Founded: 1221 by Grand Duke Yuri II
Pop: 1.2 million
Other names: Gorky
Monument to NN founder Yuri Vsevoldovich and his teacher Simon
We took high speed train – Sapsan – from Moscow, which got us there in just 4 hours. Fun fact: St Petersburg is the same distance from Moscow as Nizhniy Novgorod, but it only takes 2 hours by Sapsan. You know why? Because rail track between Moscow and St Petersburg has the proper rails that allow the train to get up to speed of 250 km per hour; the track between Moscow and Nizhniy does not. That’s how it is in Russia – getting better, but a little bit messed up. We came across this time and time during our month in Russia.
One of the main streets in Nizhniy Novgorod
Nizhniy Novgorod is Russia’s fifth largest city, but you wouldn’t exactly get that feeling walking around. At least we didn’t. Six car lanes – empty, boulevards – deserted. Few tourists. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Nizhniy used to be a “closed” city – Russians who lived outside couldn’t visit without special permission, foreigners weren’t permitted period. The story is that the city, then named Gorky, was a major military industrial center – which is true; but most don’t mention that Soviet Union’s atomic bomb facility is nearby, which was probably the biggest reason to close off access.
Regardless, lack of people – maybe it was just a funny day like that, a Sunday? – does not take away from the city’s loveliness. The city is situated on top of some major rolling hills on top of Volga and Oka rivers, which means the views are plentiful and stunning.
View of Volga river from the upper embankment.
If the weather is good, you can just spend the day walking around without doing anything in particular, just enjoying the views. That is what we did with our friend Inna, who is a native of the town and was very kind to show us around. See our 4 o’clock from the walk:
The city itself is very walkable, and downtown has several areas of imperial era mansions and homes of the wealthy merchants. During imeprial times, Nizhniy Novgorod hosted the largest fair in Russia – the annual turnover of which trumped the revenue brought in by the railroad links three times over! Many facades of these homes have been beautifully restored. Perhaps one day there will be a museum of life in imperial age in Nizhniy Novgorod.
Jenia and Inna discussing the beautiful architecture of old nobility houses in downtown Nizhniy Novgorod.
We also visited the Kremlin, which is essentially a fortress with administrative buildings that used to be the city. Now the Kremlin is part of the historic old town, which still houses quite a few federal, regional and municipal offices. Saw a military exhibition – this is a big thing in Russia, as the country still very much lives and breathes the tragedy of WWII where almost 20 million Russians perished.
The best part of the visit was taking a walk on top of the Kremlin walls – although there was substantial renovation, it still feels like you could be there in 1100s. For most of the hour plus that we spent on the wall we did not see any other people up there!
The Kremlin walls – at one point half dozen your Russian soldiers ran past us. Wonder what was the urgency…
Nizhniy also boasts quite a few attractive Russian Orthodox Cathedrals. We saw two: Rozhdestvenskaya Church and Cathedral and Voznesenskiy Cathedral. We aren’t huge believers, but there is something about going into these old, magnificent buildings that is at the least awe inspiring, if not spiritual. Highly recommend. Rozhdestvenskaya Church
Luggage: Train station luggage check is 100 rubles per bag.
Transport Links: From the train station, buses#61, 4, 38, 19 and minivans #2, 40 go to the city center – Minina Square. The stop is located behind the modern-looking Shopping Plaza, which is across from the train station.
Eat: Per Inna’s recommendation, we visited Franky’s Bar, right off pedestrian-only Bolshaya Pokrovskaya St in the city center. It is a very nice place for a respite. One of the best places, interior and food wise that we visited after leaving Moscow. Prices aren’t budget, but definitely not Moscow either. There is free WIFI from across the street, making it a great place to recharge literally and figuratively. And they make one mean cocktail – order any on the extensive list, and I am pretty sure it will be one of the best you’ve had anywhere. The mystery of the place is that it is decorated with portraits of notable individuals from 20th century, yet one of the frames is completely empty.. why? Not sure, but if you visit, do ask the bartenders. Franky’s Bar