FIFA World Cup 2018: Getting to know the underrated hosting cities in Russia
Ole, ole, ole!
Just like that, four years cruised by in a blink of an eye — cue: the infectious FIFA World Cup fever hot on our heels once again. This year, the hosting country happens to also be the world's largest. Enter the stoic, monumental Russia.
While fans of the season flock to the popular hosting cities, namely Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Samara — there's more to be acquainted in the lesser known ports, which are also pitstops for the sensational matches. We're talking about cities like Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novogorod and Kazan (which are all a stone's throw away from the bustling capital, Moscow). Hotels.com has all the reasons why you should visit these charming spots, apart from witnessing yet another historical event of the year.
Sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave with a unique location and a rich history. Previously a restricted military zone during the Soviet period, the ancient city was founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1255 and was once part of East Prussia over 700 years ago. It is also the country's only port that stays ice-free all year round.
Built in the 14th century, this cathedral remains to be the most significant and important remnant of the city, which was mainly destroyed during the World War II.
Meander through the narrow strip of sand dunes, beautiful beaches and pine forests. The natural wonder is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Affectionately known as Baltic Gold, 90 percent of the world's amber deposits are located at Kaliningrad, also touted as Amber City. The translucent natural resource is scoured throughout the world to make jewellery, medical drugs and even perfume. The best way to find out more about this valuable solar stone? Visit the Amber Museum.
STAY: Crystal House Suite, Hotel & Spa
Kaliningrad may have once been a Cold War outpost, but you'll be sure to find peace and warmth within the Crystal House Suite, Hotel & Spa. Step inside and you'll find welcoming, spacious rooms with chic, minimalist decor. You can also take a relaxing dip in the hotel's indoor pool, or unwind in the spa.
Situated 400km east of Moscow is Nizhny Novgorod, one of Russia's oldest and most militarised zones. The city was closed off to foreigners during the Soviet period and was formerly known as Gorky, after the famous Soviet writer Maxim Gorky. Today, Nizhny Novgorod has established itself as a key commerce and cultural hub in Russia with a variety of historical and natural sites.
Nizhny Novogorod Kremlin
Built on the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers, you'll be treated to a stunning bird's eye view of the cityscape. There's also the Eternal Flame momument, which was established in honour of those who died during the World War II.
This is where the main action is at. Take a stroll down this central street — lined with picturesque 19th century buildings where one can pick up souvenirs, rub shoulders with the locals and grab a bite.
Perfect if you want to get your daily workout clocked in. The Chkalov Staircase is a long flight of stairs — boasting 560 steps and undoubtedly a remarkable sight to behold. Till today, it is considered a historical landmark of the Soviet era.
STAY: Sheraton Nizhny Novogorod Kremlin
With its monumental architecture, the stylish and luxurious Sheraton fits in perfectly with the historic Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, which it neighbours. You can even choose rooms with views of the Kremlin or Minin Square.
Founded in 1005, Kazan is one of Russia's oldest cities. It is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan and represents an efferversent blend of Eastern and European cultures. Over 100 nationalities call Kazan home and the city is a wonderful example of how different ethnicities and religions can reside peacefully together.
Temple of All Religions
See how a bundle of faiths can reside together in this temple, that showcases the motifs of various religions including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.
Kazan's Kremlin stands as the only surivving Tatar fortress in Russia that encompasses a number of historical buildings dating back to the 10th century. You'll be able to also visit the resplendent Kul Sharif Mosque, where you can learn about the history of Islam in the Volga region.
Your best bet at experiencing a Tatar bazaar. Savour some local fare at the market while picking up a couple of babuskhas (the Russian doll) as handy souvenirs.
STAY: LUCIANO Residence Kazan
This centrally located hotel boasts a full-service spa, an excellent swimming pool with a whirlpool area and even a hair salon. With its central location, you never have to walk far to explore Kazan's sights.