Located on the Trans-Siberian railroad, the former heart of USSR heavy industry, Yekaterinburg, is turning away from its industrial past, becoming a progressive city filled with numerous tourist attractions and cultural events.

Momentum will be picking up over the next months for the city previously known as Sverdlovsk. Founded in the 18th century along the way linking Moscow and Western Russia to the Ural mountains and Siberia, Yekaterinburg used to be a forbidden city for foreign travellers. This was due to the industrial importance of town during Soviet times, especially with the location of heavy industry activities related to the military.

Since the 2000s, Yekaterinburg has increasingly been seen as a tourist destination as it is considered the gateway to the Ural Mountains. While the city is an important stop along the Trans-Siberian railroad, Yekaterinburg is likely to benefit from new road infrastructure.

Yekaterinburg city centre – by Elina Sitnikova / Unsplash

Last April, Russia’s presidential office confirmed the construction of the Moscow-Kazan – Yekaterinburg motorway. Due to be built by 2024, the new motorway will be linked to the Moscow-St Petersburg-Baltic Sea highway. It will then make Yekaterinburg easy to each from all of Western Russia and even from the Baltic States. The rapid highway will help reinforce the tourist appeal of town.

Art and architecture in the Urals

Over the past decade, Yekaterinburg experienced a dramatic change of image. The city is now promoted as the gateway to Central Asia, as Russia’s “official” border between Europe and Asia is located only 17 km from the city centre.

The city’s architecture is increasingly becoming an asset for visitors. Mostly built during the Soviet years, Yekaterinburg is a perfect example of constructivism. It was an avant-garde style of architecture that shaped the architectural appearance of Yekaterinburg during the Soviet period (Sverdlovsk from 1924-1991).

Many buildings and complexes of that time have now been renovated and turned into entertainment venues, shops or hotels. With its 1.5 million people, Yekaterinburg is considered the cultural centre of the Ural region. Since 2010, the city has been considered as Russia’s capital of street art. The appearance of modern Yekaterinburg is largely determined by small architectural forms, legal graffiti and various forms of street art.

Since 2010, Yekaterinburg has annually hosted more than five street art and graffiti festivals – the country’s largest thematic event. As part of the festivals, artists paint concrete fences for construction and industrial sites, various technical structures and building walls, rethinking and changing urban space. The event traditionally brings together professional artists and ordinary amateurs. Every year Yekaterinburg is visited by dozens of famous masters of graffiti and street art, both from Russia and the rest of the world. The annual art projects “Stenografia” and “Public ART” are conceived as social action, designed to turn grey-brown housing and walls into colourful spots. Master classes of outstanding of street art practitioners are also held.

An Orthodox Church in Yekaterinburg – by Evgenii Pliusnin / Unsplash

An important step towards Yekaterinburg’s appeal will be the implementation of an electronic visa to visit Russia. According to tourism experts, the possibility of obtaining an electronic visa will contribute to growth in inbound tourism in the Sverdlovsk region, primarily in the fields of business, cultural and educational tourism.

The simplified system for obtaining a visa to enter the Russian Federation was adopted back in July 2020 with a target to start in January 2021. However, the law will only be implemented when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, with no official date having been announced yet.

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