Freelance writer in Toronto. Globetrotter, aspiring yogi, beach lover, cheese eater, and avid reader.
If you ever find yourself in Irkutsk for a short visit, you can still get a good sense of what the city has to offer in just 24 hours. Located in eastern Siberia, Irkutsk may not be on your travel radar, but it won’t be hard to see why it should be as soon as you stroll its pretty streets. Filled with history, hearty food, and friendly locals, this is a city well worth exploring. Only in town for a whirlwind visit? Our expert local guides know exactly how to maximize 24 hours in Irkutsk.
Early morning (7am – 9am)
Start your day with a breakfast at Paloma on Suhe Batora Street. Classic breakfast components are porridge, eggs of any kind, pancakes, or even something from overseas like Scandinavian breakfast with fish. Choose the one that you like as there are plenty of options. They also serve good coffee and fresh desserts. This is a good spot to start your visit to Irkutsk because it’s located right next to the main city square, right in the city centre. Expect minimalism, big windows, and good music – everything you need for a great start to your day. Just note that they don’t open until 8am.
Morning (9am – 12pm)
After breakfast, we suggest two options, depending on where your interests lie. If you’re more into history or Russian history in particular, pay a visit to the Volkonsky House-Museum or Trubetskoy House-Museum, two of the city’s Decembrist house-museums. The Decembrists made a great contribution to the history, geography, economy, and ethnography of Siberia. The painted two-story wooden manor house on Volkonsky Lane was not the grandest house in 1840s Irkutsk, but as a centre of social life, it was one of the most important ones.
If you are passionate about contemporary art, visit the Gallery of Modern Arts of V. Bronstein, which will give you a good overview of local contemporary art. The exhibitions vary each season, but it’s always worth visiting. Getting to any of the locations we suggest is about a 30-minute walk from where you had breakfast.
Midday (12pm – 2pm)
As both museums are located close to the central bus station and you happen to be in the city home to the deepest lake in the world, we recommend taking a marshrutka (minibus) to the shores of Lake Baikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ride to the lake from the city centre should be around one hour and then you’ll be at the shores of what is also known as the oldest lake in the world.
In the summer you can have picnic right at the shore, and there are lots of things to try at the nearby local market for lunch, including fish (hot and cold smoked), dumplings, Siberian herbal tea, cedar nuts, and so on.
If you happen to be visiting in the winter, you can walk, skate, or even do dog-sledding on the clear ice.
Afternoon (2pm – 6pm)
Located on the shores surrounding Lake Baikal is Listvyanka Village. Since you’re at the lake anyway, why not take some time to explore? During your walk, enjoy the views and wait for the sunset. You can actually get out on the water by taking a boat for an hour ride in summer or a hovercraft in winter. Spend some time discovering the village on foot before taking a boat (or hovercraft) ride. In the village you’ll find shops, museums, and small restaurants preparing local cuisine. When you’re ready to go back to the city, take a marshrutka as you did on the way there.
Evening (6pm onwards)
Getting back to the city, get off in the city center and walk back along Karl Marx street (about 15 to 20 minutes) for dinner and drinks. Taste Siberian dumplings with different fillings at Realnyi Zames , or grab a local drink at The Library Bar. If you’re a fan of good meat and burgers, head to Babr Burger for excellent burgers and a good craft beer menu.
For travellers on a short visit, we’d recommend having a layover that will allow you to spend four hours in the city. You’ll need 60 to 90 minutes to get to and from the airport with a one-way journey, taking 30 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic.
The best way to get from the airport to the sites is by taking a taxi, available at the airport.
If you want to see Irkutsk in the morning or afternoon, start at the central city square and walk to the low embankment. On the way you’ll see the Church of the Savior (the oldest stone structure in the city) and the Epiphany Cathedral. If you continue walking and turn right after the Moscow gates monument to Dekabrskikh Sobytiy Street, you can take a look at the famous wooden architecture of Irkutsk. Samples of wooden houses stand in a row and are beautifully decorated with ornate carvings. When you get to Karl Marx street continue walking until you find a nice place for coffee or a lunch break. We suggest the following places: Mamochka (more like a canteen), Belaya Vorona (coffeeshop with good food), Babr Burger (for meat lovers only), Realnyi Zames (Siberian dumplings with any sort of fillings and good tea).
If you’re in Irkutsk for an evening or nighttime layover, visit the quarter called the 130th District. That’s the place where all the locals and guests of the city gather together to meet friends, grab a drink, or spend a pleasant evening with family members. If the weather is good, don’t miss a chance to walk along the embankments of the Angara River to see the sunset.