Out on the town: your guide to the hidden charms of the Mordovian capital, Saransk

Beyond the game
Out on the town: your guide to the hidden charms of the Mordovian capital, Saransk
The Friendship Monument

Saransk might be the least famous of the World Cup host cities, but don’t let that fool you: this is a vibrant small city with plenty to offer. If you’re in town for the tournament, make time to take in these cultural highlights

14 June 2018
Text Dima Karnishin, Anton Kudimov, Sasha Philippova

Saransk is the smallest and least well-known of the World Cup host cities. But it has plenty to offer curious visitors, from stunning views to local art and underground music. Find out more with our guide.

Take in the view at the “Lights of Saransk” lookout spot

This place takes its name from the “Ogni Saranska” hillside cafe, and offers an urban pastoral scene with typical pale pink multi-storey housing blocks, boys running past rows of garages, the flames of springtime bonfires and a majestic thermal power plant on the horizon. Sunsets here are a sight for sore eyes after walking around the plastic city centre.

Address: opposite the garage at 183 Prospekt 70 Let Oktyabrya

Discover the city’s underworld at Secret Place

Against the backdrop of Saransk’s quiet, provincial life, the parties at Secret Place seem mysterious, suspicious and provocative — but no less wonderful or romantic for it. The average visitor to this place will be well-versed in the obscure music of bands like Nine Eleven from France or Polish outfit The Kurws. Secret Place has garnered quite the reputation for itself, and makes no secret of its countercultural status. The club is open during the evening, and announces events via Instagram.

See Mordovia’s unsung artworks at the Erzya Museum

In every city there’s one tourist magnet that is nonetheless ignored by locals. The Mordovian Erzya Museum of Visual Arts of one of these places, and is the number one destination in the city for culture-savvy tourists. The great local sculptor Stepan Erzya is more famous abroad than in Russia, but he receives special treatment in Mordovia where a museum displaying his concrete and quebracho sculptures is somehow still something of a secret among the artistic intelligentsia. As well as Erzya’s works, the museum holds pieces by the republic’s national artist Fyodor Sychkov, known for his love of rural subjects and Mordovian peasant women.

Address: 61 Kommunisticheskaya Street

Take a tour of Saransk’s crazy architectural clashes

Set against the abundant concrete and plastic high-rises, Saransk’s rural houses are like aftershocks from the past, revealing a time when all construction in the city was small-scale and private. Go to Titov and Kommunisticheskaya Streets to experience these temporal juxtapositions, or visit the Onegin residential complex, which stands 10 metres from a cluster of lopsided shacks living out their final days. Going further into the city centre, you’ll be able to see all of the main sights in half an hour: Millenium the Pushkin Library, the Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Mordovian State University, Soviet Square and the Monument of Friendship. The city centre has been built in a consistent architectural style, with old buildings painted in bright colours (pink, blue, green and red) and new builds that stand out with their glass panels, plaster columns and glass domes.

Practice your haggling skills at the market

The market is a key element in the culture of any Russian city. Where better to test out your communication skills than a safari of provincial shopping? Saransk’s central bazaar is a hotspot for people who know how to haggle: the babushki won’t give up their harvest without a fight. After winning the price war, take some time off among the traders’ stalls to hunt down some authentic boza, a traditional Mordovian fermented drink similar to Romanian braga.

Address: 57 Polezhayeva Street

Enjoy the harmony of the Friendship Monument

The main attraction on Ploshchad Druzhby Narodov (Friendship of Nations Square) is the “Forever with Russia” monument. Two women in national dress, personifying Mordovia and Russia, tower over the city in a display of good neighbourliness between nations. The statue is surrounded by a ring of fountains, which turn into a musical light show in the evening, illuminating the already stunning views of the House of the Republic and Soviet Square.

Address: Ploshchad Druzhby Narodov

Show your colours in an FC Mordovia kit

A scarf with the emblem of your local football team is a must-have for any fan going to an away game. We’re not talking about Portugal or Colombia, of course, but Saransk itself. Local journalists actually believe football was invented in Mordovia; whether that’s true or not, FC Mordovia are the two-time champions of the Russian Football National League and now play in the Russian Football Premier League, with the World Cup stadium, the Mordovia Arena, as their home ground, giving their local fans many reasons to be proud.

Address: Mordovia Arena, 1 Volgogradskaya Street