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- 20 Jan 2020, 3 nights
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Set on the banks of the Volga River, Kazan is a historic meeting point between East and West – the city's name means 'cooking pot' in Tatar, and it's a fusion of European Russian and Turkic cultures. A religious tolerance stretching back centuries means that minarets, Russian Orthodox onion-shaped domes and church spires all soar over its skyline. Even the city's mascot is eclectic: known as Zilant, it's part snake, part bird, part dog and part dragon. Head to Kremlyovskaya Metro Station to snap some pics of the statue in its honour.
You can stay in a cosy modern Kazan hostel close to the railway station, a futuristic place with capsule beds, or spacious dorms with views onto the river. You can even splash out on a private apartment with a washing machine and self-catering kitchen. Hostels in Kazan have contemporary style rooms, with simple wooden furniture and soft lights, and you'll find some with extra-comfy features like orthopaedic mattresses. Expect free Wi-Fi and communal areas like dining rooms in Kazan hostels. Some even have dance halls.
Kazan city centre is divided into two by its waterways. Kazanskiy Posad district is up on the hill, where you'll find European-style buildings and churches. Between the Volga River and the Bolaq canal is Staro-Tatarskaya Sloboda district, which has Islamic architecture and mosques nestled amongst colourful Tatar wooden buildings. Shops here sell local handicrafts such as leather slippers and embroidered caps. You'll find bars, restaurants and public art sculptures on pedestrianised Bauman Street, and you can head to the lively Central Market to sample local foods.
Kazan's World Heritage-listed Kremlin (citadel) is older than Moscow's, dating back to the 10th century, and it's home to sights like the soaring blue-domed Kul Sharif Mosque. The Russian Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral (also in the Kremlin) is a vision in blue, white and gold on the outside, and is richly decorated with colourful iconography inside. For a real taste of Tatar culture, you can visit the Chak-Chak Museum to learn about the region's traditional sweets and sample tea from a samovar (ornate metal container for boiling water).
From Moscow, you can take the Trans-Siberian railway to Kazan (11 hours) or take a leisurely 10-day cruise along the Volga River. From Kazan International Airport, the express train takes around 30 minutes to get to the city centre and the airport bus takes about 1 hour. In Kazan itself, there's an efficient public transport network comprising a metro line, buses and trams, or you can catch a taxi or explore on foot.