The 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games have placed the Black Sea coast city of Sochi firmly on the map. Dubbed the ‘Russian Riviera’, there are a wealth of cultural sights (as well as thrilling sports) to experience; these are just a few things to do in Sochi.
Wander the well-stocked Arboretum
Sochi is home to a very pretty arboretum, packing more than 1,500 species of trees and shrubs into a delightful 50 hectare park. Admire the Japanese euonymus, Himalayan cedar, Mexican quince and Brazilian araucaria – indeed just about every continent is represented here! Springtime is magical as Indian lilac and Japanese wisteria scent the air. The on-site cable car ferries visitors from one to the other, so you only have to walk one way.
Discover the local culture at the Town History Museum
The region around Sochi is rich in cultural heritage: the area is influenced by some of the oldest cultures on earth, from ancient Greek, Byzantine Roman, Ottoman and Abkhazian. And the best way to gets to grips with the history is to spend a few hours at the engaging Town History Museum, with its impressive exhibits. Pride of place goes to the space display featuring the Soyuz 9 capsule which after 18 days in orbit, came back to earth in 1970.
Explore Stalin's Summer Residence
Sochi is packed with historical sights, many from the Stalinist era and the most notable is undoubtedly Stalin’s dacha, which served as his summer retreat. Converted by a Soviet chief architect, the Dacha was well used by Stalin, who held many meetings here with top-level politicians, including China's Chairman Mao. Explore the fascinating museum inside the house which alongside Stalin’s waxwork are also many of his personal belongings. And rumour has it that Stalin's ghost parades the property at night!
Chill out in Riviera Park
The other peaceful green area in the heart of the city is the beautiful Riviera Park, which is brimming with verdant shrubbery, towering trees and vibrant flowers from around the world. Summer brings cinema showings, outdoor concerts, sports and dance performances. Riviera Park is also home to a shooting-gallery, chess pavilion, side-shows and numerous bars and cafes. Cool off with a walk along the chestnut alleys and stop by the heavenly rose gardens.
Explore memorial museum of Nikolai Ostrovsky
Literature and history come to life in the museum dedicated to Soviet socialist realist author Nikolai Ostrovsky (1904-1936). Ostrovsky lived in Sochi for eight years before moving to this dacha in 1936. The house-cum-museum perfectly illustrates the writer’s family life with some 18,000 items on display.
Hike the Kolkhidskie forests
Spent some time exploring the mysterious Kolkhidskie forests with their impressive karst canyons, vast gorges and gushing rivers. Bathe in the pearly waters spewed out from the 30 meter high waterfalls, explore the intricate cave systems and try canyoning in the network of underground rivers and lakes. Enjoy a picnic surrounded by fragrant yew trees, pristine Alpine meadows and groves of box trees. Spot deer, jackals, Caucasian goats, eagles, jays any maybe even the odd bison!
Swim in the Black Sea
Lying around 1,600km (995 miles) south of Russia’s capital Moscow (just a two hour flight away), Sochi has a clement year-round temperature, earning it the nickname of the ‘Russian Riviera’. Indeed this resort-style region used to serve as a spa destination back in the day. Visitors can swim and snorkel in the turquoise Black Sea waters rom around April to around October time.
Ski and snowboard at Krasnaya Polyana
Sochi’s beautiful backdrop is dominated by the mighty Caucasus Mountains and just one hour away is the premier wintersports resort of renowned Krasnaya Polyana where you can ski, snowboard and chuck snowballs to your heart’s content! This is such a diverse region; you can swim in the warm sea in the morning, hike subtropical forests in the afternoon, and ski and enjoy the apres-ski in the evening!
Experience the UNESCO listed Sochi National Park
For a climb with a view, make the journey up the 700 meter tall Mount Akhun where you can spot Sochi sprawled out below, and maybe even see as far as the Turkish coast on a clear day! Tackle the cliffs and waterfalls of the Agurskoe Canyon. Head to the World Heritage listed Yew and Boxtree Wood which covers 3 square km of Mt. Akhun and is brimming with more than 700 plant species as part of the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve. You might even spot the odd Persian leopard who reside here and are in fact one of the official mascots of the 2014 Winter Olympic & Paralympic Games!
Take in the Stalinist period buildings
There are several notable Stalinist period buildings dotted around Sochi representing the Empire Style. Much of this period of architecture dates from 1934 to 1953 and includes the Central Train Terminal, the Winter Theatre, Sochi Seaport, Sochi Art museum and a plethora of resort hotels.
Soak up the Byzantine heritage
Many empires influenced the Krasnodar Krai region, including the Byzantines. This is evident within the remains of the impressive Godlik fortress. One of the most interesting things to do in Sochi is to explore the Byzantine triangle fortress, which is thought to date back to around 4 AD. Visitors can make out the towers and limestone walls.
Explore the Artistic Museum of Sochi
The city’s Art Museum occupies a striking Stalinist era building, which was constructed in 1936. Opened as a museum some 20 year ago, today the exhibition rooms are crammed full of unique paintings, drawings, sculptures and decorative art, some of which dates back to the 18th century. Don’t miss the works from the modern masters and the captivating wax figures of Christ’s life.
Take in a performance at the Winter Theater
Sochi has an abundance of concert halls and theatres, the pinnacle of which is undoubtedly the Winter Theater. Touring theatre companies put on a variety of theatrical, chorographical and musical performances all around the year. Each year the Winter Theatre hosts the international Jinotavr film festival and for the last twenty years the local Philharmonic Society hosts the bi-annual International Jazz Festival.
While away a few hours at the Discovery World Aquarium
One of the biggest oceanariums in Europe is here in Sochi and is a great place to lose a few hours, especially if you have children in tow. There is an impressive array of marine species, alongside Russian freshwater fish species.
Image credits; 1; Reachrich, 2; Andrey Dumchev, 3; wikipedia