Have you heard of Irkutsk? If you ever played the board game Risk you probably have. In any case, Irkutsk is a city located in Siberia (Russia). It was one of our stops on the Trans Mongolian Express and despite visiting St. Petersburg and Moscow as well, Irkutsk was actually my favorite Russian city!
In this guide I’ll share everything you need to know to plan an amazing (family) trip to Irkutsk and nearby Lake Baikal (the main reason most Trans Siberian Express and Trans Mongolian Express travelers make a stop here).
Irkutsk and Lake Baikal: a 2 day itinerary
What is the best time to visit Irkutsk and Lake Baikal?
We visited Irkutsk mid-May and were very lucky with the weather! Our train arrived at Irkutsk station in the early morning and it was pretty cold when we got out (5 degrees Celsius). However, it warmed up quickly and when we left our hotel around noon it was almost 20 degrees! We walked around in our t-shirts the rest of the day.
The next day we went to Lake Baikal and the weather was perfect as well. Blue skies, sunny and not too hot (around 20 degrees Celsius) for sightseeing.
However, as Irkutsk is located in Siberia it can get very cold. In fact, the average temperature in December is a chilly -14 degrees Celsius.
Also, the tour guide who showed us around Lake Baikal mentioned that there was snow a week before we arrived. Make sure you pack enough warm layers, regardless of the time you are visiting!
Altogether I think May until September are nice months to visit Irkutsk if you don’t like to be cold. During winter Lake Baikal completely freezes over, which must be amazing to see. But like I said above, be aware it’ll be cold. Very very cold;-).
How to travel to Irkutsk?
We traveled to Irkutsk by train, as part of our Trans Mongolian Express adventure. From Moscow it takes approximately three and a half days to get to Irkutsk by train. From the train station you can take a taxi to the city center or a bus (number 16, 20 or 80).
Click here to book train tickets for the Trans Mongolian or Trans Siberian Express!
You can also fly to Irkutsk, from Irkutsk International Airport it’s only 7km to the city center. From the airport you can either take a taxi to the city center or hop on a bus (number 20 or 480).
How to get around in Irkutsk?
Since the city center is pretty compact the best way to get around is on foot. We explored most of the things to see in Irkutsk in one day, just by leisurely walking around.
There is a bus and tram network in Irkutsk as well, though we haven’t personally used this. You can buy a ticket on the bus (cash). More information can be found here.
Where to stay in Irkutsk?
Kupechesky Dvor hotel
We stayed at the beautiful Kupechesky Dvor hotel, a unique reconstructed Siberian manor. We loved our stay here, it’s a beautiful building (both on the inside as well as on the outside) and the location is absolutely perfect!
Right in the middle of the popular 130 Kvartal (read more below) and within walking distance of all the best things to do in Irkutsk.
Our spacious and lovely attic room had a large bed, a comfortable couch, bathroom with a bath and our baby’s favorite feature: brightly colored soft carpet!
We arrived early in the morning and were very lucky our room was already available.
The Kupechesky Dvor staff was really nice and the breakfast (which could be served both in our room as well as in the cozy breakfast area next to the reception) was delicious.
We had a hard time deciding what to order (and may have ordered slightly too much because we wanted to try everything on the breakfast menu;-).
Click here to book a room at the Kupechesky Dvor
The best things to do in Irkutsk (with or without kids)
1. Stroll through the 130 Kvartal
The 130 Kvartal is a lovely pedestrian area in Irkutsk. There are lots of shops, restaurants and cafes, located in beautiful (mostly recreated) wooden buildings.
Since all we had to do to visit this area was step out of our hotel, this was the first stop on our Irkutsk itinerary.
2. Walk along the Angara River
One of the most popular weekend (family) activities is strolling along the Angara river, the only river flowing out of Lake Baikal (whereas more than 300 rivers flow into Lake Baikal).
There is a path along the water with lovely views of the river, Irkutsk train station and the Ferris wheel.
3. Check out the beautiful old wooden houses
Irkutsk is famous for the beautiful historic wooden houses that can be found throughout the city. Some are in pristine condition, others have almost crumbled to pieces.
