Capital of energy-rich Bashkortostan, Ufa is a busy metropolis of a million citizens, half of them Russian. Historically, Bashkortostan is the home of the Bashkirs, an ancient Turkic people whose language is still spoken by 1.2 million.
One of them is Rustem Khamitov, president of Bashkortostan since 2010. Formed the same year, flagship football club FC Ufa was his initiative.
It could be argued that the actual foundation date was February 18, 2009, when two modest amateur outfits, Dinamo PB and Taxist – a football team for taxi drivers – merged to create Bashinformsvyaz-Dynamo. With their combined trophy cabinet gleaming with recently won plunder such as Bashkortostan Championship and silver medal in the Urals & Western Siberia zone Cup, they were obviously on to a good thing.
Traditionally, sport in Ufa and Bashkortostan had mainly centred around hunting, fishing and gymnastics. Looking through the annals of Dynamo Bashkir, a local sports society inspired by its Moscow namesake when founded in 1925, photographs show purposeful riflemen and graceful girls on the balance beam.
The Dynamo Stadium was built on the site of the Ushakovsky Park and opened shortly after May Day, 1934. A sports complex near the National Museum and today’s Sheraton Hotel, it still features a swimming pool, sports hall and shooting gallery, and a football pitch surrounded by a running track, with capacity for 4,500 spectators.
After the war, Krylia Sovietov Ufa were formed, undergoing several name changes (Neftyanik Ufa, ‘Oil Worker Ufa’, Stroitel Ufa, ‘Builder Ufa’) and playing for a number of seasons in the Soviet second flight. In 2005, as Neftyanik, they folded.
When Bashinformsvyaz-Dynamo came along, they set up at the Dynamo Stadium and were admitted into the Ural-Povolzhye zone of the Professional Football League (PFL), the third tier.
It was around this time that Khamitov became involved. If a team such as Rubin Kazan could win the Russian title and beat Barcelona in the Champions League, why not Bashinformsvyaz-Dynamo?
Renamed FC Ufa in December 2010, the club hired former Manchester United star Andrei Kanchelskis as coach. When he failed to lift ‘Gorozhane’ out of the PFL, Ufa entered the second tier by the back door, Dynamo Bryansk unable to arrange the required licence.
Considering Ufa is a city with precious little football tradition, the rise has since been meteoric. As the club were knocking on the door of the Russian Premier, so Khamitov made his next move: converting a Soviet-style sports ground built in 1967 to a modern-day football arena.
Built between 2012 and 2015, the Neftyanik opened shortly after Ufa’s first season in the top flight. Set way up in the north of the city by the river and the Park Pobedy, the 15,000-capacity venue has so far seen nothing but top-flight football – and, in 2018, a first campaign in the Europa League.
UK and other EU visitors to Russia require a visa – see Visa To Russia for details. Most hotels can help with visa invitation letters.
Ufa International Airport, with services from Moscow and Prague, is 23km (14.5 miles) south of town.
Every 15min or so, suburban bus No.101 runs to the Ufa train station, No.110 heads further into the grid-patterned the city centre and No.110C departs for the east of town. All converge on the main junction just over the river in town near the Friendship Monument, Mонумент Дружбы, close to major hotels. Journey time from the airport is 45min, pay the driver 45r/£0.50.
The stadium is at least 10km north of the centre. Public transport consists of buses, trams and trolleybuses (pay 20r/£0.25), and marshrutki communal minibuses (pay 30r/£0.35 as you alight). There’s no metro. For route and timetable information, see eway24.ru.
The taxi service from the airport is operated by an automated board in the luggage reclaim area. An employee is on hand to assist passengers, though there’s no guarantee they will speak English. You pay at the kiosk there, and give the driver a voucher. All drivers have a special pass to operate from the forecourt 30 metres from the terminal building. If you’re taking any taxi from the airport, always agree a rate beforehand – it’s about 1,200r-1,500r/£14-£17 into town, depending on where you need to go.
Based in the city centre, Minutochka Ufa (+7 347 266 0077) is pretty reliable, charging around 100r-150r/£1.25-£1.75 for a journey across town.
The only lodging close to the stadium is the basic Otel Prichal, at around 3,000r/£35 per room, and you’re a good 30 minutes from the city centre by public transport.
Convenient for bus No.22, one of several that run up to the stadium, the Bashkiriya Hotel was designed in the 1930s and opened on the eve of World War II. Reconstructed in the late 1990s, renovated again 2014-15, it’s now a business-friendly four-star. Pleasant English-speaking staff can arrange airport transfers and there’s an on-site restaurant.
Nearby, the modern, comfortable mid-range Atola sits on a quiet backstreet, opposite a supermarket.
A couple of blocks nearer the river, the equally mid-range Astoriya advertises centrally located rooms from 2,500r/£29. It’s set on a busy road so ask for one at the back of the building. Close by, the Holiday Inn Ufa offers airport transfers, a lounge bar and brasserie, all within a short walk of city-centre bars and restaurants.
The best address in town is the Sheraton Ufa, with a quality spa and the cosmopolitan Novum restaurant, in the city centre close to the Dynamo Stadium. Spartak Moscow stay here for their games in town.
The other side of the Dynamo Stadium, the Hilton Garden Inn is a sprawling upscale chain in attractive grounds south of the centre, overlooking the Belaya River.
Bars are dotted around the Gostinyy Dvor exhibition hall and Lenin Monument, right in the city centre.
This is where you’ll find the local branch of Russia-wide Harat’s, an impossibly successful combination of multiscreen sport, pub grub and Western ales, including Guinness. Live music also features, usually in the form of tribute bands – Red Hot Chili Pampers, anyone?
On the other side of Gostinyy Dvor, the Jagger Bar (‘Grill & Rock ‘n’ Roll’) provides quality cocktails and sought-after beers until late. Nearby, The Bar keeps equally silly hours (until 9am at weekends) for DJs to spin away and cocktails to flow. Across the street, the Sherlock Holmes serves pub food, particularly steaks, and international beers while broadcasting sport on eight screens and projectors.
Here also is where you’ll find The Highlander (ulitsa Karla Marksa 24/1), the first theme pub in Ufa, a rustic Scottish place serving 11 of their own craft beers (at around 250r/£2.90), steaks, sausages and salads in a friendly atmosphere. Popular with away fans before and after matches.
In the same hub, Sinebruhof (look for the снбрхв sign on Kommunisticheskaya ulitsa) is the best place for craft beer in Ufa, with over 20 Russian brews and a few internationals on draft. The friendly owner speaks some English.