When foreigners ask me which Russian city I am from, more often than not they expect to hear “Moscow” or “Saint Petersburg”. When I say “Ekaterinburg”, the reaction is usually “Oh… ok… I will never be able to pronounce that”. To which I reply: “Not only will you be able to pronounce it, but you’ll remember the name for years to come. Just let me explain”.
What’s Up with the Name?
First, let’s break the name up. Ekaterinburg is made up of two words “Ekaterina” and “burg”. The first is a common women’s name in Russia. The second is German for “city”. Ekaterinburg means “Ekaterina’s city”. It was named after queen Ekaterina I, the wife of Peter-the-Great.
In 1924, seven years after the Russian revolution, the city was named Sverdlovsk after the communist party leader, Yakov Sverdlov. In 1991, with the fall of Soviet Union, the name was changed back to historical Ekaterinburg. The birthplace in my passport states “Sverdlovsk, USSR” — neither the city, not the country exist anymore.
Some spell the name as Yekaterinburg, but we are talking about the same city.
Why Visit Ekaterinburg?
Now, to make you remember my city, I am going to tell you three things it is famous for: one is sad, one is cool, one is weird.
Ekaterinburg is most famous for being the city where the last Russian tsar Nikolai II was killed with his wife, their five kids, and four servants after the revolution of 1917. The last royal family of Russia was sent to Ekaterinburg in 1918 and stayed at Ipatiev’s house. On the night of 16th of July they were executed and secretly buried outside of the city limits, in Ganina Yama. Ipatiev’s house was eventually destroyed and a church was built in its place.
Ekaterinburg is located on the border between Europe and Asia. There’s a monument located outside of city limits with a line dividing the two parts of the world. The line is more of a symbol than a precise geographic divider, nevertheless, it’s pretty cool to take a picture with one foot in Europe and another in Asia.
Ekaterinburg is allegedly the city with the highest consumption of mayonnaise per person in the world. On average, Europeans consume around three-four kilos of mayo per person per year. In Ekaterinburg, that number is eleven. Russians in general eat a lot of mayo, but since one of the biggest mayo-producing factories is located in Ekaterinburg, we consider it a matter of honor to eat even more. Make sure to try Провансаль (Provansal) mayo by ЕЖК, it is sold in light blue jars.
Things to Do in Ekaterinburg
The Church on the Blood
Church on the Blood got its name for a reason. Built on the site of Ipatiev’s house, where the last Russian tsar with his family and servants was executed, the church is a reminder of one of the most tragic and bloodiest pages of Russian history.
After the February revolution of 1917, Tsar Nikolai II abdicated from the throne and was consequently imprisoned in Alexander Palace outside of Saint Petersburg, before being moved with his family to Tobolsk and eventually to Ekaterinburg. In Ekaterinburg, the family lived in Ipatiev’s house for 78 days until their execution in the basement of the house on the night of 16th of July. The house was demolished in 1977 under the orders of Soviet government, but the construction of the church began only in 2000, after Nikolai II, his wife Alexandra, their five children, as well as four servants were canonized by Russian Orthodox Church.
In the lower level of the church is a room said to have been constructed on the site where the tragic events happened, with the altar located near the direct place of execution. Some historians argue that the church was built slightly away from the site of actual execution.
Tip: To the right of the Church on the Blood (if you are facing the main entrance) is located patriarchal metochion where the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ stays during his visits to Ekaterinburg. You can visit the Church and the museum complex dedicated to the last months of the royal family’s life inside the metochion.
The Church of Ascension
As beautiful as it is, the Church on the Blood is a touristy place. Most locals prefer to go to smaller quieter churches for service. If you want to experience a Russian Orthodox Church like locals, Church of Ascension is a good place to start. The oldest in Ekaterinburg, this church was built in 1770, but closed down during Soviet rule. It was reopened again only in 1991.
Opera and Ballet Theatre
Catching a play in a theatre is one best things to do in Ekaterinburg. Opened in 1912, Ekaterinburg State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre is one of the oldest opera theaters in the country. Book your tickets in advance, arrive to the show a little early to explore the beautiful building, and don’t forget that in Russia “theater starts at the cloakroom” — leave your overcoat with a surprisingly fast babushka before entering the hall.
