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Five thousand kilometres to the east of Moscow, Irkutsk is a city that for many years acted as a cultural cross point, the spot where Mongolia and China interacted with the rest of Russia. Originally founded as a trading hub for gold and furs, it later became one of the earliest centres for political exile in Russia, a role which has had a profound impact on the city, visible in everything from its ornate architecture to its educational institutions. Today, Irkutsk - the largest city in Siberia - is better known as a jumping off point for travellers wishing to explore the magnificent Lake Baikal, roughly an hour away.

What's there?

  • Lake Baikal - The 'Galapagos of Russia' has a lot of claims to fame: not only is it the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, it is also planet's oldest and deepest lake, and considered one of the clearest. Surrounded by mountains, in summer it is a riot of colour and in winter it freezes over, although much of the ice remains totally transparent.
  • Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God - Slightly out of the city centre, this is still one of the most recognisable sites in Irkutsk thanks to its bright red exterior and blue domes. As beautiful inside as it is outside, during the winter its grounds are also decorated with ice sculptures. 
  • The Regional Memorial Decembrists Museum - The original group sent into exile in Irkutsk were The Decemberists, in the early 1800s. This museum includes the homes of two of them, Sergey Volkonsky and Sergey Trubetskoy, and gives you a glimpse into what the city once looked like - for all of the grand stonework on display, the original building material of Irkutsk was wood.

When to go

If you're planning on heading to Irkutsk in winter, then it would be a wise idea to wrap up very warm. The average temperature in December plummets to an icy -14 celsius, with the lowest temperature on record ringing in at a mindblowing, brainchilling -49.7 celsius. In the summer months, between June and August, you can expect temperatures in the early 20s (don't worry, we mean plus 20).

How to get to Irkutsk

The easiest way to get into the city is by plane, with regular flights operating from other Russian cities including Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Vladivostok. International flights also operate from many Asian cities, including Seoul, Ulaanbaatar, Beijing and Bangkok.

That being said, the most exciting way to get there is by train, with the city being a stop on the on the mighty Trans-Siberian railway, more or less halfway between the most easterly stations in Beijing and Vladivostok, and Moscow in the west. There are also direct rail links to major Russian cities.

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