After getting back from Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal, my friend and I only had one night and day in Irkutsk before we had to catch our next train.
We booked a hostel at Balalaika Hostel which is within walking distance from the train station and a 15-20 minute bus or tram ride away from the city center. My friend and I met lots of friendly people at this hostel and all the beds were equipped with their own personal outlets and night lights which was a huge plus. We wanted a hostel next to the train station so that we could our luggage while we spent our free day in the city and then could pick up our luggage and walk straight to the train station to catch our train to Krasnoyarsk.
We didn’t have any concrete plans for our day in Irkutsk. We just wanted to walk around and explore since Irkutsk is known for its wooden house architecture as well as some historic churches. Back in the day, Russian artists, officers, and nobles were sent into exile to Siberia, including Irkutsk for their revolt against Tsar Nicholas I. Irkutsk became the major centre of intellectual and social life for those exiles.
My friend and I took the tram into the city and were pleased to find walking tour routes in the city. We picked one line and followed it. There are walking routes that you can take in the city which are each colored differently by lines on the sidewalk. You’ll find plaques and maps along each route with descriptions about different sites and buildings. Irkutsk is a beautiful city with lots of pretty architecture and pretty pleased with the walking tour routes. We used the routes as a guide and then explored to our heart’s desire taking detours whenever we saw fit.
If you’re able to, Irkutsk is a nice place to stop for a day or two. It was a perfect in-between stop for us to refresh a little bit after going to Lake Baikal and before hopping on another train.
Our train ride from Irkutsk to Krasnoyarsk was a total of 18 hours. We spent one night on the train. For our trip to Krasnoyarsk we opted to take a 3rd class train. Our train ride to Krasnoyarsk was our first and only 3rd class train during our entire trip. We only booked one 3rd class train despite the tickets being much cheaper because we really didn’t know what to expect. Everyone kept telling us that Russia would be dangerous and to be especially careful as females. During our experience though, we found Russia to be extremely safe. Others might have had other experiences but we didn’t have any trouble during our 3 week stint in Russia and I think we would’ve been fine if we had taken more 3rd class trains.
Anyways, if you’re a social person and don’t mind noise, I would recommend the 3rd class trains. They’re not as comfortable of course as 2nd class cabins and berths but if you like meeting locals, this is the way to do it. Everyone we encountered during our train rides were really friendly, but the 3rd class trains are more social by nature since all the berths are open. We ended up sitting next to a young(er) male and female for part of the train ride. And for the other part of the ride, we were next to two grandparents and their cute little nephew who we bonded with during our ride.