Lake Baikal was my dream travel destination since I can remember. And especially since I started learning Russian and left for volunteering in Saint Petersburg, I wanted to see this far points of Russia. Siberia, wild nature – the country outside of its main cities.
Baikal always seemed distant and inaccessible. After all, if you want to take a train from Moscow, it takes three and a half days! This year however I managed to make this travel dream come true. Was it worth it? Definitely YES!
Lake Baikal is the deepest, the cleanest and the clearest lake in the world. A lot of endemic species of plants and animals live here. You can also find sacred places of local shamans here. The color of water can even shock you with its deep shade of blue. Baikal is a magical place I will gladly visit again.
What to see by lake Baikal?
Things to do by lake Baikal: vacation attractions
Table of Contents
- Things to do by lake Baikal: vacation attractions
- Irkutsk – things to do
- Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal – things to do
- Listvyanka – things to do
- Port Baikal
- Slyudyanka, Circum-Baikal Railway
- Lake Baikal – other attractions
Irkutsk – things to do
If you plan a trip to Lake Baikal, most probably you will end up visiting Irkutsk anyway 🙂 Trans-Siberian train stops there, planes land here too. Irkutsk is a starting point to visit all other places mentioned below. The city itself is attractive too. Plan one day for sightseeing (not more though – I don’t think it’s worth it with so many stunning views around 😉 )
Irkutsk is much calmer than Petersburg or Moscow. Even though 600 000 people live here, it has an atmosphere of a small town. Main attractions are wooden Siberian houses. Due to the ground freezing and unfreezing every season they collapse more and more – some houses have the windows on ground level already! Another interesting thing about the city is its symbol – Babr. Totally enchanting mix of… Siberian tiger and a beaver 🙂
How to get to Irkutsk?
The fastest way is to take a plane from Moscow. The flight lasts 6 hours. If you have more time and one of your travel goals is to travel by Trans-Siberian train – you can do it. The way from Moscow takes three and a half days and it’s the most popular part.
Where to stay in Irkutsk?
I can totally recommend Homestay at Tatiana’s – check prices and availability here.
The owner has an immense knowledge about the city, Lake Baikal, she can give you maps, arrange transportation and give you all information you may need. She also prepares amazing breakfast 🙂 Location is convenient too, in the center of Irkutsk. Highly recommended!
Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal – things to do
Olkhon is the biggest island on Lake Baikal and the third biggest lake island in the world (after two Canadian ones). It is 71 km long and 20 km wide, it’s extremely diversified. You can see taiga, steppes and even a small desert area here. For me, the island is the most beautiful place by lake Baikal.
The biggest town on Olkhon island is Khuzhir – inhabited by around 1200 people. Except for this, on the island you can find a few villages up to 20 houses each. Electricty and other modern conveniences are available almost exclusively in Khuzhir. There are no asphalt roads on Olkhon what makes traveling with marshrutka or local UAZ interesting and… shaky 😉 Most places (or maybe all of them?) don’t have sewage system – the toilets are privies – some in great, some in quite bad condition 😉
It may be a too big barrier for some of you – but I totally recommend you to resign from a bit of comfort for these stunning views, silence and contact with nature you will find on Olkhon and by Lake Baikal.
One of the biggest symbols of Lake Baikal and a subject of numerous local beliefs and legends. According to one of them, old Baikal had a beloved, beautiful daughter, Angara. He protected her and wanted to find a perfect partner for her. She, however missed a beautiful, young Yenisey. One day, Angara ran away to her beloved. Baikal, in rage and suffering caused the biggest storm Siberia has ever seen. He took a peak of nearby mountain and threw it behind his daugher. That’s how Shaman rock came into being.
Angara is the only river that flows out of Baikal. It is the right tributary of Yenisey river.
Regular people were afraid of this place. Only shamans could get close. The most important rituals took place here, shamans made offerings, oaths, judged criminals.
