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STUDENT GUIDE TO RUSSIA  / IRKUTSK - A STUDENT'S GUIDE
29.09.2015


Irkutsk City Information
Everything to know about staying awhile


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Irkutsk
Recently restored church in downtown Irkutsk.Eurasian Linguistic Institute
  
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Table of Contents (jump to)

  1. Post Office
  2. Banyas
  3. Food
  4. Banks
  5. More Info


1.  Weather in Irkutsk    (back to top)

Irkutsk is a very dry city, and in general the climate in this area of Siberia is very dry. There is very little rainfall; in the course of one year in Irkutsk, I recall maybe 2 days of rain, and not very heavy rain at that. The typical temperature low for the year falls in January, in the dead of winter, when it gets down to -40º (Celsius or Fahrenheit, any way you look at it, that low and the temperature scales cross). The temperature high tends to fall in July, which can get up to the 80s (Fahrenheit) at the highest. Umbrellas are entirely unnecessary, and I would say that other than as a windbreaker, a rain jacket isn’t really necessary either.

2.  Getting Around Irkutsk    (back to top)

The best online map for the Irkutsk area is called 2gis (Дубл-гис) and can be used online or downloaded. Yandex and Google also know offer online maps of Irkutsk.

You can find a good map of Irkutsk for getting around at one of the kiosks in the university, but it’s a bit pricey.

A. Airport Information
Information: 7 (3952) 266-277 (flight info);
Ticket office: 7 (3952) 266-662; to buy tickets online;
Medical center: 7 (3952) 226-435; 7 (3952) 226-405 (registration office);
Luggage: rules;
Airlines: contacts;
Website: IktPort.ru (in Russian).

The airport in Irkutsk is divided into two main buildings. Everyone arrives to the same arrival gate, so that is not so confusing. Simply follow the crowd as you leave the plane/bus and you will exit out a gate into the area in front of the buildings. Just follow the stream of people to the baggage claim. It is a small baggage area, so everything should be clear. People waiting to pick up arriving passengers generally wait near the gate you emerge from or near the baggage claim.

B. Local train station info  
Information: 7 (800) 775-0000
Information online: Irk.ru  (in Russian; information board); Irkutsk train station website

C. Public Transport
Public transportation in Irkutsk city, while fairly efficient, is not the easiest to navigate. Buses are the most common, fast, and convenient mode of transportation. The approximate wait for transport is: Bus: 2-20 minutes; Trolley: 5-15 minutes; Tram: 10-25 minutes. Be prepared to "fight" for your spot in the public bus, trolley, or tram during peak hours. Irkutsk is a comfortable walking city and if you don't like feeling like a sardine at times, walking is the recommended mode of transport.

For regular in-city buses/marshrutkas/trolleys, you pay 12 rubles directly to the bus driver when getting off at a stop. On the tramvai, a ticket collector will come by once you board and give you a ticket/receipt in exchange for your 12 rubles.

For going out-of-the-city, you either purchase a ticket beforehand or pay the fare while on the bus before it departs (sometimes it's cheaper to buy it before, and it saves your seat on the bus).

For more information, see this online public transport map and Irk.ru, which can give you each numbered route (in Russian) and the destinations along the route. Expect to pay 12 rubles per trip for all forms of in-city transport

Regular taxi
Regular taxis wait at taxi stands in Irkutsk which are not always marked, but include the airport, railway station, hotel Angara (near ISLU), and the hotel Intourist. They are marked with the usual taxi signs (a fairly indistinct black symbol on the side doors usually) and can also be called for pick up. Don’t be surprised if the taxi doesn't have a meter. Always negotiate the price before entering. Tips are not expected, but welcome especially from foreigners.

Taxi companies are numerous and can be called to arrange a pick-up from anywhere in the city. Numbers may change, but the most reliable and affordable one I’ve found is 7 (3952) 500-600 (or here you can order it online), which sends you a text message to confirm your request and let you know when the car has arrived.

