Irkutsk was founded in 1661 as a Cossack settlement for trading gold and furs. It was declared a city in 1686, and connected to Europe via a road constructed in 1760. In the 18th century it gained significance as a transportation and trading centre of Eastern Siberia. It was a hub of the Tea Road between China and India and European Russia.
In the late 18th and 19th centuries, Irkutsk developed as a centre of science and culture. The first book was published in 1807, the first school opened in 1781, the first hospital in 1807, the first public library in 1839, and the first school for girls in 1845. In 1864 the first telephone was installed, and in 1898 the TransSiberian Railway reached Irkutsk. During the Czarist era, it was a major transit point for criminals and political exiles being sent farther east.
After the Decemberist Revolt of 1825, many Russian artists, officers, and nobles were sent into exile to Siberia for their part in the revolt against Tsar Nicholas I and in the late 1800s, 30% of the population of the city were exiles. Irkutsk became the major centre of intellectual and social life for these exiles, and much of the city's cultural heritage is a result of these exiles. Many of their wooden houses, adorned with ornate, hand-carved decorations, survive today in stark contrast with the surrounding Soviet apartment blocks. Around 1900, the city was nicknamed the "Paris of Siberia" due to its wide streets and ornate, continental architecture but travellers today will find little resemblance with Paris.
During the civil war that broke out after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917-1922, Irkutsk became the site of many furious, bloody clashes between the "Whites" and the "Reds" (aka Bolsheviks). A number of city landmarks remain from that era. In 1920, Kolchak, the once-feared commander of the largest contingent of anti-Bolshevik forces, was executed in Irkutsk, effectively destroying the anti-Bolshevik resistance.
Today, Irkutsk is the 6th largest city in Siberia, with a growing population of more than 590,000 people. It's home to several universities and a major branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, due to its proximity to Lake Baikal.
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Average of Irkutsk
In July, the average temperature is 18°C (64°F) with a bit of rain, but by January, the temperature plunges in typically Siberian fashion to -19°C (-2°F). Early September finds the local foliage at its finest.
Direct flights operate to/from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Ulan Ude, Novosibirsk, Vladivostok, Yakutsk, and several other Russian cities. International flights operate to from Ulaanbaatar, Osh, Seoul, Bangkok, Beijing, and Tashkent.
Buses, trams, and minibuses run frequently between the airport and Kirov Square (near the Angara Hotel) and other points in the historical center. A trip via public transport costs approximately RUB20.
Most travellers arrive in Irkutsk via the Trans-Siberian Railway. Irkutsk is about halfway between Moscow and the two eastern terminus cities, Vladivostok and Beijing, making it a good place to break the trip, if only to stretch your legs and buy provisions. The Baikal-Amur Mainline, connecting with more northerly cities, also runs nearby.
Other popular destinations include Vladivostok, Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk, Chita, Khabarovsk, Severobaykalsk, Ulan-Ude, Novosibirsk, Neryungri, Blagoveshchensk, Ust-Ilimsk, Novokuznetsk, Penza, Kislovodsk and Abakan.
Be wary of the taxi-drivers at the station if arriving on a late-night train. A taxi ride to the centre of town should only cost RUB200-300. Unlicensed taxis will overcharge you. If there is a disagreement, ask your hostel/hotel owner to come to the taxi and arrange the correct fare.
The historical center of Irkutsk is relatively compact and walkable. Traffic congestion is not bad for a city of nearly 600,000 people.
By public transportEdit
For those who want to save time or travel between one side of the river and the other, the public transit system is a good option. Knowing at least how to read the signs on the buses and bus stops is helpful, and on the minibuses, one must call out to the driver to request a stop. Oddly enough, the names of major bus stops are posted on kiosk roofs parallel to the road so that the names are not often visible from inside the bus. Bus and minibus ("marshrutka") fare is usually RUB12. Local etiquette is to pay the driver when exiting the bus and trolley (therefore you can exit it only through the front door). In trams tickets should be purchased from driver, then stamped in the machine on board.
The tourist information office (very friendly and useful) is located in the Europe House, 21 F. Engelsa St.(9-20 summer, 9-18 winter) Also there is another tourist information center, which has gift shop and guesthouse, located in the Old Town area at Gryaznova st. 15A (9-22, receiption 24h).
Skiwalker, Kultukskaya Ulitza #15, offers bicycle rental.
