World Cup: Russia's Sochi is a summer and winter tourist attraction

2018-05-11 21:00
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Visiting Sochi is a mouthwatering prospect for World Cup fans, with beaches, blue skies and arguably the best game in the group stage.

Portugal and Spain meet on 15 June in Sochi, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics and is a top Russian tourist destination.

The legacy of the estimated $50 billion spent on those Sochi Games is a variety of tourist options. Fans will be able to relax in the beach bars of Adler, a town near the stadium, or hike in the mountains above the city.

SEE: World Cup: Russia's Samara famed for Volga river and Soviet beer

Here's what you need to know about this host city in Russia.

THE STADIUM

The 48 000-seat Fisht Stadium was built to host the lavish opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Olympics. Ironically, in light of the later doping scandals, the Russian team entered the opening ceremony to a song entitled "Not Gonna Get Us."

Since then, it's been largely empty apart from hosting occasional friendlies and a Russian Cup final. The local club team, FC Sochi, withdrew from the league at the end of the 2016-17 season, though officials are hopeful of setting up a replacement team so the stadium doesn't lie empty.

Fisht stadium in Sochi, Russia. (Photo: AP/ Martin Meissner)

WHAT TO KNOW

World Cup organisers are offering free train tickets to fans, but it will be a stretch to get to Sochi, with many services taking more than 30 hours from Moscow. Long train journeys are a Russian tradition — and a good way to meet locals — but you would miss out on watching World Cup games.

ALSO SEE: World Cup: Summer sunshine in Russia's St Petersburg

Sochi was conquered in the 19th century by the Russian army, which drove out most of the native Circassian people. Later on, it became famous as the site of sanatoriums for the sick, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's summer house and most recently the Olympics.

WHAT TO DO

If you're flying into Sochi airport, you will probably have no need to go to the main city of Sochi, 24 kilometres up the road.

Instead, the area around the Olympic Park is packed with hotels, and the neighbouring suburb of Adler has long beaches with cafes and bars.

Russian tourists enjoy the black sea in front of the Fisht stadium in Sochi, Russia. (Photo: AP/ Martin Meissner)

The Caucasus Mountains above Sochi are big hits with hikers in summer and skiers in winter.

In an unusual twist, the laboratory at the centre of Russia's Olympic doping scheme is now a bar with doping-themed cocktails.

SEE: #WorldCup weirdness: To Russia with Drugs

WHAT TO WATCH

Sochi will host six matches during the World Cup, starting with Spain and Portugal on 15 June in Group B.

Belgium will take on Panama in Group G on 18 June, and defending champion Germany will then arrive to play Sweden in Group F on 23 June.

The final group match will be between Australia and Peru on 26 June in Group C.

In the latter stages, there will be a round of 16 game on 30 June and a quarter-final match on 7 July.

SEE: World Cup: What you need to know about one of Russia's host cities

Plan your trip to Russia

  • Do SA residents need a visa: No - South African citizens travelling to Russia without the intention of working, studying or living in the country will be free from visa requirements and can enter, stay or transit without a visa for a duration of up to 90 days. Read more here.
  • Currency & exchange rate: Russian Ruble – 1 Rand = about 4.99 Russian Ruble.
  • Main airport: Sheremetyevo International Airport.
  • Airlines that travel there: Aeroflot, British Airways, EgyptAir, KLM, Czech Airlines, Air France, Turkish Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Emirates, Qatar Airways, SWISS. Search for flights here.