Irkutsk was founded in 17th century and, during the early 19th century, it became a major center of intellectual and social life, as many Russian artists, nobles and officers were exiled to Siberia for their role in the Decembrist revolt against Tsar Nicholas I. Irkutsk’s large streets and ornate architecture led to it being called the “Paris of Siberia”. During the Russian Civil War following the October Revolution, the city then became the site of violent clashes between the “Whites” and the “Reds”, until admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, commander of the largest contingent of anti-Bolshevik forces, was executed right in Irkutsk, putting an end to the White Army resistance.
Why you should stop there
There’s not much to debate here, you HAVE to stop in Irkutsk. Not much for the city itself, but for the fact that it is the closest city to the west bank of the Baikal and the main departure point for any means of transport going to the lake, being it Listvyanka or Olkhon island.
Apart from its proximity to Lake Baikal, the city itself is quite nice at first impression, it has many well-kept traditional Siberian wooden homes, each of them unique with their hand-carved decorations. Plus, it’s definitely more relaxed and a lot cheaper than the big cities such as Moscow and St. Petes.
UTC +8 (= Moscow +5)
How to get around
Irkutsk is a fairly compact city and relatively walkable within the centre, still, the public transport system is quite good. There is no subway, but buses and trams can get you wherever you need to get. Here is a map of the tram routes and one of the trolleybuses.
What to see
The Houses of the Decembrist exiles. One is Volkonskiy House, (behind the Transfiguration Church on Ul. Timuryazeva, near the bus station), another is Trubetskiy House (ul. Dzerzhinskogo 64). Also worth seeing is the Sukachev Estate (ul. Dekabristov Sobytii 112), which is the estate of one Irkutsk’s 19th century mayor.
Karl Marx Street. It is the central and one of the most beautiful streets in the city. It starts at Angara embankment near the monument to Alexander III, crosses Lenin Street and continues for about two km. Architects from St. Petersburg attended in the design of most buildings. You will find plenty of fashion shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and cinemas.
Lenin’s Monument. Located at the intersection of Lenin Street and Karl Marx Street, this bronze sculpture by N. Tomsky appeared in 1952. It’s a copy of the original sculpture that had been made in 1940 for Voronezh and repeated – for Leningrad, Vilnius, and later for Irkutsk.
Holy Cross Church. Built in 1747 and decorated with complex geometric patterns, its old porch was replaced in 1960 with a two-story porch in the Empire style. Successful placement of the church on the hill, at the intersection of the main streets of the city, provides an exciting perception of the historic quarter.
Monument to Alexander Kolchak. In the night between the 6th and 7th February 1920, the Supreme Ruler of Russia Alexander Kolchak was shot in the vicinity of the Znamensky Monastery . A monument to the Admiral was established in 2004, on the site of its execution.
Eat, Drink & Sleep
We stayed at “The Best Hostel in Irkutsk”, on Ul. Karla Marxsa 41 (price less than 10 EUR/night): huge hostel, big kitchen and common room, free chai and cookies, very cool atmosphere! Also super easy to find.
Karl Marx Street is filled with restaurants and cafes. Or you can go to any “stolovaya” to taste cheap Russian traditional food.
Stratosphere club: Siberia’s largest disco, located on ul. Karla Marxsa.