Nizhny Novgorod Embankments, street-art and shawarma
Nizhny Novgorod (colloquially known as Nizhny) has always been right on the verge of becoming a metropolitan city. Before the 20th, century Nizhny was an important merchant center: local fair trading was internationally favoured and one could get almost all sorts of goods there. Then came the industrial era. Nizhny Novgorod was a hometown for many revolutionaries, including Yakov Sverdlov and Maxim Gorky. During the Soviet-era Nizhny was a purely industrial and, therefore, closed city. It served as a production ground for ships, machinery, and automobiles. The city has been renamed into Gorky (after the writer Maxim Gorky) and was later nicknamed “the Russian Detroit” after its peer in the automobile industry.
After Perestroika, the city opened up and regained its status of a commercial center. Vestiges of the period still remain: the 90s best and most prominent shopping malls, apartment buildings, and banks. But the city has never become a real metropolis — neither back then, nor today.
Nearby the Main Fair Building, the key and most modern building of the 19th-century merchant city, you will discover blocks of wooden houses where the way of life has not changed for centuries. Yards of every single stalinka block (all similar Soviet apartment buildings), a symbol of the 20th-century Soviet Gorky, are filled with babushkas (Russian for “elderly women”) sitting along with cats, watching clothes drying on the ropes. An old manor house is hiding behind every single recently-built skyscraper. Nizhny is an ancient, perpetually dormant, patriarchal city — its very essence will confront modernity of any historical era.
The city is divided into two parts — Nagornaya and Zarechnaya, locals simply call these “uptown” and “downtown” (verhnaya and nizhnyaya). The historical centre with the Kremlin and its nearest landmarks are in the uptown.
The Kremlin & Minin and Pozharsky Square
The Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin is open for visitors even though municipal officials still occupy its part. Inside you’ll find Nizhny’s oldest Cathedral (Cathedral of Archangel Michael), Nizhny Novgorod State Museum of Fine Arts, the monument to Minin and Pozharsky and the constructivist House of the Soviets. Yet the most notable landmark is the Kremlin itself painted red after the Revolution, just like the one in Moscow. You can take a walk along the Kremlin wall and hear the legends about the library of Ivan Grozny and the secret tunnels or the story of a girl who was bricked-up in one of the Kremlin towers. When you get outside take a look the view of the valley and the Spit where the Volga meets the River Oka.
In Minin and Pozharsky Square you can see the Chkalov Staircase, a monumental structure of the Stalinist era and a recognisable landmark with a perfect panoramic view. If you have the energy take your part in a never-ending debate about the actual number of steps in the staircase — try counting them all as you go down the Nizhnevolzhskaya embankment.
Embankments: Verhnevolzhskaya, Nizhne-volzhskaya and Fedorovsky
Nizhny, an city of embankments, has four of them in the uptown part alone. Merging with the Grebnoy canal embankment, the Nizhnevolzhskaya embankment is a perfect place for evening walks, roller-skating, grabbing a slice of pizza, ice-cream, or enjoying a proper dance party (not a disco!). Here you’ll find the city’s only proper bicycle lane and a deer sculpture by a Hungarian sculptor Gábor Mikós. Verhnevolzhskaya, the embankment closest to city’s geographical centre, is also a place where the locals like to stroll and smoke hookah in the evenings. The Fedorovsky embankment is the one for casual picnics or kite-flying — it can get pretty windy.
Bolshaya Pokrovskaya street
A major pedestrian route, crowded by tourists, fire show performers, salsa dancers, street musicians, and local beggars. Unlike Moscow’s Arbat, the street is still inhabited by the locals and is not yet fully ignored by the Nizhegorodians. Here you can see the neo-Russian building of the Central Bank resembling a huge jewellery-box, the tiny art-house cinema Orlenok, the Drama theatre once marked with Shalyapin’s performance, monuments to a photographer, a city official and a postman. The place is also full of promoters handing out some weird museum flyers. Avoid being hooked — this is an absolutely pointless way of wasting your time and money.
A semi-pedestrian street full of bars, cafes, and restaurants. You will find it next to the Nizhnevolzhskaya embankment — chill riverside air will help you survive the bar-hopping experience. Unlike the rest of the city, this part is not hilly so bar-hopping here is easy and enjoyable — the street itself is as flat as a table and every place is within walking range. At night, the street is mostly filled with the crowd from its most remarkable bar “Herring and Coffee.”
The cleanest neighborhood with the most coordinated architecture, almost completely build to serve the needs of the Gorky Automobile Plant. An example of a utopian dream materialised, the place is one of the few “social districts” constructed in the USSR. While it has the reputation of a criminal district, it does not really deserve it. A real suburb, indeed, and yet the very place to experience the vibe of “a city within a city” and to explore the original avant-garde and Stalinist architecture. Check out the famous Serobusyginsky block with its six buildings and over 50 entrances, the radius-shaped building, the local department store, and the hotel Volna.
