Traveling through Russia has been gaining popularity recently, and one of the most popular destinations is the Republic of Tatarstan, especially its capital, Kazan.
Slightly over 500 miles (800 km) east of Moscow, Kazan is one of Russia’s most popular tourist cities. With two languages and two religions, the city itself is divided into two parts by the Kazanka River, a tributary of the Volga. The capital of Tatarstan is quite literally a “melting pot,” because that’s the meaning of Qazan, the name the Tatars chose for their town.
Because both Orthodox Russians and Islamic Tatars live here, most signs are in both Russian and Tatar. You’ll also hear and see English, especially on the public transportation, so don’t worry about visiting!
ⓘ TIP: Russia does not offer visa on arrival; you must apply for entry beforehand. Russian immigration and visa laws change regularly and the process can be difficult. We suggest that you get your visa first; go to visaexpress.com to apply.
Best souvenirs in Kazan
If you’re like most visitors, you’ll want to bring home a few souvenirs of Kazan for yourself, and buy some gifts for your friends and relatives. There are plenty to choose from.
Like every other tourist destination, Kazan has its share of useless souvenir shops. Ignore those; they are meant for lazy travelers who don’t care that those cheap magnets and mugs of Kazan were made in China. So while your colleagues might go for those, you wouldn’t be reading this article if that were an option for you.
Read on for a list of the 5 best authentic Tatar souvenirs.
Ichigi are the traditional Tatar boots, and they make useful souvenirs with a national touch. The footwear is an unchanging element in Tatar ethnic clothing. Women’s Ichigi are usually decorated with flowers or abstract figures.
Ichigi is made of genuine leather, usually calfskin, horse hide, or pigskin. They are the ideal shoes for nomads because they are designed for long journeys. Hunters like to wearthemt as well, because the soft toe cap allows one to walk quietly in the forest without worrying about scaring away their prey.
The front end of this shoe is soft, but the sides and heel are very hard. The inside of the boots is lined with fur, flannel or felt, which and protects the feet and legs well.
ⓘ TIP: You can find a large selection of Tatar boots in the “Eksklyuziv” shop at 1A on St. Nikolaya Yershov (St. Nikolaya Yershov). They specialize in handmade souvenirs.
2. “Kazan Cat” sculptures
Legend has it that during in the Middle Ages, Kazan had a group of special “soldier cats” that were especially good at catching mice. These big cats had strong necks, well-developed shoulders, and short tails, as well as “dense white or gray long hairs, long beards, and rich facial expressions.”
While St. Petersburg palace was being built, it developed a serious problem with rats. Fortunately, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna learned that Kazan had no rodent infestation, because a special breed of “soldier cat” has wiped them out. She quickly ordered that they transport a group of the special cats to St. Petersburg to take care of the problem. These cats did not disappoint and successfully fulfilled their mission.
Maybe because of this, various forms of cats on wood carvings were especially popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is even a Kazan Cat monument on the city’s pedestrian Bauman Street, where a well-fed cat lies on a couch with a mouse, under a tent roof.
Sadly, although it is the protagonist in many Tatar legends, there are no more purebred Kazan cats. They have long been interbred with other breeds.
These days, “Kazan Cat” souvenirs can be bought in any souvenir shop. They come in a variety of materials, from glass and metal to clay, plastic and straw.
ⓘ TIP: Please do not shop in the area around St. Bauman and the Kremlin. The price of souvenirs here is much more expensive than other places. Prices are much lower on St. Chernyshevsky and St. Kremlyovskaya streets.
You can’t go home without buying chak-chak, a delicious Tatar souvenir made from soft deep-fried dough, sugar and honey. In Tatar language, chak-chak means “a little bit” or “small,” so maybe it got its name from the small pieces of dough from which the dessert is made.
Chak-chaks come in different shapes, most often balls or noodles, and they are often served in mounds or pyramids. Whether you spell it chak-chak or çäkçäk, this is a culinary art and a symbol and pride of the Tatar nation.
Bahetle supermarket chain produces some excellent chak-chak, but another good place to find it is at Tatar Gourmet Shop at 21 Bowman Street (open from 10:00 to 21:00). On holidays, there is a long queue here. It’s best to come early, otherwise everything will be sold out. Please note: Only cash is accepted in the store.
In addition to chak-chak, you must also try Tatar sherbet and talkysh kaleve. Tatar sherbet is a sweet drink made from fruits and honey and turned into a kind of cordial, while talkysh kaleve is a sweet, cone-shaped treat made from honey, sugar, butter and flour and spun into a hard floss (find the recipe here).
4. Men’s and women’s hats
Maybe you can bring back the unique and colorful Kazan souvenirs. “Tubeteika” hat is a traditional men’s headdress, and “Kalfak” is a flower hat worn by women. They can be bought in any souvenir shop or thrift stall, and they can be bought at the cheapest price of more than 100 rubles.
If you want a more refined one, you’ll need to find a headdress made by local masters. The hat will be inlaid with gems, beads and gold and silver threads. While this kind of national artwork is much more expensive, it will last for years and be a happy reminder of your visit to Kazan.
ⓘ TIP: Staro-Tatarskaya Sloboda has some excellent local souvenir shops. Sometimes, the handmade masterpieces of real master Tatar craftsmen can be found here.
5. Tatar antiques
If you’re looking for authentic souvenirs, one of the best places to find them is the famous “Book” (Knizhka) market in Kazan. It used to be popular with lovers of antiques and bric-a-brac, but now you can meet tourists from all over the world.
The market is located in the “Tinchurin” park. There are coins, books, CDs, military items, semi-precious stones, kitchen utensils, candle holders, daily necessities from the Soviet era, and more. Come here early, there are not many people on weekends. The peak time for the sale of goods is between 8 o’clock to noon, so come here early. The stall closes at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
ⓘ TIP: You’ll need small denominations of banknotes; don’t expect anyone to have change if you buy things here.
Socially-conscious shopping for souvenirs in Kazan
Make it a point to visit “Solntse Vnutri Kazani” souvenir shop on the first floor of the “Svitaholl” shopping mall at 82 Bowman Street. Here you can buy a variety of souvenirs made by Tatar designers – stickers, brooches, notebooks, jewelry and clothing.
This shop was opened by a foundation of the same name dedicated to social and labor-adaptive work for the disabled. Part of the proceeds is donated to charity.
How to get to Kazan
Kazan International Airport is located 26 kilometers outside the city center. The Aeroexpress train will take you from the airport to the city center within 20 minutes. A ticket costs 40 rubles.
You can also visit Kazan by overnight train from Moscow (travel time: 12 hours). Buy your train tickets on the Russian Railway website.
ⓘ TIP: Traveling on the Trans Siberian Express? Include Kazan as a stop on your itinerary.
Where to stay in Kazan
Kazan, Russia has several accommodation options for all types of travelers. Use this interactive map to find the best hotels and Airbnbs in Kazan, Russia.