Back in 2012, UNESCO made a list of the 12 ideal cities in the world, and one Russian city made the list but it wasn’t Moscow or St. Petersburg. It was Yekaterinburg- the 4th largest city in Russia. The city where Europe and Asia meet, the birthplace of the first bicycle and home to the shortest metro line in the world. The mix of stylish new-wave architecture and old rusty Soviet blocks gives Yekaterinburg a special charm, different from any other place in Russia.
About the city
With a population of 1.5 million inhabitants, Yekaterinburg is the 4th largest city in Russia, after Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk. Yekaterinburg got its name after Catherine the Great, Russia’s longest-ruling female leader. Yekaterinburg was where the last czar family was imprisoned and murdered by the Bolshevik troops. Today at this spot, you will find the Church of All Saints, one of the main landmarks of modern Yekaterinburg. The city grew rapidly during the WWII where people and industries were moving to the east to escape the war. During the Soviet era, the city’s name was Sverdlovsk, after the Communist party leader, Yakov Sverdlov. After the fall of the communism, the city got back its old name-Yekaterinburg. Today, Yekaterinburg is one of the biggest industrial cities, also known as the Russian Manchester.
Yekaterinburg is also Russia’s most consolidated million plus city. It is the only city with over a million residents living in such a clustered area. The metropolitan area stretches only 20 km from north to south and 15 km from east to west. The city is also one of the main theater hubs of Russia with 24 theaters, famous in both, Russia and abroad. Yekaterinburg’s Opera and Ballet Theater is also a unique architectural monument and one of the main landmarks in the city. Finally, Yekaterinburg is home to the tallest building in Central Asia and the northernmost skyscraper in the world. The business center Vysotsky is 198 meters high. It includes an underground parking for 700 cars and ground parking for 300 more cars and it has the best view in Yekaterinburg.
Getting to Yekaterinburg
You can reach via a flight to the Koltsovo Airport, the biggest international airport in the region. The airport is located 12 km south of the metropolitan area. The quickest way to reach the city from the airport is the Express Koltsovo train. Alternatively, you can use public buses number 1, 29 and 67 that can take you straight to the city center.
You can also reach Yekaterinburg by bus or by train. The Yekaterinburg-Sverdlovsk Railway Station is one of the biggest railway stations on the Trans-Siberian line. The city is also a regional transport hub with buses going to Chelyabinsk, Ufa, Parm, and Sochi all the time.
Where to stay?
The three best neighborhoods to stay for visitors are the Downtown area, Shirokaya Rechka, and the Kirovskiy Rayon.
Downtown – This is where most of Yekaterinburg’s commercial buildings are located, including the Vysotsky skyscraper. Most of the landmarks are in this area and it’s easy to get to any other part of the city via public transport. This area will give you a myriad of choices when it comes to food. You will find a lot of continental restaurants but also Georgian, Uzbekh and other Central Asian cuisines.
Shirokaya Rechka – is a nice and quiet area which is a home to some of Yekaterinburg’s most unusual attractions. The most famous ones include a Mafia Graveyard and a Giant Keyboard.
Kirovskiy Rayon – If you want to relax and but not be too far from the city center you can choose this area. It’s close to Lake Shartash, where you can go for a relaxing walk or a swim at any time. If you’re a nature lover you can also take a boat to get to the other side of the lake to Shartash Forest.
Yekaterinburg travel tips
Yekaterinburg might not thrill you with breathtaking monuments or picturesque streets but don’t be fooled: this fascinating city played a key role in Russia’s history and is a busy regional business capital. This is where Europe meets Asia. Literally. In the city’s surrounding, you will find the border between Europe and Asia. At this spot, you can take a picture with your two feet on different continents. Yekaterinburg is also a great starting point if you want to explore the Ural Mountains.
Yekaterinburg has some historically important landmarks but also some of the most original monuments in all of Russia. The most interesting one is probably the Euro-Asia border, followed by the Church of all saints, where the last Russian tzar family was murdered. I already mentioned that you will find the best view of the city at the top of Vysotsky but there are a lot of other things to see and do in Yekaterinburg.
One of the most photogenic spots in the city is probably the Plotinka Water Tower and the park surrounding it. During the promenade of the Iset River, you will find the only monument of a computer keyword in the world, which reflects Yekaterinburg’s vibrant and modern spirit that separates the city from the rest of Russia. The best shopping street in the city is Vaynera Street where you will find a lot of restaurants and stores. Finally, for nature lovers, the Shartash Forest surrounding the city is a must.
One final tip I could give you is to use the app 2GIS, for directions. All you need to do is download it and you can even access it without having your data turned on. This app works in some Russian cities and a few neighboring countries.
Fun facts about Yekaterinburg
Yekaterinburg was the first city in the Soviet Union to get a metro line after Moscow and St. Petersburg. This metro line today, is the fastest one in the world, mostly due to its length. The Yekaterinburg metro only has one line with 9 stations spread out across 13 km that is covered in only 19 minutes.
Yekaterinburg is home to the world’s oldest wooden sculpture: The Big Shigir Idol. This sculpture is 9,500 years old, which makes it older even than the pyramids in Egypt.
In this article, I mentioned that Yekaterinburg is also known as the Manchester of Russia. However, you probably didn’t know that the steel used to construct the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty was imported from Yekaterinburg.
The first bicycle was actually created In Yekaterinburg in 1801. The first similar thing to this prototype didn’t appear in Europe until 1839. The creator was Efim Artamonov and he rode the bicycle to St Petersburg to attend the crowning of emperor Alexander.
Yekaterinburg is also home to the first transmitter for receiving satellite signals from space.
As you can see by these facts and its monuments, Yekaterinburg is a unique Russian city where European and Asian cultures meet. Many people consider Dubai and Istanbul as cities with an “Out of the box” progressiveness, I would say Yekaterinburg isn’t really far from it. Comfortably situated under the Ural Mountains that geographically divide the two continents, Yekaterinburg is the crossroad where European and Asian cultures meet.
Are you looking for some other hidden gems in Russia? Check out my article about the most underrated destinations in Russia.