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Landscapes, fairs and a military past. A guide to the 1,000-year-old Yelabuga.

After admiring the birthplace of Butlerov and enjoying the beauty of nature of our republic, be sure to pay a visit to the small merchant town of Yelabuga on the banks of the Kama River. The likes of Yemelyan Pugachev, human brain researcher Vladimir Bekhterev, landscape painter Ivan Shishkin, as well as 19th century millionaires – the Stakheevs, Ushkovs, Girbasovs and many others are closely connected with this city. Yelabuga still remains a link to the distant past, retaining in memory both tragic and grand events that influenced the fate of thousands of people.

Author — Lola Malova

How to get there:

Yelabuga is a tourist-centric city, so making your way there is very simple any time of year. It is located 205 kilometres away from Kazan, which is about a 3-hour drive. A water route is open in summer, or you can catch one of the buses any time of year which go through Yelabuga on their way to Naberezhnye Chelny. To find out the bus schedule for an upcoming day, you can get all the information you need by calling +7 (855) 299-99-91. A one-way bus ticket costs 450 roubles. If you’re using the BlaBlaCar app, you’re likely to find a car going to Naberezhnye Chelny as well, so simply ask them to drop you off in Yelabuga on the way. Such a trip will cost around 350 roubles. Lastly, you can also get to Yelabuga by taxi which will cost about 2,000 roubles one-way.

What to see in Yelabuga

Museums that cannot be covered in just one day

Many events took place in this city and dozens of renowned poets, merchants and famous artists once lived here, so it comes as no surprise that the historic centre of Yelabuga contains 16 museums and exhibition complexes. The City History Museum is located in the house of merchant A. F. Nikolaev and apart from a museum, includes an area where children can learn about the native animals and attend interactive workshops. Across six exhibition halls you can find out the history of the city starting from 10,000 years ago – around the time of the formation of the natural landscape that you can see today. Tour guides can take you through all the exhibits, highlighting the milestones of the city as they lead you around the circular route. The main hall is an interactive exhibition of 16th century life, where spinning wheels, mortars, jewelry of Bolgar girls, tools and much more are presented, while the large screen plays specially created animated films about the adventures of two teenagers in Yelabuga. The Kazan branch of the Museum of Socialist Life is also located in this building. It showcases toys, household items and memorabilia from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, which will cause a feeling of nostalgia for everyone born before the 2000s. The museum also runs interactive workshops that will appeal to both children and adults, such as learning pottery, sewing a talisman doll, or turning a piece of birch bark into a picture. All these can be taken with you as a souvenir for someone special back home, or alternatively, you can simply buy some souvenirs such as jewelry, magnets and other small items at the museum.

City History Museum

Burial Places and mass graves

Of course, graves and cemeteries are not everyone's cup of tea, however one of the unique features of Yelabuga is the fact that this was the destination that traditionally, many prisoners of war were exiled to. In 1709, the captured Swedes were brought here, in the winter of 1812, 2,000 prisoners of war from Napoleon’s army who were French, Italians, Germans, Poles, and Portuguese also arrived in Yelabuga. From 1915 to 1918, 4,000 Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war were concentrated here, and during World War II, the prisoners were primarily Germans and soldiers allied with the Nazi army. They were kept in a former convent (NKVD No. 97). In December 1945, another 8,000 Japanese prisoners of war arrived here. Prisoner of war Otto Rülle, wrote about life here at that time in "Healing in Yelabuga". Today 623 graves of German soldiers are preserved at the city's Memorial Cemetery alongside a monument to the 85 Japanese who perished here (their remains were shipped back to Japan). The cemeteries stand separate from ordinary graves, and to get there, you need to go around the main entrance to the cemetery on the right side.

Poetess Marina Tsvetaeva's cenotaph is located at the Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery. However, people still argue about where exactly the poetess is buried. The current location was determined by her sister Anastasia Tsvetaeva, who said "Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva is buried in this side of the cemetery." However literary scholars and local historians still have not come to a consensus on the issue. There are only theories, such as the "Churban" and "Matveyev" versions about the exact whereabouts of Tsvetaeva's final resting place.

Yelabuga Settlement

The Yelabuga Settlement is perhaps the most famous cultural object not only in Yelabuga, but in the whole of Tatarstan. There are traces of settlements on its territory dating back to 7th – 5th centuries BC and 5th – 7th centuries AD, as well as of a 10th century fortified fortress. Much later, a white-stone mosque was built here, however its corner tower is all that remains of it today. Although it is empty inside, it still attracts historians and tourists because it is the only surviving building of the pre-Mongol era. Half of the tower has been restored, however tourists believe that if you touch its original, real stones and make a wish, it will come true.

