Hi! My name is Nastya and I live in Irkutsk since birth. In this article, I will tell how to spend time in Irkutsk and not die of boredom. F**k all these checkpoints from tourist guides! In my list only the coolest cafes, bars, creative spaces and walking places.
It’s not for nothing that Irkutsk is in the Top 10 cities of Russia by the number of cafes …And someone has to drink all these local IPAs, APAs, taiga stouts made by local craft beer brewers …And try gastronomy, which can be found only in Siberia (OK, in the Nordic countries too, perhaps) …And check the Irkutsk music scene in order to discover the next Nina Kraviz, who’s our homegirl, btw.
How NOT to search for cool places in Irkutsk
When travelling to Paris, Moscow, Tokio, a simple rule often works. Wanna know where all the landmarks and activities? Open Google Maps and check for places marked with a dark yellow colour. Usually, those are the most interesting points of the city — gastro markets, attractions, parks. In Irkutsk, the rule doesn’t work… 100%. Instead of cultural discoveries, you will most likely discover.
• auto parts market (due to bad roads, the place is extremely popular)
• a market with cheap Chinese goods (people come here from the whole Irkutsk Oblast)
• shopping malls (almost the only good option where to spend the spare time if you live outside the city centre).
Let’s begin with culture. I adore Irkutsk for its picturesque wooden houses with luxurious platbands. In the 19th century, houses were built mainly of wood. Rich merchants built not just homes, but real works of art.
It’s a pity that every year the number of old houses is getting smaller. Some of the houses, which I admired 10 years ago, today can be seen only in photographs. The main reasons: the lack of money for maintenance and fires (which are rumoured to be associated with ‘black’ real estate market). As a result, the historical environment is gradually disappearing.
On the other hand, there are several examples including popular 130 Kvartal, when entrepreneurs build houses which looks like old. Yes, there is little history in it… platbands are simpler, plastic windows instead of wooden ones. Bu-u-ut even they help Irkutsk to save some face and not turn into another faceless Russian city on the way of the TSR.
130 Kvartal with the new-built wooden houses
Favorite streets and thematic museums
My favourite streets with wooden houses are Babushkina, Marata and Zhelyabova streets. They have the greatest density of beauty. These streets are located in the centre, so walking along them will surely not be an extra effort. But if you want to follow a kind of walking route, then I recommend the route bellow.
Begin with the Manor of VP Sukachev. It has really beautiful wooden buildings and quiet alleys. During summer this museum organizes costume parties and classical dance shows. Then take tram №1, 4 or 5 and ride 2 stations to the Krasnogvardeyskaya stop. Here is another great place — the Museum of Urban Life, which recreates the interiors and different household items of the XIX century.
After walking a few meters more you’ll find yourself at the Museum of the Decembrists Volkonsky and Trubetskoy. The Decembrists are the revolutionaries of the XIX, who were exiled to Siberia after organizing a revolt on the Senate Square in St. Petersburg. Inside you can learn how nobles built their way of life 5000 km from the capital’s life. Even if you do not want to get inside, it makes sense to look at the beauty outside!
Then you can walk to another steep museum — the Museum of History of the City of Irkutsk. Here is a similar scheme — great expositions devoted to different periods of the city’s history. The time coverage here, of course, is much wider (from the first expeditions to the East Siberia to World War II).
There are two galleries in Irkutsk that exhibit amazing works of modern local artists. Zero percent of boring corridors and hours of tedious excursions. Instead of them — chamber halls and a pleasant atmosphere.
One of Stepan Shobolov latest works can be found on the Kioto Square
Siberian cuisine: cafe, gastrobars, restaurants
Irkutsk has Italian, Japanese, Korean and Chinese restaurants. Dozens of burger places, hundreds of points with shawarma. Many places with Caucasian and Central Asian cuisine. But I will not talk about them. Since you’re travelling in the very centre of Siberia, I want you to try something truly authentic.
Standard guides suggest trying only two things – pozy (or buuzy) and local fish. And this is soooo insulting! In fact, there are much more interesting and tasty dishes. With my next article, I plan to release a kind of guide on Siberian cuisine. For those, who like to explore culture not only with eyes but also with stomach 🙂 Now’s a short version.
Khan Buuza [Хан-Бууза]
OK, let’s start with the classic — pozy or buuzy. In the end, it is really very tasty. Buuzy is a Buryat dish. It came to Buryatia from China through Mongolia. Due to its proximity to Buryatia, Irkutsk has a large Buryat diaspora and cafes with buuzy in every area of the town.
If you ask 10 people from Irkutsk, where to try the most delicious buuzy, then all 10 answers will be different. My favourite place is Khan Buuza. This is not a fast food place. Boozy here are always fresh, hot and prepared especially for you! Mince is twisted or chopped right in front of you, the dough too. Awaiting time is 15-30 minutes, but due to this buuzy are always juicy and tasty. With a pleasant meat broth, and not with butter, as in some other places, where buuzy are prepared from semi-finished products after freezing.
