Getting from Moscow to Novosibirsk will take you two whole days, but it is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. And, unlike what you might expect – I do mean it in a positive way.
Novosibirsk is an economic and cultural center, a large city in Russia with a small town vibe, a place of former glory, and a place where beauty lies in the decay.
Let’s look at the best things to see, do, and feel in Novosibirsk.
Some things to know about Novosibirsk
Before actually setting foot in the city, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about it. It’s actually one pretty unique city in the country. Let’s see why!
Most Russian cities have a long and glorious history. Not Novosibirsk.
It actually started as a camp for workers on the Trans-Siberian railway. They set up camp in 1893 while they were constructing a bridge over the Ob river.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Novosibirsk officially became a city. During the Soviet rule, it rose to prominence as the largest and wealthiest city in Siberia.
The city center, with it’s grandiose Stalinist buildings, dates back to that period.
Today, Novosibirsk is still the biggest city in the region and it centers most economic and cultural activity.
There is a fairly decent university in town (if you ask Russians, an amazing and very famous university), six theaters, and even an opera house.
Sadly, poverty and decay are very much visible throughout the city. You can tell this is not a golden age for Novosibirsk.
The number of residents is increasing and quality of life is improving, slowly but steadily. Little by little, the city is recovering – and you’ll see that mostly in the old town area, but also the outskirts where new modern buildings are popping up.
Akademgorodok District: A Place Of Movies
Akademgorodok – one of the city’s districts – was originally built as a center for scientific research back in 1959.
It soon became a safe haven for those who had different opinions than what the regimen dictated.
1,800 miles (3,000 km) away from the Soviet capital, scientists and scholars enjoyed some freedom to discuss politics, economy, and literature without the fear of being spied on. At a time where people could disappear for a lousy political joke, that was a lot.
By 1968, the Party closed down the social clubs and tightened it’s grip on the scientists. After a decade of free thinking, Novosibirsk became a stronghold of communist conservatism once again.
But that is not to say that the scientific work didn’t continue. Although funding was cut, scientists still managed to maintain their programmes, through the money invested in natural resource development.
By 1990, however, the population began to decline as the fall of the regimen brought economic uncertainty and outright poverty.
Surrounded by forests and fields, and on the shore of the artificial ‘Ob sea’, Akademgorodok is mostly a beautiful place for a picnic.
Scientific institutes do remain but they don’t have their former glory. Still, as you walk down the Science prospect you can’t help but imagine how rebellious this place felt once.
And, of course, there is the thing with the supposed psychological experiments that add some urban myth allure to the Akademgorodok.
How To Get To Novosibirsk
Getting to Novosibirsk as a foreigner basically comes in with a few options: by plane, by train or by bus. You could also drive, but Russia is so huge that unless you are nearby… it’s not really the best choice.
My favorite means of transportation within a country is the train. Trans-Siberian trains are an adventure on their own and they all stop at Novosibirsk Vokzal-Glavny Station (pictured above).
The downside to train travel is, of course, time, but you can literally take a train from Moscow to Novosibirsk and even Beijing. It’s quite the experience!
A train from Moscow will take you around 45-46 hours (yup, no typos!), while Yekaterinburg is “just” a day away.
Traveling the Trans-Siberian takes you back in time and is one of the most authentic ways to experience Russia. If you have the time, definitely consider it!
If you don’t have a couple of days to spend in a train, then your best option is taking a plane.
The Novosibirsk International Airport (Tolmachevo Airport) serves 4 million passengers every year but these are mostly internal flights.
The international airports it connects to are in Asia and the Middle East (plus, surprisingly enough, there are flights from Prague).
Moscow and St Petersburg are fairly well-connected to Novosibirsk’s airport, and so is Yekaterinburg. There are low cost carriers, so you have plenty of options here.
The railway station is in the city center, while the airport is some 16 km away. Either way, beware of the fake taxi drivers!
Use the taxi desks inside the airport to hail a cab, otherwise, the fare can get ridiculously high at the end of the ride. It’s not exactly the best way to start your trip.
