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- 08 May 2021, 3 nights
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Irkutsk is a Russian city of wooden buildings, bright blue churches and a distinctly European flair brought by Polish exiles in the early 20th century. Snow-capped mountains dominate the horizon of this major stop on the Tran-Siberian Railway. The city's also the gateway to adventure on Lake Baikal. Come here for winter excursions across the famous ice or stick around town to sample a vodka and soak up the vibrant culture of Siberia's fascinating heartland.
You can find Irkutsk hostels in 19th-century timber homes, and some will organise local tours and trips to Lake Baikal. If you prefer to cook for yourself, book an Irkutsk hostel with a guest kitchen and a social area where you can share your creations with other travellers. Most hostels have free Wi-Fi and free city maps to help you find your way around.
The Angara River divides Irkutsk into sections known as the left and right banks. Along the right bank is Angara Embankment, a boulevard of parks and walkways behind which lies the UNESCO-protected city centre. Kirov Square, which has changed names 12 times in 300 years, is the historic heart of the city. For cool restaurants and cafés watched over by Babr – the city's bronze monster statue – head to 130 Kvartal, a new neighbourhood of traditional wooden buildings brought from other parts of Eastern Russia. The left bank is where you'll find the university and lively student areas.
Attractions in Irkutsk are varied, from a maritime museum on board a 100-year-old icebreaker ship to the Volkonsky House-Museum where you can imagine life as a political exile. You could explore the extravagant churches in the historic centre or discover folk art by the region's indigenous people at the Irkutsk Museum of Fine Art. Pribaikalskiy National Park on the shore of Lake Baikal is just an hour away and is the place for hiking in summer. Come winter, you can try ice skating and even ice diving if you're feeling brave.
Fly to International Airport Irkutsk from Moscow or other cities across Asia and you'll arrive conveniently close to the city centre. Some might say the most romantic way to reach the city is via the famous Tran-Siberian Railway. Journeys to Irkutsk-Passazhirsky Train Station (a 30-minute walk from Kirov Square) take 3 to 5 days from Moscow, 27 hours from Ulaanbaatar and 72 hours from Vladivostok. Once you're in Irkutsk, you can easily get around the compact Old Town on foot.