Today the Shaman rock is a beautiful view and a tourist attraction. But I think every sensitive tourist will look at the rock, at old Baikal’s depth – and feel the magic of this place…
Trip with UAZ to the north of the island, Cape Khoboy
If Olkhon island is the most beautiful spot by lake Baikal, the trip to Cape Khoboy is the most beautiful experience there. Creme de la creme 🙂
Khoboy Cape is located at the northern tip of the island. In Buryat language, khoboy means “a fang”. Indeed, the northernmost rock does look like one. If you look at it from the lake’s side, it looks like a woman. Legend has it that she was jealous about her husband. Shamans punished her, turning her to a rock.
The cape itself is just a part of the amazing trip. Even riding in a local UAZ is an unforgettable experience 🙂 There are a few stops with awesome views on the way. You can also see the right side of the island with its high cliffs and spectacular rocks.
The most beautiful stop is “lovers’ rock”. If you want to have a girlfriend, you need to go to the right, if a boyfriend – to the left… or the other way around… 🙂 Views from here are breathtaking, the color of the water is surreal. You can see the widest part of Baikal from here – 80 km wide from shore to shore.
If you want to take this trip, ask in your accommodation in Khuzhir. Every apartment owner will be able to arrange such trip for you.
Cost of the trip: 1000 roubles (2019), it includes lunch – traditional fish soup ukha cooked by the driver on the back of his UAZ… 🙂
Biking trip around Olkhon island
You can rent a bike in Khuzhir. Look around and you will see signs of private rentals – or ask in your accommodation. There are no official bike trails – but it’s worth exploring the area on your own, using all visible paths through the steppes. If you end up on too sandy or blocked road – just go back and try another one. Views from the bike are amazing – and you can stop anywhere you want, in all places you’ve seen before from a marshrutka or a UAZ.
Cost of bike rental: 500 roubles a day.
Where to stay on Olkhon island?
I highly recommend you to stay in Guest House Natalia – very nice owner can arrange trips for you. She serves great breakfast and good dinner, the little houses are cozy and clean. Toilet and shower, even though they’re outside, are clean and smell nice 🙂 The location is good, around 10-15 minutes walk from the Shaman Rock or the biggest supermarket in town.
Alternatively, if you’d like to live in the best possible location, check Guesthouse Pushkina which is located right next to the Shaman rock. Rooms are comfortable, bathrooms clean and with a lot of tasty food 🙂
How to get to Olkhon island?
You can take a marshrutka from Irkutsk to Khuzhir. Ask in your accommodation in Irkutsk – in most places they will be able to order the pick-up for you. You can also go to the bus station and ask from where and what time do marshrutkas to Khuzhir leave. Don’t look on the timetable only – there are more of them 🙂
Listvyanka – things to do
The most famous tourist place by lake Baikal. Listvyanka is the closest to Irkutsk and it’s the easiest to get here. Marshrutka ride takes only 1 hour.
The town itself isn’t spectacular at all – I felt a bit like by Polish seaside 😉
However, you can see beautiful, clear waters of Baikal, go to a local food market and try the endemic fish – omul. For me, the best part about Listvyanka was that Great Baikal Trail starts here.
Great Baikal Trail – from Listvyanka to Bolshie Koty
Great Baikal Trail is a project that aims at protecting natural beauty of the lake – and creating a path of 1400 km around the lake. For now only a few parts of it are available, the one from Listvyanka to Bolshie Koty being the most popular one.
…despite that fact, it is hard to find reliable information about it. Even tourist information give different information about the length of the trail or possibilities to come back from Bolshie Koty to Listvyanka. Preparing for the hike, I read in different sources that the trail has anywhere between 18 and 30 km. Slight difference 😉
To enter Baikal National Park and the trail you need permit. You can get it in the park’s office in Irkutsk or Listvyanka.
After hiking the tail one way, in the summer season you can take a ferry back – check timetable here. It’s worth getting the ticket online in advance. There are a lot of offert to take you back with a private motor boat but it’s an expensive option – around 4000 roubles.
In Listvyanka, go to Baikal Museum – mostly to see the animals living in the lake. The part presenting the lake’s history and geology is not well made, most information in is Russian only. Even though I speak the language quite freely, reading about how the tectonic plates moved and created the lake turned out to be too tiring 😉
But in the museum you can see fish living in Baikal, you can also use microscopes to see the tiniest organisms. And the shining star – Baikal seal, nerpa. Beautiful animal looking like a cannonball while swimming 🙂 It was a pleasure to be able to see it – I wonder however, if it’s happy in the aquarium…
Czerski Stone peak
The peak’s name comes from a Polish geologist and explorer of Siberia – Jan Czerski who was exiled there for participating in the January Uprising.