Peshkom – on foot
CAREFUL! Please be very careful when you cross roads in Irkutsk. The number of cars in the city has more than tripled since perestroika. The current road conditions have led to very reckless driving.

Outside Irkutsk
Buses to areas outside Irkutsk (Prigorodnoe dvizhenie avtobusov) and scenic water transport is available. For more information go here and visit the bus station (avtovokzal), or the river boat stations (Pristan Raketa or Rechnoi Vokzal).  See SRAS's list of recommended day trips from Irkutsk for more information.

3. Internet Cafés      (back to top)
WiFi is becoming more common in Irkutsk cafes and generally this will be your best and easiest source of Internet if you have come with your own laptop. Эпицентр is on Karla Marksa street, between Gryaznova and Lapina streets. It also has a good range of services (scanning, printing, CD recording, etc).

If you don't mind a little extra bureaucracy with your Internet, Irkutsk also has a good system of libraries that offer fairly cheap Internet. You have to apply for a library card (will cost about dollar) and then you can use their computers for confusing but generally reasonable rates determined by minutes / traffic used. You have to use their computers and can save your work by bringing a flash drive to give the attendant who will hook it up to the central system and connect it to your computer. You can find a full list of libraries on this website (in Russian). The library closest to the ISLU dorms is located at at the corner of Baikalskaya St. and Trilissera St. (at ul. Trilissera, 32).

Free Wi-Fi:

Wi-fi hotspots can be quick to come and go, but some fairly reliable places convenient to an IGLU student’s life include:

Macfoods/BlinOK! (Чкалова, 36) offers free Wi-Fi in a large and relatively comfortable atmosphere. The only problem is the loud music, but if you can handle that then it’s is a comfortable place to sit with a nice pot of tea and free Wi-Fi.

All the coffee shops listed below under "food" have free WiFi.

Harats (Байкальская, 108) is the most convenient place to the dorms to get your free Wi-Fi fill. It’s an Irish-themed pub, so it’s dark inside, but during the day when it’s quite empty it can be a very comfortable place to sit with coffee, tea, beer or soda.

4.  Post Office / Central telegraph          (back to top)
Located across from the circus in the center of town. As you enter, turn left immediately into the post office section. E-mail will be to your right, but not generally recommended – use one of the cafes. For fax, go past the entryway and turn left at the stairs. Down the hallway on the right is a little office—a sort of commercial communications center. Faxes can either be sent immediately, or later (slightly cheaper) and you can pick up confirmation later. Incoming faxes are noted in a book register on the counter. Just look for your name (look under both last and first, as well as the senders name, as sometimes they are not sure how to list it) and ask them for it. Incoming fax number: 7 (3952) 343-460; 7 (3952) 432-322. Phone number for this office: 7 (3952) 344-377.

5. Banyas    (back to top)
Russia is also famous for its banya (a type of sauna – very fun) tradition. This is also a good alternative when the hot water is turned off in your room/apartment by the city for annual pipe maintenance. Look them up in the Yellow Pages and ask your teachers for recommendations.

