The Ural city of Perm isn’t an obvious choice when travelling around Russia. It’s bitterly cold in winter, unbearably hot in summer and rains throughout much of the year. But Perm is not without its charms. Those who persevere will discover a city with a rich past and a promising future, a place endeavouring to reinvent itself as a vibrant and liveable city. Architecturally speaking, Perm is a patchwork of concrete housing blocks and generic shopping malls with the odd candy-coloured, 19th-century building thrown in for visual relief. Those willing to explore this modern, industrial city will find havens of comfort and style scattered around, created by the denizens of Perm to insulate themselves from the greyness of life in the Urals.
Bartminsky’s Apothecary (54 Lenin Street), a cultural cluster housed in a 19th-century pharmacy, has become the place to hang out in Perm. At the top of a winding staircase you’ll find Sisters' Bar, a favourite haunt of artists, students and fashionistas. The menu doesn’t have a particular culinary focus and changes daily according to what’s in season but you can expect a selection of soups, salads, grilled meats and fish, and desserts. Make sure to ask for the homemade beer. If you’re feeling more adventurous, head to Zaostrovka, a neighbourhood by the Kama River. Although not the most pleasant of areas — it’s unadvisable to walk there alone — it’s home to The Great Wall (33/2 Mayakovskogo Street), a dingy restaurant with bad service but delectable and cheap Chinese food. The chefs are all Chinese and apart from one waitress, none of the staff speak Russian.
Once you’ve had your fill, make your way to Speakeasy (59 Monastyrskaya Street), Perm’s cocktail bar du jour. This secret drinking den, with no sign outside, is decked out in the style of a Prohibition-era bar and is the best place in town for a classic cocktail. But be warned, Speakeasy is for serious drinkers only: there’s no dance floor and a limited food menu.
Just a few doors down from Speakeasy is Custom House (57 Monastyrskaya Street), a club that attracts a young and varied crowd. Expect everything from rock to electronica.
The best way to get a feel for Perm is by walking down its two main roads, Lenin Street and Komsomolsky Prospekt. Along the way you’ll pass a number of different Constructivist and 19th-century buildings including the Perm Academic Theatre and the majestic Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre. For the best architecture, head to Old Perm, which is roughly located between Sibirskaya Street and October Street next to the opera house.
Bartminsky’s Apothecary is easily the best place to shop. Music enthusiasts can pick up some vinyl at Spin while Mire Retro’s choice selection of vintage jewellery and clothing will keep you browsing for hours. For clothes, bags and jewellery made by independent Russian designers, there’s Clothes Peg and if it’s books you’re after, Piotrovsky. Not only is it the best bookshop in Perm, it is one of the best in Russia. Another option is Pigeon Hole (66 Pushkin Street), a boutique that sells dresses, sweatshirts, T-shirts and accessories from various European brands.
There are few mid-price options in Perm which means you’ll be left choosing between expensive Soviet-era hotels such as the Ural Hotel or, at the other end of the scale, Hostel P. The best option in terms of value for money is to rent an apartment in a central location through Airbnb.