Irkutsk - the capital of Eastern Siberia
The city of Irkutsk is 5000 km and five time zones east of Moscow. It was founded in 1661 as a fort to colonize Siberia. It became a hotspot for the trading of gold and furs and in 1760 a road was built to connect Irkutsk with Europe. During the Dekabristov Revolt against Tsar Nikolai I, many Russian artists were sent into exile to Irkutsk. Due to this, a significant part of the population was made up of intellectual people. Gradually the city evolved into a major centre of intellectual and social life. A predominant part of the cultural heritage nowadays is a result of these forced exiles.
The city is characterized by its large number of unique wooden houses with decorative patterns carved into the walls and window frames. Similar buildings in other big Russian cities were destroyed during the industrialization. In Irkutsk, one can still catch a glimpse of what a Russian city looked like centuries ago.
Today, Irkutsk is the 6th largest city in Siberia, housing more than 600,000 citizens. Nearly 100,000 of them are students, due to the fact that there are six universities and many other educational institutions. Because of its proximity to Lake Baikal, the city is also home to a major branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
As the city became more popular amongst tourists, the municipality invested in new museums, restaurants, bars and cafes, resulting in a nice blend of modern facilities in a classical context.
Two Russian airlines, S7 and Ural Airlines, operate the route to Irkutsk from Moscow Domodedovo airport with 3 flights a day. National carrier, Aeroflot, flies to Irkutsk from Sheremetyevo airport 4 times a day. Average flight time is about 5 and a half hours. Please allow at least 3 hours for the same airport connection/6 hours for changing airports when booking.
You can decide on taking a Transsiberian train from Moscow, it takes 3 full days. An exotic, unique, and comfortable journey with Transsiberian railroad is a reason for many tourists to come to Russia in a first place. In those 3 days you'll see literally more than half of Russia, feel the scale of the country, compare landscapes and taste local specialities sold by babushkas at the stations.
There is also a direct train from St.Petersburg operating in summer, which takes 3 and a half days, and follows the popular Transsiberian route.
Besides visiting Irkutsk, during the year many tourists find their way to the beautiful flora and fauna of Lake Baikal, as it is within reach. Lake Baikal is an immense fresh water lake, located near the city of Irkutsk. It has a maximum length of 636 kilometers, a maximum width of 79 kilometers, and a surface area roughly the size of Belgium. It is a lake of extremes. It is not only the largest, but also the deepest in the world, with depths of up to one mile. Besides this, this fresh water reservoir is the oldest at around 25 million years old, and the cleanest – you can drink the water straight out of the lake. It makes up approximately 20% of all the fresh water on the whole planet. Because of Baikal’s unique characteristics, it is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. The scenic landscapes framing the lake are one of a kind and absolutely breath-taking.