6.  Food    (back to top)

  1. Students Abroad is an SRAS-sponsored project dedicated to finding the best value cafes and restaurants around Irkutsk and other Russian cities where SRAS programs are hosted.
  2. Traditional Russian: Try the Pelmennaya on the second floor of Torgovii Compleks (Tsentralnii Univermag) for fairly low-priced and traditional Russian food. The entrance is from the side, not from in the mall itself. Blin’OK! (Блин'ОК!) is a Russian blinnaya located next to IGLU at 36 Chkalova (Чкалова, 36). They serve blini, soups, and salads, (and pizza too!) at very reasonable prices (a full meal for $3.00-$4.00). It is a favorite student hangout.
  3. Asian: try the Orion Chinese Restaurant, located downtown at Sverdlova Street, 28 (tel. 202-515; 202-512). An average dinner costs $10-15, but the meals are big and tasty. Alternatively, try Kioto, a quite expensive (dinners start at $17-20) Japanese restaurant practically next door at Sverdlova, 19. Another Chinese option is the comfortable Chinese Kitchen (Кафе Китайской кухни) with 150 ruble lunch specials and a wide range of other menu options for lunch or dinner (Киевская, 27). Govinda, an Indian-inspired vegetarian café opened by Irkutsk’s Hare Krishna community, is another great place for a very affordable lunch or dinner. The café is beautifully decorated inside and offers a sort of Russian-Indian fusion in buffet-style, so getting food is very quick (Two locations: Фурье, 4 or Железнодорожная 2-я, 66).
  4. Fast Food: Macfood’s (Макфудс) is a Russian version of American fast-food chains. It has Russian fare like blini and borsch, but also serves pizza and burgers. It is quick, fresh, and inexpensive ($3.00-$4.00 will easily buy a meal). Located in the same building as Blin’OK! just down the street from IGLU at 36 Chkalova (Чкалова, 36). Domino Pizza (Пицца Домино) is Irkutsk’s 24-hour pizza parlor. It serves both Russian fare and pizza by the slice for about $3.00. Centrally-located at 13-a Lenina Street (ул. Ленина, 13-а) and available after a night out when all else is closed. Papa John’s downtown is a pretty good approximation of Papa John’s pizza delivery in the US, and the upstairs has a pretty classy atmosphere, comfortable for a relaxed meal with friends (Марата, 48).
  5. Beer and Grub: Amsterdam (Амстердам) is a Dutch-style restaurant with windmill décor and a great beer selection. Located within walking distance of the IGLU dormitories at 104 Baikalskaya Street (ул. Байкальская, 104). Closest to the IGLU dorms is Harats, an Irish-themed pub, which is a popular student hangout on weekends or for special occasions and the occasional live music night. Bier haus, located downtown on Karla Marksa is a more upscale place to get a beer and watch a game (Грязнова, 1). Lastly the Prancing Pony (Гарцующий пони), a Lord of the Rings themed bar not far from the university, offers a very whimsical and comfortable interior with traditional Russian food and a variety of beers (Свердлова, 23а).
  6. Date Night: Cnezhinka (Снежинка) is a “sit-down and be-served” restaurant, perfect for a pre-movie dinner or celebration. Although the atmosphere is more upscale, the prices remain reasonable. The menu is expansive with a mix of Russian and international fare and the portions are generous. Located at 2 Litvinova Street (ул. Литвинова, 2). Afterwards, stroll (a common dating activity in Russia) through the calm, green Gagarinsky Prospekt, which follows the Angara River. Alternately, there is the square in front of the Okholpov Drama Theatre, a popular area with young people which features numerous open-air cafes.
  7. Coffee Shops: Fiesta (Фиеста) is a café, centrally located at 16 Uritskovo Street (ул. Урицкого, 16) near the Central Market. They serve all varieties of coffee drinks and delicious desserts in addition to staple items such as blini, salads, and soups. Wi-Fi is available with a purchase (you may need to ask for a code), and the atmosphere is great for studying or writing emails. Studio Coffee (Студия Кофе) will feel like home to any westerner. The atmosphere is upscale European, a testament to the owner’s travels to the West. The coffee selection is vast, as are the options for snacks and meals. Try the dessert blini and a cappuchino, and you’ll never want to leave. They also have great deals for breakfast, discounted before 12pm. Located near IGLU at 1-a Zhelyabova Street (ул. Желябова, 1-а). Not far from the university on Lenin Street is an imitation-Starbucks coffee shop called Lenin Street Coffee (ул. Ленина, 9). Traveller’s Coffee, another close approximation of US café chains (Traveller's is actually a British chain), is located off Karl Marx Street, not far from the circus and offers a wide variety of beverages, small meals and desserts with free Wi-Fi (ул. Горького, 42). A bit further down Karl Marx is another small oasis called the White Crow (Белая Ворона) which is a café underground that offers free Wi-Fi and a very relaxed environment, along with occasional evening events, such as an open mic or craft night (ул. Карла Маркса, 37).

