Table of Contents
My Favorite 13 Things to do Yekaterinburg – Understand
Yekaterinburg (also called Ekaterinburg) is the capital of the Sverdlovsk region and is the connection point between European Russia and the Siberian outposts. The weather reflects this geographic position with a continental climate, but with a less extreme character than Novosibirsk or Yakutsk. Yekaterinburg is located 5 hours from Beijing and 3 hours from St. Petersburg, just north of Astana. For an airline, this could be a wonderful market to be in.
Yekaterinburg (like other Russian towns) is industrial and joie de vivre is a rather new development here. The suspicion of anything foreign or new is palpable in the city.
The town offers a good glimpse into what the Soviet Union was like, as it hasn’t changed in many areas from those days. There are precious few English speakers here; English is considered to be from another planet. Make sure you have the basic phrases locked down and take the Google Translate offline translation with you.
Yekaterinburg will be one of the 2018 FIFA World Cup host cities and the new stadium is the pride of every local.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Yekaterinburg – Get Around
The city runs some of the oldest buses and trams I have ever seen in my life. The schedules are cryptic and even the locals have mostly given up on public transport. It’s an adventure – not a tool – to get you to your destination.
There are no taxis that you can hail on the street, but Uber and the other Russian taxi apps are all in town. Uber has a discounted local service that is about half the price of UberX, with somewhat older cars. I found it worked just as well and cost $2 to get almost anywhere around town.
Road conditions range from excellent to hazardous, so driving can be a little intimidating. There also seems to be no real traffic rules – drivers are very aggressive and you will have 100 mph supercars and 10 mph buses fighting for the same piece of road, each trying to avoid the many potholes.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Yekaterinburg – Safety
The city (including the downtown areas) looks desolate and sketchy at first. However, I found it to be much safer than it looks; I had no safety issues at all and did not feel unsafe in the daytime or at night. Russia is surprisingly effective at preventing crime, with its system of informants and surveillance. This discourages most petty crimes but leaves the organized crime intact. It is unlikely that you will ever get anywhere close to the organized crime in this country.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Yekaterinburg – Sights
Walk along the Iset River (Река Исеть )
The jewel of Yekaterinburg is its riverfront area. The river is dammed up and provides a (frozen) lake that is used by the locals for all kinds of winter activities.
It’s also a popular running track – freezing temperatures or not. Somewhat further downstream, it gets smaller and the river has some rapids. The immediate riverfront area is really pretty, though small.
Shartash Forest Park (Шарташский лесной парк)
Just 3 miles east of the city center is Shartash Lake (Шарташ-Лейк) which is frozen solid in winter. The surrounding birch forest is well-kept and the area has many playgrounds and outdoor activities to enjoy. In winter, it is a skiing, ice skating and sledding paradise for everyone under 12.
Yeltsin Center (Ельцин Центр)
Yekaterinburg could not be more proud of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president, who ran the city before rising through the ranks in Moscow. The city has invested in a monumental museum (and likely foreign funds have invested, too), which looks more like a top-notch cross between a Discovery Museum and a contemporary art museum.
The entrance fee is 200 RUB for the Yeltsin Museum and another 100 RUB for the art galleries. The museum is open every day except Monday, from 9AM to 9PM.
I found the museum security to be extra-obnoxious and intrusive. It’s comical for a museum that’s highlighting the drive to democracy and freedom to show just the opposite behavior. There are no smiles here for any visitors. It seems that the museum’s creators and exhibitions are a long way off the current Russia.
Vysotsky Business Center Viewing Platform (БЦ Высоцкий)
The Yekaterinburg downtown area does not have a lot of tall buildings, so the Vysotsky tower, with 53 floors, really stands out. On the 52nd floor is a viewing platform, which charges an entrance fee of 300 RUB (50 less on weekdays).
Expect no smiles or words when you buy your ticket; it’s just rude people running the show here. The view from the 52nd floor is awesome, though, and is a great way to get your bearings over the city. There aren’t a lot of exciting places to see, but it’s a unique way to see the mix of old and new.
Ganina Yama (Ганина Яма)
I ran out of time to visit Ganina Yama, though it looks like it would be better to visit once the snow has cleared anyways. This working monastery is about 15km north of Yekaterinburg, and is in a lovely wooded area that has a tragic history. The bodies of the executed Russian Imperial Romanov family were secretly transported here and thrown into the pit in 1918. Though the bodies were then moved, Ganina Yama still marks the official burial spot of the Romanovs.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Yekaterinburg – Eat & Drink
Khmeli Suneli (Хмели Сунели)
Every Russian city comes with at least one Georgian food establishment. The best of the bunch in this city is Khmeli Suneli – a huge place that gets big crowds at the weekend. I found the food to be fantastic; all the dishes I tried were of high quality and done to perfection. It’s rather pricey though, so make sure you have time to enjoy it.
Vinoteka Solovyeva (Винотека Соловьёва)
This wine and cheese shop could be anywhere in the world. The staff are uber-friendly, the wines are excellent and the cheese, too. Expect the same prices as back home, though.
Simple Coffee is a local chain and this is their flagship store. While the coffee is just OK, the oatmeal is delicious; espresso and oatmeal can be had for $2 in the morning – what a steal!
Craft beer is a thing in Yekaterinburg. In fact, most of the region sells the beers from the city’s microbreweries. Jawsspot is the place to try them all. It took me a while to find a bartender who spoke English, but I then got to hear everything I wanted to know about the city and beer here. A small beer is just $1, so you can taste yourself through a whole range of beers for under $10 – OMG!
The bar has just the right noise level as well and will convince you with its ambiance.
Birch Bar (бара Birch)
Birch Bar is not an empty marketing slogan – there are actually real birches inside, used as taps. The beers aren’t as great as at Jawsspot, but it’s another good place to consider should Jawsspot fill up.
Ratskeller (Ratskeller Ресторан немецкой)
Ratskeller is a German-themed restaurant in downtown Yekaterinburg. It gets great reviews, but I ran out of time to try it.
Tesla Coffee was my favorite coffee shop in the city. It does not look like much from the outside in the daytime; however, the super-friendly staff, fast Internet, clean design and the lovely teas, coffees and cakes convinced me. It’s also pretty cheap – similar to the flagship Akademia Coffee store in Novosibirsk.
VietMon offers authentic Northern Vietnamese cuisine in the city. It’s a simple eatery, without anything pretentious about it.
Boroda is a bit outside of the city center. It has similar beers on offer as Jawsspot, but fewer seats. It’s still a good spot where you can warm up and have some excellent beers.