The recent surge of interest in Tatar culture worldwide has raised the popularity of everything Tatar—from local artists to the language and cuisine—turning Kazan into one of the most attractive and exotic destinations in Russia. Here we present a travel guide to the heart of Tatarstan and a TOP 10 list of its must-see places
If you’re looking for an original and exhilarating place to travel in Russia, there’s a perfect spot waiting for you only a night train ride away from St Petersburg. In the last year, the Tatar image has experienced a significant boost with the tremendous success of the ALTYN viral music video, shot in St Petersburg by the contemporary Tatar rapper and vlogger TATARKA. Being Tatar suddenly became hot and trendy, leaving people interested in the birthplace of this new and bold phenomenon. For answers, one does not need to look any farther than the capital of the Tatarstan Republic, the beguiling and mysterious city of Kazan, a modern and ambitious centre of Tatar culture.
Considered to be the “third capital of Russia,” Kazan stands as one of the most influential religious, economic, political, and cultural centres in the country, and has a population of over 1.5 million people. According to Tripadvisor, Kazan ranks 3rd in the list of fastest developing cities in Europe and 8th in the world. However, it hasn’t always been the case: it’s fair to say that the Kazan you see today is quite different from what the city looked and felt like even some ten years ago. Thanks to international events that Kazan has hosted in the last five years, the city has received significant investments in infrastructure and overall development, turning it into an attractive business hub and cultural centre with state-of-the-art sport and cultural facilities and infinite opportunities for future growth.
The first big step in this direction was taken in 2005, when Kazan celebrated its 1000th birthday, thus presenting itself as a rising and ambitious Russian city. However, a major breakthrough came eight years later that changed the image of the city completely. The Universiade, an analogue of the Olympic Games for students, was hosted by Kazan in 2013—it became the first time that the city welcomed such large numbers of foreign tourists and had the opportunity to showcase everything it had to offer. In the span of a few years, Kazan turned from a cosy provincial Russian town into a prosperous international city that has realised its enormous potential to the fullest.
What makes Kazan really stand out from other Russian cities is its unique historical heritage that goes back a millennium. Having been the capital of the Bulgar Khanate for many centuries, Kazan continued to play a distinct role as a prominent centre of political, economic, and cultural life in the Volga region, even after it was conquered by Ivan the Terrible in 1552. This mixture of peoples, languages, and religions had a huge impact on the city—making it one of the most diverse places in contemporary Russia, with over 115 nationalities residing in the city alone! Russians and Tatars are the two biggest ethnic groups. The Tatar language is the official language of the republic, so almost everything is translated into Tatar, and Islam is the main religion along with Orthodox Christianity, thus giving travellers the feeling that they are no longer in the Russia they’re accustomed to.
Kazan is truly a fantastic place to experience a different side of Russia. Here we present a list of top destinations in Kazan that will help you explore the city’s diverse historical and cultural landscape for an amazing time in this charming corner on the Volga River.
- Kazan Kremlin
Kazan Kremlin is the historical centre and the trademark of the city. This vast UNESCO-protected complex tells the story of Ancient Kazan and presents a rich historical heritage that combines Russian and Tatar cultures. The pearl of the Kremlin is undoubtedly the Kul-Sharif Mosque that was built in 2005 on the exact location where the original Mosque was situated before the army of Ivan the Terrible destroyed it.
- Kremlin Embankment
Kremlin Embankment is one of the most beautiful and popular destinations in Kazan. It was opened in 2015 but has already become a beloved tourist attraction. Situated right below the Kazan Kremlin, the embankment presents various recreational opportunities, from roller-skating in the summer to ice-skating in the winter, as well as an array of cafes and restaurants.
- Bauman Street
Bauman Street is the main pedestrian street in Kazan and the vein of the city centre. Similar to Arbat in Moscow, Bauman Street is the epicentre of the city’s life and a perfect place for a walk with friends and family.
- Museum of Socialist Lifestyle
Being the only Museum of Socialist Lifestyle in Russia, it exhibits Soviet antiques and other memorabilia from the Soviet past, such as clothes, toys, books, Lenin busts, and vinyl records that were brought to be showcased by Kazan residents themselves.
- Tatarskaya Sloboda (The Tatar Settlement)
A picturesque corner of the city hidden from the crowded streets depicts how Kazan used to look like centuries ago, with its original wooden houses decorated with traditional ornaments and a mosque culminating the scene.
- The Temple of All Religions
Located outside the city, the Temple of All Religions is a one of a kind monument, beautifully uniting architectural designs of all religions under one roof. As the creators of this unique place state themselves, it is not meant for religious purposes but rather for cultural events.
- Restaurant P.Love
A restaurant of Tatar cuisine, P.Love offers a vast array of delicious traditional dishes at a relatively low price. Decorated in the original Tatar style, P.Love sets an oriental mood and makes the experience truly unforgettable.
- Kamal Theatre
The Tatar State Drama Theatre named after the famous Tatar dramatist Galiaskar Kamal is a unique place where one can enjoy the magnificent local theatre tradition in the Tatar language. Every play is accompanied by an oral translation into Russian and English, which can be obtained by plugging headphones into the seat.
- Cultural Centre SMENA
The SMENA centre of contemporary culture includes a gallery, lecture classes, and a bookstore. SMENA organises exhibitions, open debates, book presentations, movie screenings, music concerts, and introductions to various social and education projects. It is a unique place that sets the scene for contemporary culture and progressive thinking in Kazan.
- Bar Sol
This underground bar with electro and techno music is a perfect place for those who would like to get a taste of club life in Kazan. Despite its small size, Bar Sol is always packed with people jamming to its lively beat.