From the peak, you will have an amazing view at Baikal Lake and Angara river source. It is another sacred place for the local shamans. You can take a nice and easy hike up the mountain – or a cable car if you’re feeling tired or lazy 🙂 You can ski here in winter.
Where to stay in Listvyanka?
Listvyanka is a small town considering the number of residents, but it is spread along the lake for a few kilometers. In result, living on one side of town, you will be close to the center, the food market and beginning of Great Baikal trail – and far from Baikal Museum, Czerski Stone Peak and Port Baikal ferry. Or the other way around. My advice is to pick an accommodation in the middle – this way you’ll reach all parts on foot.
If you’re looking for a cozy atmosphere, stay in dom na Ghor’kogo. A friendly host will take care of you. You will be able to use the kitched and admire Baikal from your balcony 🙂
If you’d like to have more comfort and modern decorations, check Guest House Ostrovskogo 11. You will live in a beautiful room with private bathroom. You will also get tasty breakfast.
How to get to Listvyanka?
You can find a marshrutka from Irkutsk almost all the time – one leaves, another one comes and waits till it gets full. Marshrutkas leave from Central Market ( Центральный рынок, Tsentral’nyy Market).
Town Baikal is located on the other side of Angara than Listvyanka. You will find the “harbor” and a ferry close to Baikal Museum. Hard to call this a n harbor though… rather a small dock next to (unfortunately) a big pile of trash…
The town of Baikal is famous for the end station of the rail line to Slyudyanka. It used to be a part of Trans-Siberian Railway. Building this part consumed a lot of money, required proffessional knowledge and technical skills. The line was carved in rock along the lake’s shore.
After some time due to deteriorating condition of the rails, the engineers decided to build another part of the railway and go around the problematic part. The final hit for this pictureque part of Trans-sib was electric power plant on Angara river. Part of the rails disappeared under water – and currently Trans-Siberian railway doesn’t pass Port Baikal. You can find only touristic trains on the way between Slyudyanka and Port Baikal – and one regular train which leaves Port Baikal every night.
Today, Port Baikal is just a small village – but if you have a few hours free, come here just for the experience of the ferry, and to feel a bit sad atmosphere of this place. Its best days are long gone.
Slyudyanka, Circum-Baikal Railway
As I mentioned above, currently you can see the most picturesque part of the railways almost only by touristic train. The trip is expensive, it costs around 4500-5000 roubles per person. In my opinion, that’s a lot for a day-ride in a train – no matter how beautiful 😉
There was however one train from Baikal to Slyudyanka and back on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. It’s hard to find information about it in the Internet (even in Russian) – but I’ve seen timetables 😉 And the price was ridiculously low in comparison – less than 500 roubles. If you’re determined to see this railway in a budtet option, go to Slyudyanka (you can get there easily by marshrutka or train from Irkutsk). Take the train to the town of Baikal. After that you can take a ferry to Listvyanka and stay there – or go back to Irkutsk.
Slyudyanka is also a good starting point if you want to hike surrounding mountains, like Czerski Peak in Chamar-Daban mountain range. The trail from Slyudyanka to the top is 24 km long one way so it’s best to plan a night on the way. There is a meteorological station near which you can pitch a tent. There is also a tourist base. Check this article for trail description and more details (in Russian).
Lake Baikal – other attractions
If you have more time by lake Baikal – first of all, lucky you 🙂 And I recommend you to think of a longer walk along the Great Baikal Trail or a trip to Buryat town of Arshan. You can get there by marshrutka from Irkutsk in 3,5 hours. In Arshan you can get to know Buryat culture and cuisine. You can also hike from there to a picturesque Pik Lyubvi (Love Peak). It’s a day hike.
I hope I encouraged you to travel to magical Lake Baikal. If you plan to visit other parts of Russia too, read other related articles:
- 8 Things You Need To Know Before Going To Russia
- Best Things To Do in Saint Petersburg With A Printable Guide
- All The Best Things To Do In Moscow
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