Russia's fifth-largest city – sometimes referred to as the country's 'third capital' – would likely go unnoticed by most travellers if not for its arresting hilltop kremlin, overlooking the confluence of two wide rivers: the Volga and Oka. This is the locale where merchant Kuzma Minin and Count Dmitry Pozharsky (men commemorated in a monument in front of Moscow's St Basil’s Cathedral) rallied a popular army to repel the Polish intervention in 1612. It's also the city (then known as 'Gorky') where late Soviet scientist-dissident Andrei Sakharov was banished in the 1980s as punishment for opposing the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
Aside from stirring views out over the river (including the possibility of a high-altitude cable-car ride), 'Nizhny' offers several very good museums, and Sakharov's former apartment is home to a quirky exhibition on the great man's life. The port offers the possibility of river excursions to nearby towns.