Among the Soviet concrete monstrosities, Irkutsk features many of atmospheric, decaying wooden buildings. Most of these are either abandoned or still used as private residences and add to the atmosphere of the city.
- City History Museum, Frank Kamenetz, 16A, . 10AM-6PM, Closed Wednesdays. Has an interesting and thorough display of Irkutsk from its inception to the present day. edit
- Irkutsk Regional Museum, Ul. Karla Marksa 2 (across from the Alexander III memorial on the Angara embankment), . Closed Mondays. Has an interesting ethnographic exhibit on indigeous peoples including Even and Buryats, and a display on Irkutsk in the 20th Century. edit
- Sidorov State Mineralogical Museum, Lermontov, 83, IRNITU, Building E, . Over 35,000 items on display. edit
- Sukachev Art Museum, Lenina 5, . Closed Tuesdays. Probably Siberia's best collection of fine art, including several early icons, Russian secular art of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, including a few works of Repin, a section of Mongolian and Chinese art, and a section of European art including a collection of lesser-known Dutch masters. edit
- There are a few historical museums in the houses of Decembrist exiles.
- The Sukachev Estate at Ul. Dekabristov Sobytii 112 near the TANK bus stop. The estate of a 19th-century mayor of Irkutsk showing life of the upper classes at the time, in a series of log houses that he lived in.
- Knyaze-Vladimirsky Monastery ul. Kashtanovskaya 52. Built in 1888 in honour of Prince Vladimir who baptisized Rus.
- Znamensky Monastery at ul. Angarskaya 14. Three-centuries old monastery where Alaska explorer Grigory Shelekhov is buried . Nearby it is a monument to Alexander Kolchak, White General. 
- Ascension Church (1747-51),
- Epiphany Cathedral (1718-46)
- Our Lady of Kazan Church (1885-92)
- Saviour Church (1706-13)
- Babr Sculpture
- Nerpinary, 2 Zheleznodorozhnaya st., 66, ☎ +7 3952 55-44-32 ([email protected]), . Home to 2 Baikal seals. You can see the seals perform and even paint! edit
- Ice-breaker Angara, (Trolley or bus to Mikrorayon Solnechny), . Weekdays: 10:00AM-5:00PM. The oldest amongst steam ice-breakers in the world, built in 1900 in Newcastle, now a museum docked at the city's port. edit
- There is a big dam and hydroelectricity plant in Irkutsk. You can take trolley bus number 8, which will drive across the dam. Afterwards, you can walk to a fuel station, where you can see the power plant very well. Afterwards, you can walk across the dam. Beside the plant, it's also possible to go up and down the dam itself. Not many people seem to consider the dam and hydroelectric plant as an interesting sight, so you'll be more or less alone there.
- Irkutsk Philarmony. Classic, jazz, folk music performance. on 2, Dzerzhinskogo st.
- In the winter, the central park has many ice sculptures as well as an ice castle that you can walk around in. There are ice slides in this park also. Most Russians stand up and slide on the soles of their shoes. The park is very lively at night with tourists, even though the temperatures drop well below -20 degrees C.
- Hold the right hand's thumb of statue of famous Russian writer A. Vampilov, who was born near Irkutsk, which is located near Drama theather on Karl Marx street for good luck and happiness in your life. It is a new and popular tradition in Irkutsk, started from Vampilov's anniversary.
- Visit Angara embankment at the end of Ul. Karla Marksa in the evening, the place for meeting of the youth.
- Walk down Ul. Uritskogo, a pedestrian street with shops and cafes.
Wood carvings, birchwood boxes, and lacquer boxes are typical souvenirs of Siberia. A few hotels have souvenir stalls in the lobby, and the Regional Museum at Ul. Karla Marksa 2 has a decent selection in their gift shop as well.
Kamusi are winter boots used by native Siberians made out of deer, elk, or other fur. One place to buy is at a small shop across from the bus station at Ul. Oktyabrskoi Revolyutsii 20B called "Aikhal". It's in a courtyard behind some kiosks, so it takes some searching. They have kamusi for men, women, and children, with prices starting at about RUB3000.
Irkutsk has many restaurants offering Russian, Siberian, Buryat, Mongolian, Japanese, Chinese and European cuisine.
For a local speciality, Omyl, Sig and Kharius are local fishes found in the lake Baikal (available in many restaurants). Cold smoked kharius is good with beer. Hot smoked kharius you can find in Listvyanka or Kultuk villages near Baikal lake. Price depends on fish size and is usually about RUB150-25 for one. In the Central or New market (Noviy Rinok) you can buy kharius and sig caviar - tasty.
