city in Saratov Oblast, Russia

Saratov (Russian: Сара́тов suh-RAH-tuhf) is a city in the Volga region of Russia.

Understand

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Saratov was built as one of the southern fortifications along the Volga river during the 16th century. Settlements in the area date back, however, much further: the nearby Uvek dates back to the Golden Horde and was destroyed in 1395 by Tamerlane. Saratov and Engels (just across the Volga) are intricately linked and form an agglomeration region with over 1 million inhabitants today. Due to Saratov's pretty provincial character it might surprise you that at the beginning of the 20th century, it was the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The area around Saratov and Engels had a significant proportion of ethnic Germans (en. Volga Germans, de. Wolgadeutsche, ru. Поволжские немцы). Volga Germans constituted nearly two thirds of the inhabitants of this area in the early 20th century. Germans were originally invited by Catherine II to settle in the West of the Russian Empire, but were deported further to the east during the end of the 19th century due to stronger Russificiation attempts. Volga Germans suffered another wave of deportation and expulsion during the time of Stalin's Great Terror and WW2, when they were suspected of collaboration with the Nazis. Today, there are only a few traces of this history in Saratov and Engels.

Today, Saratov is a regional center along the Volga, in the same way as for example Volgograd, Samara, and Ulyanovsk.

An illustrative piece of history is the constant renaming of Saratov's main pedestrian street. Originally it was called Nemetskaya Ulitsa ("German Street"). In the 1880s and again in 1914 there were ultimately rejected attempts to rename it in honor of General Skobelev. After the October Revolution, the name was eventually changed to Ulitsa Respubliki ("Republic Street") and later to Prospekt Kirova (named after the revolutionary leader Sergey Kirov). In April 2022, the street was once again renamed, this time in honor of Pyotr Stolypin, former governor of Saratov and a prime minister of the Russian Empire who introduced a lot of agrarian reforms. Note that you will still see addresses referring to the older name Prospekt Kirova.

Get in

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Saratov Train Station

By plane

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  • 1 Saratov Gagarin Airport (GSV  IATA), Saburovka village. New airport northeast of Saratov. It replaced Saratov Tsentralny Airport in August 2019.

Inside Russia it has regular flights from and to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Makhachkala, Mineralnye Vody, Nizhniy Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Sochi, Surgut and Ufa. There are a number of international flights to and from Baku, Erevan, and Antalya. The airport is located about 1h drive from the city center. You can order a taxi from and to the airport via app, or negotiate a price with one of the many taxi drivers standing outside the exit. There is also an express train (38min travel time), which leaves 3 times a day from the station directly outside the airport (single ticket: 95 RUB). There is also a shuttle bus leaving roughly every hour to and from the central station (80min, 80 RUB).    

 
Saratov Gagarin airport

By train

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Otherwise the best way to get there is by Saratov Rail from Moscow's Pavletsky Station, which takes approximately 15-16 hr. The trains operate overnight, departing in the afternoon/evening, arriving in the morning.

Saratov is also accessible via rail from Samara to the north (train 10 hours, 400 km) and Volgograd and Astrakhan to the south. The St. Petersburg-Astrakhan' line passes through Saratov. It takes about 26 hours to travel from St. Petersburg to Saratov on train.

  • 2 Saratov I railway station (вокзал Саратов-1-Пассажирский).  

By bus

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There are also buses between Saratov and many other cities, including Moscow. However, the comfort and value of the rail system over the vast distances involved makes the bus service a comparatively unattractive option.

By boat

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River cruises down the Volga operate during the summer months (early May to end of September). Dozens of boats operated by different companies run from Moscow to Astrakhan. One way or return cruises may be reserved to/from practically any city along the Volga. Moscow to Astrakhan (one-way) with three daily meals is 15000 руб. Without meals, approximately 8000-9000 руб.

Get around

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Map of Saratov
 
Saratov Bridge, a 3-kilometre span linking the city with Engels
 
Saratov tram map (2022)

Public transport

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Saratov, like most provincial Russian towns, is served by a network of trams, buses, trolleybuses, and marshrutkas (set-route minibuses). The main terminus for most forms of transport is the area around the 1 Mirnyy Pereulok (Мирный переулок) at the top of Prospekt Stolypina (formerly Prospekt Kirova).

