Must see attractions in Eastern Siberia

  • Top ChoiceSights in Tuva

    National Museum

    One of Tuva’s ‘must sees’, the National Museum’s huge modern home contains the usual arrangements of stuffed animals, WWII artefacts and dusty minerals, as well as more impressive halls dedicated to shamanism, Buddhist art and traditional Tuvan sports. However, all of this is just a teasing appetiser before the main course: a single, atmospherically lit and well-guarded room containing kilograms of Scythian gold jewellery, unearthed at Arzhaan I in the Valley of the Kings. The 3000-year-old gold pieces, which can only be seen on a 40-minute Russian-language guided tour (interpreters available or bring your own), are exquisitely displayed against dark-blue felt and seem to illuminate the room with their ancient gleam. Look out for the 1.5kg solid-gold torque, never removed by the Scythian emperor, and thousands of millimetrically fashioned sequins, the likes of which modern-day jewellers claim not to have the skills or tools to reproduce.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Krasnoyarsk

    Stolby Nature Reserve

    Russia's most visited national park is located right across the river from Krasnoyarsk's city centre. Its highlight are the fingers of volcanic rock called stolby poking above gently sloping wooded mountains. To reach the most spectacular of them (as well as the newly opened visitors centre), follow the track (7km long) near Hotel Snezhnaya Dolina (bus 50). Alternatively, you can take the year-round chairlift (Фуникулёр; R250) at Bobrovy Log Ski Resort and hike about the same distance through the park. New paths and steps mean going it alone is not the daredevil experience it once was, but English-language tours with SibTourGuide are a much more pleasant and entertaining affair. Be aware that infected ticks are dangerous between May and July, and tick protection or predeparture encephalitis jabs are essential at this time.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Krasnoyarsk

    Ploshchad Mira

    Krasnoyarsk's Lenin museum was opened on the occasion of the October Revolution's 70th anniversary in 1987, only to see the entire communist system collapse four years later. But, in a true revolutionary spirit, it has reinvented itself as a beautifully eclectic art venue that fuses elements of the original communist-era exhibitions with top-quality contemporary art and photography. An installation dedicated to Afghan and Chechen wars, which mixes naive art with photographs and personal belongings of deceased soldiers, is especially poignant. Ploshchad Mira also serves as the venue of Krasnoyarsk's art biennale, held in 2018 and 2020. The museum's old library has now been converted into what Russians call 'open space' – a wi-fi hotspot lounge, where you can comfortably spend time checking emails, reading a book or chatting with friends over a cup of coffee. Called Okna, it also runs lectures and public discussions.

  • Sights in Southern Buryatiya & Zabaikalsky Territory

    Ivolginsk (Ivolga) Datsan

    The confident epicentre of Russian Buddhism owes its existence to none other than Josef Stalin, who reversed the Bolshevik policy of destroying temples and allowed it to be built, in a plot of marshy land 35km from Ulan-Ude, in gratitude to the Buryats for their sacrifices during WWII. The first temple was a modest affair, but today the datsan has grown large and is expanding fast. Pilgrims and tourists flock here on half-day trips from the Buryat capital. The Ivolginsky datsan was one of only two working Buddhist temples in Soviet days (the other was at Aginskoe); most of what you see today has been built in the last two decades. A clockwise walk around the complex takes in countless monastery faculties, administrative buildings, monks’ quarters and temples, but the most elaborate of all is the Itygel Khambin Temple honouring the 12th Khambo Lama, whose body was exhumed in 2002. To general astonishment, seven decades after his death his flesh had still not decomposed. Some ‘experts’ have even attested that the corpse’s hair is still growing, albeit extraordinarily slowly. The body is displayed six times a year, attracting pilgrims from across the Buddhist world. To reach the monastery, first take marshrutka 130 (R45, 40 minutes, four hourly) from pl Banzarova to the last stop in uninteresting Ivolga. There, another marshrutka (R25, no number, just a picture of the monastery or the word Дацан pasted to the front windscreen) waits to shuttle visitors the last few kilometres to the monastery compound. Otherwise contact agencies in Ulan-Ude, which offer private transfers and tours with well-informed guides. The daily Gunrig Khural Ritual, which is said to protect participants from bad reincarnations and black magic, is held at 9am.

