Russia’s Vast Urban Landscape: The 10 Biggest Cities

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably interested in the Russian language and everything related to it. But how much do you know about the country where the majority of native speakers live?

How many Russian cities do you know? Probably not many. And that’s okay. Russia has a vast number of cities and towns, and it’s not necessary to know them all. However, it’s highly desirable to know at least the largest cities and their features.

Russia is a huge country, and its largest cities are located in different parts of it, so they have their own distinctive features.

In this article, you will get to know the main Russian cities and their location on the map.

Moscow (Москва)

Population: 13,010,112 people

Chances are, you’ve heard of this city. I won’t repeat the same information found in hundreds of travel guides. Instead, I’ll share some insights that may not be so obvious to foreigners.

International business center 'Moscow City'
Moscow International business center ‘Moscow City’

When talking about Russia, Moscow is often separated from other regions. The capital’s development has far surpassed that of the rest of the country.

Moscow’s modernization comes at a high cost. Residents of other regions often complain that the money generated by factories and plants in their cities ends up in Moscow. As a result, Moscow becomes richer while other cities become poorer.

Moscow is a city of opportunity. It has literally everything, and life is vibrant here. People come here for a better life or simply to earn money.

Moscow State University
МГУ – Московский государственный университет (Moscow State University)

However, this comes with many downsides: extremely expensive housing, traffic jams, crowded metro, and much more.

Moscow is not just a city, it’s a whole universe. Here, everyone can find something for themselves: the charm of antiquity, the buzz of a metropolis, inspiration, and opportunities for self-realization.

Moscow has a special energy that both fascinates and exhausts. It’s a city that never sleeps, where there’s always something to do.

Moscow on the map
Moscow on the map

See Also: Russian Travel Phrases Every Visitor Should Know

Saint Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург)

Population: 5,601,911 people

The second largest city in Russia, Saint Petersburg is known as the “Venice of the North” for its many canals and rivers. The city is famous for its Baroque architecture and the Hermitage Museum, one of the largest museums in the world.

Saint Petersburg canals
Saint Petersburg canals

Saint Petersburg is often referred to as the cultural capital of Russia due to its rich history and architecture. Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, it served as the capital of the Russian Empire for over two centuries and remains a testament to the country’s rich history and cultural heritage.

One of the highlights of St. Petersburg is its unique atmosphere. The city is known for its “White Nights,” a natural phenomenon where the sun barely sets during the summer months. This creates an ethereal glow that bathes the city in a magical light, making it a truly unforgettable experience.

Peterhof, Russia
Peterhof

I’ve only been to that city once – in September. Spent almost two weeks in the city center and managed to explore all the surroundings. The architecture is impressive, but what slightly disappointed me was the constant change in weather. For a while during the day, you could enjoy the sun, and then everything turned gloomy and it became quite sad, with frequent rain.

If you want to venture beyond the city center, you’ll see a typical post-Soviet city. But there are also the outskirts of St. Petersburg with their unique beauty – for example, Peterhof. It’s the State Museum-Reserve on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, which is definitely worth a visit.

Saint-Petersburg on the map

See Also: How to Answer “Откуда ты?” (Where Are You From?) in Russian

Novosibirsk (Новосибирск)

Population: 1,633,595 people

Novosibirsk is the most populous city in the Asian part of Russia and the largest commercial, business, cultural, transport, educational, and scientific center in Siberia. The city is known for its cold winters and hot summers.

Born from the clang of hammers during the Trans-Siberian Railway’s construction, Novosibirsk pulsates with the rhythm of industry. World War II saw it blossom further, sheltering evacuated enterprises and residents from St. Petersburg. This influx fueled its transformation into a major industrial hub, with factories and plants drawing a steady stream of workers, eager to build a life in this burgeoning giant.

Novosibirsk

But Novosibirsk wasn’t content to rest on its laurels. Embracing the winds of change, it metamorphosed into a powerhouse of science and education. The renowned Akademgorodok, a haven for research institutes and universities, attracted a new breed of residents: brilliant minds seeking knowledge and pushing the boundaries of discovery.

Today, Novosibirsk is a city in flux, transitioning from industrial giant to tech titan. This “post-industrial” phase has seen it emerge as a leader in IT, drawing young, ambitious minds with its dynamic tech scene and entrepreneurial spirit. A lot of people move to Novosibirsk for the sake of NSU (Novosibirsk State University), which is one of the top universities in Russia.

