Rybinsk is one of the oldest Slavic settlements on the Volga River. The place was first recorded by chroniclers in 1071 as Ust-Sheksna, i.e. “the mouth of the Sheksna”. During this period the settlement was a regional center for craft and metal based produce and for trade. In the mid-11th century, Ust-Sheksna was laid waste by invading Mongols. For the next few centuries, the settlement was referred to alternatively as Ust-Sheksna or Rybansk. From 1504, it was identified in documents as Rybnaya Sloboda (literally: “the fishing village”). The name is explained by the fact that the settlement supplied the Muscovite court with choice sturgeons and sterlets. In the 17th century, when the sloboda was capitalizing on the trade of the Muscovy Company with Western Europe, it was rich enough to build several stone churches, of which only one survives to the present. More old architecture may be found in the neighborhood, including the very last of Muscovite three-tented churches (in the Alexandrov Hermitage) and the Ushakov family shrine (on Epiphany Island).
Rybinsk has a four-season humid continental climate with significant differences between winters and summers, although the cold winters are still significantly less severe than those found on similar parallels further east in Russia. June, July and August all average above 20 °C (68 °F) in average high temperatures with the five months above 10 °C (50 °F) ensuring Rybinsk falls into humid continental rather than the subarctic category found further north. The yearly mean is around 4 °C (39 °F), also comfortably falling within range of warm-summer humid continental climates.