Tyumen, a city known perhaps more than anything as one of Siberia’s most oil-rich metropolises, isn’t usually at the top of the travel list for visitors to Russia. It’s easy to skip over, sitting as it does squarely in the middle of the continent, in amongst the more famous city names of Ekaterinburg and Novosibirsk. But it’s worth a visit to see how a Siberian city which lives off Russia’s rich oil reserves channels its creative energy. The city is thriving, but don’t let the mercantile facade of the city convince you that it’s only oil and money that keeps the Tyumen going: dig a little deeper and you’ll find a vibrant creative scene, propelled forward by skateboarding and theatre, that is brimming with potential. Here’s our guide for what to do and what not to miss in Russia’s central metropolis.
If lavender cappuccino happens to be on your list of daily essentials, M2.Coffee will be your lifesaver in Tyumen. Hot drinks aside, their signature waffles, both sweet and savoury, are not to be missed: the hummus, cheese and tomato option is particularly tasty In keeping with hipster eateries from Hackney to Williamsburg, all the plates, furniture and wares are handcrafted. A selection of creations from local ceramics studio Retro.Хаус is also available for purchase.
Even if you’ve never stepped foot on a skateboard, a visit to SibSub, Russia’s biggest indoor skate club, is a must visit. It’s little surprise that skating in a Siberian city, isn’t the most exciting, not to mention practical, prospect.
If you’re looking for something more physically active, an immense four-tier embankment on the Tura River is the place to visit
For Irina Neuymina, however, the gloomy weather became her inspiration to build the largest indoor skate park in the country. Since launching in 2009, SibSub has quickly surpassed its original mission of providing shelter for local skaters during the long winter months, and has turned itself into an autonomous social movement with classes, street art festivals and special programmes for young people with disabilities and skaters from disadvantaged backgrounds.
If you are looking for something more physically active, an immense four-tier embankment on the Tura River is the place to visit. The newly refurbished embankment is packed with tea stalls, food kiosks and cosy benches. It is the true heart of the city, where locals mingle on their days off, skaters test our new tricks, and lovers come to watch the sunsets.
If by now you’ve exhausted your legs but are still keen to explore the city, Nikolay Drobunin’s local alternative to the typical double decker bus tours could be just the ticket. Drobunin, who probably knows Tyumen better than anyone else, steers tourists around the city with his old-but-sexy Hungarian Ikarus bus. For the last five years or so, his Soviet-era bus has taken visitors around Tyumen’s least-known sights, from old cemeteries to historical quarters populated with wooden buildings and abandoned railway stations. Perhaps unexpectedly, Drobunin’s guided tours are usually booked up months in advance, so make sure you get your name on the list before arriving to the city.
But for true relaxation, head to Verkhniy Bor hot springs, around 30 miles out of town, where relaxing spa therapies are on offer all year round. Thick vapor floats atmospherically over a swimming pool which sits, beautifully, in a snowy forest. Prices for an adult day ticket start at 250 roubles (£3.50), but you'll have to pay a bit extra to get extra treatments and therapies, including fish foot pealing among others.
Once you’re back on your feet, a wander past the Siberian Baroque wooden buildings and high-rises is an organic way of seeing the architectural culmination of Tyumen’s past and future.Traditional wooden houses are among Russia’s most widely exploited national symbols, and despite their often tired exterior, many of them have stood the test of time. Head to Dzerzhinskogo, Komsomolskaya and Sakko streets, where the most elaborate designs, with highly detailed wooden ornamentation, can be found.
The fact that Tyumen is thousands of kilometres from any sea of ocean only makes this embankment more special to city inhabitants
You can even spy on local craftsmen reviving the age-old tradition in their studio at 34 Dzerzhinskogo Street. For a taste of a more contemporary urban experience, head to the Evropeisky district – a complex of bright, high-rise residential buildings – which boasts newly introduced cycling lanes and breezy cafes, such as Staff coffee among others.
Tyumen is one of Russia’s wealthiest cities, and its mercantile past and oil revenue have long defined the local traditions of spending and leisure. Signalling the rise of the city’s creative spirit, the Nalegke studio, set up to promote creative education and local craftsmanship, is a haven for those with a penchant for handmade wares. Nalegke hosts painting workshops, artisanal shopping, with beautiful pottery, homeware and brooches, and even a pop-up themed dinner courtesy of the owners.
By this point, a well-deserved meal is probably in order. If you’re a fan of good burgers, craft beer and organic lemonade, the Burger Bar is worth a visit. A stream of regulars that seem permanently installed in this joint is an encouraging sign, and the easy-going atmosphere means that new friends and fun are guaranteed. Your experience is best served with a pint of local craft beer Sobolya.
Even if by now your travels around the city have left your feet a little sore, make time to get a night cap at Tvorchestvo kitchen-bar on the ground floor of Fabric Loft, the city’s oldest creative centre. The kitchen bar has breathed new life into the former factory-turned-creative-space: designed by local makers Skog Konstruktor, who are also based in Fabric Loft, the establishment features a cafe, bar and a terrace. Here, hand-crafted carpets on the floor complement the walnut and brass tables, setting the stage for delightful gastronomic pursuit. Settle into creamy mussle soup, beef tartar with sesame scones and inventive cocktails.
For more hard-to-find spots in Tyumen and other cities across the New East, download our New East Travel Guide app. For recommendation on where to stay in Russia and beyond, check out our edit of amazing hotels and hostels across the New East.