Irkutsk, the “Paris of Siberia,” is one of the most popular stops on the Trans-Siberian Railway and is a major tourist hub for those traveling to Lake Baikal. It is an architectural jewel that features colorful churches designed in the distinct style of Siberian Baroque and traditional Siberian domestic architecture. There are two main parts of the city referred to as the “right bank” and the “left bank” of the Angara River, along which Irkutsk lies. On the lower level embankment, you will find historic churches such as the Epiphany Cathedral with its gilded onion domes, the Spasskaya Church and the neoclassical Moskovskie Vorota Arch.
The historical center of Irkutsk is compact and walkable and there are plenty of tourist agencies that can help you plan a walking tour through the city. Along the many streets, you will see traditional Siberian domestic architecture and wooden houses trimmed with intricately carved fretwork. One of the more imaginative concepts that has fueled the tourist boom is the 130 Kvartal project, an entire neighborhood of traditional Siberian timber buildings that house new restaurants, bars, cafes and museums. Read on to learn about all the best things to do in Irkutsk!
1. Kirov Square
Kirov Square, located on the Right Bank district in Irkutsk, in the historic center between Lenin and Sukhe-Bator streets, is the main square of the city. The square has a long history of over 300 years and twelve different names spanning Tsarist, Soviet and Modern Russian eras. A classic city square, it is a popular place to hangout and picnic, especially for students from the local Irkutsk State Linguistic University. The fountain with its colorful flower beds is an especially popular place to stop and relax and have a bite to eat. The square is also a popular venue for yearly events, holidays and parades.
Address: Irkutsk, Irkutsk Oblast, Russia, 664025
Website: Kirov Square
2. 130 Kvartal
Transport yourself back in time and take a stroll along 130 Kvartal, a restoration project of traditional Siberian wooden houses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some transported from other locations, some constructed to blend in with original structures in the area. Today, the street is filled with boutiques, restaurants, cafes, bars, souvenir shops, and commercial museums. It also contains the more modern 21st-century shopping mall, the only one in Eastern Siberia. A favorite photo spot is the bronze statue of babr, the mythical beast on Irkutsk’s municipal coat of arms, at the entrance to 130 Kvartal. Nearby is outdoor seating with a view of Angara River.
Opening Hours 11:00 am-8:00 pm
Address: ul.3 Iyulya, Irkutsk, Irkutskaya oblast’, Russia, 664003
3. Bogoyavlensky (Epiphany) Cathedral
The original Epiphany Cathedral was built in 1693 in the historical center on the Lower Quay of the Angara River, but burned down during the fire of 1716. Two years later, construction of a stone cathedral began and was completed in 1729. Today, Epiphany Cathedral is the main cathedral of the Irkutsk Diocese. The multi-tiered exterior church was built in the style that has come to be known as “Siberian Baoque”.
The stone façade is decorated with full length pictures of the saints and red ornamental tiles. The church and steeple are a traditional Russian Siberian architectural style while the adjacent bell tower is Neoclassical. The interior’s walls and barrel vaulted ceiling are decorated with more than 300 glittering mosaic tiles depicting religious figures. Because of its unusual combination of architectural styles and its spectacular interior, Epiphany Cathedral stands out among other traditional Russian Siberian churches and is not to be missed.
Address: 1, Sukhe-Batora str., Irkutsk, Russia
Website: Epiphany Cathedral
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4. Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake. It contains 20% of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve. Known as the ‘Galapagos of Russia’, it is an important evolutionary and geological site as its age and isolation has produced one of the world’s richest and most unusual freshwater faunas teeming with bizarre life forms. The nerpa or ringed seal, the world’s only exclusively freshwater seal, is only found in Lake Baikal and feeds on the golomyanka, a pink, partly transparent fish.
The lake is surrounded by snow-capped mountains that offer vistas of breathtaking beauty and are a haven for wild animals. There are many small, self-reliant villages of wood cabins surrounding the lake. One of the larger villages is Listvyanka on the western shoreline, which is a popular starting point for wildlife spotting tours in the summer and ice skating and dog sledding in the winter. Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy The Great Baikal Trail, a network of hiking paths that circle the lake.
Address: Southeastern Siberia Irkutsk oblast, Russia
Website: Lake Baikal
5. Nerpinarium Ringed Seal Show
The Baikal ringed seal is a symbol of Lake Baikal, being their only habitat in the world. They are difficult to see in their natural habitat as they are timid and frighten easily. To have a chance to see the seals, head to the Irkutsk Nerpinarium where they have a trained seal show, the only one of its kind. The seals are brought to the Nerpinarium by tourists or locals who rescue them in winter when they cannot find their way back to the water.
The Nerpinarium maintains special environmental conditions for the seals’ well being. Special refrigeration units keep the water temperatures ideal; the same conditions as in Lake Baikal. At the Nerpinarium the seals have been trained to sing, dance, play with a ball, and count. One seal can even draw. At the end of the show there is an auction when visitors can bid for the drawing.
