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Out on the town: making the most of your time in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s art and trade hub

Beyond the game
Out on the town: making the most of your time in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s art and trade hub

Located on the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers, Nizhny Novgorod is one of Russia’s great metropolises, with cutting-edge art, natural beauty and creative industries nestled together. Follow our hints to make the most of your time in this ancient city

Nizhny Novgorod is one of the most culturally important cities in Russia, with street and contemporary art on display, plus stunning river views and quirky boutiques. Find out more with our guide.

Catch contemporary art in the heart of the Kremlin

A benchmark and a powerhouse for the entire art world elite. The opening of Arsenal was both a reaction to global trends and a great joy for a city which, while relatively large, is often thought of as provincial. This monolith is impossible to miss, standing in the very heart of the city, inside the Kremlin. The Arsenal is a top-flight cultural institution with regular exhibitions, an excellent curatorial team and a jam-packed programme of events. Anyone interested in modern art should visit the neighbouring art gallery, which houses, among other things, Boris Kustodiev’s Russian Venus, works by Malevich and Kandinsky and the Appeal of Minin, a huge canvas by Konstantin Makovsky.


Explore Nizhny’s famous street art

For a long time, Nizhny Novgorod was the unrecognised street art capital of Russia. Until recently, artists were very active in the city, daubing the wooden architecture of “old Nizhny” with their designs. Today the wooden structures are falling to pieces, and the artists also seem to have disappeared from view: some left for the museum and gallery circuit, others quit the art world entirely. Many of the scene’s past achievements still remain, so the first thing any newcomer to the city should do is download a street art map of the city, which can be found here.

Get festive at Ariel

One of Russia’s few factories producing Christmas tree decorations. As well as buying ornaments for your tree you can watch real glassblowers and craftsmen at work, decorating every last glass bulb by hand. In the run up to Christmas it’s almost impossible to get in, with a waiting list in place since the daily tours for children and adults are unable to accommodate everyone. At the end of the tour visitors are presented with a brand new decoration, like the ones they have just watched being blown and decorated by the artisans in a special workshop.

Building B, 8a Shosse Zhirkombinata

Take one of Russia’s most scenic tram routes

The cheapest tour of the city follows a ring road and costs 28 roubles ($0.45), which happens to be the exact price of a tram ticket. Starting at Cherniy Prud, you’ll pass the interesting architecture on Bolshaya Pecherskaya on your way to Sennaya Ploshchad, after which you’ll turn onto Belinka, crossing Pushkin Park and Sredny Rynok (you can hop off here and grab a shawarma, but it’s better to wait) and finally ending up on Ilinka, where you can wander around and take in the 19th-century manor houses, continuing on foot to Dobrolyubova Street and the central boulevard of Pokrovka.

Cherniy Prud, Ulitsa Osharskaya

Hop on a cable car to the riverside idyll at Bor

From Kazanskaya Naberezhnaya (by the Nizhny Novgorod Mosque) you can catch a cable car to the satellite town of Bor on the other side of the Volga. The journey costs around 100 roubles ($1.60) in total. The Nizhny Novgorod cable car, which crosses the main channel of the Volga is the longest unsupported over-water cable car in the world, with a span of 800m. You can look down from the swaying cabin onto the barges making their way down the river, and the pleasures boats and sunbathers along the Grenboy Canal. A more romantic (and slower) way of getting to Bor is to take a ride on the ferry, which is used by drivers to cross the river without getting stuck in traffic. The ferry sets off from the Alexandrovsky Garden hotel and will drop you off among meadows and fields on the Bor side — you’ll need to hitch a ride or take a taxi from there. Still, the journey is a steal at 20 roubles ($0.30).

Kazanskaya Naberezhnaya / Alexandrovky Sad Hotel, 3 Ulitsa Kazansky Syezd

Catch a movie at Orlenok

One of the city’s oldest cinemas, with arthouse screenings, a Soviet mural in the lobby and regular exhibitions in the snack bar. Sit down with a milkshake at one of the low tables to admire the 80s interior, decorated with potted rubber plants. On-screen offerings include restorations of rare shorts by Tarkovsky and a trickle of Sundance Film Festival winners, and the reasonable prices will bring a smile to the faces of any travelling Muscovites. Another bonus are the friendly ticket ladies. Join the city’s top film buffs on the first row, or sit at the very back with Nizhny film critic Graf Gariloff, who never misses a premiere.

39a Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street

Make the most of Nizhny’s stunning river views

The best views of the city can be seen from its embankments. Verkhnevolzhskaya offers views of Bor and the Spit of Nizhny Novgorod, while the steps of the Chkalov Stairs are the perfect place to meditate on a Volga sunset. The view from Nizhnevolskaya is the same, but you’ll be sharing it with throngs of pleasure-seekers on bikes and rollerblades, eating ice cream and posing for photos next to a steel deer, the work of Hungarian sculptor Gabor Miklos Szoke. Fedorovskaya has the best views of the brand new stadium, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Nizhny Novgorod Fair.

Explore an art cluster inside a working typography factory

A former Soviet House of Diligence, built in the Art Nouveau style in the early 20th century with the wealth of the Rukavishnikov merchant dynasty, the building today is a lively and fashionable hub. As well as housing a typography factory and a couple of local newspaper editorial offices, the arches of Nizhpoligraf lead the way to a cluster of creative spaces. Visitors can stumble across a theatre company putting on cutting-edge productions, the Kinofaktura space, which screens rare films that don’t see wide releases or the outlet of the Select Studio brand, which sells clothes and accessories when the owners aren’t too busy organising screenings and parties. This building is at the epicentre of a network of designer studios, a community of woodworkers and some of the city’s most progressive employers. A real powerhouse.

32 Varvarskaya Street