Kazan is not the first city that comes to mind when you think of Russia. Most people can only think of Moscow or Saint Petersburg, the two well-known cities in Russia. But the world’s largest country has more beautiful cities to offer and one of them is Kazan. This city is often called the third capital of Russia. With a long history of more than 1,000 years, Kazan has a lot to offer for culture lovers. Moreover, Kazan is the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan. The name Kazan means ‘cooking pot’ in the Tatar language and it refers to the melting pot of cultures that you’ll see in this city. In this blog post, I will tell you why you need to visit Kazan, plus the best things to do while you’re there.
6 reasons why you should visit Kazan + things to do
1. Kazan offers stunning architecture
One of the reasons why I recommend visiting Kazan is because of the beautiful architecture. This city is stunning! Take for example the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. It is housed in a huge palace with a row of pillars in the front and a bronze tree in the middle of the entry. The construction cost 1 billion rubles and the result is a true eyecatcher, located at the banks of the Volga river. I recommend taking a walk there in the evening because the leaves of the tree are beautifully lit. Another architectural highlight is the Gostiny Dvor. Built from 1800 to 1803 on the spot where there used to be a caravanserai located (a courtyard where travelers could stay and rest). With a location at the Volga, medieval Kazan was an important stop on the traffic routes. Today, the National Museum of the Republic Tatarstan is located here.
2. It has a brightly colored promenade: Bouman Street
Right in the heart of Kazan, you will find Bouman Street. A long pedestrian street with boutiques, restaurants, and souvenir shops. This street already exists since the 15th century and functioned as a local trade center. Throughout history, the street has had different names until it was called Bouman Street in 1930, named after the local Bolshevik hero Nikolay Bauman. Bouman Street is a nice place for lunch or coffee and offers lots of colorful buildings and churches. Even the local MacDonalds is beautiful!
Kazan really is made for walking. Of course, you can easily explore the city center by yourself, or you could take one of the many walking tours. This way you can learn so much more about Kazan.
3. Visit Kazan’s oriental Kremlin
When you think of the Kremlin you immediately think of Moscow, right? But did you know a lot of Russian cities have their own Kremlins? A Kremlin is basically an old fortified city center with palaces and churches. Also, Kazan has its very own Kremlin with an impressive location at the banks of the Volga. The white walls contain a colorful collection of buildings such as the official residence of the Tatar president, Kazan’s very own leaning tower the Söyembikä Tower, and the oriental gem Qol Sharif Mosque. This mosque was the pride of the medieval Khanate of Kazan, the Islamic republic which was conquered by the Russian empire in 1552. During the invasion tsar Ivan the Terrible demolished the mosque. What you see now is a replica that opened in 2005. The current Qol Sharif Mosque is seen as the largest mosque in Europe.
- Join this sightseeing tour to explore the Kazan Kremlin and to hear more about the city’s legends and tales. Looking for a tour that is fully focused on the beautiful Kazan Kremlin? This private tour is a good option.
4. Kazan is a very untypical Russian city
Russia has 22 autonomous republics. Kazan is the capital of one of these republics: Tatarstan. Tatarstan is one of the richest areas of Russia and has a lot of oil and gas reserves. More than half of the population is Islamic Tatar, followed by a large group of orthodox Russians. Who are these Tatars? Tatars are a Turkic population that came in the thirteenth century to Europe after Mongol ruler Genghis Khan expanded his empire into Russia. Today, there are millions of Tatars living in Russia and Asia.
Not just the Russian language
Because of this cultural background, Kazan is not your everyday Russian city. For instance, every street sign has two languages: Russian and Tatar. And there is also surprisingly a lot of English available in Kazan. In public transport, the stops are communicated in three languages: Tatar, Russian and English. Kazan feels much more progressive than Moscow where public transport is still a drama for foreign tourists.
5. the city has A good selection of cafes
Kazan is known as a Russian business city. There are expensive hotels and large banks in the city center. Even the restaurants offer a special business menu for visitors. Luckily, there are also cafes focusing on tourists. From a Flemish beer café called ‘Leuven’ to a Syrian hummus restaurant. My favorite was Koffein, a beautifully decorated café with big couches, good tea, and coffee and special cakes. Of course, there are also typical Tatar restaurants with dishes as Öçpoçmaq (triangle pastry with beef, onion, and potatoes) and Çäkçäk (dough balls with honey). Definitely worth trying!
- Tip: eat with locals in Kazan. Join this unique excursion for a home-cooked dinner at the house of a local Tatarstan family.
6. Kazan has a fun quirky side
In Kazan, you will not only find beautiful churches and mosques. This city also has a quirky side. In the area of Staroye Arkchino, you will find the famous Temple of All Religions (take bus 2 from the city center). A building that literally represents the main religions of the world. The construction of the temple started in 1994 and is still under construction. The architect behind this temple, Ildar Khanov, wanted to show a peaceful combination of different cultures. This also reflects Tatarstan a bit, a place where Islamic Tatars and Orthodox Russians live together in one big republic.
Another quirky building in Kazan is the Kazan Family Center. This building has the shape of a pot, which represents the burning heart of the city center according to the architect. The unique feature of this building is that it can host up to 100 weddings at the same time. Looking from the outside I would not have guessed that.
Where to stay in Kazan
I stayed at the Geography Hostel and I can highly recommend it. Good price, close to the city center and train station, the staff is super friendly and the rooms are great. Moreover, it gets a 9,4 rating on Booking.com. Click here for an overview of the hotels in Kazan.
How to get to Kazan
- You can easily visit Kazan by overnight train from Moscow (travel time: 11 hours). Buy your train tickets on the Russian Railway Website. Traveling on the Trans Siberian Express? Include Kazan as a stop on your itinerary.
- The airport of Kazan is located 26 kilometers outside the city of Kazan. Fortunately, there is an Aeroexpress train that takes you to the city center within 20 minutes. A ticket cost 40 rubles.
Do you want to visit Kazan?
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