Kazan is another unique Russian city. You may ask what is unique about it. Kazan is a big city with a number of diverse cultures, languages and religions. Kazan is the third capital of Russia and the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. Kazan is the religious capital of Muslims living in Russia, however, there are a lot of Christian shrines in the city. The name of the city means a cauldron. All the names of significant objects, stops and public places are written in Russian, English and Tatar in Kazan.
Legend says that the area where Kazan now stands was swarming with snakes. People decided to build a city and called a sorcerer who destroyed all the slithering snakes with the help of fiery magic. However, the winged serpent King Zilant escaped and flew to the nearby Gilantau mountain (Snake Mountain) and for a long time after he horrified settlers from there. But one day a brave hero decided to fight the serpent. And he won, sacrificing himself. Since then, the serpent dragon hasn’t bothered the inhabitants of Kazan. He even began to protect them. You may see images and monuments of Zilant all over Kazan.
Kazan was not a part of Russia, it was the capital of a separate state, Kazan Khanate, until 1552. After the accession, the Russians also made a contribution to the development of the city's culture. Recently, in 2005, Kazan celebrated its millennial and the city completely changed for the event. A lot of buildings and unique monuments were built, the infrastructure was reorganized, roads and bridges were repaired. The city became the third most popular capital for tourists in Russia.
The Kazan Kremlin
It is better to begin sightseeing with the main sight - the Kazan Kremlin. This place represents the main highlight of Kazan - its mixed culture. There is the Kul-Sharif Mosque, the Spasskaya Tower, the Governor's Palace and several other magnificent buildings inside the snow-white Kremlin.
The whole complex of the Kazan Kremlin, as well as the mosque are open for visiting. But ordinary tourists can enter the mosque only at times when no prayer services are being held. Women are asked to put on a special headscarf before entering the mosque. And during the prayer tourists may go to the observation platform nearby and enjoy the views.
There is one more observation platform near the Syuyumbike tower, from which you can see the opposite bank of the Kazanka river. And the third viewing platform is behind the Annunciation Cathedral and has a view of the beautiful Peter and Paul Cathedral.
There are a variety of excursions and even quest programs offered in the Kremlin within the tours.
Outside the Kremlin
There is an interesting building opposite the Kremlin, on the other side of the Kazanka River. It’s located on a small peninsula and looks like a bowl, but in fact it’s the cauldron, the Center of the Family, the Wedding palace. There is another viewing platform at the top of the cauldron, which has an exciting view of the Kremlin and the river.
Also, you can see the Memorial Church in Honor of the Miraculous Image of the Savior. It is dedicated to the fallen warriors during the capture of Kazan in 1552.
The monument shaped like a truncated pyramid is located on a peninsula, and you can get there over a sandy mound and wooden bridge. There are four entrances from each side of the building. The temple is in the center of the pyramid. Usually it’s closed, but the keeper of the temple conducts a religious service on Sundays at 12 o'clock. Entry is free of charge, but you can voluntarily donate if you wish.
There are dungeons under the monument, which you can explore if you want. The entrance to the dungeon is on the side of the monument. Previously, access was free and anyone could go down, but recently the keepers of the monument added a large barn padlock, so that visitors cannot go down to desecrate the common grave and the temple of Russian soldiers. Tourists can access the dungeon on Sundays.
The Agricultural Palace is another symbolic building in the city. This modern palace was built in 2010. The Ministry of Agriculture of Tatarstan is located inside the palace. There are still disputes about the discrepancy between the appearance of the building and the cultural and historical environment of the city center, nevertheless, the building is beautifully highlighted in the evenings.
The Kazan Cat
You can see a lot of cats, both alive and in the form of souvenirs, toys and even monuments in Kazan. Tourists are attracted by inscriptions about the fact that the Kazan cat attracts wealth and luck. The attitude in Kazan toward the cats is special, and not without a good reason. There was even something known as "The Kazan cat" in Russia.
An aluminum monument to a fat cat is installed on Bauman Street - the central pedestrian street, where we advise you to go after the Kremlin. This cat is well-fed with an air of importance. It sits with its stately manner under the eastern canopy on a couch with carved legs in the center of Kazan. You can see the famous Tatar proverb on the rug at the foot of the monument: "The Kazan cat, the Astrakhan mind, the Siberian intelligence".
There are many legends about the Kazan cat and no tour around the city fails to mention the topic.
