Ekaterinburg is best known as being the birthplace of Russia’s first leader after the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin, and also as the place where the Tsar and his family (a.k.a., the Romanovs) were executed during the October revolution of 1917. It’s also the only venue for the 2018 World Cup which is located in the Asian part of Russia, even if only just. Travellers and ground-hoppers alike have commented on what a great shame it is that only the European part of Russia will be hosting games. However, commentators seem to agree that had the country’s proposal involved sending fans out to far-flung cities in the remote and sparsely-populated Far East & Siberia, Russia simply wouldn’t have been selected to host the tournament, regardless of the thickness of the brown envelope! Even Novosibirsk would have been pushing matters somewhat, and as for Magadan, dream on!
The city was founded in 1723 by Peter the Great; hey, his wife was called Catherine (‘Ekaterina’, in Russian) who just also happens to be the Russian patron saint of mining, which is lucky since quite a lot of digging takes place in the surrounding regions. The assassination of the Romanov family has been well documented and in 2000 a massive Orthodox church (The ‘Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land,’ to give it its full name) was built on the site of where the actual shooting took place. This was in the basement of a residence, known as Ipatyev House where the Romanovs had been held prisoner for the final 78 days before their fateful ending, and the house itself was then turned into a museum dedicated to atheism. Worse was to come when the then rising governor, Boris Yeltsin had the house demolished in 1977, fearing that it might attract monarchist sympathizers (as if)! In 1924, the city was renamed Sverdlovsk after Yakov Sverdlov, a local Bolshevik party administrator but reverted to the former name in 1991, even though a statue to Sverdlov in the city centre remains. Due to numerous defence plants in the area, the city was off limits to foreigners until 1990 and in the early years of capitalism, Ekaterinburg was renowned for its lawlessness as a virtual mafia city. It’s a completely different story today as the place has rebounded in recent years and the population of almost 1.5 million enjoy standards of living which rival the best in Russia.
From a footballing point of view, Ekaterinburg’s team is FC Ural, although until 2002 they were known as Uralmash, named after a local factory during Soviet times (but which itself is now better known by the acronym OMZ). Although FC Ural play in Russia’s premier league, they’ve never won it, or anything else, for that matter and their current stadium, the SBK-Bank Arena holds a measly 10,000. If your team is playing here and you’re worried about not getting your hands on a ticket, fear not as there is a larger brother not far away in the shape of the Central Stadium. This ‘Tsentralâny Stadion’ can seat 27,000 but is currently being expanded to hold 44,000+ spectators, and to meet FIFA requirements. The metro is also being extended to reach the stadium if you don’t fancy the walk.
If you’ve come out all this way, it would be a shame not to make the short drive out to the border between Europe & Asia. The original monument, erected in 1837 is some 40km west of the city but local authorities deemed this to be a little too far, so established a ‘closer’ monument, which resembles a mini-Eiffel Tower. This one is only 17 km out (on the same road, in the same direction) but both are popular with tourists & wedding parties alike. Also worth a visit is the leaning tower ofâ¦ (wait for it), Nevyansk! It’s an hour north of Ekaterinburg and whilst it might not rival its namesake in Pisa, it’s an impressive structure nonetheless. Finally, if you’ve a day to kill in between matches and fancy something a little different, take a trip 3 hours south to the industrial city of Chelyabinsk. Why, you may ask? Well, in 2013 Chelyabinsk hit the world headlines when a meteorite broke through the earthâs atmosphere shortly after dawn on 15th February, and whilst fortunately nobody was injured in the explosion, it caused extensive damage to buildings, mainly in the form of broken windows. A beach ball-sized rock is on display at the local museum, with all the information you ever needed to know about meteorites but were afraid to ask.
Ekaterinburg’s Koltsovo airport (SVX) receives flights several times a day from all of Moscow’s 3 main airports, as well as from St Petersburg and virtually every other major city in Russia – flight time from Moscow is just over two hours. Since Ekaterinburg is on the Moscow to Vladivostok, Trans-Siberian railway line, there are frequent trains running and itâs a great way to see the country roll past. However, they’re not for those in a hurry as the journey time is approximately 26 hours and unless you travel platskart (dormitory class) you won’t save a whole lot of cash.
Several top-end hotels (Hyatt, Novotel, Hilton, Radisson) have sprung up in recent years although if you’re not on expenses, there’s no need to break the bank as middle-range options are also available.
There is a metro although this is at present of limited use for the casual tourist and much of the central area is easily covered on foot. Cabs are plentiful and cheap, even cheaper when pre-booked by telephone or via app.
In the know:
Ekaterinburg is two hours ahead of Moscow time, but don’t forget that ALL trains in Russia run on Moscow time, although airport timetables use local time. It’s also worth being aware that Ekaterinburg is sometimes still referred to by its old name, Sverdlovsk (particularly on train tickets) and the surrounding region is still formally called the Sverdlovskaya Oblastâ.