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Irkutsk City Information
Everything to know about staying awhile

More About:

Table of Contents (jump to)

  1. Maps
  2. Weather
  3. Restaurants
  4. Groceries and Shopping
  5. Internet, Phones, and Post
  6. Health and Fitness
  7. Entertainment
  8. Museums, etc.
  9. Religion
  10. Transportation
  11. Other
  12. Quick Trips around the Area


1. Maps    (back to top)

Thebest 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, but 2Gis is the most accurate and widely used.


2.  Weather in Irkutsk    (back to top)

Irkutsk is a very dry city, as is this area of Siberia in general. There is very little rainfall, and when there is, it’s not very heavy. The typical temperature low for the year falls in January, in the dead of winter, when it can get down to -40º (Celsius or Fahrenheit—the temperature scales cross at that temperature). This is very rare, though—but you can expect the mid -20s C / -5 F regularly. The temperature high, in the 80s, tends to fall in July, though it’s been getting warmer earlier. Umbrellas are entirely unnecessary, and other than as a windbreaker, a rain jacket isn’t really necessary either.


SRAS Programs
in Irkutsk:

3.  Restaurants    (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: Poznaya 38 (Позная 38) is a Russian restaurant located across Kirov Square from ISU at Sukhe-Batora 7 (Сухэ-Батора, 7). They serve borshch and other traditional Russian foods at very low prices, though portions are pretty small. You pay immediately after ordering. Mors, at Stepana Razina 5 (Степана Разина, 5), a short walk from the school, is a great alternative to traditional stolovayas—it’s a quieter atmosphere and the food is better. For more upscale Russian cuisine, try Rassolnik (Рассольник) in 130 Kvartal (3 Июля, ст3).
  3. Asian: Try the Orion Chinese Restaurant, located downtown (Свердлова, 28). An average dinner costs $10 to 15, but the meals are big and tasty. Alternatively, try Kioto, a quite expensive (dinners start at $17 to $20) Japanese restaurant practically next door at Sverdlova, 19 (Свердлова, 19). Another Chinese option is the comfortable Harbin (Харбин), with inexpensive lunch specials and a wide range of other menu options for lunch or dinner (Киевская, 27). A cheaper Asian option is Kimchi, offering Chinese and Korean dishes (Красноармейская 2, just off Карла Маркса). 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 and Железнодорожная 2-я, 66).
  4. Fast Food: There are three shawarma and gyro places very close to ISU: ZakuCity (Сухэ-Батора 7), ShaurMeals (also Сухэ-Батора7), and Demos Grill. ZakuCity and ShaurMeals are almost identical, selling big Russianized shawarmas for very low prices; Demos serves Greek(ish) wraps, which are smaller but still tasty. It’s located literally right outside ISU, so it’s great for a quick lunch or coffee when you can’t face the stolovaya. 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. It’s centrally located at 13-a Lenina Street (ул. Ленина, 13-а) and is there for you after a night out when all else is closed. Papa John’s downtown is a pretty good approximation of Papa John’s pizza in the US, and the upstairs has a pretty classy atmosphere, comfortable for a relaxed meal with friends (Марата, 48).
  5. Beer and GrubClosest to the ISU dorms is Harats, an Irish-themed pub. It’s a popular student hangout on weekends or for special occasions and the occasional live music night, and there’s another location in 130 Kvartal. Bier Haus, located downtown on Karla Marksa, is a more upscale place to get a beer and watch a game (Грязнова, 1). BBB (Karla Marksa 41/1), a Belgian restaurant and beer house, is also more upscale, with good food, including fries. In the Lisikha (Лисиха) neighborhood, where many host families live, is Black Magic Bar (Байкальская 160), an atmospheric pub with good beer and food.
  6. Date Night: Many of the restaurants in 130 Kvartal, including Rassolnik (Russian food, 3 Июля, 3ст), Khinkalnaya (Georgian food, 3 Седова), and Kinza (also Georgian food, 3 Июля, 15), are “sit-down-and-be-served” restaurants, perfect for a pre-movie dinner or celebration. These are all more upscale, though it’s possible to find reasonably priced dishes. Afterward, stroll (a common dating activity in Russia) through 130 Kvartal to Gagarin Boulevard and along the Angara River.
  7. Coffee ShopsStudio Coffee (Студия Кофе) will feel like home to any Westerner. The atmosphere is 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 cappuccino, and you’ll never want to leave. They also have great deals for breakfast, discounted before 12pm. There’s a branch right near ISU, 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, has several locations, including just off Karla Marksa (Киевская 7) and near the university (Желябова 3). It offers a wide variety of beverages, small meals and desserts, with free wi-fi. A bit further down Karla Marksa is another small oasis called the White Crow (Белая Ворона), an underground café 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). Not far from the Central Market is the café 12 Cats (12 Котов, Литвинова 4), which has decent coffee, a small food menu, and a charming atmosphere.