You should try these tasty boozy. Photo by Raphael Zampieri
GastroBar Kamchatka [Камчатка]
A page from Gastrobar Kamchatka’s menu
In Gastrobar Kamchatka, there are many interesting dishes with local taste, but I especially like venison stew. Meat is served in a tin can, potatoes in foil with a creamy pepper sauce – the full feeling that you are in Taiga and you get food cooked on the fire. The meat is wild, but it cooked with such a way that it literally melting on the tongue.
Fresh and local fish tartar in the town of Irkutsk. Photo by Raphael Zampieri
There are also many interesting dishes here, but I will highlight two. First, a tartare from the Baikal omul. Delicate fish and no less delicate sauce. Second, meat delicacies with wild garlic aioli, 320 rubles. Stop, what is the Mediterranean sauce doing here? The fact is that in its basis here is the Siberian product — ramson (or wild leek).
A page from Rassolnik’s menu (cabbage soup is on the bottom)
Try cabbage soup on beef broth with milk mushrooms, 380 RUB. My grandmother cooked this soup for me .. only the serve was simpler. Here you get a real buzz. Soup is served, covered with flat cake. You take it off, and there is an amazing mix of rich broth, sour cream, Siberian mushrooms, cabbage, and meat.
A cafe in which you do not need to drink coffee, but rather drink 50 ml of vodka and eat stroganina made of muksun, 360 rubles. This is one of the most expensive and tasty fish from the sig family. My parents usually bring it from Khabarovsk because it’s not easy to find it in Irkutsk. You can try a delicacy right in the cafe). Serving — thin slices cut from ice fish, on a substrate of ice with bright Siberian berries.
I’ve already recommended this place when I told about the gallery of Viktor Bronstein. The restaurant located under the same roof. And it has a great ice cream, which is prepared right in the restaurant. The bright taste of Siberian lingonberry with a delicate creamy taste and bright bitterness. Complements all the sweetish pine nuts.
In my childhood, any decent child at the end of the summer was busy about the same thing – eating bird cherry in the yard. This is such a sticky black-coloured berry, after which everything: face, hands and clothes are becoming black) In this restaurant, there is a dessert that reminds me of childhood. This is not a bird cherry cake, which is popular other cafes. A naughty and cheeky Bird cherry pie (300 RUB) is not a cloying delicacy with a natural taste and a soft jelly filling.
Almost all the best places in Irkutsk – parks, embankments, beaches associated with our beautiful river the Angara. I’m 30 now and still haven’t seen any rivers yet that would be comparable in beauty with the Siberian rivers – the Angara, the Yenisei, the Ob. Yes, Canada has beautiful mountain rivers, but they are too small.
Park Island Yunost
I love to organize summer picnics here with friends. My husband rides a longboard here. And there are also catamarans, tennis & volleyball courts, a huge playground, a cable park, a Ferris wheel and a children’s railway where children of Russian Railways employees work. There is even a Sydney Opera! And in the winter all the alleys on a Konny Island (a part of the park) become ice-tracks and the park turns into a huge skating rink.
The only problem. Due to the lack of places for walking in the city on weekends and holidays, residents of all districts come to Yunost because if you live outside the city centre there are no such places like Yunost to spend the spare time .
This shabby Soviet embankment even today attracts more citizens than many newly built recreation areas. It’s a pleasure to walk in the shade of larches, eat ice cream and talk. You can sit on the parapet and watch the Irkutsk fishermen or watch the trains on the opposite bank of the Angara. You can sit on the bench and read a book. You can ride on the rollers.
It’s a delightful place in terms of landscape and beauty. Located on the outskirts of the city, close to the dam. In summer, the water warms up in this place so you can swim. In winter, the water freezes and the place turns into a huge cross-country ski run. From the infrastructure point of view, not everything is smooth: in some places, you can find the garbage laying on the grass, in some places overgrown shrubs. Nevertheless, there is an equipped beach, changing rooms, free public toilets and alleys for walks.
Jacobi Beach is poular both in summer and in winter
I like coming here on cloudy days when there are fewer locals. And with such view (10 out of 10) it’s possible to forget about the many flaws that are present here. Plus, after relaxing on the beach, I like to go to the Mirage restaurant and eat local dishes from the Russian stove.
Embankment in Solnechny district
On the opposite side of the bay, there is a small but cosy new-built embankment (there is also the monument ‘Angara Icebreaker’). This is a place where it’s pleasant to sit on a wooden deck, drink wine from a fitness glass (since it is forbidden to drink alcohol in public places in Russia) and watch wakeboarders, sailboats, catamarans.
I come here less and less. But before, my husband and I liked to take coffee and sandwiches at Castro Cafe, sat down on a bench and dabbed on passes, because there are many fashionable Irkutsk youth is coming here to show everybody their look.
Nightlife in Irkutsk
Irkutsk has an interesting situation. On the one hand, the city is in ‘The Top 10 cities of Russia by the number of cafes per resident’. On the other — only a small part of the townspeople use it. Most people prefer to rest in nature, dachas or just visit friends.
Therefore, on the summer weekends, the main part of the city literally dies out — everyone goes out of town. At the same time, there are 3 oasis and several local points where the nightlife boils. If you have the mood to party — you should check out these locations.