The museum-estate of Nadezhda Durova is dedicated to the first female officer who lived in Yelabuga for 30 years in the middle of the 19th century. Her father was a military man which potentially determined the fate of the future female warrior. Women were forbidden from serving in military ranks at the time, so she, pretending to be a man, joined the ranks of the Polish-Cavalry Regiment. She later participated in battles against Napoleon’s armies in Europe, the 1812 Patriotic War and the Battle of Borodino. Emperor Alexander I found out about her deception, but nevertheless awarded her with the silver St George Cross, which recognizes its wearer for their courage. Nadezhda herself was also a writer and the museum stores her correspondence with Pushkin and the first editions of her series of novels titled “Notes of a Cavalry Girl”, copies of which can be purchased alongside other books at the museum.

As fate would have it, the name of poetess Marina Tsvetaeva is forever connected with Yelabuga, since she and her 16-year-old son arrived to the city in 1941 as evacuees. They were accommodated in the house of the Brodelshikov family, where she passed away a week later. The ‘House of Remembrance’ as some call it, presents an exposition of the furnishings of the 1940s house where Tsvetaeva lived. In what was her room, the main exhibit lies under a glass panel - the notebook that was taken out of her apron’s pocket following her death, along with her suicide notes. The Literary Museum of Marina Tsvetaeva can be found in the house next door where the main exposition gives more insight into her life and creativity throughout it. Lifetime editions, personal items, rare photographs with relatives and even a lock of hair belonging to the poetess carefully wrapped in a piece of cloth can be found on display here.

  • Nadezhda Durova Estate Museum

An Emigrant

Here among you: your lodgings, your lucre, your smoke,
Your ladies, your Legislatures,
Having not got used to you, having not been blunted by you
Like a certain—
Schumann scudding along with spring on the sly:
From above! and beyond!
Like a nightingale’s suspended tremolo—
A certain one–is chosen.

The most timorous one, and having stretched him on the rack—
You lick his feet!
Having lost his way among your hernias and love-handles
God is left to wander among your lechers.
Superfluous! Embroidered! Walk-out! Upstart! Uppity
And not grown out of it . . . Unwilling to submit
To the gallows . . . Among your riot of currencies and visas
An exile from Vega—from a distant star.

The memorial complex also includes the Portomoinya Museum, which is only geographically associated with Tsvetaeva since it stands across the street from her house. Portomoinya in the last century were essentially laundry wash-houses. An exposition was placed here, which shows the fascinating process of how clothes were washed in the 19th century and what tools were used to do it. A small soap museum was also built here, which presents varieties of soap throughout the ages from the 19th century to the present. Interestingly enough, Yelabuga became the fourth city in Russia to have laid a water supply network. While you’re there, do not forget to throw a coin into the water barrel - they say if you do, then all your desires of this world will be fulfilled.

Portomoinya Museum

Neftyannikov Avenue - the main street in the city, is the location of the Vladimir Bekhterev Museum of District Medicine alongside a monument to the great man. Vladimir Bekhterev - an academician, psychiatrist, neuropathologist and physiologist, was born in 1857 in the village of Sarali in the Yelabuga district. He dedicated his whole life to the work and study of the human brain. The museum's five halls will guide you through a trip back in time where you can follow how medicine developed in Russia using the Yelabuga district as an example. You will see huts of the healers who would treat patients with herbs and potions, or one of the more modern examples: an example of a district county doctor. Another room exhibits an ancient 19th century pharmacy, with its banknotes, lab flasks, household items, antique furniture and perfumes. The opposite side of the room contains a recreated mental hospital ward. The central hall has been recreated to look like Bekhterev's office, which even contains a book with an authentic autograph of the doctor. The last exhibition hall is dedicated to medicine of the 20th century and presents some of the medical breakthroughs of that time including operating tables, surgical instruments and doctor uniforms. The museum ends with a resting room where you can drink some herbal tea, take your blood pressure and relax after a busy afternoon. In the past, this used to be an actual operating room, however all that's left from that time is the locally manufactured floor tiles, laid in 1881.