The city is relatively small but because of the hilly landscape the locals prefer getting around by public transport even when it is a matter of walking a few blocks. Privately-owned marshrutkas (minibuses) are most popular, while larger municipal buses are used less frequently. Trams and trolleybuses are the least popular of all. The city has a metro, often characterized as a way from nowhere to nowhere. On the bright side, taxis are cheap — enjoy!
For the last 20-25 years Nizhegorodians have been getting around the city mostly by small orange minibuses. While they are largely considered unsustainable, unsafe and uncomfortable, the municipality fails to provide a better alternative. Luckily, the buses are numerous, frequent and will take you everywhere. Although there is no fixed schedule you can count on them from 5-6 in the morning till 10-11 in evening.
Price: 28 rubles
Public transport card
Using the municipal public transport (not the marshrutka) is 2 roubles cheaper (sweet nothing) as the fee can be paid with the transport card. Yet it makes no sense for tourists to get one: the discount applies only when you change buses within 1 hour period.
Price: 26 rubles
The easiest way of getting yourself from the railway station to the city centre is taking a 5-minute metro trip to reach the Gor’kovskaya station. It is of good use if you need to be at the stadium (Strelka station), Avtozavodsky district (stations: Avtozavodskaya, Kirovskaya, Park Kultury) or Sormovsky district (Burevestnik station). Closes at midnight, but late-evening and weekend trains are as frequent as once a half-hour.
Price: 26-28 rubles
Busses, trams and trolleybuses
Municipal transport does not cover the whole city and is less frequent than marshrutkas, but it is precise in terms of the schedule. For the World Cup, the city will provide numerous orange buses that are expected to be comfortable enough. Nizhny Novgorod’s trams are utterly outdated but in no way does it diminish the charm of the country’s oldest transport of this kind.
Price: 26-28 rubles
All of the popular taxi apps operate in Nizhny so you can choose among Uber, Yandex, Gett, and RuTaxi. If you are on a budget, you can download them all, compare and pick the cheapest option. Avoid hitchhiking and taxis you have not ordered especially at the railway station and the airport. This is no longer the way it works: it is not safe and you might be charged more when identified as a tourist.
Aerial tram (Cable road)
An exotic transport, the cable road is in high demand in the summertime. Yet don’t be scared of a block-long line: the ticket-cashiers are quick and the cabins are large enough to fit up to 8 people, so the line moves fast. It takes 15 minutes to arrive in Bor, Nizhny’s satellite town. That’s how the locals get to their dachas while avoiding the traffic jams.
Price: 100 rubles
Where to eat
Nizhny’s cuisine cannot boast of a distinct character: it is easier to compare the local gastronomy scene with trendy quarters of Moscow or Berlin than with locally specific cuisines of Krasnodar or Vladivostok. Nizhegorodians are into basic street-food: burgers, falafels, shawarma, and pizza. Georgian and Italian cuisines are also present, although slightly less popular.
Address: Kovalihinskaya street, 8
Phone: +7 (831) 282—82—10
One of the city’s most bank-breaking spots, it is a place for a classy and delicious dinner. If you are not yet ready to pay 2000-4000 roubles for a steak, consider trying handmade specialty pelmeni (dumplings) in steaming boletus stock or a medovik (honey cake) made with unfiltered organic honeycomb and yoghurt smoked in birchbark.
Address: Oktyabrskaya street, 6
Phone: +7 (831) 433–95–84
Ever looked for a spot that is “fast, cheap and delicious” only to find a maximum of two possible in a single place? Freakadely comes to break the rule offering all three: low-priced and delicious, it can also boast of fast service. Order a combo of meatballs or falafel with coleslaw salad and baked potatoes, and enjoy to a relaxed dinner the yard next to the Kulturnaya Revolutsiya commune-house (an early Soviet constructivist apartment building).
Address: Oktyabr’skaya street, 9a
Phone: +7 (952) 788–85–58
open: Sun-Thu: 12:00-22:00, Fri-Sat: 12:00-00:00:
The best burger house in the city, it might be crowded any time of the day. Apart from beef, chicken and lentil burgers, you will appreciate Salut’s signature milkshakes. For the summertime, there are film-screening in the yard. Also, you can enjoy a round of ping-pong.
Address: Rozhdestvenskaya street, 25
Phone: +7 (831) 430–91–83
A Russian cuisine restaurant with an authentic menu featuring a mixed-meats kholodets (Russian aspic) spiced with khren (horseradish), locally produced salo and Volgan sterlet with a creamy sauce. The indoor design is also fitting — the restaurant is located in merchant Pyatov’s manor house decorated with traditional tablecloths and samovars.