7. Entertainment    (back to top)

A. Dance Clubs
Clubs popular with students include the Wild Horse Saloon (Дикая Лошадь) at 35 Yakob Street (ул. Якоби, 35), Panorama (Панорама) – 102 Dekabriskikh Sobytii Street (ул. Декабрьских Событий, 102). Beware of “face control” when going to a club, sometimes you can be denied entry if you’re not dressed to a certain standard, as judged by the bouncers outside. They can be very particular about sneakers, and tend to be harder on men than on women.

B. Theaters 
Irkutsk Musical Theatre (Иркутский Музыкальный Театр) -- located at 29 Sedova Street (ул. Седова, 29), between the IGLU dormitories and IGLU itself. The repertory cast performs in several different shows at once, so in any given week, there are many different options, from Russian-versions of Broadway musicals to opera to Russian originals. Tickets range from 100-300 rubles. “Little Stork” Puppet Theatre (Театр кукол Аистенок) -- located at 32 Baikalskaya street (ул. Байкальская, 32)—showcases a range of puppet shows, for both children and adults, that are worth seeing for the intricate details of the production. The Drama Theatre (Драматический Театр) is centrally located at 14 Karla Marksa Street (ул. Карла Маркса, 14) and is well known for producing high-quality and thoughtful productions of classic plays and new works of theatre. The building and theatre hall are beautiful structures and worth seeing.

C. Movie Theatres
The Second Floor (Второй этаж) is centrally located at 15 Karla Marksa Street (ул. Карла Маркса, 15), in the same complex as a bowling alley, restaurant, and nightclub. Barguzin (Баргузин) is within walking distance of the IGLU dormitories at 107 Baikalskaya (ул. Байкальская, 107). This is a modern two-floor theatre with two screening rooms and a café on the main floor. Cinema House (Дом кино) is an independent film theatre with one screening room located at 2-a Muhinoi Street (ул. Мухиной, 2-а).

Throughout the year, places like Cinema House and the Art Theatre (Художественный театр, ул. Карла Маркса, 24) host foreign film festivals focusing on different countries. One year there were Korean, French, and Polish film festivals hosted between the two theatres. Typically these film festivals offer at least a few showings of each film in the original language with Russian subtitles, so if you’re tired of foreign-film dubbing, this is a nice way to get a break from that. Once a year or so one of these theatres usually hosts an international film festival, where there are usually a few films in English.

D. Other
Irkutsk Regional Philharmonic Hall (ул. Дзержинского, 2. Tel: 7 (3952) 245-076) offers a great range of performances, including both music and dance in a variety of styles, many of which are affordable for a student’s budget. Tickets are also very accessible for these shows, as they don’t tend to sell out as quickly as other places in town.

Chicago Jazz Club (ул. Байкальская 108. Tel: 8-904-153-33-77) is a fun concert venue very close to the IGLU dormitory, so it’s a favorite place for students as you don’t have to worry about leaving early enough to catch a bus back to the dorms. Entry typically ranges from 150-300 rubles.

Irkutsk State Circus (circus is a serious art form in Russia!) – Ul Zhelyabova (Information tel. 7 (3952) 336-217; Tickets tel. 7 (3952)336-139).

Ice skating is a popular activity in Irkutsk and there are a couple different rinks around the city where you can rent skates by the hour. One is directly on the Angara river, once it’s frozen, by the icebreaker (Mikrorayon Solnechny, Маршала Жукова проспект, 36а). Another is in the Universitetsky neighborhood, located just behind the Eursaian Linguistic Institute dorms (Улан-Баторская, 12).

More Entertainment Listings for Irkutsk! 
More Irkutsk Entertainment Options!

