For fans of the AK, a bucket list destination lies on the edge of Siberia: The huge Kalashnikov Museum in Izhevsk. I’ve been inside, but is it worth the trip?
Let’s be realistic; visiting this place isn’t easy. But it makes for one epic journey across Russia and gives you the ability to boast something many Kalashnikov fans can only dream of.
In this article, I will give you an insight into this unique museum and share my top tips for visiting, complete with a set of unique photos I was able to grab inside.
Now, let’s get started!
What To Expect From The Kalashnikov Museum?
As the doors of the Soviet-era train creaked open, the hard-bitten female conductor bid me farewell as a blast of icy wind hit my face.
My 19-hour train journey from Moscow was finally over. I was in the capital city of Russia’s Udmurtia Republic: The gun-manufacturing city of Izhevsk, nestled in the Ural Mountains.
I was here to visit a destination that’s been on my bucket list for some time, the M. Kalashnikov Small Arm’s Museum Exhibition Complex.
When I saw a large banner of Mikhail Kalashnikov’s face alongside one of his most famous quotes, I knew I was in the right place.
After a short cab ride from the train station, I’m outside a formidable concrete and military green building complete with a bronze statue of the man himself, Mikhail Kalashnikov, outside.
The museum is an immersive experience into the life, mindset, and innovative creations of the man who is arguably one of the most infamous gunsmiths to have ever walked the earth.
From his humble beginnings to his service on the frontlines of WW2 (known locally as The Great Patriotic War), the museum really delves deep into the man himself and reveals his motivation to create this iconic weapon of war.
From the crude-looking and extremely rare Kalashnikov prototypes to the sleek, modern weapons used by the modern Russian Army, the museum is designed in a spiral-like journey through the weapon’s development.
By the final stages of the Kalashnikov Museum, your visit is rounded off with a display of the weapon’s impact on countless countries worldwide.
From being featured on the national flags of countries like Mozambique to being manufactured under license by various countries from the Former Yugoslavia to China, over 100 million Kalashnikov assault rifles have been sold globally.
There are some incredible relics that Kalashnikov was gifted by various infamous figures who appreciated his work, perhaps a little too much, like an extravagant clock given to him by Colonel Gaddafi in 2002.
On the other end of the scale of foreign AK fans, there’s even a British 5.56 LSW that was gifted to Mikhail Kalashnikov at a weapons exhibition in Abu Dhabi in 1993.
However, the museum only touches on it lightly regarding the brutally negative impacts of the world’s most heavily-used assault rifle.
From the perspective of an engineering and gun nerd, I’m a fan of the AK system (especially the Dragunov SVD!)
But the carnage it has caused worldwide should be recognized. After all, it doesn’t get its reputation for nothing.
It’s well known that Kalashnikov, in the later years of his life, suffered “spiritual pain” over the blood-spattered impact his creation unleashed across the world.
But in a classic case of revisionism, the museum journey rounds off with a poorly-translated quote from Mikhail that reads:
“I am pleased that I made everything I could to protect the Fatherland. Let your life never be saddened by wars. Peace, love and happiness to our earth.”
The Shooting Range
Touring an AK museum without firing a Kalashnikov is like visiting a brewery and not sampling the beer, right?
Well, thankfully, the Kalashnikov Museum is divided into two highlights. There’s the epic museum itself, and there’s also a shooting range downstairs in the basement.
Inside, I was greeted by a stone-faced Russian shooting instructor who led me to a cache of iconic Russian weapons to try out. Amongst them were the likes of:
- PPSh Shpagin submachine gun.
- A Mauser K98 captured from Nazi forces in WW2.
- The RPK light machine gun.
- A Second World War-era Mosin Nagant.
- Various Kalashnikov variants, such as the AK47, AK15, and the AK101.
With an average of $1 per shot, prices were relatively affordable considering the range of iconic weaponry available that is otherwise difficult to find.
Naturally, the instructor speaks zero English. But you’ll be fine if you have basic shooting experience and are willing to understand his impromptu sign language.
Top Tips For Visiting
A trip to Russia is always full of surprises. Some are fun; some are best avoided. To make your trip to the Kalashnikov museum as memorable as possible, here are my top tips for visiting.
Download Google Translate Or Book An English-Speaking Guide
As with most museums in Russia, you won’t find much information written in English. So either download Google Translate in advance.
Or even better, hire one of the museum’s English-speaking guides to get a fully immersive tour of the museum. They only work part-time, so contact the museum in advance to book one.
Bring Your Passport & Drivers License If You Want To Shoot
It’s advisable to carry your passport on you at all times in Russia in case the local police stop you to check your visa etc.
But if you want to shoot at the Kalashnikov Museum, you must present a passport and, ideally, a valid driving license.
For a Real Russian Adventure, Take The Train to Izhevsk!
Izhevsk has an airport located around 15km east of the city centre and is easily reached by plane from Moscow and other major Russian cities.
But if you want a real Russian adventure? Take the train! The journey from Moscow takes 19 hours, and a first-class compartment in a refurbished Soviet train isn’t expensive.
There’s a well-stocked restaurant cart, stunning views, and the chance to dive deep into real Russian life. I highly recommend it if you want to come back with some stories to tell!
Make Sure You Buy a Ticket That Allows Photography
If you’ve never incurred the wrath of a Russian Babushka (grandma) working in a museum, you haven’t felt the true meaning of fury.
Unfortunately, I did when, in an AK-nerd haze, I forgot to buy a photo ticket and innocently took photos. I was subsequently roared at and sent back downstairs.
The cost for a ticket that allows you to photograph everything you like is 100 Rubles (around $2). Don’t forget to buy it when you purchase your admission tickets.
Don’t Forget To Pick Up Some Kalashnikov Souvenirs!
Many people visit the Kalashnikov Museum without realizing there is a well-stocked and very affordable souvenir shop in the basement.
From unique, hard-to-find books on the weapon and its creator to AK-themed posters, fridge magnets, and postcards, it’s one of the most unique souvenir shops in the world. Don’t miss it!
In Summary, Is It Worth Travelling To The Edge of Siberia For?
So, to sum up, is it worth it? This isn’t the biggest museum in the world, but it is unique to the world. There is truly nothing else like it.
From standing at Mikhail Kalashnikov’s original desk where he penned the ideas for the AK-47 to seeing his original uniform and Soviet-era medals, it’s an AK experience unlike any other!
“I tried a dozen different modifications that were rejected. But they all served as a path to the final design.”– Mikhail Kalashnikov.
If you’re passionate about the AK and you find yourself in Moscow or another major Russian city for whatever reason, I would highly suggest you take the time to make the trip out here.
As well as an immersive insight into the Kalashnikov that you won’t find anywhere else, it’s also a great way to see provincial Russia and see what life looks like outside of the likes of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.