The ancient capital of Kazan is Russia's third largest city. It's a thriving oil-rich metropolis, but Kazan's citizens still celebrate the language and folkways of the Tatar people, who came to the region in the 15th century.
Kazan's hilltop Kremlin was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Visit Kul Sharif Mosque, Annunciation Cathedral and Suyumbike Tower.
The pedestrian friendly Bauman Street is the place to buy everything from Matryoshka dolls to Tatar folk costumes.
Your choices include the artistic masterpieces at the Kazan branch of the world famous Hermitage or the quirky collection of communist kitsch at the Soviet Lifestyle Museum.
Enjoy leisurely views of the central Russian countryside during a two-hour boat trip on the Volga River.
Hoops-mad locals regularly pack the Basket-Hall arena to watch the Kazan Unics face off against a EuroLeague opponent.
Kazan's historical core, the Kremlin (citadel) was built by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in the 17th century, as Moscow sought to extend its fragile authority over Tatarstan. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Kremlin is crammed with highlights, including the Annunciation Cathedral (built over a destroyed mosque), and the elegant Söyembikä Tower, which local myths tell was the site of a noble suicide by a local princess when Ivan took control. Handily, the new Kazan Metro has a stop for the Kremlin, so finding it is simple.
One of the most hopeful works of art in Russia, and perhaps the world, this quirky creation was built by Ilda Khanov, and incorporates design elements from all of the world's major religions. Constantly being added to, it's part art installation, part activist protest, and partly just a humanist gesture in a city that's managing diversity pretty well. Inside you'll find a cultural center and gallery, and the chance to meet the artist and his disciples - an inspiring experience.
Definitely the most offbeat attraction Kazan has to offer, the Soviet Lifestyle Museum offers a totally unique perspective on what everyday life was like under Communism. Located in the city center, it essentially contains a vast collection of Soviet kitsch, with toys, decorations, vinyl records and clothes from the 1950s to the late 1980s. Charming rocket toys give a flavor for how the Space Race was perceived, while instruction books containing propagandistic content offer a sobering view of Soviet-era education, and it's all fascinating.
Finished in 2005, this is both Kazan's newest religious center and its most lavish. Located in the Kremlin, and conceived as a cross-religious gesture of togetherness, Kul Sharif (or Qolşärif) is a direct replacement for the mosque destroyed by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century. And what a replacement. Its four minarets are clad in white and blue, and rise majestically above the Kremlin, and the interior can hold 6,000 worshippers, making it one of the biggest in Russia. There's also a fine little museum which explains the mosque's phoenix-like story in more detail.
When you're done with Kremlins, churches, mosques, and museums, Bauman Street is the only place to head. The hub of Kazan's social life, it takes its name from a martyr of the 1905 Russian Revolution, and is attractively lined with lanterns, linden trees, and tiles. Totally pedestrianized, Bauman Street brims with stores and cafes. Street performers show off their talents along its length, while you'll also come across numerous public art works as you wander from the Kremlin to Ploschad' Tukaya. There are Metro stations at both ends, so don't worry about having to retrace your steps. Just stroll and enjoy the vibe.
Visit Kazan in August or September. The temperatures average 70°F and there are jazz and opera festivals as well as a handicrafts fair.
Most international visitors will arrive via Kazan International Airport (KZN), which is 18 miles south of downtown. Visitors can take an Aeroexpress train to the Kazan Train Station for RUB40 or catch a taxi for around RUB500.
Kazan Train Station is a main stop on the routes to and from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia.
Take the M7 highway east from Moscow or take the E22 west from Perm. Unscrupulous taxi drivers can drastically raise rates for foreign tourists, so it is best to choose wisely before booking a cab.
Long-distance routes to and from Kazan are mostly run by private companies, which can vary widely in reliability, times of operation and drop-off points. Check in advance to see if your chosen bus route stops at the Kazan airport.
Check into the restored Shalyapin Palace Hotel on Ulitsa Universitetskaya for classically decorated rooms and haute cuisine. The Volga Hotel on Said-Galeeva Street and Hostel Kremlin on Bolshaya Krasnaya Street are clean, affordable accommodations within walking distance of the Kremlin.
Vakhitovsky - This central neighborhood contains the Kremlin and most of Kazan's museums.
Privolzhsky - This southern district is the center of Tatar culture. Don't miss the elaborately decorated Azimov Mosque.
Kirovsky - The Kyrlay amusement park is in this northwest district. Ride the Ferris wheel for panoramic views of the city.
There is a basic Metro service in central Kazan, and bus and tram lines run throughout the city. The cost for all public transport is RUB7.
Taxis average a cost of RUB100 per trip and should be booked ahead of time.
The Kremlin and Bauman Street are pedestrian-only zones, but the rest of Kazan is easily drive-able with ample parking. The average cost for a rental car is RUB3,834.
In addition to Bauman Street, there is the Koltso shopping mall and TSUM department store. Expect prices to be a bit higher than in the U.S.
In central Kazan, you can get the basic necessities at convenience stores or open-air markets. The Privolzhsky district has five supermarkets. A quart of milk costs RUB180 and a loaf of bread RUB21.
The cafeteria chain Dobraya Stolovaya offers basic Russian fare at affordable prices. Sample traditional Tatar cuisine such as creamy fish soup at Bilyar on Ulitsa Butlerova. The average price of a meal is RUB750.