Lake Baikal Options
Irkutsk and the Lake Baikal region is one of the most popular stopovers made along the Trans-Siberian routes. This stunning region offers a wide range of travel possibilities and experiences and it is important you choose the one which is right for you.
Most Irkutsk stopovers are from 1 to 3 nights in duration unless you are lucky enough to have more than just a few weeks to complete a Trans-Siberian tour.
The three areas usually visited are the city of Irkutsk itself and the Siberian villages of Bolshoe Goloustnoe and Listvyanka. Other destinations such as Olkhon Island will require a much longer stopover to be practical.
In general for a three night stop we would recommend one night in Irkutsk and two nights down at Lake Baikal either in Listvyanka or Bolshoe Goloustnoe. A two night stop is usually spent down at Lake Baikal although in the winter 1 night at Baikal and one in irkutsk is popular.
The balance of time and which of the Siberian villages you choose to visit will depend on the experience and comfort levels you are looking for and this short guide is designed to help you choose the right ones. We have visited all these places and more besides so please do not hesitate to contact us for additional advice.
Bolshoe Goloustnoe on Lake Baikal
Bolshoe Goloustnoe is a small Siberian village located 2 hours from Irkutsk on the shore of Lake Baikal. The distance is just enough to keep out the day trippers, who flock to the closer village of Listvyanka, keeping traditions alive here. This is the place to come for the authentic Siberian experience in a stunning setting.
The village has approximately 700 residents many of whom have spent their whole lives here. Almost all the buildings are built in the classic wooden style.
Outside of the weekends and Russian holidays there are few tourists here. Accommodation is fairly basic but clean and comfortable. We use a small Siberian style wooden Guesthouse which means that the toilets are in outbuildings. Washing facilities are also in a separate building consisting of an impressive sauna – an essential Siberian experience that is set up for your use each day you are here.
All meals are provided here as there are few restaurants. You will have plenty of delicious homemade Siberian fare to eat – in fact the food is one of the highlights of a visit here.
Activities here are of the outdoor kind including lakeshore walks, mountain biking, and hiking into the hills surrounding the village. Taking in and experiencing the relaxed pace of life here is all part of the charm of the experience.
In summary, Bolshoe Goloustnoe is the place to spend the bulk of your time if you want to experience the best of Siberian style hospitality, nature and tradition all of which, we think, more than makes up for the relatively basic accommodation. We think this is the best place to on the lakeshore to spend a few days.
Listvyanka Village Near Irkutsk
Listvyanka is the closest lakeshore village to Irkutsk being just 45 minutes drive from the city. Consequently it is the most visited and developed of the villages on Lake Baikal.
This development means there is a far wider range of accommodation available here than at the more remote Bolshoe Goloustnoe. Listvyanka has everything from small resorts and hotels to guesthouses, home stays and lodges and the standards are higher than other spots on the lakeshore.
There is a wide range of activities in the village including museums, markets, restaurants, cafes and bars. Water sports and boat trips are also available. Listvyanka is also the base for Circum-Baikal trips as well as the ferry to Port Baikal. If you are interested in winter sports cross country skiing and dog sledging are also available here.
The downside of Listvyanka is that it is perhaps a little too developed and the village charm that started it off as a tourist destination has now been lost. It can become very busy with local day trippers at weekends and holiday times.
In summary, we think that if comfort is your priority or your time is limited then Listvyanka will be a good option for you. If, however, you are looking for a more authentic, relaxed and unspoiled Siberian village experience then you may well be better off staying at Bolshoe Goloustnoe.
We have visited all these destinations in this section many times and recently so if you need any further advice please do not hesitate to contact us.
Adventure on Olkhon Island
Olkhon island is half way up the long expanse of Lake Baikal and also the lake’s largest island. It is not so often visited as logistically it is quite difficult to reach and can be expensive to visit on a tour although it makes for a rewarding visit if you can stop for at least 3 nights.
Olkhon island is reached by a mixture of car or public bus and boat ride and you need to allow the best part of a day to reach the island.
Once here most base themselves in the main settlement of Khuzhir from where day trips can be taken to the scenic highlights of the island. For the more adventurous camping can also be a fantastic way to see the island although you will need to be well equipped.
The highlights of the island include Choboi Cape and Sahara Lake. There is also a beach near Shaman’s Rock where the water can actually get warm enough for a swim by late summer.
In spring and autumn you need to be prepared for sudden changes in weather – one day it can be warm and the next you could be digging yourself out from the snow as happened to us!
About Irkutsk ``The Paris of Siberia``
Once referred to as the “Paris of Siberia” Irkutsk is a major stop on the Trans-Siberian conveniently located approximately half way along the route. It is a pleasant and prosperous city regarded as the cultural capital of Siberia and there is plenty of the traditional wooden architecture of Siberia remaining in the city.
For most people the star attraction is Lake Baikal so it is easy to overlook the spending much time in Irkutsk. Generally we include a night in Irkutsk if you are on a 3 night stopover (or a two night in winter). As well as being attractive and the city is a good place to get things done – laundry, e-mail etc…
Irkutsk also has a decent eating and drinking scene, the former often being high on peoples’ lists after 4 nights on a train from Moscow!
The accommodation we use in the city is some of the best available and of a higher standard than that available at Lake Baikal which offers a more rustic experience. If a good hotel room is your priority then Irkutsk might be the best place to base yourself during the stopover.
If you do choose to base yourself in Irkutsk it is still possible to make a day trip to Listvyanka although note that Bolshoe Goloustnoe is too far to make a day trip practical.
In summary, the city has a lot to offer but the real experience of this region is to be found predominantly on the shores of Lake Baikal so we think you need to have a very good reason to spend your entire stopover in the city itself.