Things To Do In Irkutsk; My Trans-Siberian Adventure

I took the trans-Siberian train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I then continued on the train from Mongolia to Russia. In total, it took me about 4 weeks and was one of the best trips of my life. I took various stops along the way, rather than doing the whole thing in one shot, and a wholly underappreciated and often skipped leg of the Trans Siberian railroad was Irkutsk. Turns out there are quite a lot of things to do in Irkutsk, it really surprised me with its sights, atmosphere and cheap vodka.

How to Get to Irkutsk on the Transsiberian?

Depending on which way you’re coming, it’ll be one of these 3 options:

  • Train from Moscow to Irkutsk
  • Train for Vladivostock to Irkutsk
  • Or (the best option for an adventure) the train from Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia to Irkutsk – THIS IS WHAT I DID. 

I guess it could be said that this was actually my first leg of the Trans Siberian route with my 30 hour Beijing to Ulaan Batataar. Where my 36 hour Ulaan Bataar to Irkutsk journeys was strictly the Trans-Mongolian Express.

Whichever you look at it it was certainly my first stop in Russia. My first experience of a country I’ve dreamed about visiting since I was a kid. And my first realization that I’m not in Asia anymore. So, time to make the most of the experience. Hop off the Trans Siberian train at the first opportunity, and check out all the things to do in Irkutsk, Russia:

Things To Do In Irkutsk
Things To Do In Irkutsk; Me outside Our Lady of Kazan Church

My experience in Irkutsk

After the luxury of my 4-bed (2nd class) cabin into Irkutsk, I arrived at 7 am. I spent an hour and a half trying to hunt down my hostel (IF hostel, great place). 20kgs on my back, -5 degrees outside and not a word of English spoken by the overwhelming majority of locals. This certainly finally felt like Siberia. And despite the uncomfortable situation I was in, I was still loving the thought of finally being in Russia for the first time.

How much does it cost to take the trans siberian railway
Me on the Trans Siberian railway across Russia

After wandering around aimlessly I managed to stumble across my hostel. Dimitri the computer programming Russian hipster who owner the hostel hooked us up with maps, a great wifi connection (allowing me to write and post this, deal with advertisers etc) and some ideas on where to go.

I knew I was saving Lake Baikal for tomorrow so a day sightseeing in my first Russian city was on the cards. There are few better ways to experience a new city or country than pounding the streets for a few hours. So that’s exactly what I did. And these are the things I found to do in Irkutsk:

Tsar Alexander the Third Statue

You’ll instantly feel like you’re in Russia from the second you check out the first sight. Right on the waterfront promenade is Alexander III standing loud and proud complete with the most awesome Russian beard. 

Bogoyavlensky Cathedral:

This is what a Cathedral should look like. It brightens ups the seafront with its golden spires and Russian architecture. The whole area around the cathedral is pretty nice with monasteries, smaller churches and government buildings but the Cathedral steals the show. Easy to reach by foot, and free to enter.

Things to do in Irkutsk
Things to do in Irkutsk; The Bogoyavlensky Cathedral

Our Lady of  Kazan Church in Irkutsk

The brand new church is about a 45-minute walk from the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral but it’s absolutely the highlight of my time in Irkutsk. I’ve been dreaming about coming to Russia for year, and this orthodox Church confirmed every dream I’ve had about what Russian sights should look like, absolutely beautiful.

Things to see in Irkutsk
Things to see in Irkutsk; Our Lady of Kazan

Vladimirsky Monastery

Of all the things to do in Irkuatsk, long with The Kazan Church above, the most impressive building in all of Irkutsk. Look at it!

Vladimirsky Monastery
Vladimirsky Monastery

The architecture and Soviet statutes everywhere!

Irkutsk is VERY Russian. So rather than listing every Church and Soviet building, and rather than you spending your time here chasing one after another, just go for a long walk in the city, around the waterfront for a few hours.. With this being my first stop in Russia I was so excited to be seeing everything, from Lenin and Karl Marx Street to the Communist statues dotted around the city, to the oh so very Russian buildings like the train station and former parliament. Just follow the walking path suggested (there are signs everywhere) and you’ll get a chance to soak it all in.

Znamensky Monastery
Znamensky Monastery

Getting Around Irkutsk

Actually, the main sites are all walkable in one day (about 12km total) so that’s a great way to see the whole city. The only transport you would need is to get all the way out to the Kazan Church, about 15 minutes in a taxi. Don’t miss it though, it’s gorgeous.