Many non-Russian travelers had never heard of Sochi prior to the city's hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Local tourism authorities, for their part, have struggled to convert the buzz the games generated (which, let's face it, was largely negative) into meaningful tourism numbers—let their failure benefit you. Sochi remains one of Europe's best-kept tourism secrets, and these are the top 12 things to do there.
Swim in the Black Sea
Sochi's popularity among Russians stems mostly from its location on the Black Sea, and the fact that it's warm basically year round. As a result, whether you sun yourself on crowded stretches of shoreline like Sochi City Beach or the aptly-named Sunny Beach, or take excursions to Rosa Beach Esto-Sadok or Solinki, one thing is for sure: A swim in the Black Sea is in your future!
Go Back to the Time of Stalin
Although many travelers associate Sochi with the 2014 games, the city is actually quintessentially Soviet. Its prominence in modern times owes itself almost completely to a 1934 general reconstruction ordered by Joseph Stalin, who had a Dacha (aka Summer House) near the Black Sea, one you can visit today. Other Soviet architecture in Sochi includes Sochi Railway Station and the Winter Theatre. The world history that took place in Yalta on the Crimean Peninsula (which most non-Russians still consider to be part of Ukraine) is of even greater significance, having seen Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin meet after the end of World War II.
Or Even Further Back in History
Of course, Sochi has been populated since long before World War II, the Soviet Union or the Russian State in any form. Strucutres like Godlik Fortress and Loo Temple have stood since the Byzantine era, in fact, and are some of the most impressive examples of pre-Russian architecture in the entire federation.
Make Friends With Adorable Dolphins
Like Vladivostok in Russia's Far East, Sochi is home to a dedicated place for getting up-close and personal with dolphins. Even better, Riviera Dolphinarium is not only home to its namesake animal, but is a full-service amusement park complete with rides, shows, concessions and more.
Take in a Black Sea Panorama
Staying in Sochi's center makes it easy to see how important the Black Sea is to the city. But if you want to get a sense of the sea's geographical grandeur, getting a higher perspective. Specifically, take a day trip to Mount Akhun, which on clear days afford you a breathtaking panorama of the Black Sea lapping at Sochi, which looks like a toy town from such heights.
Expand Your Mind While You Beat the Heat (or Escape the Cold)
Sochi is warm for much of the year, as stated above, but whether you need to escape sweltering heat or an unseasonable chill, Sochi's climate-controlled museums are the most fulfilling place to seek shelter. From Sochi Art Museum (another Stalin-era structure), to the illumination Sochi History Museum, to the Sochi Museum of Sports Honor (which opened just in time for the 2014 games, as its name not-so-subtly hints), Sochi makes it easy for you to gain knowledge while you wipe your sweat (or the snow that has fallen on you!) away.
Savor Sochi Seafood
It should go without saying that Sochi is a wonderful place to eat fish and other seafood, since it sits on the Black Sea. An interesting quirk, however, is that while dedicated seafood restaurants like high end Sinee More serve up delicious sea creatures, restaurants that specialize in the cuisine of former Soviet republics (Vody Lagidze, for example, serves Georgian dishes) can offer a more interesting take on the impossibly fresh fish you enjoy as you explore Sochi.
Visiting the World's Most Interesting Fish Farm
On the subject of seafood, why not fish when you're in Sochi? And not in the Black Sea, though that could be fun. Rather, the Trout Farm in nearby Adler (known as "Форелевое хозяйство") is a veritable biology museum, which not only allows you to fish, but educates you on the surprisingly complex process of farming fish. You might become endeared to this fish, which could be dangerous since you can purchase smoked trout after your tour. Oh, the humanity!
Go Chasing Waterfalls
TLC's timeless 90s advice hasn't aged well for travelers—who among us doesn't love chasing waterfalls? In Sochi, you have plenty of options for camera-ready cascades. While the smaller flows at Agurskoe Canyon are closest to the city, truly adventurous travelers can go by car to the Lazarevskoe District, where as many as 33 waterfalls await you, depending on how much rain fell in advance of your trip.
Discover Russia's Underrated Wine Scene
Russia is known among drinkers mostly for its vodka, but the country does produce wine—and 60 per cent of this production occurs in an around Sochi. While a day excursion to sample Abrau Durso sparkling wines is the most popular and scenic option, you can find locally-produced wines in the majority of Sochi's restaurants.
See the Olympics, Even if You Missed Them
If you missed the Sochi Olympics, there's good news and there's better news. The good news is that much of the Olympic Coastal Cluster, which sits right on the Black Sea, still stands. From purpose-built structures like Bolshoy Ice Dome, to the aforementioned Sochi Railway Station, a walk through the former Olympic site is just like a trip to the actual games, except without defective hotel rooms (that's the better news!).
Taste the Caucasus in Abkhazia
Though Sochi sits on the Black Sea, it's the de-facto gateway to the Caucasus Mountain region—and not only Russia's portion of it. If you have only a couple of days after finishing in Sochi, for example, you might settle for a trip to the Republic of Abkhazia (which is politically part of Russia) to see attractions like New Athos Monastery and Cave and Lake Ritsa. If you have longer, however, you could travel to the independent nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, which together make up the regions most travelers think of as "The Caucasus."