Novosibirsk: The Quest For Great Accommodation
Novosibirsk is an off-the-beaten-track destination and as such, there are not tons of accommodation options.
For visa reasons, you would need your host to confirm your stay, so book a hotel over a rental as they have more experience in the process. And it’s generally the best way to go, especially for your first visit.
Here are my recommended hotels in Novosibirsk:
For budget travelers, consider the huge Azimut Hotel.
It’s popular with Russians and has all the amenities you need for a comfortable stay. They do speak decent English and are pros at the visa process.
The Park Inn by Radisson hotel is a safe and very convenient option.
These chain hotels might lack some character but you have a quality guarantee. In my experience, the Park Inn has one of the best price to quality ratios in town.
The Marriott Hotel is an upscale accommodation in the center.
This is a high class, luxury hotel that I 100% recommend to business travelers and lovers of luxury alike.
It has a beautiful SPA center with a spacious gym and a pool for you to enjoy and the food they serve is quite possibly the best in town.
Things to see and do in Novosibirsk?
There is not a lot to see in Novosibirsk – but at the same time, you will never get bored here!
Granted, the Stalinist architecture can be fascinating and it makes for some great shots at sunset but other than that, you won’t find too much history. It makes sense, the city is just over 100 years old.
But there are some amazing sights to be had among the Ob river shore:
Make sure you take the time to visit Akademgorodok (that former dissident hot spot we talked about). It’s located on the shore of the Ob sea so you can take the entire day out of the city.
Grab some drinks and enough food (plus warm clothes, even if it’s summer) and you have the perfect boozy night ahead of you.
Locals love to come to the Ob seashore for a night of drinking and partying. It’s fairly likely that you will make new friends: Russians, like most people, get super sociable after a couple of drinks.
For a bit of culture, check out the Loft TRAVA art space which houses two dance studios, a theater, a café, and an exhibition space with something exciting (and slightly crazy) happening at all times.
Find them at the Frunze street, close to Novosibirsk’s favorite Central Park (a popular summer night hangout spot in itself).
Eating Out In Novosibirsk
If there is one thing you can’t miss in Russia, it’s the cuisine. Novosibirsk has a refreshing amount of cool options for you to sample traditional and fusion dishes alike.
One of my favorite spots is the Beerman on River eatery near the center, on the riverbank. This is a local favorite so always book in advance.
As for the menu, their name says it all. A large variety of beers (including some awesome local craft options) and delicious Russian dumplings (pelmeni).
The R.A.G.U. café is your one-stop breakfast (or afternoon snack) destination, right in the heart of the city. They make some delicious sweet treats and they have some savory options, too.
The view of the city alone is worth a visit but also consider their spectacular list of wine options (well, it’s not really that long but they are all carefully selected local favorites).
Or simply hop into any local restaurant – choose those serving Siberian and Northern Russian dishes to have the complete experience. You can never go wrong!
Party Like A Siberian
Start off the party in one of the city’s Irish pubs, these are a universally awesome place to meet friends for the night (especially as a foreigner).
If you want to get a little more local about the whole thing, go to a hookah bar. Smoking shisha is as trendy as ever in Siberia.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a single young girl who doesn’t publish Instagram boomerangs of herself smoking every couple of nights.
As for the discos, try Pravda club, which, contrary to what its name suggests, is much more a place of sin than of justice and other virtues.
The Bunker club is a rock bar inside the notorious academic city. It might be a little far away from the center, but it’s a true Novosibirsk institution. With four bars, a hookah area, and a huge dance-floor, it is a universal favorite among students.
And after a long night of drinking (and hopefully a lot of dancing), head over to a Russian bath.
There’s a cosy and affordable sauna salon near Bunker that locals adore. And yes, it’s called Cozy Banka. What can I say, Russians get straight to the point.
Not only is the Russian bath good for sweating out the toxins, it comes with a whole social aspect that you’ll love (provided that you speak some Russian). And an experience you definitely have to try!
Novosibirsk in Short
Novosibirsk may be an unusual destination but it’s still an exciting city to visit. You get bonus points if you take the Trans-Siberian and even more if you share your experience in the comments down below! Happy travels!