The Republic of Mari El is full of interesting places to visit: Sheremetev castle, an open-air ethnographic museum, and mineral springs. Kozmodemyansk is a town that the Russian authors Ilf and Petrov used as a prototype for the town of Vasyuki in their famous book the Twelve Chairs. The Benderiada festival is held every year celebrating Ostap Bender, the main character in the novel, and you can visit a museum bearing his name. But the real wealth of this region is its local nature—the Kamennaya Gora Nature Reserve, dubbed the Switzerland of Mari El, lakes, forest, and sacred Mari pagan temples.
When you visit Yoshkar-Ola, the republic's capital, do not miss the central Obolensky-Nogotkov square (named in honor of the first war leader of Tsaryovokokshaysk (nowadays Yoshkar-Ola) of city). The square contains several monuments: a statue of Prince Obolensky-Nogotkov on a horse that has become a symbol of the city and its main attraction, a statue of Leonid the Martyr, the bishop of Mari, and a copy of the Tsar Cannon. A musical clock with moving figures on the tower of the art gallery adorns the square.
The Malaya Kokshaga River embankment is one of the city's most beautiful places. The embankment adorned with artistically forged railings together with the Tsaryovokokshaysk Kremlin and church buildings—the Cathedral of the Annunciation and Cathedral of the Resurrection—form a single ensemble of the historic center of Yoshkar-Ola.
Lovers of antiquities will love Kozmodemyansk—an old merchant town with wooden houses decorated with fretwork. Many of the pre-revolutionary buildings house museums, for example the Merchant Museum, Museum of Art and History named after A. V. Grigoriev with its unique collection of Russian paintings from the 18th–20 centuries, exhibitions of history, and pottery of Russian, Western European, and Eastern artists. The town is home to Museum of Satire and Humor of Ostap Bender, the only museum in the world bearing the name of the famous literary character. The museum is not here by accident; literary historians believe that this particular town is the prototype for the town of Vasyuki in the book the Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov, where the main character played his famous chess tournament. The Benderiada humor festival has been held every year in the town for the last 13 years; visitors can meet Bender, take part in Chess battles and search for real diamonds.
The pride of the republic is the open-air ethnographic museum dedicated to Mari Volga farmsteads—one of the few ethnographic museums in Russian dedicated to non-Russian people. The museum currently consists of about twenty wooden buildings, the oldest of which is the Streletskaya Chapel.
Part of the indigenous population of Mari El still follows Mari religious traditions. The Mari are the only European people still practicing paganism as an official national religion. Pagan prayers are held in sacred groves (küsoto) that have a special legal status. The Mari people have preserved the traditions of pagan festivals: the start of the farming season and the harvest are celebrated; Shoryk Yol is the pagan new year, one of the most famous Mari ritual celebrations. New celebrations and folk festivals that appeared in Soviet times have caught on: the celebration of flowers, widely celebrated throughout the republic in early June and the celebration of Mari songs.
Mari needlework can rightly be considered to be a symbol of the republic that has been preserved and developed for more than 300 years, as well as traditional musical instruments—Mari gusli (a kind of harp) and drums, wood engraving, and willow weaving.