Destination: Irkutsk (Lake Baikal)

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.


Irkutsk is located on the Angara River and about 70 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.

The nearby Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world measuring up to 1637 metres from bottom to water surface and contains a fifth of the entire planet’s freshwater supply. It is surrounded by scenic mountain ranges and the Angara River is its only outflow.


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. 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. 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.

What to do

Many of the wooden houses with stunning hand-carved ornaments from the 19th century have survived and built a stark contrast to the remains of the Soviet apartment blocks. There are numerous museums to explore, which feature a number of exhibitions on history, art and culture. The theatre scene is vibrant and Okhlopkov Drama Theatre is one of the oldest in Russia. The best aspect is the close proximity of the major points of interest, 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.


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 there

Irkutsk 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 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.