4. Groceries and Shopping       (back to top)

  1. Groceries: Slata and Spar are the two main grocery stores around Irkutsk, and there are several locations of Slata within a short walk of the university (Сухэ-Батора 7 and Карла Маркса 21). Irkutsk’s largest supermarket is probably O’Kei, in Komsomoll (Верхняя Набережная 10). There are also smaller grocery stores and kiosks located all over the city, where you can pop in to get essential items. Of course, there’s also the Central Market (Чехова, 22), both the big indoor section and the outside farmers’ market, which is open in warmer months.
  2. Books: There are several good bookstores in Irkutsk, and books are generally much cheaper than in the US (though books in English are a bit pricier). For books in English, the best selections can be found at the various branches of ProdaLit and Chitay Gorod—the closest to ISU are at Sukhe-Batora 7 and Gorkogo 42, respectively (Сухэ-Батора, 7; Горкого, 42). It’s also worth checking out the libraries, both inside ISU and nearby (there’s a children’s library at Свердлова 23). Several bookstores with wide selections can be found around the Central Market—there are big branches of both Chitay Gorod and ProdaLit. The used-bookstore scene in Irkutsk is pretty limited—right now there seems to only be Knizhnaya Lavka, in 130 Kvartal. It’s tiny, but you can usually find some sort of treasure.
  3. Clothes: Clothing in Russia tends to be more expensive than in the US. The cheapest clothing is at the Chinese market (Шангхай Сити), where you can haggle to get prices down, but the quality tends to be pretty low. On ul. Uritskovo (Урицкого, the pedestrian street near the Central Market), you can find a number of more upscale European clothing chains, including United Colors of Benetton, Reserved, and a Columbia Sportswear store for outerwear. There are other pricier European stores dotting Karla Marksa. Adidas can be found just off ul. Karla Marksa (Урицкого 2), 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. Irkutsk also has several very modern, American-style malls: Modniy Kvartal, in the trendy 130 Kvartal neighborhood; and Komsomoll, also located near 130 Kvartal. You can find American and European brands there (and also feel like you’re back in America for a few hours).
  4. Electronics: There are a couple of electronics stores around the city. DNS has a good selection; there are several locations, including at Volzhskaya 15 (Волжская, 15), not too far from the dorms, and Sverdlova 36 (Свердлова, 36), in the same building as Chitay Gorod. There are small electronics stands in Modniy Kvartal, where you can get chargers, Yota modems, flash drives, and the like. Modniy Kvartal also has an Apple-authorized dealer.


About SRAS:

5. Internet, Phones, and Post      (back to top)
For more information on bringing and using electronics in Russia, please see our please see our Packing Guide and our Post and Phones Guide.