Buses, trams, and trolleybuses work in pretty much the same way. They usually display a route number and also a list of major stops (written in Cyrillic). You get on, and a conductor will walk up to you to collect the fare. The fare is usually written very large on the inside of the vehicle and should be about 30-40 руб (Jan 2024). You don't really need to say anything, as there is only one price for a single ticket (no monthly passes, discounts, etc). You can pay in cash, (Russian) credit card, or SBP (quick payment system, provided you have a Russian bank account). You will get a small paper ticket with a 6-digit number in return. In some trolleybuses you pay directly to the drive when getting off (in which case there is no paper ticket). Just watch what other people are doing.

Marshrutkas are minibuses that drive a fixed route but without set schedule or stops. They also have route numbers and usually display a list of main points of interest along their route. To get on, wave the marshrutka. Pay the fare (displayed with a huge sticker on the window directly in front of the entrance – you really can't miss it) directly to the driver when getting on. The fare varies between marshrutkas because these are essentially privately-operated taxis, but is usually the same as for buses, trams, and trolleybuses (30-40 руб in Jan 2024). Drivers usually continue driving while counting your coins, give you your change, and (usually) give you a paper ticket. If it's very full, people sometimes just sit down and pass the money to the next person in front of them, until it reaches the driver. Then the chain goes the other way round, delivering the change and paper ticket back to the passenger. If someone taps you from behind and hands you a bunch of coins, just do the same to the person in front of you – it's fun! To get off, people usually just tell the driver to stop at the next intersection.

Taxis

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If you don't want to go through the trouble of finding the correct route number, taxis are a widely available option. Yandex Taxi or its many competitors are a reliable way to get around, as you can order a taxi via an app for a predefined price (also in English).

Walking

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Saratov is not exactly a small city, but its main pedestrian area along Prospekt Stolypina and onwards to the Volga is definitely walkable. There are plenty of well-marked pedestrian crossings and drivers do stop (because they get very serious fines if they don't).

 
Trinity Cathedral on Moskovskaya Street
 
Radishchev Art Museum

See the magnificent Volga river, the longest river in Europe. At the most popular spot (Naberezhnaya Kosmonavtov, the Cosmonauts Embankment) the Volga is 3 km wide, whereas at some other spots nearby Saratov its width reaches as much as 11 km.

1 Victory Park (Парк Победы) (Main entrance from Bolshoy Zhuravlinyy proezd (Большой Журавлиный проезд)). 9:00 - 18:00. Large park with military hardware, WW2 memorials and some scenic views onto Saratov and the Volga. Best views from the crane memorial (Zhuravli). There is also an ethnic village park with typical houses from immigrants in the area (e.g. from Dagestan, Korea, Tatarstan, Armenia, Volga-Germans, etc).

2 Limonarium (Саратовский лимонарий), Большая Сеченская ул., 6Б, Саратов. 10:00 - 17:00. Greenhouse filled with interesting plants, including giant citrus fruits. 350 RUB.

3 Kirov square (площадь имени С.М. Кирова). Main hub at the top of Saratov's main pedestrian street (Prospekt Stolypina). Many marshrutkas and trams leave from here. Notice the giant Lenin mosaic on the wall opposite of the old Saravia office. There is a statue dedicated to N. I. Vavilov, one of the Soviet Union's most influential geneticists who has been prosecuted by Stalin and eventually died in a prison in Saratov. The agricultural university is now named after him. Free.

4 Covered Market (Крытый рынок), ул. имени В.И. Чапаева, 59, Саратов (At the end of Kirov Square, opposite the Circus). 8:00 - 18:00. A large covered market hall dating back to pre-revolutionary Russia. Fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts and candies are sold here. The area behind the market building itself is also used to sell clothes and household products. There is a bronze statue of market women in the middle of the hall.