And what of the city’s soul? It beats strongest at the majestic Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater, the largest in Russia. This architectural marvel, with its soaring domes and grand facade, is more than just a performance space; it’s the city’s beating heart, a symbol of its cultural aspirations.

The city is home to the Novosibirsk Zoo, which is one of the largest and most diverse zoos in Russia.

Novosibirsk on the map

Yekaterinburg (Екатеринбург)

Population: 1,588,665 people

Yekaterinburg, named after Empress Catherine I, was founded in 1723 under her reign. The city served as a major industrial and cultural hub for the Ural region and played a significant role in the development of Russia as a whole.

Formerly known as Sverdlovsk, Yekaterinburg is the capital of the Sverdlovsk Oblast, strategically situated on the eastern slope of the Ural Mountains, at the border of Europe and Asia. This unique location has shaped the city’s identity and its role as a bridge between two continents.

Yekaterinburg

Yekaterinburg boasts a diverse array of attractions, including:

  • Plotinka: The heart of the city – a bridge, surrounded with fountains, museums, and the Historical Square, offering a glimpse into Yekaterinburg’s rich past.
  • The Vysotsky Skyscraper Observation Deck: Located in the iconic Vysotsky Business Center, this observation deck provides breathtaking panoramic views of the entire city. The building also houses a museum dedicated to the legendary singer Vladimir Vysotsky, who performed in Yekaterinburg in 1962.
  • Ulitsa Vaynera: The city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, this lively street is known as the “Yekaterinburg Arbat,” bustling with activity day and night. If you’re looking for things to do in Yekaterinburg on a weekend, Ulitsa Vaynera is the perfect place to soak up the city’s atmosphere.

Yekaterinburg is a thoroughly modern city with a thriving cultural scene. It surprises visitors with its impressive street art, including graffiti and unusual sculptures. There’s even a “Beatles Courtyard” featuring a cast-iron monument to the band and lines from their last album. Another striking piece of street art is a giant concrete keyboard weighing over 100 tons, installed on the embankment of the Iset River.

Yekaterinburg on the map

Kazan (Казань)

Population: 1,308,660 people

Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, is often referred to as the “third capital of Russia.” With a history spanning over a thousand years, it ranks eighth on the list of Russia’s oldest cities.

The Kazan Kremlin, a stunning white-stone complex, is the city’s crown jewel and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike its more famous counterpart in Moscow, the Kazan Kremlin showcases a unique blend of Tatar and Russian architectural styles.

Within the Kremlin’s walls lie several captivating attractions, including the Kul Sharif Mosque, the main mosque of Tatarstan. Named after the leader of the Kazan Khanate’s troops in 1552, the mosque stands as a testament to the city’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Kazan

Kazan is home to a diverse population, with nearly equal proportions of Russians (48%) and Tatars (47%). This unique blend of cultures is reflected in the city’s cuisine, architecture, and traditions.

For foodies, Kazan is a veritable paradise. Here, you can savor traditional Tatar dishes such as kyyak (a savory pastry filled with meat), echpochmak (a triangular pastry with meat and onions), and belish (a large round pastry with meat, potatoes, and onions).

Kazan is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and well-maintained cities in Russia. Its stunning architecture, vibrant cultural scene, and friendly atmosphere make it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking an authentic and unforgettable experience.

Kazan on the map

To truly appreciate the beauty of Kazan, I recommend watching a detailed video that showcases the city’s many wonders. This will help you gain a deeper understanding of its unique charm and rich history.

Nizhny Novgorod (Нижний Новгород)

Population: 1,249,861 people

Nizhny Novgorod is a captivating city located at the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers in the central part of the East European Plain, approximately 400 kilometers east of Moscow.

Twelve rivers flow through the city’s territory, and over 30 small lakes dot its landscape. This, combined with numerous parks and squares, renders Nizhny Novgorod even more beautiful and alluring to visitors.

Nizhny Novgorod is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Russia, with a history and development dating back to the 13th century. The city boasts a plethora of ancient monuments, fascinating architectural structures, and other attractions that distinguish it from hundreds of other cities.

