10 things you must do in Kazan

Kul Sharif Mosque in Kazan

Kul Sharif Mosque in Kazan

Konstantin Kokoshkin/Global Look Press
From visiting the medieval Kremlin and the gigantic mosque to riding on the tiny metro system and sampling chak-chak.

Kazan (800 km southeast of Moscow), the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan and one of Russia's oldest cities (founded in 1005), is full of sights, beautiful streets, and cozy parks. As for Tatar cuisine, it deserves special attention. If you happen to be in Kazan for a day or two, our must-see & must-do guide will make your stay as enjoyable as possible.

1. Immerse yourself in the Middle Ages in the Kremlin

Many Russian cities started with the construction of a kremlin and Kazan is no exception. This is where you should start your tour of the city. It’s the oldest building in the city and was rebuilt in the second half of the 16th century on Ivan the Terrible's orders. Postnik Yakovlev and Ivan Shiryai, the architects responsible for one of Moscow’s most iconic symbols - St. Basil's Cathedral - were involved in the construction of the fortress.

2. Don’t let Söyembikä Tower topple

According to legend, the tower is named after the only woman to rule the Kazan Khanate. Ivan the Terrible heard of Söyembikä's beauty and proposed to her, but she turned him down - so the Russian tsar threatened to raze Kazan to the ground. Söyembikä had to agree to marry him, but in return she asked for an unusual wedding present: A seven-storey tower to be built in seven days. Her desire was fulfilled and the tower was built one floor a day. On day seven the tower was completed and the wedding feast started. During the celebration Söyembikä climbed the tower and threw herself off it.

It’s situated in the grounds of the Kazan Kremlin. Its height is 58 meters and as of today it leans by two meters, like the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.

3. Visit Kul Sharif Mosque

The main mosque of the Republic of Tatarstan and one of the city's most beautiful buildings is also located in the grounds of the Kremlin. A mosque stood on the site back in ancient times but was destroyed during the seizure of Kazan in 1552. It wasn’t rebuilt until 2005 and, until the huge mosque opened in Grozny, was the biggest in Russia.

The interactive Museum of Islamic Culture at semi-basement level is also worth a visit.

4. Taste Tatar cuisine

Echpochmak, smetannik, peremyach, bokkan, and baursak - you must try these! To appreciate real homemade Tatar cuisine and a Soviet ambiance at the same time, you can go to the Tea House at 64 Bauman Street. The place is indeed reminiscent of a Soviet canteen, but the locals are fond of it and many come here for lunch.

Baursaki - a type of fried dough food

5. Admire the architecture of the Palace of Farmers

This building proudly calls itself a "palace" and attracts tourists from all over the world. The Palace of Farmers houses the Ministry of Agriculture but not all locals appreciate its splendor: Activists campaigned against the modern Baroque Revival style during its construction from 2008-10. Some people think it’s tasteless and ugly. What do you think?

6. See the sunset from Kremlin Embankment

If you go through the park adjacent to the Palace of Farmers, you'll end up on the Kremlin Embankment. The best time to come here is in the evening. And if you’re lucky, you might catch one of the most fantastic sunsets you are likely to see.

7. See Kazan at night from the other bank

The Kazan Family Center, which is also a registry office, is situated on the other side on the River Kazanka. According to legend, the name of the city comes from the word "kazan" which means a "cauldron," and the building really does resemble a big cooking pot, symbolizing abundance and fertility. Along its perimeter the Kazan Center is guarded by winged leopards and Zilant dragons. Thirty-two meters up on the eighth floor there’s a platform that offers a panoramic view of the city's historic part. The view is particularly beautiful after sunset: All of the Kremlin buildings and the embankment are illuminated and the lights are reflected in the river.

8. Visit Sviyazhsk Island

Sviyazhsk (58 km from Kazan) is often described as a place with powerful energy. In actual fact, it is not quite an island - a thin isthmus with an road connects it to the mainland. Nowadays Sviyazhsk has become one of Tatarstan's main tourist attractions, not only because of its natural beauty but also thanks to its historical importance: The town, built in the mid-16th century, has largely retained its original appearance. On an area 1.5 km x 0.5 km there are about 10 historical and architectural monuments, and the Assumption Monastery of Sviyazhsk has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

9. Ride the metro

The Kazan underground is very small - one line and 10 stations - but in beauty it is well nigh on a par with the legendary Moscow Metro thanks to its unique frescoes and mosaics on the walls, stained-glass windows, and huge amount of marble in its cladding. By the way, the tokens that are used for travel on the underground are also available as souvenirs.

10. Buy chak-chak

Don't forget to indulge yourself, your friends, and family, and buy the traditional Tatar delicacy chak-chak. It’s a national Tatar and Bashkir dish made from pastry with honey. You can buy it in many small shops around the city.

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