Moscow is the heart, Saint Petersburg is the head and Nizhny Novgorod is the wallet. This old Russian saying sums up the function of Nizhny Novgorod in the old days. Nizhny, as the city is often shortened, was a thriving merchant city with an ideal location at the rivers Volga and Oka. Merchants from all over the world came for business to this city. And also for me, it was work that led me to Nizhny Novgorod. I have to admit, March is not the best time to visit this Russian city. The wind from the Volga is cutting, the sidewalks are full with frozen slippery snow and the roads are wet with melted snow mixed with dirt. Every time I crossed the road, my pants legs got more and more dirty. The summer is definitely a better time to visit this Russian city. And you should! With more than 600 historical monuments it really has something to offer for everyone!
Did you know I also visited Veliky Novgorod? The ‘little’ brother of Nizhny. Read about my day in the oldest city of Russia.
From merchant hub to Soviet place of exile
Let’s start with some history. Nizhny Novgorod became an important merchant city around 1850, thanks to the strategic river and trade routes location. Once a year Nizhny hosted the ‘Nizhny Novgorod Fair’ that attracted traders from Europe and Asia. During the Soviet Union the city made name as the home town of beloved pro communist writer Maxim Gorky. In 1932 Josef Stalin even changed the name of the city into Gorky. In the 1930’s Gorky became the industrial centre for military technology. Everything that was produced became top secret and the city was closed off from the outside world until 1991. This also gave Gorky it’s second function: it was a place of exile for dissidents opposing the soviets. Today, the city is called Nizhny Novgorod again. In this blogpost I will show you what you can do and see in the fifth city of Russia.
Symbol of the city: the Kremlin
The Kremlin of Nizhny Novgorod is often seen as one the most extraordinary Kremlins of Russia. The complex is built in the sixteenth century to protect the city against invasions. This Kremlin has thirteen towers. Every tower has its own legend. What makes the Kremlin so special, is that it spreads out over a hill. The long walls stretch out over two layers: the upper and lower part. Today the Kremlin is used as a political center of the city. You will find here several buildings of the local authorities, but also museums and the oldest church of the city: Michael Archangelsk Church.
Tip: close to the Kremlin there are the Chkalov Stairs that declines from the Kremlin to the banks of the Volga. With more than thousand steps it is quite a challenge to walk the whole stairs. And because I was visiting the city in the winter, I was not really into climbing any stairs. You can understand, right?
The most beautiful churches at the Volga
In Nizhny Novgorod you will find churches everywhere. Along the banks of the Volga you will see many churches in different sizes and shapes. One of the highlights is the Pechersky Ascension Monastery, a cave monastery. Built in the fourteenth century with the Pechersk Lavra Monastery as its example. Unfortunately, the one in Nizhny Novgorod doesn’t have a cave system. Still, it’s a nice place to walk round and to go inside and see the beautiful frescos.
My personal favorite is the church with a tong-twister name: the Church of Nativity of Most Holy Mother of God. The short version: the Stroganov church. It was the rich Stroganov family who built this baroque church in Nizhny Novgorod and other baroque churches all over Russia. The domes of this church really caught my attention. Look at those colours!
Fly over the Volga with the funicular
You can already see this from the Pechersky monastery: the 80 meter high funicular over the Volga river. At first I didn’t know for sure if I wanted to go on a ride with this funicular. I mean, can I trust Russian technique? But my curiosity won it from the nervousness. And if the commuters use it every day, how dangerous could it be? So I paid 75 ruble for a ticket and went on a 13 minute long ride from Nizhny Novgorod to the island of Bor. Not that I recommend going to Bor, but I do recommend the view from the cable cart. It’s amazing, especially in winter. You see the ice fishermen at the Volga waiting to catch some fish. I really respect these men sitting the all day in cold temperatures on a frozen river.
Strolling over the colorful Pokrovka
The trader years left a mark at the city. One of the examples is the Bolshaja Pokrovskaja Street, often shortened to Pokrovka. Here you will find mansions and villas from the eighteenth century. This used to be the houses of the rich elite of Nizhny Novgorod. One of the most striking building at the Pokrovka is the State Bank. This bank is built in 1911 to celebrate the Romanov’s 300th anniversary. Unfortunately, you cannot go inside. The Bank is only opened for visitors once a year (17th May). Today, the Pokrovka offers shops for clothing, souvenirs and cafes. Go for coffee and sweets to Coffee Cake and for lunch make a stop at Café Noot for falafel and hummus. Also funny: there are several bronzen sculptures along the Pokrovka. A violist, a goat and a man with a camera: they are all different!
Discover wooden Nizhny
In the center of Nizhny Novgorod there are certain houses that stand out. These are the nineteenth century houses, low wooden houses with wood carving around the windows and doors. Some are extremely run-down, others are restored and colorful. With the World Cup Footbal in 2018, the government is demolishing some of the old houses. It doesn’t fit with the modern image the city wants to show. If you ask me it is shame, because these houses show the historical parts of the city. Fortunately, local artists agree with me and they try raise awareness by creating street art on the walls of the wooden houses.
Street art: a unique style
I already mentioned it: street art, this is also something you will see in Nizhny Novgorod. Local artist Artem Filatov gave me a tour of his city and he told me that Nizhny is famous for its unique style of street art. Do not expect to see beautiful murals of picture perfect works. Street art in Nizhny Novgorod is not really beautiful, but it is impressive and experimental. The canvas is often the walls of the old wooden houses that are about to be destroyed. With this art people are reminded that the wooden houses are also part of their city. Well-known works are ‘the buildings with faces’ from artist Nikita Nomerz and the poems of lace from a local artist duo. What do you think of this street art?
- It is possible to visit Nizhny Novgorod during the Trans Siberian Express. Take the train from Moscow via Suzdal to Nizhny Novgorod and after that to Perm and further.
- Nizhny Novgorod is not city for strolls or wandering. It is too big for that. The river divides the city into two. Make it easy for yourself and use the metro, trolley buses or marsrutkas. Especially, the last one is a favorite way of transportation in Russia.
- Good to know: nizhny Novgorod has a lower and upper part. In the upper part of the city you will find the historical center and in the lower part there are the residence and the industrial areas.
Would you like to visit Nizhny Novgorod?