Irkutsk Travel Guide
Irkutsk is a popular stop for those travelling the Trans-Siberian Railroad, as it is close to Lake Baikal. For a city in the middle of vast wilderness, it is a surprising centre of culture. It became a place of exile for intellectuals and dissidents after the Decembrist Revolt.
At one time, those in exile made up 30% of the population. That legacy lives on today, with museums, fine churches, and art galleries that satisfied them and their descendants.
Come check out our Irkutsk travel guide as we cover the best things to do on Irkutsk, Russia.
Despite (or perhaps because of) its location far east of Moscow, Irkutsk once gave rise to a rebellion. Learn about local families that supported the Decembrist movement at the Irkutsk Regional Memorial Decembrists Museum. This attraction consists of two mansions in the historic centre of Irkutsk.
In each, you’ll find furniture, decor, and other items exactly as they existed in the mid-19th century. The Volkonskys and the Trubetskoys were exiled from the Russian heartland after their role in the Decembrist revolt.
After Prince Constantine abdicated the throne, Nicholas I became the Tsar of Russia. This development sparked outrage, which culminated in an attempted military coup. Nicholas quelled the rebellion, casting out responsible nobles to the furthest reaches of the Russian Empire.
Despite having to begin their lives again in a Siberian backwater, they made the most of their lot. Within these homes, they lived out the rest of their lives in luxury. With grand pianos, music boxes, fine jewellery, and paintings of nearby Lake Baikal, they managed just fine.
The people of Irkutsk are deeply religious, with most identifying as Russian Orthodox Christians. Of all the churches in town, the Cathedral of the Kazan is easily the most spectacular. Its colourful Byzantine design has led many locals to refer to it as a “fairy tower.”
It owes its uniquely ornate form to the Chinese crafters that shaped its granite in the late 19th century. As attractive as its exterior is, its interior is just as beautiful, as it features numerous frescoes. If you visit in winter, check out its ice sculptures, which take their inspiration from figures in Christianity.
Znamensky Monastery is another Christian landmark you should make time to see while in Irkutsk. While it is more humble in appearance than the Cathedral of the Kazan, it is still worth a visit. Its interior will reward you with a massive iconostasis (wall with religious paintings) and numerous murals.
This destination is also home to the relics of St. Inokent, a Siberian missionary, and the graves of famous locals. These plots include the final resting place of Grigory Shelekhov, who initially claimed Alaska for Russia.
Art lovers will not want to leave Irkutsk without checking out the Bronshteyn Gallery. This structure stands out from the rest of the city with its modern architecture. Inside, you’ll find classic and contemporary art in various forms, from paintings to sculptures.
Most notable are statuettes crafted by Dashi Namdakov, which draw their inspiration from Buddhist prayer dolls. A theatre also plays host to periodic performing arts events. If you’re lucky, you may get to take in a Siberian folk music performance.
Not worn out from seeing churches in Irkutsk? Make room in your itinerary for the Cathedral of The Epiphany. It is the oldest of all Christian churches in town, dating from the early 18th century. An earlier iteration existed from the late 17th century, but it burnt down.
Its replacement blended Baroque, Old Russian, and Siberian indigenous design elements in its construction. Today, locals admire it for its “gingerbread” appearance. Inside, its murals and paintings make it just as attractive as the other churches in this guide.
Want to get a photo of a campy, yet unique symbol of Irkutsk? Take time to pay a visit to the Sculpture of Babr. Hundreds of years ago, the Babr, or Siberian Tiger, was taken up as a symbol of the town. Over time, however, this fearsome cat became locally extinct.
Years later, the time came to redo the sculpture of this creature. Memories of the animal were fleeting. Additionally, Babr was close to Bobr, the Russian name for beaver. Thus, additions were made to make it look more like everyone’s favourite bucktoothed forest denizen.
The result: A bizarre, yet charming hybrid of feline and rodent. You’ll find him, with his lunch permanently clenched in his jaw, in a public square of the 130th Quarter.
Need some exercise, or just a place to reflect? Visit Nizhnyaya Naberezhnaya Angary – a promenade along the banks of the Angara River. There aren’t many distractions here – it’s just a concrete path laid out along the riverfront. It gets windy here, so dress warmly in the cooler months of the year.
Before leaving Irkutsk, relax and enjoy yourself in the shops, restaurants, and bars of the 130 Kvartal District. This entertainment district is made up of refurbished and relocated historic wooden structures from around Irkutsk Oblast. At the end of the street is Eastern Siberia’s newest mall – stock up on supplies before re-boarding the Trans-Siberian.