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By far the most popular halt on the Trans-Siberian Railway between Moscow and Vladivostok (and Beijing and Ulaanbaatar), the grand old city of Irkutsk is where the vast majority of overland travelers leave the confines of their Russian Railways sleeper compartments, after four days on the tracks, to stretch their legs in the "Paris of Siberia." Eastern Siberia’s most important city since it was founded in 1662, Irkutsk has more history in its 19th-century palaces, scented churches, musty museums and timber dwellings than most Russian cities. Its wealth grew in the 18th and 19th centuries on the back of trade in pelts, tea, gold and other ...

By far the most popular halt on the Trans-Siberian Railway between Moscow and Vladivostok (and Beijing and Ulaanbaatar), the grand old city of Irkutsk is where the vast majority of overland travelers leave the confines of their Russian Railways sleeper compartments, after four days on the tracks, to stretch their legs in the "Paris of Siberia." Eastern Siberia’s most important city since it was founded in 1662, Irkutsk has more history in its 19th-century palaces, scented churches, musty museums and timber dwellings than most Russian cities. Its wealth grew in the 18th and 19th centuries on the back of trade in pelts, tea, gold and other commodities, and merchants spent their profits erecting mansions and filling museums and salons with art and furniture from Europe. Irkutsk may have a fascinating tale to tell, but the main attraction here lies 70 km (43 mi) to the southeast in the shape of mighty Lake Baikal, whose stats cannot fail to impress; it’s the world’s deepest and oldest lake and contains 20% of the Earth’s fresh water. The lake and the surrounding shores are an outdoor and nature-lover’s paradise, even in the winter when the surface freezes steel hard and is scored with ice roads. Naturally Irkutsk is the ideal base to organize trips to Baikal and the wider area.

Marc Di Duca
About the Expert

Marc Di Duca has written and updated more than 40 guides, mainly for Lonely Planet but also for AA, Thomas Cook, Berlitz and Bradt. Having spent the last 20 years exploring the former communist world, his main field of expertise is Eastern Europe and Siberia.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Irkutsk is the capital of the Russian Province Irkutsk Oblast in eastern Siberia.
  • Language: Russian
  • Currency: Russian Rouble
  • Research: Wikipedia | Wikitravel
  • Weather: Daylight | Rainfall

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    Late spring, early autumn; temperatures can reach 104F in summer and -40F in winter.