  1. Mobile Phones: SRAS students on regular SRAS programs in Moscow will be given a mobile phone for use during their time in Moscow. Anyone else can easily purchase a cheap phone and a pay-as-you-go SIM card in any Evroset store (including those located in every Moscow airport and train station) for about $50.
  2. Internet cafés: As personal computing devices and free WiFi become more commonplace, Internet cafes are becoming rarer. Эпицентр, on Karla Marksa street, between Gryaznova and Lapina streets (ул. Карла Маркса 26), still survives, though. It also has a good range of other services—scanning, printing, CD recording, etc.
  3. Free WiFi: The university has WiFi on the fifth floor. Harats (Байкалская, 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. Studio Coffee (Желябова, 1) and Traveller’s Coffee (Желябова, 3) are both pretty near campus, and both offer free WiFi in a large and comfortable atmosphere. All the coffee shops listed below under “Food" have free WiFi.
  4. Paid Wireless Data: If your American phone is equipped to work overseas and with any carrier, you can get a SIM for a few dollars. Internet plans start at 200 rubles ($3.50) per month for 3 GB of data. This plan also includes sufficient phone calls and text messages.
  5. Library Internet: 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 (which will cost about a 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, but 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 ISU dorms is located at at the corner of Baikalskaya St. and Trilissera St. (ул. Трилиссера, 32).
  6. Post: The main branch of the post office is located across from the circus in the center of town. As you enter, turn left immediately into the post office section. If you need to fax anything, 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 be sent either immediately or later (which is 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 first and last, as well as the sender’s name, as sometimes they are not sure how to list it) and ask for it. Incoming fax numbers: 7 (3952) 343-460; 7 (3952) 432-322. Phone number for this office: 7 (3952) 344-377. Тhe post offices closer to the university are at Stepana Razina 23 (Степана Разина, 23) and Sverdlova 40 (Свердлова 40). There are usually different offices for sending letters and picking up packages; you can just ask an employee and they’ll let you know. Bring your passport if you’re picking up a package.


6. Health and Fitness    (back to top)
Find out more about general health, saftey, and insurance issues in Russia from our guide.

  1. General Saftey: Other than crossing the streets, Irkutsk is a pretty safe city—though because it’s not a super big city, many areas can get very quiet after dark, which poses some risk. Public transportation also closes early—buses and marshrutki run much less frequently after 9, and stop at 11. Exercise the usual caution late at night, especially in underpopulated areas—be aware of your surroundings and and you should fine. Also keep track of your wallet and phone on marshrutkas and in the market, just in case.
  2. The Water: Sources vary on whether the water is safe to drink in Irkutsk. It’s probably fine, but if you don’t want to run the risk, boil and refrigerate it or buy bottled—a 6.5–liter bottle is about $1.50.
  3. Pharmacies: These are easy to find in Irkutsk—most grocery stores have a separate little pharmacy area (you’ll have to ask the salesperson for what you want, and they’ll retrieve it for you—this is the way of most Russian pharmacies). There are also standalone ones all over, including several branches of Eskulap (Сухэ-Батора 7; Ленина 22). Doverie (Ленина 21) is open 24 hours, and you can search 2Gis for additional 24-hour pharmacies. If you’re looking for something really specific and can’t find it in a local pharmacy, try—you can place an order and then pick it up at the local pharmacy of your
  4. Doctors: English speaking health care is likely to be hard to find in Irkutsk. Students on SRAS' insurance plan are generally advised to head to the Regional Clinical Hospital of the Irkutsk Region at Yubileynyy 100. You might also see this list of health facilities from
  5. Gyms: There are plenty of gyms all over Irkutsk. Near the university are Sezon (Сезон, Свердлова 36) and Champion (5-й Армии 29), which both offer modern facilities and plenty of equipment. Sezon also offers exercise classes. Closer to the dorms and Lisikha is Sportmax (Байкальская 105а), which is cheaper, at only 1000 rubles (about $20) per month. The boxing club Rocky, at Gorkogo 42, also offers classes—including cross fit and, of course, boxing—though it's a bit pricy.


