There is no escaping the hype of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which will be hosted at venues in no less than eleven cities across Russia in June 2018. One of the spin-offs of the global media focus on this event is that it will throw a spotlight on these cities, many of which are rarely talked about, but are fascinating to visit. No less than four are linked by the iconic Trans-Siberian railway and our new World Cup Cities tour brings them together in one trip, allowing you to discover some lesser-known but bursting with history cities as well as the iconic capital of Moscow. This itinerary will give you an insight into the invasions and social changes, which have formed today’s Russia.
Click here to read our Russia World Cup 2018: the inside story of the host cities travel blog
Arrive Moscow, met and transfer to your hotel for 2 nights.
Moscow is one of the world’s most opulent and fascinating capitals. Gaze at the city’s dazzling array of churches and monasteries, and explore the Kremlin, one of Moscow’s most iconic attractions - once home to Russians Tsars and communist leaders. Red Square is Moscow’s centrepiece displaying rich symbols of Russia’s turbulent past. St Basil’s Cathedral, one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and the prestigious GUM State Department Store are its main attractions. Travelling around Moscow couldn’t be easier - the metro is cheap, quick and reliable and most of the elaborate stations are attractions in themselves. (B)
Time for more exploration of the city before your transfer to the rail station for the train to Yaroslavl departing 19:05/arrive 22:23, met and transfer to your hotel for 2 nights. (B)
Thanks to a trade boom in the 17th century you can find a church around every corner. Rich merchants competed to build the biggest and most elaborate, decorated with brilliant icons and frescoes. The best example is the Church of Elijah the Prophet. (B)
Early transfer to the rail station for a train to Nizhny Novgorod departing at 07:38. Arrive 16:04, met and transfer to your hotel for overnight. (B)
Formerly known as Gorky, Nizhny Novgorod was a closed city in communist times. An important trading post at the confluence of the Volga and Oka Rivers today you can enjoy strolling along pedestrianised streets and exploring the 16th century Kremlin . Within the Kremlin walls is the Nizhegorodsky State Art Museum. Take the overnight train to Kazan departing 21:25. (B)
Arrive 06:17, met and transfer to your hotel for 2 nights. If you can wake up early enough, be sure to head out into the corridor and stand on the left-hand side of the train as it pulls in to enjoy the best views of the incredible Kazan Kremlin and all of its fortifications, churches and mosque up on the hill after you cross the river.
Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan and the centre of Islam in Russia so today perhaps choose to visit the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan. Full of ancient Tartar history and a section for modern art, it makes for a very interesting visit. You could also follow this up with a visit to the oldest stone mosque in the Tatarstan Settlement District, erected between 1766 - 1770 and the first to be built in the city since Ivan the Terrible had conquered Kazan in 1552.
There's also Museum of Soviet Lifestyle which is well worth an explore if you're fascinated by the way life was back in Communist times.
Today perhaps opt to head out and explore some of Kazan's most popular The bejewelled Kul Sharif Mosque sits alongside the restored orthodox Annunciation cathedral, both within the grounds of the impressive 16th-century Kremlin. St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow was built to commemorate the fall of Kazan to Ivan the terrible in 1552.
Alternatively, speak to a Regent Specialist about taking a half day trip to Raifa Virgin Monastery. Recently renovated, it was founded in 1613 and located about 35km away in a beautiful nature reserve, surrounded by pristine birch tree forests and a large lake. (B)
Day at leisure till transfer to the rail station for the train to Ekaterinburg departing at 20:08. (B)
Arrive 10:22 and transfer to your hotel for 2 nights. Lying in the shadow of the Ural Mountains, Yekaterinburg is the border between European and Asian Russia. Due to the rich mineral resources found in the Urals Yekaterinburg was Russia’s first industrial city. Unfortunately, it is probably better known as the place of assassination of the family of the last Tsar of Russia in 1918 - perhaps choose to visit the iconic Church of the Spilt Blood today.
From the Church of the Spilt Blood, it is a natural progression to want to visit the site where the Romanov’s bodies were disposed of. Some twenty minutes drive from the city is a newly-built complex of churches and a monastery nestled in a forest clearing. The tranquillity and reverence of the location is sobering, especially the walkway around the disused mine shaft where the bodies were first put to be burnt by acid then blown up. Here the mystery deepens as the Orthodox Church does not accept the DNA results, which claim the bodies were moved to a second mine shaft. For the church, until the remnants were moved to St. Petersburg, this clearing was the final resting place of the family and their staff. (B)
On the border between Europe and Asia, it's possible to stand at an obelisk with one foot in each continent - a great photo opportunity for visitors. It's popular with local newlyweds, who come to take photos and drink champagne too.
You could also opt to visit a 'gangster graveyard'; back in the 1990s Yekaterinburg was notorious for Mafia wars. Today tourists can visit Mafia cemeteries to see impressive tombstones with full-sized portraits of Russian gangsters.
Enjoy free time before a transfer to the rail station for the train to Volgograd, departing at 20:20. The Monument to Soldiers of Ural Voluntary Tank Bulk sits just outside the railway station and is worth a visit before you depart.
Day and overnight on train. Watch the remote scenery pass by the window and perhaps strike up a conversation with locals or fellow travellers to pass the time and learn of daily life on the railroad.
Arrive 11:46, met and transfer to your hotel for 2 nights. Enjoy an afternoon to explore Volgograd at leisure.
Perhaps this city is better known as Stalingrad, the location of some of the bloodiest battles of WWII. Today the city is still dominated by its history. Climb Mamaev Kurgan Hill , the site of the fiercest fighting, now crowned with a 72m statue of Mother Russia, wielding a sword above her head. Also worth visiting is the Museum of the Defence of Stalingrad with its Panoramic illustration of the battle. (B)
Transfer to the airport for the flight to Moscow to connect with a flight to London. (B)
Please note that this itinerary is not available during the World Cup but is to give travellers to Russia an introduction to some of the cities, that are hosting games in 2018.