Ekaterinburg boasts a wide range of amazing theaters, unfortunately, you need to know Russian to see anything else, but opera and ballet. If you understand Russian, Theatre of Musical Comedy and Kolyada-theatre are some of the most beloved by locals.
Tip: if you are facing Opera and Ballet Theater, behind you is Ural Federal University, the biggest University in the Ural Region. I studied Public Relations there. Oh, student life!
Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center
The cultural and educational center in honor of the first president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, opened in 2015. Yeltsin Center, as the locals call it, is something I am proud of simply because this is the first museum in Ekaterinburg to be constructed with the newest technologies and modern trends in mind. In terms of appearance, presentation of materials, and overall execution, Yeltsin Center is seriously impressive.
The first President was born in a remote Ural village and started his political career in Ekaterinburg, which is why the city for building the center was an easy pick. The exposition covers not only his biography and political journey, but the life of people in Soviet Union and, later, Russia.
While I was impressed with the technologies, the content of the exhibition should be taken with a grain of salt. The center is meant to show Boris Yeltsin in a positive light, while many troublesome events and tragic decisions are overlooked or showed in passing. I found Yeltsin Center similar to the presidential libraries in the USA, in both execution and content strategy. Even so, Yeltsin center should be high on your list of things to do in Ekaterinburg.
Visotsky is one of the two skyscrapers we have in Ekaterinburg and the second tallest building in Russia outside of Moscow. The building was named after a famous Russian poet, singer and actor Vladimir Visotsky, but the name is also a word play: “visoky” means “tall” in Russian. You can find a sculpture to Visotsky and his wife Marina Vladi at the bottom of the skyscraper, as well as a museum dedicated to the beloved Russian artist on the second floor.
Great views of Ekaterinburg open up from observatory on the 52nd floor. Entry ticket costs 350 rubles. But you can always choose to have lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants on the top floors of the skyscraper. Panorama A.S.P. and Vertikal boast great views of the city.
Unrecognized by the local government as a culturally significant object, the keyboard, nevertheless, is one of the coolest art installations in Ekaterinburg. The giant QWERTY keyboard was installed on the embankment of Iset river at 30:1 scale in 2005. There are 104 concrete keys, each weighing 180 lb, while the space key weighs almost 1000 lb. You can use the keys to sit down and rest or jump from one to another.
The Beatles Monument
Yes, we have one! Located only steps away from the keyboard monument, along the embankment of Iset river, the monument depicts the famous boys band as an outline on the red brick wall with a mural painted nearby. “The love you take is equal to the love you make”, the words from The Beatles song “The End”, stretch across the wall.
The money required for the installation were raised by the members of The Beatles Club in Ekaterinburg. Not a penny came from the city budget. It took them six years to collect the amount of 2.5 million rubles and start the construction.
The outlines of the famous musicians were made of copper at a factory in Mikhailovsk, a small town in the south of the region. The Beatles Monument was officially opened in 2009.
Glavny Prospekt Art Gallery
Opened in 2018, this spacious gallery in the heart of the city, on Lenin Street, is an important addition to the local art scene. It takes up several thousand square meters and features works by artists from Ural region as well as international artists. Glaviniy Prospect boasts paintings and wooden and bronze sculptures created by famous Ural artists like Yuri Krylov, Pavel Khodaev, and Vladimir Zhukov.
One of the main attractions of the gallery is its museum of stone, opened by Vladimir Pelepenko, one of the largest collectors of minerals in Russia. You can see over a thousand stone samples at the exhibition.
Plotinka is the place where locals hang out. “Plotina” in Russian means “dam”; “plotinka” is an affectionate form, something like “little dam”. That’s how locals lovingly refer to the city pond dam on Iset River. You come here for a long walk when the weather allows. All the major city celebrations happen here too. It’s not unusual to see musicians performing, man playing chess on weekends, skaters working on their skills and independent book sellers.