Recommended Books:


7. Entertainment    (back to top)

  1. Whats Going On? The best site to find local events and news is, though it’s all in Russian. The SRAS Students site has more information on cafes, sightseeing, and living in Irkutsk., a popular events-listing site, also has an Irkutsk section.
  2. Dance Clubs popular with students include the Wild Horse Saloon (Дикая Лошадь) at 35 Yakobi Street (ул. Якоби, 35) and Rock 'n Roll Pub (ул. Декабрьских Событий, 102). There’s also a karaoke bar, the Gentle Bulldog (Нежный бульдог), at Gagarin 11 (Гагарин, 11). 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. They can be very particular about sneakers, and tend to be harder on men than on women.
  3. Theaters are numberous in Irkutsk. The Irkutsk Musical Theater (Иркутский Музыкальный Театр) is located at 29 Sedova Street (ул. Седова, 29), between the ISU dormitories and ISU 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 200 to 500 rubles. The "Little Stork" Puppet Theater (Театр кукол Аистенок, 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 Theater (Драматический Театр) is centrally located at 14 Karla Marksa (ул. Карла Маркса, 14) and is well known for producing high-quality and thoughtful productions of classic plays and new works of theater. The building, including the interior, is a beautiful structure well worth seeing—but note that tickets tend to sell out very quickly.
  4. Banyas are something that Russia is famous for. It's a type of sauna—very fun, for some people, and is a strong tradition in Russia. 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 on 2Gis or ask your teachers for recommendations.
  1. Movies are also plentiful. The Art Theater (Художественный театр) and Don Otello are both centrally located (Карла Маркса 24 and Грязнова 1, respectively). Barguzin (Баргузин) is within walking distance of the ISU dormitories, at 107 Baikalskaya (ул. Байкальская, 107). It’s a huge, modern two-floor theater with a café on the main floor. There’s also a theater located in Modniy Kvartal, the big mall in 130 Kvartal. Cinema House (Дом кино) is an independent film theater with one screening room, on the other side of the Angara (ул. Мухиной, 2-а). Throughout the year, Cinema House and the Art Theater host foreign film festivals focusing on different countries. 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. There’s even the occasional showing of a film in English.
  2. Concerts can be found of every variety. 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 on a student’s budget. Tickets are also very accessible for these shows, as they don’t tend to sell out as quickly as at other places in town. The main ticket office also sells tickets to concerts at the Polish cathedral/organ hall located near ISU.
  3. Irkutsk State Circus (circus is a serious art form in Russia!) can be found at Ul Zhelyabova (Information tel. 7 (3952) 336-217; Tickets tel. 7 (3952)336-139).
  4. 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).


8. Museums, etc.        (back to top)

  1. The Decembrists: The Volkonsky House Museum (пер. Волконьског, 10. Tel: 7 (3952) 277-532) and Trubetskiy House Museum (ул. Дзержинского, 64. Tel. 7 (3952) 277-818, 7 (3952) 275-773) both give a picture of what life in exile was like for the Decembrists. The Decembrists are generally recognized as the group that developed Irkutsk into the economic and intellectual capital of Eastern Siberia.
  2. HistoryThe City History Museum (ул. Франк-Каменецкого, 16) gives a round 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. At the History Brach of The Irkutsk Regional Museum (Иркутский областной краеведческий музей, ул. Карла Маркса, 2) you can 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 Decembrists’ first settlements. It also has a unique gift shop with Russian trinkets and natural stone jewelry.
  3. Art: The Art Museum (Художественный музей, at the corner of Lenina and Sverdlova streets, Ленина, 5) features art ranging from ancient Mongolian to modern Russian, and is free for students on the last Wednesday of the month (and it’s pretty cheap on all other days). The Siberian Art Branch of the Art Museum (Карла Маркса, 23) features rotating exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing regional artists. There’s also 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 (a Siberian-style Orthodox church), and Spasskaya Church (in Russian style). Other beautiful Orthodox churches can be found scattered through the city.
  5. Ecology: The Nature Branch of the Irkutsk Regional Museum (Краеведеческий музей, Карла Маркса, 11. Tel: 7 (3952) 340-842) will be of interest to those interested in nature and ecology. In nearby Listvyanka, the Limnological Museum (Академическа1, 1a) will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Lake Baikal—and you can see live nerpy (нерпы, Baikal seals) and omul.
  6. OutdoorTaltsy (Tel.: 7 (950) 145-4075), the Museum of Architecture and Ethnography, is an open-air museum located just 40 minutes outside of Irkutsk; you can get there by marshrutka. It features wooden farmhouses, churches and school buildings from the 17th to 20th centuries in Siberia, as well as two different types of yurts from Eastern and Western Buryats.
  7. Other: The Irkutsk State Mineralogical Museum (ул. Лермонтова, 83, корпус «Е») displays breathtaking mineral and gemstone displays, including stones that are found only 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 (and one of the world’s oldest) icebreaker, which has been sunk more times than any other ship in the world. (Mikrorayon Solnechny, Маршала Жукова проспект, 36а).