  • Sights in Tuva

    Centre for Tuvan Culture

    The attractive two-storey timber building of the Centre for Tuvan Culture was founded in 2012 by legendary Tuvan musician Kongar-ol Ondar, who was its first director until his untimely death in 2013. The government-funded institution brings together all of Tuva’s ensembles, the amazing National Orchestra, traditional costume-makers, metalworkers and sculptors in a single one-stop shop and makes accessing the extraordinary culture of Tuva much simpler than before. On the ground floor there’s a 150-seat concert hall, venue for the monthly concert given by one of Tuva’s ensembles and decorated in motifs inspired by the Scythian gold in the National Museum. The basement hosts rehearsal rooms belonging to the different ensembles, and upstairs is the large studio used by the Tuvan National Orchestra – between 10am and 2pm most weekdays, tourists are welcome to sit in on their rehearsal sessions. Just along the corridor is the International Scientific Centre of Khöömei. The current director, Igor Koshkendey, speaks English and is keen to see more tourists coming to the centre. Through him, his staff and members of the National Orchestra, it’s possible to access any aspect of Tuvan culture, find out about events and even arrange throat-singing lessons.

  • Sights in Ulan-Ude

    Rinpoche Bagsha Datsan

    Roosting high above the city’s far north, the inside of this new and unexpectedly modern Tibetan temple looks like a kind of Buddhist-themed bus terminal, though the 6m-high gilt Buddha is pretty impressive. However, the real show-stealer here is the panoramic view, the smog-hazed city ringed by rumpled dust-bare peaks. Take marshrutka 97 from outside the Hotel Baikal Plaza on pl Sovetov to the last stop (right by the temple entrance). If you catch the monks doing their thing with drums, cymbals and chanting, the atmosphere can be electric. An extra feature is the circular walk around the temple featuring pavilions with grotesque, man-size representations of the Chinese signs of the zodiac.

  • Sights in Krasnoyarsk

    Regional Museum

    Housed in an incongruously attractive 1912 art nouveau Egyptian temple, this is one of Siberia’s better museums. Arranged around a Cossack explorer’s ship, surprisingly well-presented exhibitions across the two floors examine every facet of the region’s past, from Cossacks and gentlemen explorers to the Tunguska explosion, local fauna, prerevolution institutions and religious art. Highlights include the 20th-century ‘nostalgia’ section on the upper level and the 4m-tall mammoth skeleton looking like something straight off a Hollywood museum movie set. There are touchscreen games for kids throughout and a decent cafe to look forward to at the end.

  • Sights in Listvyanka

    Chersky Rock

    Listvyanka’s best viewpoint, overlooking the source of the Angara, is named after Jan Czerski, a 19th-century Polish gentleman explorer. It is best accessed via the cable car of the mediocre Eastland ski resort (R300 return). To reach the resort, take a taxi or walk uphill along the road that starts near Baikal Museum. As a young man, Czerski was exiled to Siberia for taking part in the 1863 uprising against the Russian Empire. Despite a complete lack of formal education, he grew to become one of Russia’s most celebrated geographers and explorers of Siberia.

  • Sights in Ulan-Ude

    Lenin Head

    Ulan-Ude’s main square is entirely dominated by the world’s largest Lenin head that creates an ensemble with the grey constructivist government building behind it. The 7.7m-high bronze bonce was installed in 1970 to celebrate Lenin’s 100th birthday. Oddly, UU’s bird population never seems to streak Lenin’s bald scalp with their offerings – out of respect for the great man’s achievements, bark diehard communists (but perhaps due to the barely visible antibird spikes, groan the rest).

  • Sights in Lake Baikal

    Mongolian Market

    Traders bring Mongolian herbs, spices, clothes and leather items from across the nearby border to this colourful makeshift market that stretches for a few hundred metres along the Kyngyrga valley inside the territory of Kurort Arshan.