8. Museums, Churches, and More        (back to top)

  1.  The Decembrists: Volkonsky House-Museum (per. Volkonskogo, 10. Tel: 7 (3952) 277-532) and Trubetskovo House Museum (ul. Dzerzinskogo, 64. Tel. 7 (3952) 277-818, 7 (3952) 275-773) both give a picture of what life in exile was like for the Decembrists who are generally recognized as the group that developed Irkutsk into the economic and intellectual capital of Eastern Siberia.
  2.  General History: The City History Museum (ул. Франк-Каменецкого, 16) gives a rounder picture of the city’s history through many decorated displays and models, including a section on older history of the region and the findings of past archeological digs. The Irkutsk Local History Museum (Иркутский областной краеведческий музей, ул. Карла Маркса, 2) is a place to learn more about regional Siberian history, through displays showing clothing and artifacts of the different native peoples in the Irkutsk area as well as from the first settlements of Decembrists. It also has a unique gift shop with Russian trinkets and natural stone jewelry.
  3.  Art: The Art Museum (at the corner of Lenina and Sverdlova streets) features art ranging from ancient Mongolian to modern Russian. The Siberian Art Branch of the Art Museum (at ul. Karla Marksa, 23) features rotating exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing regional artists as well as a permanent exhibition on Siberian icon painters.
  4.  Churches: At the end of ul. Sukhe-Batora, in a nice cluster by a large park and the river, there are three strikingly different churches: The Polish Chapel (in gothic style), Bogoyavlensky Cathedral and Spasskaya Church (in Russian style and breathtaking).  
  5.  Ecology: The Natural Museum (ul. Karla Marksa, 11. Tel: 7 (3952) 340-842) will be of interest to those interested in nature and ecology.
  6.  Railroad: The Steam Ship Angara (ул. Маршала Жукова, д. 36а. Tel: 7 (3952) 358-551) used to carry rail passengers across Lake Baikal many years back. Now it is a museum and a drink store for a nearby restaurant.
  7.  Outdoor: Taltsy (Tel.: 7 (950) 145-4075), the Museum of Architecture and Ethnography is an open-air museum located just 40 minutes outside of Irkutsk and you can get there by marshrutka. It features wooden farmhouses, churches and school buildings from the 17th-20th centuries in Siberia as well as two different types of yurt from Eastern and Western Buryats, respectively.
  8. Other: The Irkutsk State Mineralogical Museum (ул. Лермонтова, 83, корпус «Е».) displays breathtaking mineral and gemstone displays, including stones that are only found in Siberia. They have several gift shop windows that sell natural stone jewelry. The Icebreaker Angara Museum (Музей-ледокол Ангара) is a monument of the last surviving icebreaker, one of the world’s oldest icebreakers, which has been sunk more than any other ship in the world. (Mikrorayon Solnechny, Маршала Жукова проспект, 36а).

9.  Religious Establishments         (back to top)

Islam: Irkutsk is home to one fairly centrally-located mosque, not far from the central market (Иркутская соборная мечеть, ул. Карла Либкнехта, 86).

Judaism: Irkutsk’s local synagogue is located just a few blocks from the central market (Синагога, ул. Карла Либкнехта, 23).

Mormonism: There is a Mormon Church on Karla Marksa, which has become known in Irkutsk for its free English lessons in the evenings (Грязнова, 1).

Catholicism: There is a Catholic church on the left bank of the river near the Technical University which holds a very beautiful midnight mass on Christmas eve, (Грибоедова, 110).

10.  Banks     (back to top)

Vneshtorgbank at Ulitsa Sverdlova, 40 is recommended. Open 9am-6pm Monday-Friday. It has a good exchange rate, and commission for travelers’ checks is 0.5-2% of the face value of the check (Visa, American Express), depending on the type of operation and currency. Accepts Visa & Mastercard.

11. Shopping       (back to top)

Books: There are a number of good bookstores in Irkutsk, but new books can be expensive, especially non-Russian books. For books in English, the best selections can be found at the small book kiosk just inside the front doors of IGLU, next to the computer lab. The books there are not cheap, but do compare to prices for new books from, say, Barnes & Nobles. It’s also worth checking out the libraries, both inside IGLU and nearby (Серый дом, ул. Российская, 20). Several bookstores with wide selections can be found around the central market. Мир книг has a great selection of books as well as games, toys and school supplies (Урицкого, 9, 3rd floor). Школьник is located downstairs on one side of the Torgoviy Kompleks next to the central market (Литвинова, 17).