According to the tourist bureau of Ekaterinburg,
“The dam was originally earthen with larch wood base which does not rot, but hardens under water without oxygen. The granite cover was added much later during a reconstruction of the 1830-1850s. The researchers argue that having served without a single repair for almost three hundred years, the dam could easily stand for as much longer.”
If you are walking around Plotinka, there’s no way you are going to miss Sevastyanov’s House, probably, the most beautiful building in the city. Located on the intersection of Iset River and the main artery of Ekaterinburg, Lenin Avenue, this gorgeous house is a part of the governor’s residence.
Named after it’s most famous owner, Nikolai Ivanovich Sevastiyanov, who acquired the house in 1860, the building features neo-gotic and baroque elements, that are not to be found anywhere else in the Ural region.
Sevastyanov was a famous figure in Ekaterinburg who made a fortune by supplying the produce of Ural factories to the battlefields in Crimean war. In 1874 he received promotion and moved to Saint Petersburg, leaving the house to the government.
There are a lot of legends surrounding the house. One of which states that Sevastyanov wanted to cover the rooftop of his house with gold, but his requests were denied by the government as at the time only the church domes were golden. As a punishment, he had to go to church service every morning wearing cast-iron boots. Another legend claims that Sevastyanov lived in a small simple house opposite this beautiful building and loved to ask passersby who built it and what they think of it to hear their delighted comments.
Today, the building is referred to as the Ural residence of the President of Russia. After the reconstruction of 2008, the President stays here during his visits to Ekaterinburg. It’s not easy to get inside, but they say it’s possible if you call and arrange a tour in advance (not that I can find the phone number anywhere online).
The Square of 1905 and City Administration
Locals refer to it as “Ploshad Pyatogo Goda” or even just “Ploshad”(square) as it is the oldest, the most important, and, probably, the most centrally located city square. Today, Ploshad represents a mix of old and new. Lenin statue next to a modern shopping complex Europa next to the City Administration. City Administration is one of the most recognizable and beautiful buildings in Ekaterinburg. Make sure to look up and check out the statues on the rooftop.
Vayner Street (Ulitsa Vaynera)
One of the oldest streets in the city, Ulitsa Vaynera is a pedestrian zone in the heart of Ekaterinburg. With no cars and no traffic, you can enjoy a walk along some of the most popular shops and cafes. You’ll find a lot of bronze statues along the way: a blacksmith with his dog and a horse, a pedlar selling perfumes, a banker and a cab driver, and even Michael Jackson. The street will eventually take you to the biggest shopping mall in Ekaterinburg, Grinvich. Don’t get sucked in. This shopping mall is enormous and will not let you out for hours!
Rastorguev-Kharitonov Estate and Kharitonov Garden
Rastorguev-Kharitonov Estate is one of the grandest residencies in Ekaterinburg and Ural region. The first part of the name comes from Lev Rastorguev, a merchant who commissioned the estate in 1794. The second part — from his son-in-law, Pyotr Kharitonov, who inherited the property thirty years later. Outside of the residence is an English-style garden that is especially charming in summer and fall. The pond, with rotunda installed on an artificial island in the middle of it, are in the center of the garden.
Memorial House-Museum of Pavel Bazhov
Pavel Petrovich Bazhov is a famous Russian writer who was born in a small Ural town of Sysert and moved to Ekaterinburg to study and work. He is best known for his fairy tales collection The Malachite Box based on Ural folklore.
The house-museum of Pavel Bazhov is the biggest face-palm moment of my student life. The house is located at 11, Chapaev Street. My university building is located at 16, Chapaev Street. In five years of studying in uni I never once visited the museum. I am so frustrated with my younger self I cannot describe it with words.
This is the only place on the list that I haven’t visited personally, but I still greatly recommend it if you are planning a trip to Ekaterinburg. The house was carefully preserved by the wife of the writer and everything inside is exactly how it used to be during his life. The building is over 100 years old, but hasn’t been under reconstructions. Bazhov spent 28 years of his life in this house, and this is where The Malachite Box was written.
