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A city guide to Irkutsk

With a population of nearly 600,000 Irkutsk is one of the largest cities in Siberia and the most important hub for tourism in the Lake Baikal region. As opposed to many of the more industrially shaped cities in Siberia, Irkutsk has a long history as a cultural centre and is a key destination on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Irkutsk

Geography

Irkutsk is located on the Angara River and about 65 kilometres south-west of the Lake Baikal UNESCO Heritage site. The Angara River is dammed by the Irkutsk Hydroelectric Dam. Surrounding the city are the rolling hills of the Siberian taiga. There are development plans in place that are supposed to connect Irkutsk with neighbouring industrial towns, forming a metropolitan area with more than a million inhabitants.

Irkutsk time zone:

Irkutsk uses the IRKT time zone and is set at GMT +8.

Approximate distance from Irkutsk to other major nearby destinations:

Irkutsk to Lake Baikal: 65km

Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude: 235km

Irkutsk to Moscow: 5225km

Irkutsk to Ulan Bator: 1140km

History of Irkutsk

Irkutsk has had a crucial role to play in much of Russia's history, from its early role in Siberian luxury goods trade to a place of exile for many Russian nobles and intellectuals. It has also been the epicenter for many clashes during the Russian Civil War, with revered commander of one of the largest anti-Bolshevik forces, Aleksandr Kolchak, being executed here.

The centre of Siberian trade: 17th - 19th century

Like most cities in Siberia, Irkutsk did not appear on the maps until the 17th century. It was first established as a winter quarters for gold trade and the collection of fur taxes. The first road connection to Moscow was built in 1760 and triggered the development of the town.

Civil war, Soviet regime and beyond: 20th century - present

When the Decembrist revolt of 1825 saw many Russian intellectuals, nobles and artists sent into Siberian exile, Irkutsk became a centre of their cultural, intellectual and social life. Through the involvement of the nobles, the city developed a strong cultural identity articulated in the wooden houses decorated with ornate, hand-carved decorations you see today. The city was subsequently described as ‘the Paris of Siberia’.

Under the Soviet regime Irkutsk was increasingly industrialised and became important for water-power engineering. Nevertheless it lost its status as the hub of life in Siberia to Novosibirsk. It still remains one of Siberia’s most important centres for art and culture and has gained in popularity due to its close proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lake Baikal.

Things to do in Irkutsk

Irkutsk has plenty to offer tourists from lavishly decorated churches and houses with stunning hand-carved ornaments, to several local museums featuring a number of exhibitions on history art and Siberian culture. The city has a vibrant theatre scene and the Okhlopkov Drama Theatre is one of the oldest in Russia. Major points of interest are within close proximity of each other, so that sight-seeing can easily be done on foot. However, it can also be worthwhile to plan trips out of town. About 47 kilometres south there is an open-air museum for traditional Siberian architecture and Lake Baikal is a popular destination for a retreat. Here, we have selected a few of the best things to do in Irtkutsk:

1) Spasskaya Church

The Spasskaya (The Saviour) Church is one of Irkutsk's most well-know sites, located in the heart of the city. The church is an enduring symbol of Siberian culture, withstanding fires, earthquakes and conflict, and is home to a variety of unique religious paintings and iconography from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Spasskaya Church, Irkutsk
Spasskaya Church, Irkutsk

2) Irkutsk Museum of Local Lore

The Irkutsk Museum of Local Lore is one of the oldest museums in Russia. Founded in 1782, the museum was considered a center for the study of Siberia and neighbouring territories. The museum is structured into 8 departments including history, nature and local events and regularly hosts new exhibitions for the 300,000+ tourists who visit each year.

3) Okhlopkov Drama Theatre

The oldest theatre in Eastern-Siberia started in 1851, the Okhlopkov Drama theatre is one of the best places to visit in Irkutsk for entertainment. This ornately-decorated theatre was originally constructed from wood and was subsequently destroyed by fire until it was reconstructed in stone in 1897. Okhlopkov theatre is renowned for its drama and brings Shakespeare and traditional Russian fairy-tales to the stage.

 

View our Irkutsk excursion page for a full list of things to do in Irkutsk.

Best places to eat in Irkutsk

Irkutsk has an exciting range of restaurants and its proximity to Lake Baikal has meant that the city has acquired a reputation for delivering some of the best seafood in Russia. Tourists can find a bit of everything here from traditional Russian and European cuisine to culinary delights from Mongolia, Japan and beyond. Here, we have included a selection of some of the best restaurants in Irkutsk:

1) Sushied

Sushied is well known in Irkutsk for offering a wide range of Japanese cuisine including tempura, wok noodles, soups and a vibrant selection of sushi dishes. Located in the heart of the city on Karl Marx street, this restaurant is the perfect choice for lovers of seafood or tourists looking for a good vegetarian food option.