For books on a budget, try the Букинист (used bookstore) just behind the автовокзал (bus station). With three full rooms full of old books and other treasures, the used bookstore offers a large selection of all different genres, from beautiful old editions of classic literature, dictionaries and the odd foreign language book, to old books of traditional Russian remedies and mushrooming guides (at ул. Октябрьской Революции, 11б/3).

Clothes: Clothing in Russia tends to be more expensive than in the US The cheapest clothing is at the Chinese market, where you can haggle to get prices down, but it’s recommended to wash things several times before wearing them to get out as much of the chemical smell as possible. On ul. Uritskovo (the pedestrian street near the central market) you can find a number of more upscale European clothing chains, including United Colors of Benetton, Reserved, as well as a Columbia Sportswear store for outerwear. Mango (which sometimes offers good sales on jeans, etc.) and Adidas can be found on ul. Karla Marksa, and right across the street from the bus stop at the central market is a Forever-21-type store with frequent sales called Two Thousand.

Electronics: There are a couple of electronics stores around the city. The most popular one, which seems to have the biggest selection, is DNS, with locations all around the city, including at Barguzin (Байкальская, 107а/3, not far from the IGLU dorms), at the central market (Литвинова, 17, enter from one side of the Torgoviy Kompleks) and just down the street from the circus (Свердлова, 36).

12. Quick Trips around the Area     (back to top)

Arshan: Just a three-hour marshrutka ride from Irkutsk is the small village of Arshan, nestled at the foot of the Sayan mountain range in Buryatia. It’s a beautiful place to relax and get some fresh air, and there are many opportunities for hiking or just walking along the river and forest areas. Arshan also has a small datsan (Buryat Buddhist monastery), which makes for a nice walk through the woods from the center of town. To get to Arshan, you can find marshrutkas at the central market or at the bus station (avtovokzal). Once you’re there, it’s not so hard to find a place to stay, often there are people waiting outside the marshrutka stop offering rooms to rent for a few nights. If not, then just around the houses surrounding the main street. Any that read “жилье” should have a room to rent. If you’re concerned about not finding a place, you can also book one ahead of time. Some places also offer a banya to tourists, but you typically need to give some advance warning if you want to use the banya, so they can begin to heat it. Arshan is a nice place to visit any time of year, but there is more opportunity for hiking and outdoor exploring in the fall and summer, when the ground is not frozen and too slippery for foot traffic.

Olkhon Island is the largest island in Lake Baikal and makes for a great weekend trip outside Irkutsk. About a 6 hour marshrutka ride from Irkutsk, Olkhon is a beautiful place to explore and relax in a natural setting. The most common place for tourists to visit is the capital city, Khuzhir (Хужир) which is in the central-western part of the island, on the Maloe More, a smaller piece of Baikal sandwiched between Olkhon and the mainland. Khuzhir is a touristy town and the locals rely a great deal on tourism for the local economy. Many places rent out rooms or small cottages for visitors, and typically provide meals during your stay. Nikita’s Homestead is the most famous of Olkhon’s tourist establishments, and is a very comfortable and welcoming place to spend your time on Olkhon. Nikita’s place also offers marshrutka tours around the island, skates for rent during the winter months and bikes during the summer months. If you’re there on a holiday, you might be lucky enough to catch a special holiday concert. Nikita’s staff are wonderful people, each with their own skills and talents, and there are always interesting people to meet and talk to over a meal in the stolovaya, or over a game of table tennis (Nikita is a table tennis champion, and offers lessons to local children).

Ulan-Ude: Just a 9-hour train ride from Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude is a popular weekend trip for students to see for themselves the largest statue of Lenin’s head in the world, the Ivolginsky Datsan, a beautiful monastery in the heart of Buddhist Russia, and the Ethnographic Museum, a tour of old architecture through model houses, yurts, and older dwellings of the native inhabitants of Siberia.

13. More Info    (back to top)

Eurasian Linguistic Institute
More About the City of Irkutsk

SRAS thanks students Elizabeth Trammell and Danya Spencer for contributing to this guide.



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