The Literary Life of Ural in XIX Century Museum
Another house-turned-museum where a famous Russian writer, Dmitry Narkisovich Mamin-Sibiryak, lived and worked on some of his best-known novels and tales. Born in the Urals, he wrote about the places he grew up around and the way of life in the region. The house, located at 41, Tolmachev Street, used to belong to Mamin-Sibiryak’s first wife, Maria Alekseeva. He moved in with her in 1879, and his most famous novel The Privalov Fortune was written here.
Now, don’t get confused, because a few steps away, at 27, Pushkin Street, there’s another house-museum under the name Literary Memorial House-Museum of D.N. Mamin-Sibiryak. This house was bought by Mamin-Sibiryak using the fee he received for The Privalov Fortune and The Mountain Nest. Although the house belonged to him, he gave it to his mother and siblings, but visited frequently.
Chekist Village and Iset Hotel
Ekaterinburg is considered one of the best cities in Russia to explore amazing examples of constructivism, an architectural style that flourished in Soviet Union in the 1920-1930s. One of the most famous constructivism monuments in the city is Gorodok Chekistov (Chekist Village), a residential complex that includes 14 buildings.
Cheka is the short name of All-Russian Extraordinary Commision, the first secret police of Soviet Union. Think: KGB of 1917. Therefore, chekist is someone who works in the secret police. The complex was meant as the living quarters for chekists.
Iset Hotel is without a doubt the most prominent building in the complex, towering eleven stories high and shaped as a semicircle.
According to the article “A Soviet Utopia: Constructivism in Yekaterinburg”:
“A top-down view reveals that [Iset] hotel, a former hotel-type dormitory, resembles a sickle, while the adjacent Sergo Ordzhonikidze House of Culture (currently housing the Urals Local History Museum) looks like a hammer. However, this subtle tribute was never officially recognized.”
Dom Pechati (Press House/ Printing House)
What is this place? Where do I even start, this place is a lot of things. The building was constructed in 1930 as headquarters for the editorial team of Uralsky Rabochy, one of the main newspapers in the region, and its print house. Today, it’s a restaurant, a bar, a club, an art space, a lecture hall, a music venue and what not. The building is considered one of the best examples of constructivism, an arhictectural style popular in Soviet Union. It has been wonderfully remodeled inside, combining the best of the old structure with modern decorative elements. Come by for a meal or drink or, better yet, get a ticket to one of the many concerts and music shows they have.
How to see it all?
You can cover a lot of the attractions I mentioned above by following the red line of Ekaterinburg. The line stretches 6 km around the city center and leads to 35 major landmarks that were chosen by the residents of Ekaterinburg. You can find the map of the red line here. If you click on the red button “Начать Экскурсию” in the top right corner of the website, it will take you to the page of the first stop on the red line — The Square of 1905. Although the website is in Russian, there’s a button for audio guide in English.
Other Things to Do Near Ekaterinburg
Ganina Yama (Monastery of the Holy Tsarist Passion-Bearers)
If you can take only one trip outside of the city, go to Ganina Yama, located in the village of Koptyaki, 15 km (9.5 miles) away from Ekaterinburg. After visiting the Church on the Blood, Ganina Yama is a logical way to continue learning about the the destiny of Nikolai II, as it is the place where the bodies of the last royal family of Russia and their servants were hidden after the execution. The bodies were thrown into a mine, buried, and covered by acid to make identification impossible.
Nevertheless, the remains of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters were excavated in Ganina Yama in 1991 and positively identified using DNA fingerprinting. Their remains were reburied in 1998, exactly 80 years after the execution, in Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral of Saint Petersburg. The bodies of the two remaining children of the Tsar were found only in 2007 and are still not reburied with the rest of the family.
In 2000, construction of the Monastery of the Holy Tsarist Passion-Bearers started in Ganina Yama. Seven churches were constructed at the site, one for each member of the Royal family.
Although it is located outside of the city and getting to Ganina Yama will take some extra time and effort, this is the one place I strongly recommend to visit on your trip to Ekaterinburg. Hire a cab/Uber or ask someone to drive you — the place is incredibly beautiful and helps better understand the history of Russia.
