Sports aren’t the sole reason to visit Sochi, the Russian city where the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held. Long a holiday destination for summer sun-seekers and winter ski enthusiasts, Sochi has a long history of hospitality and entertainment.
Although it’s about a two-hour flight from Moscow, Sochi is sometimes called the country’s unofficial “summer capital” and many travelers book Moscow hotels (click here for more info on the best available) on either end of their visit to Sochi, thus getting to see both cities. In fact, Sochi gets about four million visitors annually, a number sure to increase after it hosts the Olympic Games.
The Black Sea
Sochi was enveloped into the Russian Empire in the early 1800s and it was quickly recognized as an outstanding destination for domestic travel. The Black Sea coastline beckoned during the summers, which come earlier here than in more northern parts of Russia. Today, sun-seekers crowd the pebbly beaches during the warmer months. Boat tours of the coastline are also a major attraction from May to October. To get some great views of the city and the Black Sea, head into the hills. Mount Akhun is a time-honored site for visitors that provides a spectacular view of the city and the sea. It’s said you can see all the way to Turkey on a clear day. There’s an observation tower at the top of the hill, about 650 meters above sea level.
Another natural wonder in Sochi are the Agura Waterfalls, about 10 kilometers north of Sochi’s center. These waterfalls are formed by the Agura River’s trail down from the Alek Mountains. The trail to the waterfalls winds through beautiful forests of linden and birch trees. The trail begins in the village of Nizhnyaya Plastunka. Many visitors to Sochi say that these waterfalls are their favorite attraction in the region because of their unspoiled natural beauty.
The location of a large ski resort and an area for hiking in the warmer months, Krasnaya Polyana and the other surrounding ski areas are a significant reason as to why Sochi was chosen as the Olympic host for the 2014 Winter Games. In the winter, the pistes and valleys will be blanketed by snow for outdoor events at the Games. The indoor events will be held at arenas and stadiums being constructed in Sochi itself. Krasnaya Polyana is about an hour’s drive from the center of Sochi.
Stalin’s Summer Residence
For a peek into Joseph Stalin’s private life, visit the dacha where the Soviet leader spent some of his holiday months. Painted green so it blends into the surrounding foliage, the portion of the villa open to the public shows some of the quirks of the paranoid and controversial leader, including a bulletproof couch and shortened curtains that no one could hide behind. There’s also a restaurant and a hotel on location.
The Sochi Art Museum
Tour the Sochi Art Museum for a look at work of some talented Russian artists who are virtually unknown outside their home country. Founded in the 1970s in a building from the 1930s, this museum holds collections of Soviet-era art as well as photographs and paintings from other time periods.
The Olympic Park
Another worthwhile excursion in Sochi is a tour of the venues where sporting history will be made at the Olympic stadiums constructed for the 2014 Games. Among the new constructions being finished are the Iceberg Skating Palace, a 12,000-seat arena that will host the speed-skating and figure-skating competitions, the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center in Esto-Sadok, Krasnaya Polyana, where ski-jumping competitions will take place, and the Fisht Olympic Stadium, a 40,000-seat arena inspired by Fabergé art and named for Mount Fisht.
Winter and Summer Theatres
The neoclassical-style Winter Theatre and Summer Theatre are two of the city’s noteworthy landmarks. Check to see if any performances will be held during the dates of your stay. If you’re lucky, you can catch a ballet or operatic show at the Winter Theatre and get a peek inside of the building.
Sochi photo credit: vasyasvl / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
About the Author: Louise Vinciguerra loves content almost as much as she loves gardening and traveling.