Nizhny Novgorod stadium

The city was founded in 1221 by Georgy Vsevolodovich, Prince of Vladimir. Notably, he was the grandson of Yuri Dolgoruky, the founder of Moscow, and the great-grandson of the famous Kievan Rus’ Prince Vladimir Monomakh.

The city’s main and perhaps most renowned landmark is the Kremlin, a majestic fortress wall stretching 2 kilometers in length.

Within the Kremlin’s walls lie a multitude of captivating attractions that are well worth a visit. Some of the most notable and tourist-worthy include the Museum of Military Equipment, the Nizhny Novgorod Philharmonic Hall, and one of the oldest church buildings in the city, the Mikhail-Arkhangelsk Cathedral.
Nizhny Novgorod’s rich history, stunning architecture, and picturesque natural setting combine to create an unforgettable experience for visitors and locals alike.

Nizhny Novgorod on the map

See Also: Geographic Terms and Types of Landscapes in Russian

Chelyabinsk (Челябинск)

Population: 1,189,525 people

You’ve likely heard about this city in the news – a meteorite has fallen here three times, the most recent in 2013. The largest fragment, weighing 100 kg, is kept in the local museum.

Chelyabinsk is one of the most powerful industrial centers in Russia. It houses numerous major industries, including the Chelyabinsk Pipe Rolling Plant, which produces 70% of all pipelines in Russia and the CIS. Another notable enterprise is the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant, which manufactured the foundations for the Ostankino Tower, the Kremlin Palace, Moscow State University, and Olympic facilities in Sochi, among others.

Chelyabinsk is also one of the dirtiest cities in Russia. This is due to the city’s industries. Chelyabinsk has a concept of “days of unfavorable weather conditions” – days when there is no wind and all harmful emissions accumulate in the city. On days of UWC, it is officially not recommended to go outside.

Chelyabinsk

Chelyabinsk also has an unfinished metro system that has been under construction for over 27 years. In 2010, after building a single station, Komsomolskaya Square, and spending over 10 billion rubles of budget money, the construction was frozen due to lack of funds.

There is a stereotype that Chelyabinsk is a gray and dull city with nothing to see. However, this is not entirely true. The central district has very interesting architecture, featuring unique examples of 19th and early 20th century brick architecture and merchant houses. There are many beautiful buildings, both brick and wooden, to admire.

Chelyabinsk may not be the most glamorous city in Russia, but it offers a unique and authentic experience for those willing to explore beyond the stereotypes.

Chelyabinsk on the map

Krasnoyarsk (Красноярск)

Population: 1,188,533 people

Krasnoyarsk isn’t just a city; it’s a magnet for travelers, captivating with its blend of modern metropolis and breathtaking Siberian nature, practically accessible at your doorstep.

Situated in the heart of the country, Krasnoyarsk sprawls along the mighty Yenisei River, one of the longest and most voluminous rivers in the world. The Yenisei is more than just a waterway; it’s a symbol of Siberian grandeur and power, a vital artery not just for Krasnoyarsk but for the entire region and the Far East. Its grandeur is further amplified by the impressive cascade of Russian hydroelectric stations along its course.

Yenisei River
Yenisei River

For nature and animal enthusiasts, Krasnoyarsk offers a paradise – the Royev Ruchey Zoo. One of the largest in Russia, it’s home to 7,887 animal residents from all corners of the planet. Here, you can meet wild animals, observe rare beasts and birds, and learn about the Earth’s diverse fauna. Recognizing the significance of its natural treasures, Krasnoyarsk proudly nominated the Stolby for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

But perhaps the most famous natural landmark of Krasnoyarsk is the Stolby, or “pillars.” These towering cliffs, rising 60-90 meters above the taiga, have become a true symbol of the city, recognized far beyond Russia’s borders.

The Stolby, formed from syenite rock, were created millions of years ago through volcanic activity. Today, they are a Mecca for rock climbers, and the sport born here is called “stolbism.”

Krasnoyarsk

Krasnoyarsk experiences long and frigid Siberian winters, with average temperatures ranging from -15°C to -20°C and occasional plummets to -40°C. This extreme cold necessitates significant heating for the city’s inhabitants. However, in a puzzling situation for a city in one of the world’s richest countries, this heating is primarily generated by burning coal rather than natural gas. This practice leads to the formation of the “black sky” phenomenon during the winter months.