Europe — Asia Border
To be honest with you, this place is nothing more than a monument set in the middle of nowhere, by the highway, to mark the border between Europe and Asia. It’s not the exact geographic border, but rather a symbol. Even so, it’s kinda cool to have a picture with one foot in Europe and another in Asia. You’ll need to hire a cab to get here, the obelisk is located 17 km (10 miles) away from Ekaterinburg.
Asbestos Mine in Asbest
I bet you didn’t expect this one! Well, let me introduce my home town to you. Asbest is located 90 km (55 miles) north-east of Ekaterinburg. While I consider Ekaterinburg my home, I moved here at the age of 17 when I started University, but I was raised in Asbest, a little town famous for its asbestos mine, the largest open-pit asbestos mine in the world.
Ural-Asbest factory is the main employer of my little town with the population of 100 thousand people. Therefore, the fate of the town and its people directly depends on the financial success of the factory.
Located outside of the town, the mine observation point is easily accessible by car, but you’ll need a local to take you (hire a taxi) since there are no signs and the location is not obvious.
Leaning Tower of Nevyansk
Our very own leaning tower is located in Nevyansk, 90 km away from Ekaterinburg. It was built sometime between 1721 and 1725 and funded by the famous Russian manufacturer Akinfy Demidov. The height of the tower is 57.5 m, and the deviation from the vertical is around 1.85 m. Surprisingly, the biggest deviation in not at the top of the tower, but around its lower level (the bottom rectangular base), the tower leans at 3° 16’.
Kirillov’s House in Kunara Village
This house straight from a Russian fairy tale is definitely worth a short drive from Ekaterinburg. You can combine visiting Neviyansk and Kirillov’s house as they are 20 minutes-drive away from each other.
Located in a small village of Kunara, this house was decorated by Sergei Kirillov, a local blacksmith. The work started in 1954 and the major part was finished by 1967, but the blacksmith kept working on adding details for almost fifty years. The structure is a traditional Russian terem (village house) with decorative elements inspired by fairy tales, children art, and Soviet propaganda.
Believe it or not, the house is not simply a work of art meant for admiring, but a private residence where the widow of Sergei Kirillov, Lidia Haritonovna, still lives. She is said to be a very friendly and welcoming lady.
To get here, you’ll need a car. If you are driving from Nevyansk, upon entering the village, Kirillov’s house is one of the first houses on the left-hand side (it is marked on Google maps).
Events in Ekaterinburg
Usadba Jazz is the biggest open-air festival in Russia that takes place in several major cities, including Ekaterinburg. It combines jazz, funk, world music, acid-jazz, lounge, jazz-rock, and blues to name a few. In Ekaterinburg, the festival is usually held in July in the beautiful Kharitonov Garden, and English-style park near Rastorguev-Kharitonov Estate.
Ural Industrial Biennale of Contemporary Art
The biennale happens once in two years and takes place in some of the most iconic sites of Ekaterinburg and Sverdlovsk region. The next biennale is planned to happen in 2019. Having visited the third biennale, which attracted 300 artists from 70 countries, I can say that contemporary art is not always easy to understand, but it’s definitely amusing.
A local designer market that takes place four times a year at Sverdlovsk Film Studio. Visiting the market is a great way to see local film studio from the inside as well as buy some clothes, accessories, cosmetics, homeware and what not. The market always features a few cool food projects, live music, lectures and master-classes.
Food Festival Gastronom
Gastronom happens annually, on the first weekend of August in Pavlik Morozov’s park. The festival attracts some of the most famous restaurants and chefs of Ekaterinburg. A great way to spend a day outside with good food and music.
I think, I am done here! Next time I visit home, I’ll share my new finds with you. So far, if you are interested in learning more about Ekaterinburg, check out the post I wrote about Ural cuisine and where to find it in Ekaterinburg.
If it’s your first time visiting Russia, read this post with 50 tips for traveling in Russia.
If you have any questions about Ekaterinburg, comment below, I’ll try my best to help. If you are from Ekaterinburg, let me know if I missed something!
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