Industrial Samara is the gateway to the Volga region and a bustling hive of activity, a far cry from its early days as a military outpost. Undoubtably the major draw to the city is the spectacular Volga river, a life-force for the locals in terms of trade, business and leisure. Equally impressive is the city’s historical importance in Russia’s space aviation endeavours and as home to the Soviet libation. From Breweries to beaches, from rockets to hideouts, uncover the best Samara has to offer with our top picks.
Swim in the Volga at Samara Beach
Slightly incongruous to Russia’s cold and frosty image is Samara’s glorious beach, stretching along the length of the city. Definitely a highlight, visit in the warmer months to soak up summer-time vibes on the Volga’s sandy banks. Work on your tan while you while-away the day swimming and relaxing with the locals as they thaw out after a long cold winter. The beach is so popular among residents, the Samara Multiple Sclerosis Organisation set up universal access facilities, ensuring people of all abilities can enjoy it.
Discover the Zhiguli Mountains
Samara is the perfect launch pad for day trips and treks through the Zhiguli Mountains, also known as Zhiguli Heights. Surround yourself in nature and get a taste of Russia’s remoteness as you navigate your way through the range, which includes a UNESCO listed reserve. Entangled with the Volga, river pirates use to hide out in the mountains’ many gullies and valleys, which are now explored by locals and tourists alike, in both winter and summer. Head towards Shiryaevo to discover a quaint Russian village and cavernous limestone caves.
Drink at Zhiguli Brewery
Brewing some of Russia’s most popular beers since 1881, Samara is affectionately known as the beer capital of a beer loving country. Founded by Alfred von Vacano, an Austrian, the brewery produced Zhigulevskoye, the beer of choice – perhaps through lack of choice – during Soviet times. European beerhall favourites fill the menu, along with plenty of dishes using Volga fish. If it is a nice day, bring a bottle to fill straight from the keg and take it for a stroll along the embankment to the beach.
Zhiguli Brewery, Volzhskiy Prospekt 4, Samara, Russia, +7 846 332-41-75
Eat Vobla from Troitsky Market
Central markets are great way to get a feel for local life and Troisky Market is no different. It’s also a great place to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables as well as to try Vobla, salted dried fish. A standard beer snack throughout Russia, it is gutted and salted and then dried with the scales and fins still on. Fill a bottle at Zhiguli Brewery and give the combination a go.
Troitsky Market, Ulitsa Galaktionovskaya 29, Samara, Russia, +7 846 332-46-43
Amble along Samara embankment
A lazy stroll from the beach, this river-side promenade is another popular spot with people who are making the most of summer. Relax in the gardens or take in the Volga’s beauty without the sand. Get a bit more active by rollerblading or cycling through the strip littered with with monuments, statutes, kiosks and the occasional busker. Samara in the summer doesn’t get much better than here and the beach.
Gaze across the Volga River
A short trip out of town will reward you with one of the best views of the Volga river there is. For a sweeping panorama across the Samara bend – the point where the Volga hairpins back around and doglegs through the Zhiguli Mountains – head towards the observation deck housed in a former helipad in the administrative settlement of Helicopter (named after said helipad). The view is so impressive the lookout is a popular place to take a date.
Launch yourself into a new world at the Samara Space Museum
Samara was one of Russia’s space program hubs during Sovietism. It was the place where the Vostok rocket – the first model of rocket to be launched into space – was assembled and the museum has an authentic one erected out front to honour this. Rotating exhibitions explain the different scientific and technological facets concerning space exploration and rockets, while the permanent collection houses rocket and technological artefacts and interactive sections demonstrating the presented technology.
Samara Space Museum, Stakhanovskiy Prospect 21, Samara, Russia, +7 846 263-39-35
Warm yourself at the Invention of Heating Monument
Russia is littered with statues. There is a monument or a statue to celebrate or commemorate pretty much everything. Including the heater. For a country that endures long harsh winters with temperatures dipping well below -30°C (-22°F), it is a fairly significant invention. And the only animal that appreciates a heater more than a cold human is the cat, so it is fitting this charming and endearing statute features a cat lazing above a radiator. Created in 2005 by local artist local artist Nikolay Kuklev, the statue pays tribute to the radiator’s Russian origins. St. Petersburg based Franz San Galli is accredited with creating it in the mid 1800s.
Eat like a Soviet at Old Flat
Step back in time in this Soviet-era kitsch filled den that serves up old Soviet favourites. Decorated with an unwavering attention to detail, the restaurant looks more like an interactive installation of an old Soviet home, which you are welcome to explore. Dine on dishes loaded with salted fish, sour-cream and pickled produce that will satiate any hunger for authentic Russian flavours and fill your stomach with hearty, home-cooked fare. Don’t forget to book.
Old Flat, Staraya Kvartira, Ulitsa Samarskaya 51, Samara, Russia, +7 846 332-22-60
Explore Stalin’s bunker
Stalin had several bunkers hidden throughout Russia. Extending 37 metres below ground (the equivalent of a 12 storey building) this bunker was only discovered in the early 1990s almost forty years after his death in 1953. Comparatively monolithic (Hitler’s bunker was only 16 metres deep), it was built in nine months by a team comprising 800 engineers and over 2000 workers. The bunker could house over 115 people for up to five days in an airtight vault that could withstand a direct weaponry attack. It was so well built, the self-contained air recycling system and power station still worked upon discovery.
Stalin’s Bunker, Ulitsa Frunze, 167, Samara, Russia, +7 846 333-35-71