History and home comforts – a guide to the Russian cities hosting England games
Fans can expect a mixture of fun in familiar sounding bars, as well as pointers to the extraordinary history of Russia.
England fans may not have heard of some of the host cities for the Three Lions’ World Cup games or the team’s camp, let alone ever ventured to them before.
So what can fans expect to find in Russia and what is there to see and do in between the festival of football?
Volgograd, once known as Stalingrad until it was renamed in 1961, will play host to England’s opening game against Tunisia on June 18.
Around 621 miles south of Moscow, it is, according to the Fifa World Cup 2018 tourist site, a “sunny and hospitable city whose residents love fishing, football, boat rides and beaches”.
And as the site of one of the most famous, and most bloody, battles in the Second World War, it is a symbol of Russian patriotic pride.
Official estimates put the victorious Red Army’s dead, wounded, missing or captured at around 1.1 million, while Axis casualties and prisoners are believed to have been more than 800,000 in the battle which lasted for several months from 1942-43.
The city, which had been an industrial city producing arms during the war, was almost destroyed in the fighting and was rebuilt from a single plan.
A huge monument, an 85-metre high statue of a woman wielding a sword called The Motherland Calls, stands as the centrepiece of a memorial park in the heart of a city that sprawls for 62 miles along the Volga river.
It also boasts the tallest statue of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin in Russia, with the monument standing at 57 metres.
As for night-time entertainment, some England fans might feel comfortable in the knowledge there is an Irish chain pub, Harat’s, and three McDonald’s outlets.
The Fifa fan zone on the Armii Embankment of the Volga will show live games to those not attending the matches.
Average temperatures can hit as high at 27C in June.
– Nizhny Novgorod
(pronounced: Neezh-nee Nohv-guh-ruht)
With a population of more than one million people, Nizhny Novgorod, or Nizhny for short, is Russia’s fifth largest city.
During the Soviet era the city was off limits to foreign nationals between 1959 and 1990, when it was named Gorky after Russian writer Maxim Gorky. Nizhny has retained much of its traditional architecture.
Sights include the city’s Kremlin, a medieval fortress, the 560-step Chkalov staircase leading from the centre to the bank of the Volga river and the Strelka – where the River Oka flows into the Vogla.
The dedicated fan zone showing live games will be set up Minin and Pozharsky Square, next to the Kremlin.
Again, homesick England fans can find three McDonald’s to eat in, as well as the self-explanatory Union Jack Grand Music Pub and a restaurant called the English Embassy.
For those wanting to dip a toe in the Volga of Russian cuisine, the World Cup tourist site recommends Beryozka, a bar that also specialises in long drinks.
There is also an 1950s American-themed cocktail bar called Franky nearby.
England will play Panama in the newly-built Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on June 24.
Kaliningrad is a province of Russia which is cut off from the rest of the country and sandwiched in between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic coast.
The area was once part of the German region of East Prussia until the Allied powers transferred it to the Soviet Union after the Second World War.
The port city and provincial capital which bears the same name was formerly known as Konigsberg and dates back to 1255, when a grand master of the Teutonic Knights, a Catholic military order, established a castle there.
Konigsberg was heavily bombed by the Allies in 1944 and invaded by the Soviets in 1945 but some of the old city’s districts and buildings remain, including the lion and bear enclosures at Kaliningrad Zoo, according to the Fifa city guide.
The remnants of the Soviet era remain, though, with a prime example being an imposing 70s office block called the House of Soviets, which was intended to house the regional Communist Party HQ but now stands empty.
Fans not going into the stadium will not be able to miss the monolith, which is next to the city’s Fifa fan zone in Tsentralnaya Square.
England fans attending the final group match against Belgium on June 28 may be more interested to know the Fifa city guide points to a number of bars and restaurants in among the shopping malls along Mira and Leninsky avenues, including a pub called London which occupies the former Consulate General of the USSR and a chain pub named Britannica.
England fans searching for signs that they have left the country can instead try several German-style brewhouses and Russian restaurants in the city centre.
– Repino, St Petersburg
Gareth Southgate’s men will set up camp in Repino, a resort village around 28 miles from St Petersburg city centre that sits on the banks of the Gulf of Finland.
As cold as it sounds, the players, the press corps and any fans deciding to join them can expect average temperatures of between 15C and 17C in June and July respectively.
And there are beaches.
The England players and staff will be able to enjoy the four-star trappings of the ForRestMix Country Club hotel, which boasts a spa, 25-metre swimming pool and 450 square metres of gyms and playing courts.
The rest of the unofficial entourage will have to make do with the half-a-dozen other cheaper hotels listed on TripAdvisor in the area, at least one of which has its own nightclub, while there is a tree-top rope park to tangle with.