2) Kochevnik

Nestled away behind the bustling Karl Mark Street, Kochevnik has built a reputation for delivering the best Mongolian food in Irkutsk. Here you find a selection of local food favourites including dumplings and a vast selection of grilled meat dishes. The restaurant also offers a variety of dishes suitable for vegetarians.

3) Strizhi

Located in the heart of Irkutsk, Strizhi is a luxury restaurant offering contemporary cuisine, ambient music and panoramic views of the city. Know for its seafood, Strizhi loves to create new and exciting food combinations pairing traditional European and Russian cuisine with Asian flavour.

Best places to stay in Irkutsk

Irkutsk has boomed as a tourist destination in recent years, largely due to its proximity to Lake Baikal. Tourists will find a wide range hotels and hostels to suit any budget. Here, we have included a few of the best places to stay in Irkutsk:

1) Rolling Stones Hostel

Perfect for backpackers, couples and tourists on a budget, the Rolling Stones hostel is ideally located in the heart of the city about a mile away from Irkutsk Drama Theatre and is approximately 5 miles away from Irkutsk International Airport. The hostel offers a wide range of amenities for guests including free WIFI, 24-hour front desk, room service, car hire and currency exchange.

2) Angara Hotel

Located in Kirvo Square opposite Irkutsk city hall, the Angara Hotel is well positioned for many of the city's major attractions. This 3-star hotel includes three international restaurants, a beauty salon, indoor spa and pool area for guests to enjoy alongside the hotel's take on a traditional London pub with accompanying billiard room. The Angara also has its own parking and free WIFI is available throughout the hotel.

 

Book your accomodation in Irkutsk online today through our hotel finder tool.

Irkutsk climate

There are great disparities in temperature between the different seasons, but the differences are more moderate than elsewhere in Siberia due the proximity of Lake Baikal’s large water mass. This means temperatures average around 18°C in July and -18°C in January. The Lake Baikal region is beautiful all year round and a trip should be planned according to what you wish to see. The winter is cold, but magical; May and June tend to be least crowded, but it will be warmer and sunnier in July and August. Autumn is stunning with the leaves turning in the brightest colours, but it can also be stormy.

Weather in Irkutsk

 

How to get to Irkutsk

Irkutsk International Airport can be reached via a number of Russian cities as well as Beijing, Ulan Bator and Seoul. It is located conveniently close to the city centre and is connected by public transport.

The Trans-Siberian Railway stops on the other side of the Angara River, connecting the city with Moscow and Vladivostok. Getting to and from the station and around the city is relatively easy via the tram network, but there are also local bus routes.

Why you should visit Irkutsk

Irkutsk is undeniably one of the most exciting places to visit in Siberia. Its location far-off from the capital and its history as a haven for the exiled has shaped the city. Together with the moderate climate – at least by Siberian standards - this has caused the city to take a different development from many other places east of the Ural Mountains. What makes Irkutsk special is the close proximity of history and culture to one of Russia’s most stunning landscapes surrounding Lake Baikal.

Park in Irkutsk, Russia
Park in Irkutsk, Russia

Irkutsk common questions

Here, we have included a short list of the most frequently asked questions about Irkutsk:

How far is Irkutsk from Moscow?

Travelling from Moscow to Irkutsk will take around 2-3 days if travelling by car or train via the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is possible to travel by domestic plane which will take around 5 ½ hours non-stop.

How far is Irkutsk from Lake Baikal?

Lake Baikal is around an hour away from Listvyanka which is one of the main tourist destinations located on Lake Baikal’s South-Western edge. Olkhon Island is also a popular destination on Lake Baikal and will take around 5 hours by car or taxi from Irkutsk city centre.

When is the best time to visit Irkutsk?

The best time of year to visit Irkutsk is summer, as the Siberian region will be particularly cold over the winter months. If you are travelling to Lake Baikal, then it is important to note the lake is usually frozen over from January to May, although you will always find things to do in Irkutsk during the Winter and Summer seasons.

Is Irkutsk safe?

In terms of criminal situations, Siberia has been considered one of the least safe regions in Russia for several decades, however many cities, including Irkutsk, have seen steady improvement from 2010 to 2017 until present. As with any city, you should take precautions around airports and train stations as crime does tend to be more common in these areas.