  • Sights in Irkutsk

    Volkonsky House-Museum

    The duck-egg-blue and white home of Decembrist Count Sergei Volkonsky, whose wife Maria Volkonskaya cuts the main figure in Christine Sutherland’s unputdownable book The Princess of Siberia, is a small mansion set in a scruffy courtyard with stables, a barn and servant quarters. Renovated in the late 1980s, the house is now a museum telling the story of the family's exile in Irkutsk. In the decade leading up to the Volkonskys' return to St Petersburg in 1856, the house was the epicentre of Irkutsk cultural life, with balls, musical soirées and parties attended by wealthy merchants and high-ranking local officials. A tour of the building, with its big ceramic stoves and original staircases, takes visitors from the family dining room, where governor Muravyov-Amursky once feasted on fruit and veg grown by Volkonsky himself in the garden out back, to the upstairs photo exhibition including portraits of Maria and other women who romantically followed their husbands and lovers into exile. Emotionally charged items on show include Maria's pyramidal piano, a browsable book of images collected by fellow Decembrist wife Ekaterina Trubetskaya of the various places the Decembrists were imprisoned, and Maria's music box sent from Italy by her sister-in-law.

  • Sights in Tuva

    Valley of the Kings

    This broad grassy vale begins a few kilometres beyond a turning off the M54 highway north of Turan. It’s famous in archaeological circles for its pancake-shaped Scythian kurgany (burial mounds) named after the village of Arzhaan at the end of the paved road. These have produced the most significant archaeological finds ever made in Tuva, now displayed in Kyzyl’s National Museum. The first roadside kurgan is Arzhaan II, which lies opposite shimmering Ak Khol (White Lake). During excavations in 2001 archaeologists unearthed some magnificent artefacts in several graves dating from the 7th century BC. Less well maintained Arzhaan I, a little further along the road, is the largest kurgan in Tuva. A dig in the early 1970s turned up thousands of gold and silver artefacts plus the graves of two Scythian VIPs, 16 servants and 160 horses, but today only a large disc of clacking stones remains. The valley holds an amazing 700 burial sites and eight large kurgany await the archaeologist’s trowel. However, digs are unpopular with local villagers and shamans who believe the spirits should be left undisturbed.

  • Sights in Ulan-Ude

    Ulitsa Sobornaya

    The pedestrianised street abutting Odigitria Cathedral preserves the spirit and the wooden lace architecture of the old downtown, populated by merchants and intelligentsia. Original inhabitants suffered badly from Bolshevik violence. A grim reminder of those violent times is the white stone building at the cathedral end of the street, which housed the NKVD – Stalin's secret police, responsible for torture and mass executions. You'll find a touching monument to the victims of oppression at the other end of the street. Tragedy and comedy often walk hand in hand, as evidenced by the hilarious gilded statues on top of a house that stands right in front of the sombre monument. The house contains Lev Bardanov art gallery, the brainchild of a local businessman, and the statues depict four of his favourite local cultural figures. Locals say the collection is no less eccentric, but the gallery had still not been opened for the public, when we hung around.

  • Sights in Irkutsk

    Znamensky Monastery

    Stranded on the wrong side of a thundering roundabout, the 1762 Znamensky Monastery is 1.9km northeast of Skver Kirova. Echoing with mellifluous plainsong, the wonderful interior has muralled vaulting, a towering iconostasis and a gold sarcophagus holding the miraculous relics of Siberian missionary St Inokent. Celebrity graves outside include the nautically themed tomb of Grigory Shelekhov, the man who claimed Alaska for Russia, and a much humbler headstone belonging to Decembrist wife Ekaterina Trubetskaya (directly in front of you as you enter). White Russian commander Admiral Kolchak was executed by Bolsheviks near the spot where his statue was controversially erected in November 2004 at the entrance to the monastery grounds; the plinth is exaggeratedly high enough to prevent diehard communists from committing acts of vandalism. Trolleybus 3 trundles this way.

