Matches: Group Stage x 4
flight time from moscow: 1h 15m
Stadium: Mordovia Arena
Local Team: FC Mordovia Saransk
Fun Fact: Actor Gerard Depardieu registered as a resident of Saransk in February 2013.
Saransk is comfortably the smallest city on the World Cup list, located a short flight from Moscow, in the central cluster of host cities. What Saransk lacks in size it more than makes up for in enthusiasm, organisation and excitement.
Local organisers in Saransk are already itching for the tournament to get underway. Around one in thirty residents have signed up to be volunteers. There is a real sense of excitement that the world’s biggest football stars and fans from all over the world will descend on the city.
Expected to be the jewel in the crown of FIFA’s World Cup legacy project, Saransk already has a strong sporting identity, with an ice rink and aquatic centre, as well as an indoor arena that hosts basketball games and other sporting events. The new 45,000-seater stadium is a 15-minute walk from the city centre and will be another piece in this sporting jigsaw.
The city is clean and well-maintained, with large pedestrian areas. The pale blue, gold-domed cathedral is the city’s most picturesque building, which overlooks a little river and lies a short walk from the city’s two largest squares. Sovetskaya Square will host 25,000 supporters when it serves as the Fan Zone during the World Cup.
Despite already having a few nice restaurants, there will be temporary food stalls erected for the duration of the tournament, to cope with increased demand. A charming local restaurant, made entirely of wood sits on the banks of the river. Serving local dishes, Russian classics and showcasing the region’s typical wooden sculptures, it is well worth a visit.
Saransk is a little-known city internationally, but it may well be a highlight for visiting fans. In terms of discovering Russian culture, meeting local people and experiencing the Russian people’s generosity and hospitality, Saransk may well be the pick of the bunch.