Live music: musicians
If your stay in Irkutsk is on Friday or Saturday, then you have a chance to listen to local music groups. To find out who plays and where, you can check Irk.Ru — a popular local web portal. But not all of them are published there.
The coolest parties in Irkutsk happen without any extra PR — only with the help of social media. Here are the accounts of my favourite musicians and places so you can check if something is happening by yourself.
Disco Puppies : Igo Malkin, Grigory Yakupov
Jazz in Irkutsk
Live music: bars and pubs
Another great way to find if the live music is happening somewhere in Irkutsk is to check the social media accounts of some bars and pubs — here are they.
The largest network of Irish pubs in the world. (78 pubs in 7 countries: United States, Slovenia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Italy). Funny that the first pub of the chain was open not in Dublin but in Irkutsk. Today there are 11 pubs in Irkutsk, each of which has a dozen beer taps from around the world. Well, regular performances of local teams.
Restaurant Brasserie BBB
A pleasant place with a large selection of beer (more than 30 varieties). The owner of this place is a Belgian who had moved to Irkutsk a decade ago or so and decided to recreate a piece of Belgium in distant Siberia. He can often be found in his place, speaking with someone in French. Events can be monitored in their group in theie Instagram.
The Library Bar
My favorite bar, with nice intelligent bartenders, no hookahs and cocktails with a price around 300-350 R. I am sure that you will appreciate this place — you sit at the bar, and the bartender greets you with a handshake — now you are not just a guest, but a friend. As for music, this is a place has some great lounge and house DJs (no music bands, because space is too tiny for that).
In the beginning, it has a great idea of the SpeakEasy Bar, and the interior 10 out of 10. Buuut… now I come here only for jazz or Нига Плиз. This is a hookah-filled establishment and a low-end bartender culture. You’ll be met depending on your look, and if they consider you to be an amateur, they will serve you with something unintelligible from cheap alcohol for a price 1.5 times more expensive than the neighbouring The Library Bar.
The bar is located in the place called Gallery Revolution. Don’t be afraid when you get to the shopping mall for decorators. The bar is located on the second floor of this space. As a PRO, people come here only those who know exactly what they will receive in the end. Sometimes techno parties happen here. But it’s rather luck, it’s rare to come here on Friday and it’s possible to get to a party.
There are other places in the city with musicians performance, but I can’t recommend them. If you’ll be unlucky it’s easily possible to face terrible music, bad quality of food, unpleasant atmosphere, disturbing neighbours from the next table and so on.
• Chalet (Instagram)
• Chaihana [Чайхана] (Instagram)
• Rock’n’Roll Pub (VK)
• Restaurant Mirage (Website) — summer terrace is good.
Wine in Irkutsk
When my husband and I host couchsurfers from Europe, the talk often turns to a wine topic. Guys from the countries with a rich wine culture — France, Spain, Italy often miss the normal wine they are used to drink at home. And it’s understandable, it is hard for a traveller to find something adequate in an ordinary supermarket for reasonable money. Sometimes there is nothing but semi-sweet wines on the shelves, which are beloved in Russia.
The secret lies in the fact that for the wine you should go to specialized supermarkets, such as Vinograd [Виноград] of Loza [Лоза]. It’s even more reasonable (because of lower proce) to buy wine in the big chain-supermarkets Lenta [Лента] or Okay [О’Кей]. You may also discover some good Russian wine, which over the past 15 years have taken many steps forward. A normal dry wine made in Russia costs 800 rubles. Good — from 2000 rubles per bottle.
Now about the places where you can drink wine… and also have a delicious dinner.
33 Wine & Tapas Bar
The name of this place says for itself. Good wine and awesome tapas, I’ve tried them all. The list of wine is updated regullary. I come here once in two months and always discover something new. In summer I prefer to come here a bit earlier than others do because at night an overly pretentious audience gathers here.
Craft beer in Irkutsk
Irkutsk has a very developed culture of craft beer. There are so many of it here, that at some moment I began to think: “Probably, this is just a fashion — now it’s happening everywhere in Russia”. But no, nothing like that. I’ve visited different Russian cities over the last two years, and the scale was much smaller.
In Irkutsk, many cafes, bars and restaurants brew their own IPAs and APAs. Tiny beer boutiques, located at every turn, brew their own lagers. Others sell beer from local craft companies. And all these places do NOT have anything to do with giants like Heineken company, that bought all the big breweries in Russia!
Here are the three most interesting places with craft beer:
The Beer Store
I can’t miss this place in my guide. First off, this is a store, not a pub. Honestly, it’s such a thrill to have such store in Irkutsk. Living off the beaten path in Siberia, I can go there and buy a Spanish cider from Asturias or a rare type of blanche from Belgium. There are 80 taps and 1000+ bottled beers from around the world!
And to my great pleasure, one of the shops is located right next to my sister’s house. Every time we go to visit her, we spoil ourselves with something new. You definitely should try Russian-made beer or cider. It costs 2-3 times cheaper, and you’ll make many, many taste discoveries! I personally adore the Crazy Brewery (on the epper photo).