  • Sights in Southern Buryatiya & Zabaikalsky Territory

    Tamchinsky Datsan

    First founded in 1741, this was Buryatiya’s first Buddhist monastery and the mother ship of Russian Buddhism for two centuries. The original complex, 160km south of Ulan-Ude, was destroyed in the 1930s and the modern reconstruction is small scale and surrounded by the slowly dying village of Gusinoe Ozero (30km south of Gusinoozersk). View the newly renovated former school of philosophy, test out the amazing acoustics of the main temple and chat with the mobile-phone-toting head lama who, for a donation, may let you camp in the grounds and eat in the small refectory. To get there, take the 7.24am Naushki train from Ulan-Ude (four hours) and alight at Gusinoe Ozero. A train runs back to Ulan-Ude late afternoon or you could hitch a lift to Gusinoozersk at the opposite end of the lake, from where there are regular marshrutky back to Ulan-Ude.

  • Sights in Tuva

    Centre of Asia Monument

    If you take a map of the world, cut out Asia and balance the continent on a pin, the centre of gravity would be Kyzyl. Well, only if you’ve used the utterly obscure Gall’s stereographic projection. However, that doesn’t stop the city from perpetuating the ‘Centre of Asia’ idea first posited by a mysterious 19th-century English eccentric and now marked with a monument standing in the middle of a manicured park that looks at the confluence of the two Yeniseys. The creator of the monument, Buryat sculptor Dashi Namdakov, whose Chinggis (Genghis) Khaan sculpture stands near London's Marble Arch, drove inspiration from the Skythian gold finds, now housed at the Tuvan National Museum. The equestrian monument depicts a Skythian prince and his Amazon-like wife, who were put to rest with all their gold in a burial mound north of Kyzyl.

  • Sights in Around Abakan

    Martyanov Museum

    Filling three distinct buildings, the countless halls crammed with local taxidermy, Bronze and Iron Age finds, Tuvan and Khakass standing stones, traditional stringed instruments and shaggy shaman costumes just keep on coming at this admirable repository of the region’s past. Away from the obvious prehistoric highlights, more off-beat exhibitions look at the construction of 1970s new Minusinsk and ethnic minorities from Europe that colonised Khakassia in the 19th century. Allow around two hours to see everything and don’t even think of veering off from the prescribed tour route. The museum has two other small branches in town, the Decembrist Museum and Krzyzanovsky & Starkov Flat Museum.

  • Sights in Irkutsk

    130 Kvartal

    What does a city boasting some of Siberia’s most impressive original timber architecture do to improve the visitor experience? Yes, that’s right, recreate an entire quarter of yet more wooden buildings, some transported here from other locations, some fake. The unromantically named 130 Kvartal south of the Raising of the Cross Church is nonetheless a pleasant place to stroll, packed with restaurants, cafes and commercial museums, and culminating in Eastern Siberia’s only real 21st-century (and quite impressive) shopping mall. Guarding the entrance to this timber theme park is a monster bronze babr, the mythical beast that features on Irkutsk's municipal coat of arms. The spot has become a popular place to have that ‘I’ve been to Irkutsk’ photo taken.

  • Sights in Ulan-Ude

    Ethnographic Museum

    In a forest clearing 6km from central Ulan-Ude, this outdoor collection of local architecture plus some reconstructed burial mounds and the odd stone totem are worth the trip. The collection is divided into seven areas, each devoted to a different nationality, tribe or ethnic group. There are Hun-era standing stones, Evenki chumy, traditional Buryat yurts, timber European town houses and a whole strip of Old Believers’ homesteads, all brimming with period furniture and inhabited by costumed ‘locals’ giving craft demonstrations. Marshrutka 37 from outside the Hotel Baikal Plaza on pl Sovetov passes within 1km and drivers are used to detouring to drop off tourists.

  • Sights in Around Abakan

    Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam

    Completed in 1985, this stunning feat of engineering blocks a beautiful forested canyon cut through the Sayan mountains by the mighty Yenisey. At 242m, the dam is the world's 17th tallest, and the hydropower station is the world's ninth in production capacity. The six bronze figures that comprise the striking monument to Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam builders stand at a prime observation point about 500m from the dam. A gigantic water discharge facility is built into the rock on the other side of the river. The dam is fresh from a thorough reconstruction that followed the 2009 catastrophe caused by a turbine breakdown, which killed 75 people trapped in the flooded machine hall.