National Buryat big dumplings (boozy, pozy) can be found in Amrita cafés. It's a special Buryat fast food chain with some cafés in the middle of town. Cheap, tasty. Pozy is a steamed meat (beef with pork) big dumplings that must be eaten using only hands.
- Cafe Shokolad at Ul. Dekyabrskikh Sobytii 102 behind the wedding palace, is a clean, modern cafe with good salads, reasonably-priced main courses, and, as their name suggests, sumptuous desserts. A bit outside the historical center (near the TANK bus stop), it is a good place to relax after an excursion to the Sukachev Estate down the street.
- Pizza Domino with no relation to the US chain, is at Lenina 13A across from the Lenin Statue. They do pizzas, soups, and other quick meals. Very cheap, and open 24 hours.
- Pizza Pinnochio near the Angara Hotel on Kirov Square and other locations; quick and inexpensive pizzas that are sometimes reheated in a microwave.
- Kochevnik, Gorkogo St., 19, ☎ +7 395 220-04-59 ([email protected]). Nice Mongolian restaurant with a relaxing atmosphere. edit
- Figaro, Karla Marksa 22, ☎ +7 (3952) 29-06-07 ([email protected]), . 10:30AM-midnight. Italian food with great service. edit
- Broadway, 29, Sedova st, ([email protected]), . Tu-Th 12:00-02:00, Fr-Sa 12:00-06:00 the bar works around clock. European and Russian cuisine, a dance floor at nights. edit
- Club ''Megapolis'' (Мегаполис), 4, Ulanbatorskaya st, ☎ +7(3952) 42-64-10. 22:00-7:00. A night club for 2000 persons admittance fee RUB50-200 depending on the weekday. edit
- Club ''Stratosfera'' (Стратосфера), 15 Karla Marksa st, . Three bars (big, beer and disco), dancefloor, pizzeria, two 3D cinemas, bowling. edit
- Panorama (Панорама), 102 Dekabrskikh Sobytiy st, ☎ +7(3952) 533-628 ([email protected]), . Cafes Shololade and Summer Terrace; show-club Panorama. edit
- Yefimich (Ефимыч), 3, Karla Marksa st, ☎ (3592) 20-01-70. A Bar-restaurant for 100 seats inside and 70 seats on the summer ground edit
Balsams Buryatia and Amrita are very nice Buryat alcoholic drinks (costs about RUB180 each 0.75L). Thay are also very helpful against cold. Balsam Buryatia was consecrated by Dalai-Lama XIV, as it says label on the bottle.
Many locals have rooms for rent and services such as Airbnb are popular ways of finding accomodation.
- 52°17' Travelcenter & Hostel, Gryaznova 15A, ☎ +7 952 6181217 ([email protected]), . checkin: 12:00; checkout: 10:00. A great guesthouse,information center, souvenir & coffee shop, and travel company in the center of The Old Town area. Friendly staff, all the basic amenities (spacious common room and kitchen, lockers, laundry etc.) You will also be provided with linens, towels. Dorm bed: RUB600; Twin: RUB1,600. edit
- Baikal Hostel, 136 Lermontova (between the train station and the dam on the River Angara. Get off at the bus and Marshrutka station Mikrochirugia Glasa, on the main street uliza Lermontova. From there it's a 1-minute walk.), ☎ +7-3952-940798 ([email protected]), . The first hostel in Irkutsk. Dorm bed: RUB600-650; Double: RUB1,500-1,600. edit
- Magic Hostel, 5 Timiriazeva St., 2nd floor (in the very center of Irkutsk), ☎ +7 3952 68-00-68 ([email protected]), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. Modern accommodation. Dorm bed: RUB400-700; Double: RUB1,200-1,600. edit
- Nerpa Backpackers Hostel, Sportivniy lane bld. 5A apt. 1 (in the city center, a 7-minute walk from the train station), ☎ +7 964 1111 000 ([email protected]), . checkin: 12:00; checkout: 10:00. Friendly staff, all the basic amenities (2 bathrooms and toilets, spacious common room and kitchen, lockers, laundry etc.) You will also be provided with linens and towels. Dorm bed: RUB600. edit