On weekends, Nizhegorodians like to go grocery shopping at city markets. While some would still favor supermarket chains — Auchan, Lenta and O’KEY, city markets are still seen as the best choice for the freshest produce. Tsentral’ny (Central) is the market close to the railway station. Mytnyi is in the very centre of the city, located in Bolshaya Pokrovskaya street. Srednoy is in Belinskogo street. Last year sensation — Zhar-ptitsa trading space, is the city’s most modern market, where apart from perfectly shaped tomatoes, avocados and basil you can get Vietnamese Pho-soup or a juicy steak.
The shaurma stall at Srednoy market got famous far beyond Nizhny Novgorod for the size of their shaurma. Beware of a fraud — Shaurma na Srednom is the name currently used by 5-6 stalls standing next to one another. Make sure you choose the longest line — the sure sign of the original one. Some locals ignore the famous place and succeed in finding their “new favorite” alternatives. One of them is “Myaso na drovah” (Wood-grilled meat) located in the city center next to Maxim Gorky Square — veal shaurma or iskender-kebab are both perfect, the latter is enough large to feed two. Another similarly popular location is shaurma na Ilyinke, its top specialty is a thin-wrapped shaurma with tea in tiny cups served free of charge.
Where to drink
Nizhegorodians are into drinking, you would hardly find a place without at least beer served, even though cocktails are the most preferred drinks here.
Address: Rozhdestvenskaya street, 8b
Phone: +7 (903) 041–41–85
opening Hours: 14:00-22:00
A small craft beer bar located in one of the yards of the city’s most festive, noisy, and crowded street — Rozhdestvenskaya. The range of tap beer is not too impressive, but there is a way wider range of bottled beers. Bar’s owners are always at the stand. Together with their loyal customers, they make the city’s best beer-lover attractions despite numerous alternatives.
OTHER PLACES TO DRINK CRAFT BEER: Rebel, Minin & Pozharsky Taproom, Shustry shmel (the Nimble Bumblebee).
Herring and Coffee
Address: Rozhdestvenskaya street, 19
Phone: +7 (831) 282–01–11
open: Sun-Thu: 12:00-00:00, Fri-Sat: 12:00-02:00
Named after a city newspaper covering cultural events, the Bar Herring (Selyodka) is and the cause of Rozhdestvenskaya street’s night-time paralysis. A classic drink ordered here is a set of nastoykas (craft spirits). In terms of food, go for veal cheeks with potato cream and herring vorschmack. After all, it’s called “Herring” for a reason!
OTHER PLACES TO DRINK AND DANCE: Bufet, Black Ho, Sklad.
Copper Pipes (Mednye Truby)
Address: Rozhdestvenskaya street, 40
Phone: +7 (929) 046–47–50
Open: Wed, Thu, Sun: 18:00-02:00, Fri-Sat: 18:00-05:00, Mon-Tue: Closed
Copper Pipes (Mednye Truby) is a cocktail bar located in the far end of Rozhdestvenskaya street. Bartenders will mix an exclusive cocktail based on your mood, feeling and preferences — it is enough to order “something sour, without tequila and a hangover after-effect” — and a couple minutes later you’ll get something special.
Address: Zvezdinka street, 10
Phone: +7 (831) 434–01–66
Open: Mon-Thu, Sun: 12:00-02:00, Fri-Sat: 12:00-06:00
A bar famous for its noir aesthetics: Sinatra and Hemingway’s portraits decorate the interior while the menu features the legendary Rusty Nail, first mentioned in The New York Times in 1963. Another signature cocktail — Rat Pack — is named after Sinatra’s fabled group. Franky is also a great place for brunches and champagne breakfasts.
Address: Oktyabrskaya street, 9a
Phone: +7 (831) 423–85–55
Open: Fri-Sat: 19:00-02:00
Half-secret bar located under the burger house Salut: no stable schedule and a call-permitted entrance. Upon entering the bar, you will pick a card, determining your cocktail menu for the evening. Futuristic design, wonderful audience and good tracklists by local DJs (who, at times, can still can go a bit over the edge with Russian pop).
Beyond ushanka winter hats, city-sight fridge magnets and deer figurines.
A nostalgic favourite from the Sormovskaya confectionary. Packaging features the local sights: The Kremlin, the monument to Gorky and the Nizhny Novgorod Fair. Inside you will find cream-based chocolate sweets with crushed hazelnuts and cognac. Commonly appreciated by tourists.
Blue fence pin
For nearly 20 years the iconic blue fence had been blocking the access to the Volga river embankment in the city center. People tried to find a solution but nothing really worked. As a result, the blue fence became a meme of the city’s economic inefficiency and infrastructural stagnation. A blue fence pin is a tiny blue square, worn as a demonstration of one’s knowledge about the “Bluefence Town” and its classic issue. Available at the Arsenal (Contemporary Arts Centre) gift shop.
