The modern history of Volgograd (known as Stalingrad between 1925–1961) is largely defined by World War II and the Battle of Stalingrad. Once an important trade and transport hub on the Volga, nothing can overshadow the importance of the city and its impact on the course of the war. One of the 12 ‘hero-cities’ of the Soviet Union, every street and every corner of Volgograd tells the story of sacrifice, heroism and the horrors of war.
The Stalingrad Battle was the biggest confrontation of WWII taking place between 1942-1943. It turned the course of the war and is regarded by many as one of the largest single war battles in the history of mankind, with casualties amounting to almost 2 million dead, wounded or captured. Out of almost half a million residents of Stalingrad before the war, only about 32,000 residents survived the battle - around 30,000 of those in the least-affected, remote district. The rest of Volgograd was left with only 1,515 residents. More than 90% of the buildings were destroyed.
The city is close to sacred for any Russian person so one has to be very sensitive and avoid any jokes, chants about World War II. Although visiting fans will mostly want to celebrate football it is impossible not to learn some history lessons here and appreciate the sacrifice of the citizens of Volgograd.
Places to go
Volgograd does not boast a huge variety of options to go out but still has plenty to offer. Start at the square next to the railway station, where the fountain featuring a sculpture of six children dancing around a crocodile evokes an old wartime photo depicting the city’s destruction, which became a symbol of the broken lives caused by the war.
Walk down the pedestrian Alley of Heroes from the central railway station towards the Volga and check out the spectacular park with a great view on the river. The official FIFA Fan Fest will be hosted here.
You can also take a short river cruise along the Volga or hire one of the private boats to cross to the other side for the best beaches.
A must visit is the Museum-Panorama of the Stalingrad Battle on Chuikova, 47. The new stadium in Volgograd is opposite one of the world’s biggest World War II memorial complexes – Mamayev Kurgan featuring one of the tallest statues in the world, 85-meter tall, The Motherland Calls. You can reach both the Mamayev Kurgan and the stadium with a ‘speed tram’ which is quite an interesting experience in itself.
The Alley of Heroes provides some of the city’s upscale eating options, with the traditional Russian restaurant ‘Marusya’ and a more modest café ‘Schast’e Est’. The nearby Central Market provides all the culinary treats of the Volga river including the famous dried fish or ‘taranka’.
Other places recommended by the locals include:
- ‘Druzya’ bar on Komsomolskaya street, 4 and Café ‘Sosedi’ in the same building
- Bar ‘Doubler’ on Raboche-Krestyanskaya str, 14 a bit further from the centre
- ‘Belaya loshad’ music bar on Ostrovskoho street, 5.
- Central Asian ‘Balkazhan’ chaikhona at the Central Marker offers halal food and a prayer room.
- ‘Shafran’ café next to the Stalingrad battle museum offering Central Asian cuisine.
- ‘Alyaska’, a small craft beer pub on Lenina street, 13 (mind there are several Lenina streets in many districts, you need the one in the Central district).
Most of the districts of Volgograd are now safe for ethnic minorities but as the city stretches almost 60km along the Volga river, you will do well to stick to the Central, Voroshilovskiy and part of Krasnooktyabrskiy districts. Going further North more than a few stops from the stadium or South towards Sovetskiy district might be challenging at night.
The current population of Volgograd represents quite a typical mix for central and southern Russia with Armenians, Tatars and Ukrainians being the biggest ethnic minority groups. Many people from Central Asia – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan arrived in recent decades.
The local medical and technical universities attract students from India, South-East Asia, Arab and African countries, who are active within their student unions. Most view Volgograd as a safe city and enjoy their studies here on the whole, although note
that they are still subject to strange looks on the streets sometimes.
Volgograd is not a major tourist destination for foreign visitors, and the local residents are not yet used to much ethnic diversity.
Ethnic minority advice
Ethnic profiling against Central Asians by the police was an issue raised several times in our conversations. One person told us how he was detained by the same police patrol several days in a row on his morning commute and taken to the department to check his ID, simply because of his appearance and beard.
At the end of the 19th century Volgograd’s Jewish community included some 800 members and two synagogues. Both were closed – one converted to a physiotherapy clinic in 1929 while the second one shut down in 1940. There is a synagogue at Balakhninskaya str, 2, along with a community centre organising regular activities. The synagogue Beit-David, named after David Kolotilin who kept the Jewish community active during the Soviet times, is open for everyone and really worth visiting.
Yael Ioffe the leader of the Jewish community in Volgograd noted that they had to wash off swastika graffiti on the city walls in the early 2000s and even once at the Jewish memorial site, but these things no longer happen often in Volgograd.
The main mosque in Volgograd is located at Povorinskaya ulitsa, 22 and serves the city’s small Muslim community. The mosque survived an arson attempt in 2013 after terrorist attacks in the city.
The city does not have an active LGBT+ community or organisations. We urge you to exercise caution in public places.