  • Vladimir Bekhterev Museum of District Medicine

Another world-famous name associated with Yelabuga is Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin, in whose honour a museum was opened here. The landscape painter lived in Yelabuga until the age of 20, during which time he had been so inspired by the views, he had made huge strides in his first steps into painting. In his two-story mansion, two living rooms and the office of the artist’s father have been restored and two exhibition halls with the artist's paintings have been created. By the way, one of them is dedicated to 50 authentic sketches, which Shishkin was especially skilled in. The exhibition contains portraits of Shishkin painted by his friends, one self-portrait and even a cast of the artist’s hand. Over the course of his life, Ivan Shishkin created thousands of landscapes, the most famous of which were painted in Yelabuga: Morning in a Pine Forest, Kama Near Yelabuga, The Holy Key near Yelabuga and Ship Grove. The museum tried to preserve everything as it was during the artist's life - right up to his private room with a small entrance hall where he kept his sketches, and would sometimes go out onto the balcony to admire the views.

House-Museum of Ivan Shishkin

The locals pay special attention to the memory of everyone who has ever been born or lived in these parts. In 2015, the Museum of Memory dedicated to the Great Patriotic War appeared. The creators hoped that such a museum could cast light over how one of the thousands of rear cities operated and kept going through this difficult time. The small museum has only one hall, but it displays unique objects from the personal collections of locals. The walls are covered with personal letters from soldiers on the front-lines and lists of local residents who were mobilized to the front. In total, 14,000 soldiers left the Yelabuga region for war, and even more stayed on and worked at plants, produced tinned goods, liquid hematogen, and grenade cases. Two touch panels have been installed in the hall. One contains the country-wide "Memorial" database with the names of all who fought in the war, and many who come here search for their relatives to get a glimpse of their family history. The second panel can be used to scroll through and find out about the most important events of the war. Before leaving, visitors can dress up in a special military cape and helmet and take a memorable photo in the dedicated photo zone.

Museum of Memory dedicated to the victory in the Great Patriotic War

Art halls, galleries and workshops

Yelabuga is a city closely connected with national folk crafts and modern art, which is why there are many exhibit halls, art stores and traveling exhibition showcases that can be found here.

The Exhibition Hall which opened in 2007 for example, regularly organizes themed exhibitions. It also hosts international contemporary art symposia, which artists from 25 countries have taken part in over the years.

More recently, another site dedicated to art opened in Yelabuga - the Hall of Modern Ethno-art. It mostly showcases exhibitions of graphics masters, and arts and crafts of both the present and Soviet period. Inside, the Hall looks like an art gallery with artists’ works exhibited on the white walls. The Hall also has a tour guide who can share the history and meaning behind of any of the art you see, as well as let you know about future exhibitions and events.

The All-Russian Spassky Fair and Bell Ringing Festival

Every year, Yelabuga hosts the large-scale Spassky Fair, which is worth visiting for anyone who is interested in folk crafts or simply loves a big celebration. The Fair takes place in August and gathers thousands of participants who showcase their handmade goods - scarves, toys, sweets, shoes, horse harnesses and much more. The ‘City of Expert Masters’ has a stall at the Fair where you can learn how to make your favourite souvenirs from the masters themselves and even try your hand at making them with their guidance.

After a day at the Fair, make a stop at the Museum-Workshop of Decorative and Applied Art, where you can learn about the history of the crafts of Yelabuga and the Yelabuga district of the 19th-20th centuries. Among other activities, here you can take a look at the detailed work of seamstresses, find out the process of carpet production and get familiar with pottery and decorative wood painting.

As part of the Spassky Fair, the All-Russian Bell Ringing Festival takes place on the square in front of Spassky Cathedral where bell ringing concerts and performances of groups from Tatarstan, Russia and Europe are held.

Where to find information about tours and buy souvenirs?  

Art Gallery 

Over 350 types of souvenir products can be found at the museum store, the most popular of which are the Yelabuga Fly and Yelabuga Gingerbread. Other souvenirs include magnets, knitwear, ceramics, hand weaved products, and even paintings of Yelabuga landscapes by local artists.

Tourist Information Centre

The Tourist Information Centre does almost everything, apart from sell souvenirs. The friendly staff can help you find detailed information about city tours, book a driver for the day (which costs about 1,000 roubles per hour), find out any information you need about hotels and restaurants in the city and basically answer all of your questions. The Centre is open to all at 9 Gassara Street from Tuesday to Sunday between 9:00am - 6:00pm (April to September) and between 9:00am - 5:00pm (October to March).

Where to eat

"Traktir" Museum-Theatre

When it comes to food, the "Traktir" Restaurant-Museum is one of the main tourist spots in the city. Its central location and the 20th century tavern interior is the perfect place to recharge before heading over to your next tourist experience. In addition, the museum regularly showcases genuine museum exhibits: cupboards, copper samovars and other 19th century items. Organized tourist group dinners are regularly held here, and if you come by yourself, expect to pay no more than 250 roubles for a set lunch special.

Location: 26 Kazanskaya St

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