Kremlin’s Pushechnyy Dvor every Thursday evening.
Explore the Rest of Tatarstan
Tatarstan’s cultural heritage is so rich that it has three Unesco World Heritage Sites. Obviously, Kazan is one of them. The other two are Bolgar and Sviyazhsk. Bolgar was the medieval capital of Volga Bulgaria, a state that existed between the 7th and 13th centuries. The Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex has several mosques, mausoleums, and palaces from that period. Sviyazshk, on the other hand, is a fortress from the 16th century that the Russian army used as a base during the siege of Kazan. Its most important landmark is the Assumption Cathedral.
Where to Stay in Kazan
Kazan is one of Russia’s top tourist destinations. Thus, you have several hotels to choose from. We wanted to stay on the main street, so we chose the Shalyapin Palace Hotel. It proved a wonderful idea since the hotel is elegant, rooms are comfortable, and views over Bauman Street splendid. Another gorgeous hotel on the same street is the historic Nogai Hotel. The large constructivist building from 1937 used to host publishers and writers. If you are still not satisfied, book a room in Kazan’s best hotel: Kazan Palace by Tasigo. This delicately designed hotel is an art nouveau palace from the beginning of the 20th century.
Things to Do in Kazan – Photos