5 Circus (Саратовский государственный цирк имени братьев Никитиных), ул. имени В.И. Чапаева, 61, Саратов. 10:00 - 19:00. One of the oldest circuses in Russia, dating back to 1876. There is a statue of the three Nikitin brothers (who founded the circus in the Volga region) to the left of the circus building.

6 Conservatory (Саратовская государственная консерватория имени Л.В. Собинова), просп. имени Петра Столыпина, 1, Саратов. 9:00 - 18:00. One of Saratov's most recognizable sights. There are regular concerts.

7 Saratov Panorama (Панорама Саратова), Саратов, площадь имени Н.Г. Чернышевского. Art installation showing some of Saratov's 400-year history. Free.

8 Lipki Park (Сад Липки). 7:30 - 22:00. Nice park in the center with many cultural installations, statues, etc. Also hosts a giant stadium ("Dynamo"), which is turned into an ice rink during winter. Free.

9 Tram No. 6 (Трамвай № 6). Old tram wagon placed at the corner of Lipki Park as an attraction. Free.

10 Theatre Square (Театральная площадь). Huge square. There is a big Lenin statue, a small Orthodox church, the Radishchev Museum, and of course the theatre. On the other side of the Moskovskaya street are a university and the regional government buildings, which feature a huge Soviet mosaic.

11 Museum Square (Музейная площадь). On Moskovskaya ulitsa, almost near the Volga embankment. Here is an Orthodox cathedral (Свято-Троицкий кафедральный собор) with noticeably leaning clock tower. Diagonally across the street is a new square named after Peter I, who never even visited Saratov.

12 Gagarin Statue (Ю. А. Гагарин). Statue of Yuri Gagarin, first person in space. He trained in Saratov, hence a lot in the city is named after him. The statue is located right at the beginning of the Cosmonauts' Embankment (набережная Космонавтов). A local running gag is to view the statue from a particular angle (almost exactly from the North), from which Gagarin's thumb seems to take on the look of a very different body part. Free.

13 Cosmonauts' Embankment (набережная Космонавтов). Very long embankment with multiple footpaths on different levels along the Volga. Even though you can see quite a few fishermen walk on the ice during winter, it is not safe to do that. The embankment had some sections covered in nice graffiti, of which by now only a couple are left.

14 Rotonda (Ротонда). Pavillion at the Volga, where the Cosmonauts' Embankment meets the Babushkin Vzvoz street (улица Бабушкин Взвоз).

15 Beach of the Volga Conquerors (Пляж покорителей Волги). Newly opened beach with a lot of amenities nearby (toilets, cafes, playgrounds, benches, etc). This extends the embankment along the Volga up to the 2-ya Sadovaya street, making it around 4km long.

16 Saratov Bridge (Саратовский мост). Huge road bridge crossing the Volga towards Engels. With over 2.8km, it was the longest bridge in Europe and the Soviet Union when it was opened in 1965. It is very long and windy (and in summer: burning hot) to walk across the bridge. You can use a trolleybus, marshrutka or taxi to get across it to Engels. In summer there are also buses that stop at the halfway point, so you can get down to the artificial island in the Volga, which is a popular beach for swimming. Free.

17 City Park. Nice park with a lot of attractions and a big pond (you can rent a boat). There is a theme park, open almost all year round, with slightly unsafe looking but pretty fun rides. Try the steamed corn on the cob and stroll around the many monuments to popular children's fairy tales.

18 Saratov Sign (Постамент Саратов). Huge sign at the beginning of the bridge across the Volga. Busy intersection, so it's difficult to get up close.

19 Hay Market (Сенной рынок). Huge sprawling market where you can buy literally anything. Very messy, confusing and interesting.

20 Church of the Icon Quench My Sorrows (Церковь иконы Божией Матери Утоли моя печали). 7:00 - 19:30. Tiny, colorful Orthodox church. Free.

21 Melody Fountain (Фонтан Мелодия). Large fountain located between the Vavilov University and the Conservatory. There is a light and music show every evening. Free.