Bauman street is the central pedestrian street of the city. Here you may see street artists and musicians, souvenir shops, lots of monuments and small museums. If you get hungry during your walk, you can go to the House of Tatar cuisine, or the House of Tea just across from it. In both places, you’ll be offered the chance to taste an echpomchak, a triangular patty with meat and potatoes, or a small pie called elesh, which is always served with a special broth.
By the way, there is a Petersburg street in Kazan, which is also for pedestrians. The main elements of design - buildings, lights, miniature bridges, sculptures, everything is very similar to the street facades of the northern capital. Those who have already been to St. Petersburg will be filled with fleeting memories, and those who have not been there yet, will be able to imagine the general feel of this amazing city.
If you want to become better acquainted with the Tatar life, you can go to the national complex under the open sky - Tugan Avylym. It is within walking distance. This is a traditional Tatar wooden village, where you can get to know the Tatar way of life and taste traditional Tatar cuisine. This is interesting for both adults and children. There are entertainment options including different shows, creative and culinary master classes, and even a working bath. Moreover, there are entertainment programs especially for children.
By the way, Tatar nomads have always been good riders, and today you can see their skills at the Kazan hippodrome. Horse races are often held there, so if you like excitement and spectacular competitions, this racetrack visit is a must.
Cruises Along the Rivers
Kazan is surrounded by deep, navigable rivers, which gives the opportunity to explore the city and its surroundings on a steamship. You may also go on a one-day excursion to the island of Sviyazhsk by steamship. The conquest of Kazan began there in 1552. The Tsar of Russia, Ivan the Terrible, ordered the construction of a fortress on the island, so it could supply his troops with all of the necessary things during the siege of the Kazan Khanate.
The island has several churches and temples, restaurants and hotels. You’ll have a great time here in any season. The island is focused on providing a relaxing experience for tourists.
You may also visit the Temple of all religions on the way back to the city. It is located not far from Kazan on the bank of the Volga River, which is also visible while reaching the city by rail. A local resident, traveler, artist, healer and public figure Ildar Khanov personally has spent all his life building this temple dedicated to all existing and extinct religions of the world. The temple burned in 2017 and since then many of the halls are under restoration.
Where to Stay
You’ll have no problems finding accommodation in this city. There are several premium hotels, one of which is the Hotel Riviera. This is a huge hotel and entertainment complex, with spacious halls, swimming pools, cinemas and restaurants. There is also a water park and even a Ferris wheel on the territory of the complex. In the Riviera you will find everything you need for your leisure time and recreation. The night life of Kazan is worth paying special attention to. The Kul Sharif mosque, the Agricultural Palace, the embankment and many other streets of the city are beautifully illuminated. There are a lot of bars, restaurants and clubs in the center, in case the restaurants at the Riviera don’t catch your interest.
Where to Eat Out
We have already mentioned the house of Tatar Cuisine and the House of Tea, but getting acquainted with Tatar cuisine may take a long time and is always surprising. The names of the dishes sound unusual and intriguing - balesh, echpochmak, elesh, kystyby. Each meal is served in the Tatar manor restaurant, which is located in the city center, near the Nizhniy Kaban lake. In this restaurant you will be offered all sorts of first and second course dishes, desserts and snacks.
If you want the restaurant to have not only traditional cuisine, but also an appropriate interior, then visit one of the Bilyar chain restaurants. The design of this place is made entirely of wood. The walls are decorated with typical Tatar attributes, tables and chairs look as if they were from the Middle Ages. The atmosphere is very cozy and unusual. Among other things, they serve Russian cuisine, so if you like, you can combine the menu, and you get a very interesting mix of dishes.
For Lovers of Nature
Kazan offers you the option to explore several nature reserves nearby, the Blue Lakes, and the Volga River with its large number of tributaries and dense forests. You can travel around the area by car, bike, horseback or by motor boat across the river. For those who are fond of extreme sports there are quads available for rent. There are a lot of parks, squares and gardens in the city. And in the summer you can rent bicycles, hoverboards, and rollerblades to look around the park and get some fresh air.
If you did not manage to visit Tatarstan in summer, do not be upset about it. You can visit it in winter, because this time has an incredible atmosphere, with Christmas trees, garlands, decorations, and Christmas markets are all around. Fans of skiing or snowboarding will be able to go down special trails near the city. The main character of the Kazan New Year is a local Father Christmas called Kysh Babay.