SRAS Programs
in Irkutsk:

9.  Religious Establishments         (back to top)

  1. Islam: Irkutsk is home to one fairly centrally located mosque, not far from the Central Market (Иркутская соборная мечеть, ул. Карла Либкнехта, 86).
  2. Judaism: Irkutsk’s local Orthodox synagogue is located just a few blocks from the Central Market (Синагога, ул. Карла Либкнехта, 23).
  3. 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).
  4. Orthodox: There are working Orthodox churches located all over the city.


10.  Transportation    (back to top)

  1. Public Transport in Irkutsk, while fairly efficient, is not the easiest to navigate. For more information, see IrkBus, an online public transport map, and, which can give you each numbered route (in Russian) and the destinations along the route. 2Gis also gives very accurate directions from point to point—similar to Google Maps—complete with the bus/marshrutka/tram you’ll need to take to get where you want to go.

    Buses and marshrutki are the most common, fast, and convenient mode of transportation; the trams are slower but more aesthetically pleasing. The approximate wait for transport is: Bus: 2–20 minutes; Bus: 5–15 minutes; Tram: 10–25 minutes. Be prepared to fight for your spot in the public bus, marshrutka, or tram during peak hours. For regular in-city buses and marshrutkas, you pay 15 rubles directly to the driver when you get off at a stop. On the tram, a ticket collector will come by once you board and give you a ticket/receipt in exchange for your 15 rubles

    When you’re taking a bus out of the city, you either purchase a ticket beforehand or pay the fare on the bus before it departs. It’s sometimes cheaper to buy the ticket before, and this way you are guaranteed a seat.
  2. Taxis wait at taxi stands in Irkutsk. The stands are not always marked, but they can be found at the airport, railway station, Hotel Angara (near ISU), and the hotel Intourist. Taxis are marked with the usual taxi signs (a fairly indistinct black symbol on the side doors).

    You can also call a taxi for pickup. Don’t be surprised if the taxi doesn't have a meter, and always negotiate the price before entering. Tips are not expected, but are welcome, especially from foreigners.

    Taxi companies are numerous, and you can call to arrange a pickup from anywhere in the city. The most affordable one, Maksim, is 7 (3952) 500-600, or you can order one from this company online. This service sends you a text message to let you know when your driver is on the way, and alerts you when the car has arrived. You can also book taxis in advance through this service; they usually arrive reliably.
  3. Peshkom: Irkutsk is a comfortable walking city—almost all the main attractions are located near one another in the center—and if you don't want to feel like a sardine, walking is the recommended mode of transport.

    CAREFUL! Please be very careful when you cross the street in Irkutsk. There’s a lot of traffic, and the current road conditions have led to very reckless driving. If there is a pedestrian crosswalk and no light, you have the right of way—cars will (theoretically) stop for you. If there’s no crosswalk, be especially careful when crossing; and if there is a light, wait for the walk sign.
  4. 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 (автовокзал), or the river boat stations (Pristan Raketa or Rechnoi Vokzal). See SRAS's list of Quick Trips around the Area for more information.
  5. The Airport in Irkutsk, which is technically an international airport, is divided into two main buildings. Everyone arrives to the same arrival gate. Simply follow the crowd as you leave the plane (or the bus to the terminal), 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.
  6. The Irkutsk Train Station can take you just about anywhere in the area. See the time tables online.