22 Landing place of Yuri Gagarin (Место приземления Ю. А. Гагарина) (Located on the Engels side of the Volga. Only really accessible by car or taxi.). The place where Yuri Gagarin landed after his first trip to space in 1961. The place is marked by a huge rocket sculpture with Gagarin's statue, a replica of the Vostok-1 capsule he flew in, and a couple of busts of other famous cosmonauts. There is also a newly opened info center (closed on Mondays). Free.

 
Saratov Circus

Despite its provincial setting, Saratov has much to offer by way of culture. Enjoy a classical concert in the pseudo-gothic Conservatory on Prospekt Kirova, or an opera or ballet in the nearby Bolshoy Teatr. Tickets are very reasonably priced and available from the box offices of both venues. In January 2008 ticket prices were less than US$4 and represent an incredible bargain.

Take in a play at the Saratov Kiselev Academic Youth Theater, known by the acronym TYuZ (Russian: "ТЮЗ"). TYuZ is about a block off of Prospect Kirova on Volskaya Street. Although described as a "children's theater", TYuZ is mostly visited by adults. The theater features a rotating list of light plays.

For more serious fare, head over to Saratov Slonov Academic Drama Theater. Founded in 1802, the Saratov Drama Theater is one of the oldest theaters in Russia. Its current building, however, is very modern in style.

Dom Kino (House of Cinema), on Oktyabrskaya Street, features foreign film and film series. Tickets cost 100 руб as of October 2010. It's on the second floor of a nondescript building on a side street. Dom Kino is rather difficult to find. The interior is modest: a large room with folding chairs and a projector screen.

If you aren't interested in such quaint movie-watching experiences, check out Pobeda, Sinema Park, or Illuminator.

Visit the circus, one of the first in Russia to be established in its own dedicated building.

Go to the Radischev art gallery — the first public art gallery opened in Russia (19th century). Some fine European, as well as Russian pieces of art are gathered here. The gallery also features a computer room where visitors can access various art-related programmes, including one showing scenes of architectural gems lost under Communism and their modern replacements.

Support the local soccer team — Sokol — and attend a match in the stadium beside the train station.

Take a stroll in Gorodskii Park and try out the bumper cars, ferris wheel and waltzers in its fairground. Most of the rides are open even on the coldest days of winter. Victory Park is another great place to visit. Before Christmas the area around Lenin's statue in the central part of the city is a fun place for kids with sleigh rides and photo opportunities with Russian version of Santa Claus. There is also an inexpensive large public outdoor ice skating rink a few blocks from Lenin's statue but although they rent skates be prepared for a long wait to rent them. There are also large beautiful forests in and around Saratov.

There are several beaches on the Volga river including some on an island.

1 Kumysnaya Polyana (Кумысная поляна). A huge forest with tons of recreational factilies from Soviet times. Excellent place to go alpine and cross-country skiing in winter, ski rentals are available. It's also a popular spot for hiking, barbecuing, etc. Free.

 
Saratov Market Building

The usual Russian souvenirs such as matryoshkas are available in Saratov, although if travelling through Moscow it is probably best to wait to get them there as they will be cheaper.

The markets in Saratov are useful spots to pick up winter clothes if necessary, including coats, boots, leather gloves and of course hats. Haggling is indulged.

Prospekt Kirova is the most upmarket shopping area in the city, with fancy boutiques selling expensive shoes, bags and jewellery. There are branches for Mango, Nike, Reebok, Adidas, United Colors of Benetton, and L'Occitane among others. Also on Prospekt Kirova is an excellent tobacconist, selling all kinds of pipes and tobacco including hookah pipes, as well as a speciality tea shop.

Barrikada, on Ulitsa Gorkogo, is an excellent alternative music store that sells legitimate (i.e. non-pirate) albums and music DVDs at prices much cheaper than in Western Europe, and stocks a diversity of artists unparalleled by even Moscow's gargantuan Gorbushka market.

Electronics can be purchased from one of the city's branches of El Dorado (one particularly large one is on the embankment near the river station).

