Irkutsk Travel Guide

Irkutsk Travel Guide

Photo of the Irkutsk Church


Irkutsk is an important administrative, economic, scientific and cultural centre of Eastern Siberia, and the regional centre of the Irkutsk region. The city is located near the Angara, Irkut and Ushakovka Rivers, 66 km to the west of Lake Baikal. Most tourists visit Irkutsk and its interesting sites before their trip to this most famous of Russian lakes. The city, with its 19th- century architecture, numerous churches and delicious eateries, is the grand gateway to Baikal, so it’s a great opportunity to combine cultural walks with natural delights.

Historical Overview

Irkutsk was founded near the Irkut and Angara Rivers on the site of a wooden fortress built in 1661 by Cossacks at the order of Yakov Pokhabov.
At first, Irkutsk formed the centre of the agricultural lands of Eastern Siberia. Traditional crafts began to develop in the 18th century, and masons, furniture makers, artisans, saddlers and blacksmiths appeared during that time.

Irkutsk's favourable geographic location at the crossroads of waterways and overland roads, and the availability of natural resources influenced the rapid development of agriculture, industrial enterprises, population growth and the establishment of trade relations with Mongolia and China. The Irkutsk Province (Voivodship) was established in 1682, and in 1686, Irkutsk was given the status of a city. On 18 February 1690, Irkutsk was granted its own coat of arms and seal. The coat of arms was a silver shield with Babr (the royal tiger) running through a green field with a sable in its teeth. Babr embodied wisdom and power, while the sable was a symbol of the wealth of Siberia.

By the end of the 18th century, Irkutsk had become not just a commercial and administrative, but also a cultural centre. People's schools, libraries, museums and theatres were opened during that time. The wealth of Irkutsk’s merchants influenced the city's appearance and prosperity. The best Russian architects took part in the city’s construction. Public buildings were constructed and streets were improved.
In June 1879, the city was badly damaged by fire. Almost all the central part was burnt, and numerous buildings were destroyed. However, Irkutsk quickly recovered and acquired a new, modern look. Many large stone and wooden houses were built in the 19th-20th centuries (the Siberian Branch of the Russian Geographical Society (1883), the First Public Assembly, Kazan Cathedral in the Neo-Byzantine style (1893), the city theatre (1894), etc). Today, there are about 685 historical and cultural buildings in Irkutsk.
The 20th century brought great changes to the city. The Civil War, the Second World War and Stalin's repressions made the lives of ordinary citizens tough and complicated. The city remained wooden and single-storey. Urban and industrial construction only began in the 1970s. Today, Irkutsk is a large tourist, industrial and scientific centre of Eastern Siberia.

Where to Stay


The city’s hotel industry has been expanding in recent years. Tourists can choose from expensive and elegant to affordable and super-economy options. We recommend you book a hotel or apartment in Irkutsk and then stay in a camp site or cottage near Baikal. If you want to stay in a luxury hotel, check out International Hotel Sayen or Irkutsk Hotel near the Angara River. If it sounds too expensive for you, have a look at Central Hostel, Super Hostel or Apartments Central Park which are located in the city centre. To stay in Baikal, choose a camp site (Camping Olkhon, Yurty Olkhona or Baikal Wild Fishing).

Bars and Restaurants

Many cafes and restaurants have a lot to offer. Here you can try local and international cuisine. For example, Rassolniks offers dishes from local farmers. Start with pelmeni (Russian dumplings), borshch (a beet soup), and finish with honey cake for dessert. Tochka is a cosy tavern located in a wooden cottage with a Soviet interior. You can choose from Western or Russian food here. Locals also recommend Figaro, Prego, Kochevnik, Bier Haus and Cake Home. For tourists on a budget, there are lots of nice cafes like DesignBar, Novozelandsky Pirogi or Belgian Brasserie.

What to See


  • The Saviour’s Church is the oldest church in eastern Siberia, built in 1706. The building survived floods, earthquakes and fires. Today, it is the area’s largest historical monument. It is famous not only for its history, but also for the large paintings created in the 19th century which decorate the walls from the outside.
  • Block 130 (Irkutsk Sloboda) is the historical zone with dozens of old wooden structures and residential buildings built in the 18th century. Irkutsk Sloboda was created to preserve the age-old architectural buildings not just in the history books, but also in reality. It is a unique place where you can walk and look at the buildings that became objects of cultural heritage up close. Some of the buildings became museums. For example, at Zatoplyaev’s house, you will find the Museum of the Siberian Railway.
  • The Znamensky Monastery, built in 1762, is one of the largest and oldest in Siberia. It’s a notorious place of exile of the Decembrists and their relatives. Today, the Znamensky Monastery is a place of pilgrimage and one of the city’s main tourist attractions. The silhouette of its towers in a unique style of Siberian baroque is perhaps the most recognisable site in Irkutsk.
  •  Irkutsk’s colourful Kazan Church looks like a fairy-tale building. It’s known for having the largest bell and internal fresco paintings. The renovation works were completed in 2012.
  • The Bronshteyn Gallery is the largest private collection of contemporary art. Its exhibition halls occupy more than 1300 sq.m., and the exposition includes about 1500 works of art, including paintings, sculptures and graphics.
  • The white-and-red Epiphany Cathedral is decorated with images of the saints and ornamental tiles. The interior’s walls are decorated with various mosaic tiles depicting religious figures. It’s an unusual combination of two architectural styles, Neoclassical and Russian Siberian.
  • For art lovers, Irkutsk Art Museum, containing about 20 000 art masterpieces, is a must-see.
  • The Holy Cross Church of Irkutsk is a magnificent piece of Siberian Baroque. It fascinates visitors with its rich ornamentation and complex design.
  •  Lake Baikal, surrounded by mountains, is the world’s deepest freshwater lake. It is an important geological phenomenon with unique flora and fauna like the nerpa or the golomyanka, a pink fish. There are many camp sites and villages around the lake. The most popular activities are wildlife spotting tours, hiking, ice skating and dog sledding.


Irkutsk can boast well-developed public transport. It has no subway, and there may be traffic congestion like in any large city. The most popular bus routes are No. 80, 90 and 16, which can get you from the airport or railway station to the city centre. To get around the city, you can use trams, minibuses, trolleybuses and taxis. You can also order a taxi with luxury options like VIPTaxi38. There is a river terminal where you can take a ferry to Olkhon and the eastern side of Baikal. Listvyanka is a popular destination on the lake. You can go there by bus or minibus, which departs from the bus terminal.

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