- Trans-Sib Hostel, Sportivniy lane bld. 9 apt. 8 (7 minute walk from the train station towards the city centre), ☎ +7(904)11-80-652 ([email protected]), . Spacious common room and kitchen, two separate bathrooms, guided tours to Lake Baikal. Dorm bed: RUB500; SOuble: RUB1,400. edit
- Angara Hotel, Sukhe-Batora st., 7 (2.5km from the train station, at the Kirov Square in the centre), ☎ +7 3952 218-105, 218-106 ([email protected]), . 280 rooms, a fitness centre, sauna, swimming pool as well as a billiard room. Single: RUB2,100-3,600; Twin: RUB3,400-4,000. edit
- Irkutsk City Lodge, Baykalskaya 124/2, ☎ +7(3952)48-60-4, . checkin: 12:00; checkout: 12:00. Luxurious themed private rooms and comfortable dormitory. Pick up from the train station and airport. Free visa registration. Free breakfast. RUB2,500-3,100. edit
- Courtyard by Marriott Irkutsk, Chkalov Street 15 (walking distance of the Kirov Place), . checkin: 15:00; checkout: 12:00. 208 spacious guestrooms, including 7 suites, free access to fitness. Lobby Bar, a full American-style breakfast buffet in the restaurant. edit
- China (General Consulate), Karla Marksa street, 40, ☎ +7 (3952) 781-433, 781-434, 781-435 (fax: +7 (3952) 781-413). edit
- Lithuania (Honourary Consulate), 259B Baikalskaya St, ☎ +7 (3952) 35-93-59, 35-93-58, 35-16-54 ([email protected], fax: +7 (3952) 35-93-59, 35-93-58, 35-16-54), . 8:00—19:00 Mon-Fri. edit
- Mongolia (General Consulate), 11 Lapina St (Near Khudozhestvenny cinema), ☎ +7 (3952) 34-22-95 (fax: +7 (3952) 34-21-43). 9.30-12.00, 14.30-17.00 Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri. edit
- Poland (General Consulate), 18 Sukhe Batora St, ☎ +7 3952 288 010 ([email protected], fax: +7 3952 288 012), . Visas 10:00-14:00, otherwise 9:00-17:00 Mon-Fri. edit
- South Korea (General Consulate), Boulevard Gagarina, 44, Hotel Irkutsk (former Intourist), ☎ +7 (3952) 24-13-19. Mon-Fri 9-00AM - 5-00PM. edit
- Listvyanka. 1,5h from Irkutsk by bus (100RUB) or boat (700RUB) to Bajkal lake.
- Irkutsk port serves boats to Ust-Barguzin, Nizhneangarsk, Bolshoye Koty, Listvyanka and port Baikal on the Circum-Baikal Railway.
- Lake Baikal (Озеро Байкал). Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world, lies about an hour away by train or an hour and a half by bus. It can be circled by train (lengths vary from a few hours to 3 days). edit
- Architectural-Ethnographical Museum 'Tal'tsy' (Иркутский архитектурно-этнографический музей «Тальцы»), (To get there, take a bus from the Irkutsk bus station in the direction of Listvyanka (Листвянка); Tal'tsy (Тальцы) is about 45 minutes away and halfway to Listvyanka. To move on from Taltsi either to Listvyanka or Irkutsk, it appears the only way to do so is to hail a bus at one of the bus stops outside the museum grounds on the main road.), . This village of several 17th-19th century wooden houses, churches, and a fort that were relocated from around Irkutsk Oblast to form this interesting open-air museum. 40-80 RUB, depending on the type of bus and 40 RUB for foreign adults museum fee. edit
- Olkhon island (Остров Ольхон). Olkhon island on lake Baikal offers breath-taking views and rest. edit
- Cherskiy mountain range (Хребет Черского), (2-hour ride on suburban train.). Make 3-day trip to Cherskiy peak (about 2,000 m) near Slyudyanka (Слюдянка). edit
- Arshan Resort (Курорт Аршан), (You can get there by bus or marshrutka from the bus station. Marshrutka is more convenient because it is faster and do not have a stops. For getting a marshrutka ask the men staying in front of the station, they will show you who goes there.). Arshan village in Buryatia offers mineral water springs (cold and hot springs at Arshan, and hot springs at Zhemchug village (Жемчуг) — about 10 km from Arshan) and scenic views of mountains. 350-400 RUB (bus or marshrutka). edit
- Daily trains to Mongolia arrive after 36 hours to Ulaanbaatar.
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