Dom Knigi, the book shop on the corner of Ulitsa Volskaya and Prospekt Kirova, has an English language section and is also a good spot to pick up postcards, maps and souvenirs such as books of old postcard views of Saratov. Noviy Knizhniy, on the fourth floor of the Aurora Shopping Center (Chapaeva and Sovetskaya), also features an English language section. Grab a coffee at the nearby cafe, bring your laptop, and enjoy the free wireless on the fourth floor.

Despite its name, Detsky Mir ('Children's World') at the top of Prospekt Kirova near McDonalds, stocks all kinds of everything (clothes, accessories, stationery, hipflasks, penknives...) in cabinets, behind counters, and at individually manned stalls. TsUM (Tsentralniy Universalniy Magazin, 'Central Universal Store') across the way is a similar sort of operation.

Credit cards are widely accepted in Saratov, even in small businesses like coffee spots and market stands. However, note that foreign VISA/MasterCard credit cards are not accepted as of 2022. If you have a Russian bank account, Russia's QR code-based quick payment system SBP is accepted nearly everywhere. Otherwise it is a good idea to bring cash in RUB (or EUR/USD and exchange in a bank). During the Christmas period banks have a very limited schedule of hours. Western Union transfers are very difficult if they are made to a foreigner since rules require not just a passport but that the passport be notarized by a Russian notary. There is a translation service on Bolshaia Kazakshia near the junction with Astrakhan street on the right when facing back towards the town centre.

While there are money exchanges at both the Saratov airport and train station, the hours of operation are limited. Usually there are men in the train station who will exchange US dollars but at bad rates and with the risk of getting counterfeited rubles. Euros are probably easier to work with in Saratov. ATMs give good rates but the payouts are limited. Never take travellers cheques. Only Sberbank and only the main branch will deal with them and it takes 6-8 hr to go through the process.

 
Saratov Orthodox Theological Seminary

Cafe Fortuna, above an internet cafe on Prospekt Kirova, is reliable for good Russian food like blini, borshch and solyanka, as well as omelettes and chips and the like.

Papa's Irish Bar, also on the Prospekt, serves a decent menu including a fry and Irish stew, as well as other slightly Russified Western pub food.

There is a Tinkoff Restaurant and Bar in Saratov. Tinkoff hosts live groups, as it does in its other locations in Russia. Decor inside is clean and swanky, with dimmed lights and lounge-style tables. The food is overpriced and uninspiring. Expect to go through security by stocky bouncers if you arrive to see a concert.

There are a number of passable sushi restaurants around, while street food like shwarma and hot pirogi are readily available.

There is also an ice-cream parlour called Pingvin on the Prospekt and a Baskin Robbins by the multi-coloured church off the end of the Prospekt.

Near the circus there is perhaps Russia's only branch of Papa John's Pizza. Like many American fast-food imports, Russian Papa John's appears to be a decent, sit-down restaurant. The restaurant provides free wireless to its guests.

Saratov is also home to a locally-owned chain of overpriced coffee shops called Vostok-Zapad ('East-West'), where no two cappuccinos are ever the same (or, indeed, ever much like a cappuccino). They are, however, a pleasant place to hang out and the coffee is decent enough, if not exactly what you may have in mind but the quality is consistently better than the used dishwater served in most US and UK branded coffee chains. Another café is Café et Chocolat which, as the name suggests, is a French-style establishment, serving crepes and pastries. They have several branches.

Budget

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The withdrawal of Western companies from the Russian market following Russia's invasion of Ukraine is especially noticeable in fast food joints. Where Saratov used to have a whole lot of McDonald's, KFC, Subway, and Starbucks places, these are now all replaced by Russian versions that are almost, but not quite, entirely like the American original. The menu, taste, prices, and even corporate design remains nearly the same, only the names have been changed (but will be immediately obvious what it was originally). The 1 Vkusno - i tochka (Вкусно — и точка), просп. имени Петра Столыпина, 43, Саратов. was a McDonald's located right at the main pedestrian street, and is also still now a popular fast food place, especially with school kids. Further on the same street is a 2 Rostic's. (formerly KFC).

