Things to do in Irkutsk Russia, Siberia
If you come from Novosibirsk you may feel you just landed in a smaller version of Novosibirsk. It's a similar setup - the river, the Soviet era buildings and the parks. However Irkutsk has more character with more old Siberian houses and a more compact city center. The city has no Soviet era wide alleys but instead old streets with character.
The weather can be an issue with the stark contrasts of daytime highs (100+ in summer and the night time lows of under -50in winter). I visited in mid-May and daytime highs touched the 70s the nights were still around 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Things to do in Irkutsk - Sightseeing
Angara Riverwalk (Набережная Ангары / Бульвар Гагарина)
This Riverwalk is where Irkutsk comes together on the weekend. It's a pretty spot with marvelous sunsets.
Irkutsk City Center
Irkutsk is a town where it is worthwhile to just wander the streets for an afternoon. There are proper sidewalks and traffic isn't too bad usually.
Historic Riverwalk (Нижняя набережная)
Another Riverwalk - this one is much shorter but is right next to a number of historic sights. It gets much more windy here - do this on a calm, sunny day only (I did not!).
Churches in the Irkutsk City Center
Very close to the latter Riverwalk are a number or pretty churches and squares - just stroll around the area for a bit.
Lady of Kazan Church, Irkutsk
The Lady of Kazan Church is a bit outside the city center and you will need a taxi to get there.
Dekabrist Museum Irkutsk
Siberia got famous for being a place of exile for many Russian's. One group is called the Dekabrists/ Decembrists and this excellent museum shows how they lived in the early 20th century.
Old wooden Siberian houses
You will have a hard time NOT seeing these historic houses when spending any time in Irkutsk. Take some time to marvel at them.
Things to do in Irkutsk - Around Irkutsk
For the below attractions you will need to get a car or a taxi it is a bit outside the city center. As with all Russian cities there are cheap taxis available if you call the taxi hotline - the trouble is even native speakers have trouble understanding them - if you manage to convince your hotel front desk to do that you can get a taxi and driver for under $15 per hour!
This is apparently the oldest steam ice-breakers in the world. It served the waters of Lake Baikal in the winters in the early 20th century. It's now a museum which is free to enter.
Irkutsk Hydroelectric Power Station / Dam
This power station dams the mighty Angara river and it provides a great viewpoint into the city.
There is a nearby viewpoint which allow sweeping 360 degree views of the city and wider area.
Day Tours to Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is on every visitors mind when coming to Irkutsk and rightly so. It is one of those - too big to not have seen things in this world.
I organized my own tour to Lake Baikal with a rental car but there is plenty of choice in tour operators at any hotel in town.
Things to do in Irkutsk - Food
Getting good, affordable food is a perennial issue in Russia, For some reason the locals have decided that only food with no flavor, high prices and minimal health benefits is what they want and need. The food therefore is a mix of Italian, Sushi, local and the odd Caucasian restaurant. Usually only the Caucasian (read Georgian and Uzbek) food should raise the expectation of any taste. The Italian food will usually be most competitive and but also tends to be the most expensive and has the least flavor. Sushi is very expensive and devoid of any taste (I'm a Sushi lover).
With that said here are the places that come through:
Uzbekistan / Узбекистон
Aptly named Uzbekistan restaurant is right next to the Philharmony and the Irkutsk stadium. It's very hidden if the summer terrace isn't open yet - in fact it's built into a cellar.
It does not do well on Foursquare but I found it is the best food in town by a mile. It's somewhat touristy but has great, fresh food that actually tastes good.
Too bad I found this place on my last day!
Italian - Prego
The Prego owners also own a Sushi place next door - how else could it be in Russia where Sushi and Italian food always go hand in hand.
The food was agreeable and given the lack the competition enough to get me back.
Italian - Figaro
I went here twice and the food was pretty decent. Both times no other diners were in the restaurant. Not a good sign but well it was decent food for an ok price.
Lapscha Bar /Не Говори Маме!
This quirky little spot serves as a New York Style diner upstairs (with Asian food) and a rock bar downstairs. It's a great place to eat and get a beer.
Monet is a cafe that doubles as coffee shop and cafeteria. It's pretty inside and outside in a great location at the river. However it is VERY expensive. Be prepared to not look at your credit card bill after eating here.
This coffee shop looks trendy and awesome on the pictures but it's a disappointment. The espresso is expensive, served with a big attitude and the place barren with no WiFi.
Maybe your experience will be different - this place certainly has the right 'hardware'.
The Design Bar is built into an artsy shopping mall and makes good on its name - it is very stylish and serves good drinks.