A distributor of Russian streetwear brands Sputnik 1985 and Volchok, Rodina store offers items produced in-house. Try on a t-shirt saying “Gorky” or get some sweatshirts with the word “Provinсia” (a Cyrillic spelling of “Province” is stylised as Russian “Police” official uniform wordmark).
Arts & Crafts
A gift shop located in a modernist building on Bolshaya Porkrovskaya street decorated with khokhloma. Here you’ll find matryoshka dolls Rossiyanochka, kazak (cossack) filigree jewelry and other distinctive items like Dymkovo toys or silver rings with pieces of turquoise. Beware of the tourist junk souvenirs like a pocket-size grilling set you will never bring to use.
Museums and galleries
Nizhny Novgorod is famous for contemporary and street art, but traditional museums are worth visiting too.
Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum
Address: Kremlin, 3
open: 11:00-18:00, Thu: 12:00-20:00, Tue: closed
ticket: 200 roubles
The city’s key museum occupies a three-storey mansion located within the Kremlin area and is a real treasury featuring artwork by Malevich, Vasnetsov, and Rerich. You’ll find numerous icons and paintings created by the Nizhegorodians 500-700 years ago, the famous Russian Venus by Kustodiev and an exhibition of Albrecht Durer open throughout the summer.
Address: Kremlin, 6
ticket: 200 roubles
Check out 7000 square meters of contemporary art in front of the State Art Museum: the branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts on the Volga is considered one of the country’s most prominent. The summer program features four exhibitions: “Goal” — archival works by 3 generations of sports photographers; “Discovering the Landscape”— a twofold exhibition of modern landscape, consisting of “Empty Place” by Yegor Plotnikov and “Membrane” by Gyungsy An; Yury Sobolev’s exhibition of graphic artwork and an exhibition dedicated to Nizhny Novgorod in the 60s entitled “Gorky. Modernism”. The art centre has a café and a gift shop with a good literature section.
Address: Rozhdestvenskaya street, 6
Open: Wed-Sun: 12:00-20:00
This gallery opened in a former cinema-house Mayakovsky: an immense space with capacious halls and raw wall textures — a place offering a new perspective on the contemporary art by nizhegorodian artists.
Address: Gorbatovskaya street, 41
open: 10:00-18:00; Mon: Closed
ticket: 100 roubles
Located in a forest, the exposition promises “showcasing the unique architectural culture of the late XVII — early XX centuries” and a narrative about the “labour-driven upbringing in a traditional peasant family” and “authentic Nizhegorodian cuisine”. Best place to appreciate izbushkas (traditional countryside dwellings), to listen to birds’ singing and to try guessing which of these log houses was a set of Mikhalkov’s The Barber of Siberia.
Beyond the beaten path sites
Parks, yards and abandoned streets
The best way to explore the city is by peeking into small yards and exploring the uniqueness of street-art covering the wooden walls. Consider visiting Plotnichny pereulok and streets Gogolya, Kovalihinskaya, Gruzinka and Bolshaya Pecherskaya. Street-art map might be useful: red circles mark the artwork you can check out; grey circles stand for the ones no longer visible. Unfortunately, as the time goes by, grey circles are increasing in number.
The place of a stunning panorama view of the Spit. Unfortunately, most citizens still favor Fedorovskogo embankment and neglect the opportunity of watching sunsets from the other side, which is a sad thing, because it only takes a bridge to cross from one place to another.
Once a boisterous street, nowadays it looks peaceful and calm with barely any public transport around and little activity beyond the locals placidly drying their clothes and fishing. No one will disturb while you enjoy an embankment picnic. Take a walk to Romodanovsky railway station — a historic building that nowadays houses a hi-tech enterprise. Next to it, is the impressive building of the old flour factory. Check out the trains flying above your head: a local Metro Bridge hangs just above this street.
Shveytsaria (Switzerland) Park
The name is just a name: the park has nothing to do with Switzerland. But you’ll find lots of cafes serving shashlik (barbecue), some inexpensive rides and a gigantic observation wheel offering a panoramic view of the entire city. Yet the best thing you can do here is to get lost, to find your way back to the slope and enjoy at a truly fantastic view of the downtown area.
Places to avoid
Railway station is expected to be safe during the World Cup, even though ordinarily the station is full of homeless people, people selling junk stuff, and policemen. Avtozavod is considered a criminal district so make sure you schedule an architecture field trip before dark. In the recent years Nizhny Novgorod has become a safer city: no neighborhood is particularly dangerous, yet don’t forget about common sense and avoid using your iPhone to illuminate your way when walking through murky yards.
Tourist information centre
Address: 2a Malaya Pokrovskaya street
Phone: +7 (831) 424-11-00