For many travelers Irkutsk is a starting point to begin exploration of Lake Baikal. The closest place, where you can see Baikal is Listvyanka settlement, which is 65 km from Irkutsk, and you can get there by bus (1.5 hours) or car (1 hour). Listvyanka is quite a touristic village: there are hotels for any budget and taste, cafes and restaurants, and you can make good walks there. Some travelers even prefer to stay there instead of Irkutsk, and go to Irkutsk in the daytime (especially that the bus is only $2 one way).
Alternatively, it is possible to take any Trans-Siberian train from Irkutsk towards East (China), and stop in Slyudyanka, which is less than 3 hours by train from Irkutsk. Slyudyanka is not as touristic as Listvyanka, there's only one hotel outside of the village, but it is a start of the Circum-Baikal railway. So, if you arrive there early in the morning, you can take Circum-Baikal train, come to Port Baikal (last stop) late in the evening, take a ferry to Listvyanka (about 15 mins), and get into a hotel. However, for this journey it is recommended to have a tent, because who knows what will happen on the way?
If you have three or more days, you should definitely visit Olkhon island — a beautiful land of steppes and sandy beaches. It is about 250 km away, and a 5-hour journey by car (7-8 hours by bus), but is well worth every bump on the road.
Finally, Irkutsk is not only about Baikal. The great Sayan mountains are very close, and if you have time, it would be a shame not to go there for a few days. The most popular destination is Arshan settlement, which is located just at the beginning on the mountain range. There are a lot of accommodation options (homestays and camps) in the village, and opportunities for taking tours in the mountains.
To read more about these destinations, follow the links below to our Baikal Lake guide Destinations section:
What is It: A settlement on Baikal lake, very close to Irkutsk and Circum-Baikal, quite touristic.
You can rent a bike, or make some trekking walks.
How to Get There: 60 km from Irkutsk by car or by bus (~$3-$15), or via Circum Baikal (then - ferry form Port Baikal - 5 mins).
Pros: Easily accessible from Irkutsk, Baikal is just next to it, many good, comfortable, and very inexpensive hotels, nice restaurants, fish market;
Contras: As it is quite touristic, the place is not very "sincere", and there are a lot of people in high season. However, if you walk a few hours away, you will be able to enjoy the nature;
[See the Listvyanka Guide]
What is It: Beautiful island near the warmest bay of Baikal Lake, with meditative and relaxing views, picturesque walks, and friendly people. It is also a local center of Shamanism.
Great for trekking, biking, sailing, and fishing.
How to Get There: 250 km from Irkutsk by car or by bus (~5-7 hours, $10 by bus, $100 by car).
Pros: Marvelous landscape, sunny and warm climate, sandy beaches, comfortable living conditions (felt-yurt camps or staying in b&b with locals), local food (especially fish), and much more.
Contras: May be hard to get to (local buses are always booked), if you come there, you will want to stay :-);
[See the Okhon Island Guide]
What is It: A very picturesque railway along the Southern Baikal shore, built about a century ago.
How to Get There: 60 km from Irkutsk by car or by bus to Listvyanka, then - ferry (5 mins). Or by any Trans-Siberian train to Slyudyanka (1 hour after Irkutsk).
Pros: Beautiful views, great for trekking and camping, Baikal Lake just next, meeting Russian backpackers, villages along the way;
Contras: Not easy to find a place to stay, so most people just go the whole railway by train, meeting Russian backpackers may take too much time, snakes, train may be too crowdy;
[See the Circum-Baikal Guide]
|Arshan — Sayan Mountains:|
What is It: Arshan is a village at the place where Sayan mountains start. There are thermal springs, and a lot of good trekking walks (one - to Shumak springs on top of the mountains). Quite touristic, but only the village. Go 1 km away - and there's noone. Great for rafting.
How to Get There: Any Trans-Siberian train to Slyudyanka - then a bus (3 hours) to Arshan. Also, daily buses from/to Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude.
Pros: Mountains, rivers, good trekking walks, good infrastructure (but for Russian-speaking only), yoga and meditation camp, opportunity to get aquainted with locals.
Contras: Not as close as other places, but easy to get to by transport, many people in Summer, nobody speaking English.
[See the Arshan Guide]