The city is currently on a mission to restore many of these wooden houses to their former glory. These buildings have so much historical value, it would be a shame if they were lost.
The two most famous wooden houses are the Volkonsky House and the Trubetskoy House, both of which are museums where you can learn more about the Decembrists.
The entrance fee is ₽200 per house, a combination ticket is ₽300.
4. Visit a museum
While Irkutsk isn’t that big, there are several interesting museum you can visit. As mentioned above, there are the Volkonsky and Trubetskoy Houses.
You could also visit the Museum of the History of Irkutsk, the Bronshteyn Gallery or the Regional Museum.
5. Go statue hunting
I don’t know why but for some reason there are lots of statues in Irkutsk. The most famous one is the Irkutsk Babr, the symbol of Irkutsk (this statue can be found in the 130 Kvartal).
But there are lots more hidden throughout the city, finding as many as possible is a fun game to play when visiting Irkutsk with kids!
6. Admire the many churches
While Irkutsk doesn’t have a cathedral with colorful onion shaped domes, like St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow or the Church of the Savior on Blood in St. Petersburg, it does have several beautiful churches.
Next to the 130 Kvartal you can find the Raising of the Cross Church and close to the Irkutsk Region Administration office there is the beautiful Saviour’s Church.
And as you are walking around the city center you’ll come across several other beautiful churches (not all are open to the public)!
7. Head to a kids playground
Ok, this one is only when you have kids. There are multiple fun playgrounds in Irkutsk, I marked two nice ones on the map but there are more.
In general I feel Irkutsk is a much more kid-friendly city than Moscow and St. Petersburg. It’s not nearly as busy, distances are small and there are many green spaces.
The best things to around Lake Baikal (with or without kids)
Map with things to see in Listvyanka (Lake Baikal)
After you’ve explored Irkutsk for a day it’s time to head to magnificent Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world containing approximately one-fifth of the world’s surface water. We did a tour with Real Russia and had an action packed program.
How far is Lake Baikal from Irkutsk and how to get from Irkutsk to Lake Baikal?
Lake Baikal is approximately 70 kilometer from Irkutsk. The easiest way to get there is by car, which takes one hour. Transportation was included in our Real Russia tour, however, you can also get there by (mini)bus. More information can be found here.
1. Lunch with Omul
First we had an extensive lunch at Listvyanka Club. Of course this included omul, a fish native to Lake Baikal and a must try on any Lake Baikal excursion.
Note for traveling families: this restaurant is very suitable for families as there is a baby high chair and a children’s play area.
2. Visit the Baikal Museum
In the Lake Baikal Museum you can learn about the geology and ecosystem of the lake.
3. Learn about the Shaman Stone
At the point where the Angara river flows out of Lake Baikal there is a 1.5 meter high stone protruding from the water.
The stone is called Shaman Stone and there is an interesting legend behind it’s origin. Until this day the rock is a sacred place for shamanists.
4. Hike up to Chersky stone and viewpoint
From this 970-meter-high viewpoint, also called the Kamen Cherskogo, you have a beautiful view over Lake Baikal. We hiked up in 20 minutes (with baby D. in his baby carrier) but you can also take the cable car.
5. Admire St. Nicholas Church
This beautiful wooden church is one of the last remaining wooden churches in Russia. You can enter the church, but be dress appropriately (for women: scarfs to cover your head are provided at the entrance).
6. Stroll over Baikal Market and beach
A nice place to buy a souvenir (or dried fish if you have a taste for it;-). Across the market is a stony beach, where you can dip your toe in the freezing water of Lake Baikal.
Trip to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal: in conclusion
Visiting Irkutsk and Lake Baikal was one of the highlights of our Trans Mongolian Express adventure.
I highly recommend to stop here if you are traveling on the Trans Siberia or Trans Mongolian train. Irkutsk is a pleasant place to spend a day or two and of course Lake Baikal is such an impressive place to visit, it just wouldn’t be right to skip it.
Granted, you have excellent views of the Lake from the train as well, but it’s not the same as actually feeling the freezing temperature of the water with your own bare hands (or feet if you dare…).