Ekaterinburg sits on the Iset River on the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains, which form a natural geographic border between Europe and Asia. Ekaterinburg was founded in 1723 on a decree by Tsar Peter to develop the city as a metal-working center. The city has long been the historical and economic center of the Urals and the 4th largest city in Russia, home to around 1.5 million residents.
Ekaterinburg became infamous as the site of the abdication and subsequent murder of the last Tsar of Russia, Nikolay Romanov, along with other members of the Romanov family. Stalin used the city as a transit point for prisoners of the GULAG. During the Second World War, Ekaterinburg became the center of the war effort in producing the arms that would help depend and save Russia from Hitler’s forces. Ekaterinburg only opened its doors to the outside world in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ekaterinburg has plenty to offer, apart from being an obvious choice in breaking the long train journey between Irkutsk and Moscow. It is a large, sprawling industrial city, though the city’s central area is walkable, and offers a good chance to learn much about Russian history, politics and religion with more than 100 research institutes, 15 higher educational institutions, 35 technical schools, 27 vocational schools, 5 theaters, a philharmonic concert hall and 600 libraries. The surrounding Ural countryside also offers some fantastic hiking and outdoor adventures, or the chance to visit some terrific picturesque traditional villages.
Highlights in the city include the Yekaterinburg Cathedral, recently constructed in dedication to the Romanov Royal family and the victims of the Revolution. Found at the junction of Liebknecht & Shartashkaya Street, it is built on the site of the Apatiev House, where the Romanov family was reportedly housed before their execution on the outskirts of Ekaterinburg in July 1918. The Military Museum of Ekaterinburg is testament to the importance Ekaterinburg held as an arms manufacturer during the war.
Found opposite the Military Museum the war memorial is quite different to the usual ‘soviet’ war memorials, both in design and because it was designed and erected by war veterans themselves.
Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts
Found at 5 Voyevodina Street, the immense foyer of the city museum is dedicated to the huge forge, designed as an exhibit for the Great Exhibition. The rest of the museum features paintings by some important Russian masters.
The City Dam and Lake
Found at the center of Lenin Avenue, take the time to wander down to the middle of the dam, to discover where the city began. This is a pleasant area in summer to relax and people-watch.
Found at 30 Kuibyshev Street, is one museum that is not to be missed. You will find an outstanding display of astonishing gemstones and locally found gold. It is recommended to have a guide to help translate the sparkling gems and give background information on the Cities mining projects.
Ekaterinburg is where Europe ends and Asia begins – officially. Have the obligatory photo taken with one foot in each. On the way, there is a ghoulish cemetery where local Mafia mobsters are buried, with memorials that break new ground in bad taste.
Ekaterinburg guided city walking tour (3 1/2 hrs; 3 hrs by car in winter)
Guided tour of the historical center, statues of Ekaterinburg founders and communist leaders, 1905 Revolution Square, Church of Spilled Blood and the Chapel of St. Elizabeth, the Hill of Ascension, the Museum of Romanovs.
Romanov’s Monastery tour (3 hrs)
Drive north-west of Ekaterinburg to the Monastery dedicated to the Romanov Tsar’s family, now a well-known Russian Orthodox pilgrimage site. Learn about the fate of the last Tsar and how the Bolsheviks tried to hide the corpses in a secret grave.
Europe / Asia border obelisk tour (2 hrs)
Drive (20km) to the obelisk bordering ‘Europe and Asia’ and celebrate with a glass of champagne, receive your commemorative certificate and return to Ekaterinburg, passing by the Memorial of Victims of GULAG. “GULAG” was the acronym for Гла́вное управле́ние лагере́й (Glavnoye upravleniye lagerey), the “Main Camp Administration”.
It is possible to combine the Romanov Monastary and border obelisk tours.
Koptelovo Village (6-8 hrs)
Full day excursion to picturesque, 300 years old, Koptelovo Village (145 km drive from Ekaterinburg). A great opportunity to learn more about the Russian colonisation of Siberia. Visit to traditional Siberian “izba”-house. Folklore concert performance in local museum of farming & crafts. Excellent traditional Siberian cuisine lunch is included.
Nevyansk Village tour (6-8 hrs)
Nevyansk is the one time capital of the Demidov dynasty, a very successful family of factory owners. The trip includes a visit to the famous and recently restored Nevyansk “leaning tower”, and the Transfiguration Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral and the traditional craft center and the famous Nevyansk icons. You will stop at Byngi village on the return trip for lunch.
Tavolgi and Nevyansk Village tour (6-8 hrs)
Excursion to the city of Nevyansk (80km from Ekaterinburg), the one-time capital of the Demidov dynasty, a very successful family of fatory owners. Also visit the ‘Old Believers’ village of Tavolgi. The trip includes a visit to the famous and recently restored Nevyansk “leaning tower”, and the Transfiguration Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral. You will also be able to try your hand at some clay pottery at the craft center in Tavolgi. Lunch is provided in Tavolgi.
Brothers in Arms Military History Museum tour (4 hrs)
The Cold War between the the US and USSR led to extensive military buildups, the nuclear arms race, and the Space Race. Ekaterinburg (named as Sverdlovsk since 1924 till 1991) played a very important role in the Soviet military-industrial complex and was closed for foreigners till 1991. During this Military History tour you will see the most interesting sites of the local military history (The Soviet Army Square, The Black Tulip Memorial, The Headquarters of The Ural Military District) and then will make a trip to small town V.Pyshma for excursion in brand new Museum of Arms of UMMC (the biggest private collection of arms, military vehicles, aircraft, helicopters and soviet cars).
Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha Museum of Siberian wooden architecture and folk arts (8 hrs)
Full day trip (167 km drive one way) to the old village of Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha, famous for its great museum of traditional architecture and folk art. Visit to Monastery of Romanovs St Martyrs (resting place of a few members of the tsar family, executed in Alapaevsk).
Ural Mountains hiking excursion (7 hrs)
One of the best ways to see the Ural Mountains, the region that Russians call “The Stone Belt”. During your walk you will see the picturesque “Bazhovskie Mesta”, a nature park of taiga forest, old rocks, rivers and ponds. The hike is of a moderate level (approx. 8 km). Lunch is included.
Ural Mountains walking excursion (5 hrs)
Enjoy a pleasant hike in the Ural Mountains, visiting typical environs of the Middle Urals: taiga forest, hills, old rocks and quarries. The walk is a gentle 4 km. During the excursion you will drive through picturesque countryside villages, showcasing traditional wooden izba houses and gardens. Lunch is included.
Ice-fishing in Ekaterinburg (8 hrs)
Transfer to the area of lakes to the south of Ekaterinburg (approx. 1hr drive). Walk out on to the ice, which should be around one meter thick. You will experience one of the most popular weekend hobbies of the locals, trying to catch fish through a hole in the ice. Lunch is included.
Byngi Village overnight tour
Drive to the picturesque village of Byngi, close to the traditional old town of Nevyansk (90 km. from Ekaterinburg). Stay in a traditional yurt with a separate log izba house, enjoy traditional home-made food. The guest house has a great traditional banya (Russian steam bath), that you can book directly with the hosts (additional cost). In Nevyansk you will learn the history of Demidov Dynasty, visiting the famous and recently restored Nevyansk “leaning tower and the restored Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral.