Nizhny Novgorod (aka Nizhny) is a riverside gem of a city, with unique wooden architecture and a pretty waterfront location between the Oka and Volga rivers. It's certainly not one of the better known cities in Russia, there is a peaceful and friendly charm to it. Plus, it's easily accessible via the Strigino International Airport (14km from the city centre) and the high-speed train that connects Moscow with this former merchant town (journey time: three and a half hours).
One of the top attractions in Nizhny is the Kremlin ("fortress" in Russian) on Minin and Pozharsky Square. This distinctive red-brick palace, built across Chasovaya Hill in the beginning of the 16th century, protected the city against foreign threats during the reign of Ivan III. These days, it houses quite an extensive military museum, a bookstore, a cathedral, and the Legislative Assembly.
The Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin can be viewed from great heights if you ride the cable car connecting Nizhny Novgorod with the settlement of Bor right across the Volga river.
Also near the Kremlin is the famous figure eight-shaped Chkalov staircase, a massive flight of steps connecting the Kremlin with the Verkhne-Volzhskaya (Upper Volga) and Lower Volga embankments. Built during the Soviet era and billed as the biggest staircase in all of Russia, the Chkalov stairs are a popular tourist attraction and challenging run for keen joggers.
To get a feel for daily life in Nizhny Novgorod, take a walk along Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street (nicknamed 'Pokrovka' by locals), the main thoroughfare in the city. Only noblemen were allowed to walk on Pokrovka until 1917, but these days anyone can explore it and snap photos of the charming bronze statues sitting on benches along the street.
In recent years, Nizhny Novgorod has become something of a sports capital, with a venue that's hosting one of the 2018 World Cup games. Unlike some host cities, the stadium in Nizhny Novgorod is walkable from most main attractions in the city.
If you're looking for good bars and restaurants to sustain you during your World Cup trip, your best bet is to head to Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street (see above) or Rozhdestvenskaya Street.
There are plenty of fast food options in Nizny if you're craving home comforts. But if you do venture out of your comfort zone, some typical dishes to expect are shchi (cabbage soup), Kudyabliki (pastry filled with meat and onion) and sirki (mini cheesecakes covered in chocolate). You can also expect to see dill - Russia's favourite herb - sprinkled on just about everything, from grilled vegetables to chips and even popcorn! Seriously, it's everywhere.
Fish dishes are also the norm here (it is right next to two rivers), so expect lots of fish soup and pescatarian meals. If that's not your thing, be sure to try some local Shawarma, a Middle Eastern pita wrapped filled with meat, veg and various sauces. In Nizhny, you can find Shawarma at street food stalls and low-key restaurants, and it generally tends to be super cheap and delicious - our favourite combo!