On the banks of the great Volga River and stunning Darwin Nature Reserve, whilst surrounded by the wooded wilderness of central Russia, the city of Rybinsk is one of those places which is often overlooked, yet is a place that is one of a kind.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have those all-so familiar Soviet buildings that grace every Russian population center from east to west, north to south. It certainly does, but Rybinsk feels and looks charming. On the banks of the huge River Volga, this is a city that lives and breathes the water around it, and perhaps unsurprisingly ‘Rybinsk’ in English actually means ‘Fish Town’.
A small city for Russia, with a population of just a quarter of a million, Rybinsk has been an important city throughout the centuries in the region, and is one of the oldest Slavic settlements on the shores of the Volga River.
But before we show you some of the best things to do in Rybinsk, how do you even get here?
Well thankfully, it’s quite easy.
Get the train from Moscow to Ivanovo station, about three and a half hours from Moscow. From there you catch a train to Rybinsk, another five hours away. There’s another much slower, but far more beautiful, unique, and incredible way to get here though – but you’ll have to read on to find out more about that!
Anyway, you’ve enjoyed the train trip through Russia’s wilderness, and rural countryside, and you’ve finally arrived at Rybinsk. What do you see, where do you go? Well let us reveal all!
Things to do in Rybinsk:
Have a swim in the Rybinsk Reservoir, and discover its ghost towns
The Rybinsk Reservoir is huge – in fact when it was built in 1935 it was the biggest man-made lake in the world.
The lake is set in typical Russian countryside, and it’s vastness means you can take a walk its banks and you may not meet another person all day.
It often ices over during winter though, so don’t expect to go for a swim in the colder months!
Of course, like many places in Russia, the history of the Rybinsk Reservoir isn’t all rose petals. Over one hundred thousand people were forcibly moved from the area so it could be flooded.
Decades later, and some of the villages and towns that were sunk under the water have begun to re-emerge, and can now be seen re-surfacing on the banks of the reservoir.
These ghost towns are an incredible and eerie sight, but are best to be viewed from afar rather than visited. The buildings are unstable, and the muddy waters underneath them unsafe.
Stroll the Darwin Nature Reserve
The stunning Darwin Nature Reserve is on the doorstep of Rybinsk, and it is made up of vast swathes of pre-historic Taiga forests and swampland.
In winter, the rivers that criss-cross this land freeze up, along with the lakes and swamps, turning this place into a magical snow-white winter wonderland. The phrase “picture perfect” doesn’t quite do it justice.
But be careful, and best to go with a guide. That’s because the reserve is the home of some of Russia’s largest, most deadly but also most magnificent animals. Such as the iconic Russian Brown Bear, grey wolves, moose, and wild boar.
Visit the Rybinsk State Historical, Architectural and Art Museum
The museum is one of the standout architectural gems in Rybinsk, but it’s also one of the most important museums in this region of Russia.
Formally the city’s grain exchange – and one of the largest of its kind in the world – the museum now houses scores of items that let you delve in Russia, and the region’s, past.
With a little, but celebrated art gallery, along with frequent special exhibitions, this Rybinsk attraction is not only worth the visit for the items on display but also for the ornate building itself. The intricacies, staircases, and general atmosphere of the whole place can only be described as having a fairytale feel.
Of course this isn’t the only building you should make an effort to visit in Rybinsk. The Preobrazhenskiy Sobor cathedral dominates the city’s skyline and is well worth a visit, as are many of the monuments that dot the streets of this historic town.
Go back in history at the Ust’-Sheksna settlement
Rybinsk had to start from somewhere, and at the Ust’-Sheksna settlement they’ve attempted to reconstruct how they believe this city started it’s life out as.
The answer, is that Rybinsk was originally a small fishing settlement on the banks of the Volga River, which began it’s life around 1000 years ago. So ingrained was fishing in the lifestyle of the people that lived here, that the tax they paid was in fish!
A short taxi ride out of the city is the Ust’-Sheksna settlement wooden reconstruction, and a visit here gives a real feel of what life in the Middle Ages looked like here.
Take a river cruise
This is an absolute must do, as only from the deck of a boat as you cruise down the Volga River can you really appreciate Rybinsk, its surroundings, and its history.
The old dilapidated wooden buildings that were the backbone of this city decades ago, can barely be seen when on land, but from the river it’s still possible to see them lined up diligently on the banks of this spectacular river.
Even more incredibly, is your river cruise doesn’t need to be a short one hour, or half day excursion.
You can actually take a boat from Rybinsk straight to Moscow – possibly the most incredible way to make your way back to the capital after your trip to Rybinsk.
Some interesting facts about Rybinsk!
- Rybinsk was such an important port town that in the 18th century the city could accommodate 170,00 sailors, that’s despite the actual population being just 7000!
- As this city had many people involved in mechanics and machinery production, many citizens of Rybinsk had technical specialties, and were drafted in to serve in the aviation and tank forces during WW2.
- Between the end of WW2 and the fall of the Soviet Union, Rybinsk’s name was changed twice, first to Shcherbakov and then to Andropov, before it was finally returned to Rybinsk.
- Rybinsk has three ski resorts, six shooting galleries, and a water skiing center!