Mid-range

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On Prospekt Stolypina is 3 Gastrodvor (Гастродвор), просп. имени Петра Столыпина, 29, Саратов. 10:00 - 01:00 on weekends 10:00 - 03:00., a covered indoor yard where you can order food from the surrounding restaurants. It's somewhat like a food court, but more upscale, often featuring live music. You cannot reserve tables. You can order directly at the restaurant (mention your table number, they will bring it then), or you can use their website to call a waiter from the restaurant(s) of your choice. Gastrodvor has a variety of restaurants, including Vietnamese, Georgian, Israeli, etc.

Drink

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Bars along the main pedestrian street, Prospekt Kirova, include Pivnoy Zavod (Beer Factory, a microbrewery); Papa's Irish Pub; Pivnoy Bul'var (with American pool tables as well as Russian billiards); and Grand Michel (with bowling).

There are also numerous wine bars around the city where wine can be sampled by the cup.

Saratov's main nightclubs include Jumanji and Ars. Both operate rigorous security checks (metal detectors and body searches are par for the course) and face control policies (nonwhite ethnic minorities may be refused point blank).

In summer, barges along the naberezhnaya (embankment) become floating bars and clubs.

Sleep

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Saratov does not offer much choice in terms of accommodation. Visitors on tourist visas are mainly confined to one of the following four hotels:

  • Hotel Volga — in the centre of the city, in a turn of the century (19th/20th) building on Prospekt Kirova. This is a small hotel; comfortable, but probably in need of some modernisation.

1 Hotel Slovakia, Lermontova Street, 30, +7 8452 28 95 01. A large, purpose-built, more modern hotel located further from the centre, on the river embankment. Seems popular with business types.

The other two hotels are Hotel Olympia and Hotel Zagreb.

If you have a business visa then you are confined to the Slovakia and the Volga. However, the Bohemia, a very comfortable and modern hotel has an arrangement for registration with the Volga and will sometimes accept business travellers.

2 Hotel Bohemia (on Vavilova), Zheleznodorozhnaya Street, 72 (1.5 km from Saratov-1 railway station). The three locations of Hotel Bohemia can also be booked in advance via the only incoming tour operator in Saratov TK Primavera (they speak English). The rates have been cheaper than the other four hotels.

Alternatively, if you have local contacts, it is possible to book a furnished apartment in Saratov at a rate of 600-900 руб a night. As with the taxis, these rates explode if you are identified as a non-Russian. If you decide to do this, it is strongly recommended only with an advance stay of two nights at one of the hotels handling then the necessary registration with OWIR, the office of migration where all visitors (business or leisure) must register within three days upon arrival in Russia!

Cope

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Considering that Saratov is a city where it snows for the better part of the year, you'd think the city's authorities would have learned to deal with the snow and ice – and you'd be wrong. Compacted snow covers practically all roads and sidewalks throughout the winter; it is cleared away really only on the main pedestrian street (Prospekt Stolypina) and in front of government buildings. Be super careful when walking near roofs and balconies – icicles can fall down without notice and have even killed people. Also pay attention to snow sliding down from the roof. If you see (printed or handwritten) signs with many exclamation points and/or fingers pointing upwards on the side of a building, don't walk under it!

If you drive yourself, note that most major streets are one-way streets. Road markings are often not visible (especially in winter, when roads are completely covered in snow). The road quality varies a lot, but do expect potholes (and people swerving to avoid them) and not-so-level level crossings across tram and railroad tracks.

There are stray dogs and they might have rabies. If you spot a dog without owner, it's best to make a large detour around it. This is especially true if there are multiple dogs.

Go next

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Just opposite Saratov, on the other side of the Volga, is the smaller town of Engels, accessible via a quick bus journey across the bridge. Catch the bus on Ulitsa Moskovskaya or take a taxi (walking across the bridge is not recommended).

Other towns in the Saratov Oblast, accessible via marshrutka, include Marks, Balakovo, Atkarsk, and Volsk.

There are shared minibuses that drive across the Russian-Kazakh border to Uralsk, usually leaving very early in the morning.

You can take a train to the neighboring regions, such as Volgograd, Tambov, Penza, Samara, and Voronezh.

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