Nerpinarium Ringed Seal Show
Address: 66 Vtoraya Zheleznodorozhnaya Street, Irkutsk, Irkutsk Oblast, Russia
6. Volkonsky House-Museum
The duck-egg blue and white two-story wooden home of Decembrist Count Sergei Volkonsky was a center of social life in 1840s Irkutsk. Renovated in the late 1980s, the house is now a museum telling the story of the family’s exile in Irkutsk. Volkonsky was a member of the Decembrists, political exiles and prisoners, advocates of political reform, who had served their time at labor camps but were denied permission to return to their homes in Western Russia.
Many ended up settling in Irkutsk, including Volkonsky and his wife. Visitors can now tour the home to see the family dining room, original staircases, drawing room, and upstairs exhibition room with portraits of Volkonsky’s wife Maria and other Decembrist wives. Visitors can also attend musical performances by local singers and musicians who perform in the drawing room to get a feel for what social life was like for the exiled Dcembrists and their wives.
Opening Hours 10 am-6 pm Tuesday-Sunday
Address: per Volkonskogo 10 Irkutsk, Russia
Website: Volkonsky House-Museum
7. Moskovskie Vorota (Moscow Gate of Irkutsk)
Built in 1813, The Moscow Gate in Irkutsk is the first of the three Moscow Triumphal Arches built in Russia. It was built in honor of the ten year accession to the throne of Alexander. In 1928 the gate had been deteriorated to the point that it had to be taken down. In 2009 city authorities decided to restore the gate to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the city of Irkutsk. It now stands on the Angara River embankment.
Address: Intersection of Moskvo-Laninskaya and Nizhnyaya Naberezhnaya streets Irkutsk, Irkutsk Oblast, Russia, 664011
8. Sukachev Regional Art Museum
The Irkutsk Regional Art Museum was named after V.P. Sukachev, a 19th-century public figure who was the city head, patron of the arts and whose art collections formed the basis of the Irkutsk Art Museum. Currently, the museum comprises four buildings of the original Sukachev estate. There is a permanent memorial and art exposition dedicated to the life and work of Sukachev. The museum’s collection contains small monuments of Paleolithic art in the Baikal region, Tibetan Buddhist religious paintings, icons and wooden Siberian sculpture from the 15th-16th centuries, works of Russian artists from the 18th-20th centuries, and Western European art from the 17th-19th centuries. The collection of Far Eastern art from China and Japan is considered one of the best in Russia.
Sukachev Regional Art Museum
Opening Hours Tuesday-Sunday 10 am - 6 pm; closed Monday
Address: ul. Lenina, 5, Irkutsk, Irkutskaya oblast’, Russia, 664025
9. Icebreaker Angara Museum
The Icebreaker Angara Museum is one of Irkutsk’s most unusual museums. The Angara Icebreaker was the second icebreaker to transport goods and passengers on Lake Baikal. It first touched water on July 25, 1900 and is one of the oldest icebreakers in the world and the only surviving icebreaker in Russia. The Angara traveled between Port Baikal and Mysovaya twice a day until 1905. In 1918 it was refitted to transport passengers. After extensive restoration, the History of Navigation on Lake Baikal Museum opened in 1991 in the Angara Icebreaker. On display are models of the Baikal ships, historical photographs and documents relating to the Angara.
Icebreaker Angara Museum
Opening Hours 11 am-7:00 pm Monday-Sunday
Address: pr. Marshala Zhukova, 36А, Irkutsk, Irkutskaya oblast’, Russia, 664057
10. Church of Our Lady of Kazan
The construction of the Church of Our Lady of Kazan began on July 27, 1885 and lasted for seven years. It is the Orthodox Church in Irkutsk and performs the functions of the cathedral of Irkutsk and Angarsk archdiocese. The multi-tiered Siberian Baroque style church stands out with its brilliant red exterior capped with a large, blue central dome surrounded by smaller blue domes. Almost all the interior walls are decorated with brilliant fresco paintings of religious figures. The church houses Irkutsk’s largest church bell and is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Irkutsk.
Church of Our Lady of Kazan
Opening Hours 8:00 am-7:00 pm Daily
Address: Barrikad St, 34, Irkutsk 664001, Russia
11. Pribaikalskiy National Park
A must for nature lovers, Pribaikalskiy National Park is home to around 220 species of animal and birds. The park is one of the components of UNESCO World Heritage Site Lake Baikal. Established in 1936, the park is open year-round. The Great Baikal Trail runs along the west coast of the lake through the park. During the winter, the trail loop is open for skaters, skiers, and snowmobiles for tourists to travel to view the ice formations. There are buses and ferries available into the park at Listvyanka. Four settlements in the park have hotels and facilities, as does Listvyanka.
Pribaikalskiy National Park
Address Irkutsk Oblast, Russia
Website: Pribaikalskiy National Park
Irkutsk architectural jewels
Visitors traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway would do well to make a stop in Irkutsk and take time to discover the architectural jewels that adorn the city. Brilliantly colored Siberian Baroque churches and a confection of nineteenth century gingerbread houses are a feast for the eyes. Irkutsk has all the modern amenities to make a stay there enjoyable and historical sites to satisfy your cultural curiosity.
Editor's note: In light of the 2022 political and military situation in Russia, Trip101 urges you to be apprised of the latest news if you have any urgent plans to travel to Russia. Do note that some bookings and services have been suspended or may not be available at this moment.
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