It's likely that you've never heard of Belgorod—and it's understandable. Located in southwestern Russia, on the banks of the Donets river near the border with Ukraine, Belgorod has a population of only a few-hundred thousand, and an industrial aesthetic that largely hearkens back to Soviet times. With this being said, Belgorod is one of Russia's fastest growing cities. It's also almost completely lacking in tourists, which makes it the perfect place to have a truly authentic experience. Read on for the top things to do in this growing city.
Marvel at an 18th-Century Cathedral
The most obvious antidote to the decidedly Soviet aesthetic of Belgorod's city center? That would be Smolensky Cathedral, a beautiful but humble Russian Orthodox church that dates back to the 18th century. Clad in a turquoise-colored paint that looks great during any season and under every light, this is definitely among the top things to do in Belgorod. The cathedral is still open to parishioners daily, allowing visitors to marvel at the interior as well.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
Another way to transcend the concrete housing blocks that definite Belgorod's cityscape is to take a more figurative approach. Namely, the lions and tigers and bears that call Belgorod Zoo home are, in spirit if not in reality, a perfect antidote to the feeling of being back in Soviet times, which might occasionally befall you elsewhere.
Have a Scream in Central Park
Known officially, in Russian, as Tsentral'nyy Park Kul'tury I Otdykha Imeni V.i. Lenina, Belgorod's answer to Central Park is neither as grand nor as well-manicured as its New York counterpart. However, this green space isn't just for relaxing. In fact, it's home to a number of roller coasters and other kid-friendly rides, which make it a great spot for the whole family to have a thrill—although you can definitely chill, too.
Watch a Battle Unfold in Miniature
The Battle of Kursk was one of the decisive dramas of World War II for the Soviets in their firsts against Nazi tyranny. The hostile conditions that underlied this battle, which took place not far from Belgorod, have thankfully let up significantly. However, if you visit the aptly-named Belgorod Diorama Museum, you can observe a painstaking model of the battle, from start to finish, that local artists have put together.
Admire Terrific Taxidermy
Belgorod's has an interesting history—and not just related to military conflicts. Belgorod's history, human and animal alike, are on display at the Belgorod State Historical Museum; including taxidermied bodies of animals that make their home in surrounding Belgorod Oblast.
Learn About Vladimir Mayakovsky
Although the Belgorod Literary Museum features the work of a number of writers, the focal point of its exhibition is Vladimir Mayakovsky, who originally hailed from Georgia for what it's worth. Even if you can't read Russian, it's fascinating to learn about the story of Mayakovsky, who was a renowned writer before the Russian Revolution, and who used his considerable skill to stealthily craft satire about Soviet communism until his death by suicide in 1930.
Enjoy a Lush Botanical Garden
Construction of buildings in Belgorod might've taken a utilitarian approach, but the botanical garden at Belgorod State University is anything but. With expansive exhibitions both outdoors and indoors, which allows plants that couldn't otherwise survive in Russia to bloom and thrive, the garden is a veritable explosion of color and lushness, and a trip there might make you forget exactly where you are.
Travel the World Through Photos
Like much of the rest of Russia, Belgorod has cold, wet and even snowy weather for much of the year. The beautiful exhibitions inside the Belgorod Photo Art Gallery are the perfect way to brighten your day, even if it simply feels dull because you've walked past one too many Soviet buildings. Spanning Russian and the rest of the world, and featuring both contemporary and historical photography, this is a great opportunity to travel the world without leaving Russia.
Discover Different Churches
The aforementioned Smolensky Cathedral is probably the most traditionally Russian counter-example to the Soviet architecture that otherwise dominates the city, but there are other options as well. Churches such as the Church of the Holy Martyrs Faith are particularly atmospheric, as their use of unpainted wood evokes the forests that surround Belgorod city.
Take a Beach Day (if It's Warm)
While it's not a typical beach day, one of the best things to do in Belgorod on a sunny day, is to head to the shores of the Donets River. Aim to visit the portion of the river that forms forms a sort of lake just northeast of the city center. It's is neither tropical nor particularly idyllic, but it's an ideal spot for some R&R by the water.
Continue on to Ukraine—Or Not
Because Belgorod sits near the Russian border with Ukraine, many travelers who pass through the city (and, in spite of all the things to do in Belgorod, many visits are doing just that) are ultimately bound for Ukraine or the Crimean Peninsula. Chances are good that a trip to Ukraine is in your future if Belgorod is as well.