Russia’s Closed Cities as Tourist Destinations

07.13.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

An article in the Russian edition of Forbes magazine this week somewhat facetiously considered the tourism potential of Russia’s secretive and tightly secured closed cities.

“In today’s Russia there are 42 closed administrative territorial entities — or ZATOs — surrounded by rows of barbed wire and guarded by armed patrols. They belong to the Ministry of Defense, Rosatom (State Corporation for Atomic Energy), and Roskosmos (Federal Space Agency),” the article (in Russian) said.

“A special pass is needed in order to gain access to the territory of a ZATO. This is most readily available to anyone who has close relatives resident in a closed city. A pass is also issued to people who have got a job in a ZATO or who have found themselves a husband or a wife among the local residents.”

“But there are also more circuitous routes, of course. From time to time some ZATOs stage cultural and sports events to which outside participants are invited. But the most desperate simply find holes in the fence or steal their way into a city along secret paths. In this context, admittedly, consideration has to be given to the fact that gaining unlawful access to the territory of a ZATO carries the risk of administrative punishment in the form of a fine and immediate expulsion from the territory.”

“Forbes has selected 10 closed cities in Russia that are worth a visit. Or at least worth the attempt.”  The profiled cities include Krasnoyarsk, Zelenogorsk, Kapustin Yar, Lesnoy, Mirnyy, Novouralsk, Ozersk, Sarov, Severomorsk, and Snezhinsk.

The enticing Snezhinsk “is full of mysterious artifacts that have been preserved from Soviet times: structures whose purpose is unknown, ventilation pipes that protrude from the ground in the very heart of the city, tunnels leading off into the unknown.”

The 2008 book “A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry” by Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger included a chapter on Russia’s closed cities.