Russia 2018 World Cup: The Must-see Landmarks in Each Host City

Russia has inherited a rich tapestry of landmarks, and its World Cup host cities have some stunning sights.
Russia 2018 World Cup: The Must-see Landmarks in Each Host City Newsweek

Over 2 million tourists have flocked to Russia according to the country's government , as the world's top international soccer tournament—the World Cup—is officially underway.

For the next month, 11 Russian cities will host some of the world's most famous sports personalities in a showcase of athleticism and drama, bound to immortalize its own pantheon of heroes and cast its own gallery of the sport's villains. Off the pitch, the tournament is also a huge platform for Russia to showcase its best side to the world, for better or for worse.

Moscow, the country's capital and biggest city is also its soccer epicenter, serving as the hometown of five former national champion teams. The city will host more matches than any other and popular landmarks such as the Kremlin, Joseph Stalin's seven skyscrapers and St. Basil's Cathedral—often confused for the Kremlin by first-time visitors—will likely draw in the most tourists.

Russia's imperial capital, St. Petersburg, will undoubtedly also draw in tourists as well. However, the World Cup will turn the attention of soccer fans to the sights of lesser visited cities in European Russia, namely Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Ekaterinburg, Kazan, Samara, Volgograd, Rostov, Saransk and Sochi.

The Russian government has officially spent $12 billion, mostly on infrastructure to boost tourist experience and disguise some complaints locals live with on a regular basis. In tournament mode, Russia has also ramped up security measures and a softened tone on issues such as LGBT rights, distracting from endemic problems. Twitter users have pointed out that World Cup fans have already enjoyed the freedom to gather in public and wave banners without laborious paperwork procedures—something that consistently lands Kremlin critics in jail.

See Also: Russian women told to refuse sex to foreigners during World Cup

Russia's many captivating sights will likely help the Kremlin's cause. Nevertheless, the country's great landmarks often belie the brutal and dark undertones of the country's past and present by themselves. Five minutes from Moscow's famous ballet theater is the Lubyanka building—the former headquarters of the Soviet secret police that today inauspiciously houses modern Russia's security services. A stone's throw away is Rasstrelny Dom, which literally translates as "the shooting house."

Two of the tournament's host cities came to the brink of total ruin in World War II for very different reasons. Volgograd, once known as Stalingrad, houses several landmarks commemorating the conflict's bloodiest battle, including the Flour Mill Ruins, which showcase the state of the city at the time of Nazi occupation and the massive "The Motherland Calls" monument, celebrating the Soviet Red Army's dogged and ultimately decisive defense.

Kaliningrad, a former German city, is located in Russia's far west. It was heavily bombed during the war, whose remaining residents were expelled and some traces of its non-Russian past such as the old castle leveled by 1968. The polished embankment of the city, known as the Fishing Village, is a brand new complex intended to restore some of the Germanic flavor of the city, almost entirely removed from the rest of its geography.

Even the extravagant exteriors of St. Petersburg, built in the Baroque and Neo-Classicist styles of foreign imperial capitals long before the tragedies of the 20th century, have a dark side. Built nearly from scratch in a bid to give the bombastic Tsar Peter the Great a capital to rival western Europe's grandest cities, the rapid and difficult construction is estimated to have cost the lives of 100,000 serfs.

Russia has inherited a rich tapestry of landmarks, and its World Cup host cities have some stunning sights. They are easy to admire. Their history can be hard to reconcile casually.

Moscow: Russia’s most famous square, the plaza outside the walls of the Kremlin has been the setting of executions and coronations. Its name was originally ‘Beautiful Square,’ but has since shifted meaning due to the word’s similarity to the Russian word for ‘red.’ Getty Images