The city of Kazan is nestled deep in the Russian provinces, 800km from Moscow. Yet far from being a backwater, it’s a city that is increasingly popular with young people and tourists, one that combines tradition and optimism about the future.

The World Cup host city has become known far beyond the country’s borders as a location for international sporting events. The cultural melting pot is now a firm fixture in guidebooks to Russia.

“People are more tolerant and open here,” says Regina Skoblionok who works for the city’s tourist office. Her mother is Muslim, her father is Jewish, they speak Russian at home. This kind of family constellation is far from unusual in the Volga metropolis.

Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, is a multicultural place. Street signs, for example, are in the Russian and Tatar languages.

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A view of the Agricultural Palace in Kazan, a host city for the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup. Photo: AFP Photo/Luis Acosta

Particularly for young Russians, the city offers a good quality of life and decent job prospects. “It doesn’t have to always be Moscow or St Petersburg,” says Marina Korneva, who uses Instagram to show the colourful and unusual sides of her city.

The starting point for exploring Kazan is the Kremlin citadel. Behind the white walls of the Unesco World Heritage Site, the city landmark, the blue and white Kul Sharif Mosque, stands out on a small hill. It’s the country’s second-largest mosque and was reopened in 2005 after extensive renovations.

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The Kul Sharif mosque in Kazan. Photo: AFP Photo/Saeed Khan

The Russian-Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, with its four blue and one gold onion turrets, is just a short walk away. And the Synagogue, which serves the city’s approximately 10,000 practising Jews, is only a block away.

Kazan is emblematic of how different religions can peacefully co-exist.

The festivities to celebrate the city’s 1,000-year jubilee in 2005 and sports events like the student Olympics in 2013 have helped give the city a modernisation boost. The Olympic village was turned into a student campus and the city centre has been transformed into a place where young people like to gather.

The newly built Metro crosses the city from south to north, right near the Kazan Arena. And the display boards in the stations have added a third language – English is now also a must in Kazan.

Next stop: Bauman Street. The central promenade is newly paved and has a chic and modern appearance. “All paths lead there,” says Korneva. Red tiles, brick houses and inevitably another mosque right next to an orthodox church. Almost everyone in Kazan ends up on this broad street at least once a day – students on their way to university, tourists walking to the Kremlin.

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A boy juggling with a ball in front of a mosaic depicting Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin in Kazan. Photo: AFP Photo/Benjamin Cremel

On many corners of Kazan, street musicians play, people gather and dance by soft lamplight. “Things weren’t like this just a few years ago,” says Korneva. Now, the city is attracting young people. Last year, for the fourth time in a row, Kazan was voted the Russian city with the best quality of life – far ahead of St Petersburg and Moscow.

For 60-year-old Ivan, who sells World Cup souvenirs outside the Kazan Kremlin, it’s clear why: “It’s not hectic here, but rather relaxed – and perfect for good football.” – dpa/Claudia Thaler