Although it's Russia's fifth-largest city, you could be forgiven for never having heard of Nizhny Novgorod. Notwithstanding that another Russian city is simply called "Novgorod," the current name of the city just doesn't have a memorable ring to it. (By contrast, its name during the Soviet years — Gorky, like the famous author — was much more iconic.) At any rate, this city of just over a million around six hours east of Moscow is more than worth a visit. These are just 12 reasons why!
Tour the Kremlin's 13 Towers
Like most every other city in Russia, Nizhny Novgorod is home to a Kremlin. (The word "kremlin" means "citadel" in Russian, and has nothing to do with the modern Russian government) One thing that elevated the Kremlin of Nizhny Novgorod above others in Russia (with the possible exception of the Moscow Kremlin and one or two others), however, is the fact that its wall has 13 towers. During the summer months, at least one free walking tour per day operates from the main entrance of Nizhny Novgorod's Kremlin.
Climb Russia's Longest Staircase
Named for one of the most famous Russian pilots of the early aviation age (Valery Chkalov), the Chkalov Stairs connect two of Nizhny Novgorod's public squares, which sit on the upper and lower embankments of the Volga River, respectively. Built in 1943 (during the period when Nizhny Novgorod was known as Gorky), the Chkalov Stairs currently have the distinction of being the longest staircase in Russia.
Go Wild at Limpopo Zoo
One thing that surprises many travelers to Nizhny Novgorod is how amazing its zoo, colloquially known as Limpopo is. In addition to being home to a tropical botanical garden (which, not surprisingly, is indoors), the zoo hosts a variety of reptiles, mammals and birds. There's also a small sculpture park on the grounds of Nizhny Novgorod's zoo, including both original and replica pieces.
Shop (or Just Stroll) Along a Storied High Street
Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street has been the de-facto "Main Street" of Nizhny Novgorod for more than 200 years. Well, minus the Soviet Union period, during which the cafes that once (and now) lined it became somewhat worthless, since intellectual conversations were basically forbidden. These days, you can come here for a cup of Russian tea then shop at the dozens of boutiques you'll find on either side of the street.
Sun Yourself at the Spit
Nizhny Novgorod sits at the confluence of the Oka and Volga Rivers, with the triangle of land at the point they meet being known as the Nizhny Novgorod Spit. Ignoring the unfortunate double-meaning of its name for a moment, this is actually a wonderful place to get a tan, if it's summer in the city and the sun happens to be shining. Even if not, photographers will enjoy a trip here for a view of the Kremlin and city center across the Volga.
Marvel at the Open-Air Museum of Rozhdestvenskaya Street
Like Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street, Rozhdestvenskaya Street has long been one of the most important streets in Nizhny Novgorod. However, while the former has become a primarily commercial artery in recent decades, the charm of the latter is in its well-maintained buildings, which hearken back to the mid-18th century. In fact, some locals go so far as to consider Rozhdestvenskaya Street an "open-air museum."
Ride Russia's Newest Cable Car
Russian investment in infrastructure isn't quite as dramatic as that of, say, China, but the Federation has nonetheless built a selection of interesting and modern transportation systems since the fall of the USSR. Among them is the just-opened cable car, which travels from the center of Nizhny Novgorod over the Volga River to suburban Bor. At any rate, a ride over the river and back is definitely worth inclusion on your list of things to do in Nizhny Novgorod.
Taste Traditional Shchi Soup
Shchi is one of Nizhy Novgorod's most delicious local specialties, available in most every local restaurant that serves Russian food. From above, a bowl of shchi seems incredibly complicated, with a colorful palette that suggests the inclusion of dozens of diverse ingredients. In fact, the magic of shchi is in its simplicity. Building on the traditional pan-Russian recipe of cabbage, pork fat and salt (yes, just three ingredients), locals in Nizhny Novgorod sometimes add minced meat or egg whites as bonus items, then top the tangy soup with a dollop of sour cream.
Survey Amazing Russian Orthodox Architecture
Think the only amazing Russian Orthodox churches are in Moscow and St. Petersburg? Think again. Nizhny Novgorod boasts several amazing examples of Russian Orthodox architecture. From the brilliant golde domes John the Baptist Cathedral near the Volga River, to the expansive grounds of 14th-century Pechersky Ascension Monastery, Nizhny Novgorod is an architecture buff's dream!
Take a Look Back in Time
Nizhny Novgorod's historical center is relatively large and well-preserved, but a stroll (or 10) through it isn't the only way to get a feel for the city's centuries-long past. Head to the Russian Museum of Photography, which not only showcases a variety of images of Nizhny Novgorod that date back a century or even longer, but also spotlights the equipment Russian photographers have used throughout the years, and notable figures in Russia's photography history as well.
Visit the Convent from the Movie "Salt"
You'd be forgiven if you've entirely forgotten the 2010 film "Salt." However, if you remember any destination from this spy thriller, it's likely the facade of Makaryev Convent, which is located within day-trip distance of Nizhny Novgorod. Having served as a monastery from its consecration in the early 15th century up until the beginning of the Russian Revolution, Makaryev became a convent after the fall of the Soviet Union, and is now home to 22 nuns.
Take an Excursion to a 12th-Century Tea Town
Another worthwhile day trip from Nizhny Novgorod is to the town of Gorodets, which sits about an hour to its northwest. With a history dating back to the 12th century, Gorodets boasts an interesting array of architecture and museums, including one dedicated to samovars.