Despite the availability of cleaner alternatives such as natural gas, the continued reliance on coal for heating in Krasnoyarsk raises questions about energy policy, environmental sustainability, and public health. It remains to be seen when and how the city will transition to cleaner energy sources and mitigate the harmful effects of the black sky phenomenon.

Krasnoyarsk on the map

Samara (Самара)

Population: 1,173,393 people

Located on the banks of the Volga River, Samara is known for its beautiful architecture, parks, and museums. It is also an important industrial and transportation hub.

Samara is a city of captivating contrasts, where ornate mansions and wooden houses with intricate carvings stand side by side with modern skyscrapers. This unique blend of old and new creates a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere that is unlike any other city in Russia.

Since the 19th century, Samara has been renowned for its Zhigulevskoye beer. The Zhigulevskoye Brewery, one of the oldest in Russia, was founded in 1881 by Austrian aristocrat and merchant Alfred von Vakano on the banks of the Volga River.

Volga river
Volga River

Samara boasts the longest and most beautiful riverfront in Russia, stretching over 4 kilometers along the majestic Volga River. The waterfront offers stunning views of the river and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to relax, stroll, and enjoy the scenery.

The city is also home to the largest square in Europe, Kuibyshev Square. This expansive square, covering an area of 17.4 hectares, serves as a testament to Samara’s grand scale and monumental architecture.

Samara is brimming with fascinating historical sites, including the “Stalin’s Bunker” museum. Located 37 meters underground, this unique bunker was built in 1942 during World War II as a potential safe haven for the Soviet Supreme Commander, Joseph Stalin. Featuring Stalin’s personal office with multiple false doors and secret exits, the bunker was declassified in 1990 and is now open to the public.

Samara on the map

See Also: Naming Places, Languages and People in Russian

Ufa (Уфа)

Population: 1,144,809 people

Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, is the tenth largest city in Russia. It is a modern, sprawling industrial metropolis with vast potential and a rich historical tapestry. Russians comprise about half of the city’s population, with the other half consisting of Tatars, Bashkirs, and representatives of other nationalities.

Ufa is the only million-plus city in Russia that has experienced a natural population increase since 2008. Over the past 15 years, its population has grown by more than 100,000 people. This growth is primarily attributed to natural increase rather than migration from other regions.

Ufa, Russia

The city’s history stretches back to the 16th century when Ivan Nogoy, a relative of Maria Feodorovna, the last wife of Ivan the Terrible, arrived and initiated the construction of the Ufa Kremlin. Although the Kremlin has not survived to this day, it played a significant role in the history of the region and the entire country.

After conquering the Kazan Khanate, Tsar Ivan the Terrible invited the Bashkirs to voluntarily join the Russian Tsarstvo. At that time, the situation in Bashkiria was unstable. Various groups of the Nogai Horde and Siberian rulers began to lay claim to the Bashkir lands of the former Kazan Khanate.

This led to internecine wars, which were exacerbated by famine and plague. The decision to join the Russian state was seen as a way out of this crisis. The negotiations lasted about three years, and the integration of the Bashkirs into the Russian state was accompanied by a number of conditions on both sides.

Mosque in Ufa
Ufa is the birthplace of many popular musicians, including Yuri Shevchuk, Zemfira, and Andrei Gubin.

Over 200 enterprises currently operate in Ufa, producing a wide range of products, including oil products, petrochemicals, paints and varnishes, pharmaceuticals, aviation and rocket and space products, electronics, telecommunications equipment, cables, emergency rescue equipment, industrial electric heating systems, industrial lighting equipment, pipeline valves, and thousands of other products.

Ufa is also home to many strategically important enterprises for the entire country. PJSC Bashneft produces about 10% of all gasoline in Russia.

Ufa on the map

In addition to the 10 cities mentioned above, Russia has 6 more million-plus cities: Ростов-на-Дону (Rostov-on-Don; 1,137,967 people), Омск (Omsk; 1,125,432 people), Краснодар (Krasnodar; 1,119,503 people), Воронеж (Voronezh; 1,093,302 people), Волгоград (Volgograd; 1,029,014 people), Пермь (Perm; 1,026,477 people).

Each of these cities has its own unique atmosphere and rich history waiting to be discovered.

Hopefully this overview has provided some insight into Russia’s vast urban landscape. Which of these cities most interests you and why?

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