Things to Do in Sochi, Russia
Palm trees swaying in the breeze may not be exactly the image that springs to mind when you imagine Russia. Nor would a subtropical beach resort be the first place you’d think of to hold the Winter Olympics. But then again, Russia is full of surprises – and the town of Sochi certainly is one of them.
Located nearly 1,000 miles south of Moscow at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains on the Black Sea, Sochi boasts both warm sea waters in summer and snow-filled mountains in winter. Given Russia's centuries-long history, Sochi is a relative newcomer; it only received official town status in 1917, and the town's ski resort area, Krasnaya Polyana, has been completely rebuilt for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Despite its relative youthfulness, the town offers a lot more than just lazy lounging by the beach and downhill skiing. Parks and botanical gardens, mountain treks, waterfalls and even subterranean caves all offer plenty of distractions for those looking for something more.
Here are our top picks:
Ski the SlopesWhile Sochi is first and foremost known as a beach resort, its location by the Caucasus Mountains means vacationers can enjoy a wealth of winter-sports activities, including at its Krasnaya Polyana ski village. The exact ski season varies from year to year, but generally runs from December through to April. If previously the snow facilities were somewhat modest, the Winter Olympics has seen Krasnaya Polyana upgraded to a truly international standard, while new resort areas, such as the Rosa Khutor complex, have taken shape. Comfortable modern express trains now run between the ski village and Sochi proper, taking roughly 70 minutes each way.
Swim in the Black SeaThe summer months are considered the most attractive for swimming, with water temperatures ranging from 67.3 F in June to 75.2 F in July and peaking at 77.5 F in August. However, those in the know often prefer to come in early fall, referred to as the “velvet season” in Russian, when the resort is less crowded but the water remains warm (an average of 73.6 F in September). The public bathing areas can get crowded in peak season, but many of the better hotels have their own section of the beach cordoned off for use by their guests or those willing to pay a little extra for the privilege. The beaches may be pebbly, but at least you won't have to worry about getting sand in your swimsuit.
Visit the Botanical GardensSochi is rightfully proud of its botanical gardens, referred to as the Dendrarium. Founded in 1889, the park now occupies more than 120 acres on the side of the low-rising mountain Lysaya Gora just south of the city center. The gardens boasts more than 1,500 types of trees and bushes, most of which are arranged into separate geographical regions – Caucasus, Japan, China, the Mediterranean, North and South America and the surprisingly authentic Australia section. The views of the Black Sea from the top of the gardens are fantastic. The climb to the top is fairly steep, but luckily there is a chairlift to carry weary walkers up the slope.
Climb a MountainMount Akhun, located just outside Sochi proper, is a small mountain offering big views. Rising 2,175 feet above sea level, at its peak the mountain features a 100-foot-high viewing tower. Built in 1936, the romantic medieval-style stone tower treats tourists to spectacular panoramic views from sea to snow-capped mountain peaks. Near the tower are various stands selling souvenirs, snacks and other items. Those who choose not to take transport to the top should expect to spend 2 to 3 hours to reach the summit on foot.
Treat Your TastebudsLocated in the subtropical south, Sochi naturally offers plenty of fresh farm produce. Head to the town's central market for a mouth-watering selection of sun-ripened fruits and vegetables perfect for a picnic lunch. Further afield, the trout farm in the Adler district, reportedly Russia's largest fish farm, is supplied with clean water from the surrounding mountains and serves freshly cooked trout that is simply divine. The Dagomys Tea Plantation is one of the world's most northern tea plantations. Learn all there is to know about growing tea, and then, at one of the area’s tea houses, indulge in a Russian tea ceremony, which includes tea served from a traditional samovar tea pot along with cakes and other baked goodies.
Get Back to NatureYou needn't spend your entire time in Sochi sunning yourself on the beach or skiing the slopes – the greater Sochi region has an abundance of one-day excursions aimed at nature lovers. The tours can be easily booked at your hotel or at one of the many excursion kiosks located around town. Among the highlights are the region's countless caves and waterfalls. The Vorontsovskaya cave system is particularly impressive, stretching nearly 7 miles, while the so-called 33 Waterfalls in the Lazarevsky region consists of a striking series of cascades and waterfalls, the highest of which is 40 feet tall.
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