11. Other     (back to top)

  1. Haircuts are pretty easy to find in the city center, and they’ll be cheaper than most US salons (at least for women). Art Salon (Горького, 15) is a pretty big, pleasant salon located about a 10-minute walk from ISU.
  2. Charitable giving is also fairly easy. There are bins that accept used clothing in the Slata located near the university (Сухэ-Батора, 7)—donations will be given to Vtornik, a charity shop. Women can also inquire with a crisis center (Мария or Милосердие) about donating clothes (and, of course, anyone can donate other items).
  3. Banks There are Sberbank and VTB branches all over the place; those are reliable and recommended. Vneshtorgbank (Свердлова, 40) is also recommended: it has a good exchange rate, and commission for travelers’ checks is 0.5% to 2% of the face value of the check (Visa, American Express), depending on the type of operation and currency. They accept Visa and Mastercard. It’s recommended not to use ATMs that are located out on the streets, but most ATMS are located in banks, grocery stores, etc., and these are all perfectly safe. Most stores and restaurants accept credit cards these days—it’s actually more rare that they’ll accept a 5,000-ruble bill.


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

  1. See SRAS' Students' Site for still more travel ideas!
  2. Arshan is a small village just a three-hour marshrutka ride from Irkutsk, 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.
  3. Listvyanka is the closest town from Irkutsk that’s right on Lake Baikal. In the winter, you can head there to walk around on the lake (or even take a ride on a fluffy camel); also don’t miss the market, where you can buy smoked omul and lepyoshki.
  4. 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).
  5. Ulan Ude  is the capital of Buryatia, on the east side of Lake Baikal. Just a 7-hour train ride from Irkutsk (more or less—it depends on the train), Ulan-Ude is a popular weekend trip. See for yourself 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. The Buryats are ethnic Mongols who settled in this territory. The area features one of Russia's largest Buddhist centers and striking eastern architecture and an interesting mix of Cossack, Chinese, Mongol and Russian cultures. Make sure to take in the scenery of the train ride, which circles Lake Baikal, have a traditional Buryat dinner at "Urta" in Verkhnya Berezovka (a picturesque site outside the city), visit Ivolginsk Datsan (a Buddhist religious center); also in the area is an Old Believer’s Village, set up to take tourist and deliver traditional food and dancing. The city of Ulan Ude itself is a relic of communism with a giant bust of Lenin on Revolution Square, and the imposing Gostinie Dvori, Lenin Street and Soviet Square with its Opera and Ballet Theater.
  6. Lake Baikal, in addition to being the world's largest fresh water lake and one of it's purest, Baikal also has a unique ecosystem (and a few species) not found anywhere else on the planet. Visit the Museum of Wooden Architecture en route, see the Limnological Museum, including aquarium with Nerpa (a seal indigenous to Lake Baikal) and stroll while snacking on smoked Omul bought from one of the area's numerous local vendors. Omul is fish found only in Baikal and is a local delicacy.
  7. The Old Railway (Starobaikalskaya Zeleznaya Doroga), was built at the beginning of the twentieth century and was such a feat of engineering it became known as the "Tsar’s Jeweled Buckle." It is still partially operational as a tourist attraction, though sections have now been submerged due to modern damming projects. Rumors say that old train-wrecks lying below Lake Baikal still contain large amounts of gold, as the route was commonly used to transport Siberian gold.  The Old Railway may be seen from the tourist train, by hiking, or by boat or diving tour. 
  8. Bolshie Koti is a boat ride from Irkutsk and a good way to get out on the lake and to see some traditional Russian living. Originally founded by gold miners (who apparently wore really big boots and hence the name), it is now a fishing village where one can witness the traditional processes of catching, cleaning, hanging and/or smoking fish.  Tasting is remarkably inexpensive.  Visit the Akvarium Museum while you are there as well. 
  9. The Tsaltsy Museum of Wooden Architecture gives a fantastic view of traditional Siberian architecture with chapels, a church, a watermill, military constructions, graveyards and homes.  Inexpensive and a very short trip from Irkutsk, this comes highly recommended.  
  10. Severobaikalsk, a long boat trip to the north part of the lake, is a hikers paradise and inexpensive to boot.


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

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