Must see attractions in Russian Far East

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sakhalin Island

    Cathedral of the Nativity

    This extraordinary new addition to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk's otherwise ho-hum architectural ensemble is a staggeringly impressive golden-domed cathedral, which at 81m high is the tallest church in the Russian Far East. While the building was completed in 2016, it was still having its interior frescoes painted in 2017, and may not be fully complete for some time yet, although visitors are welcome.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Vladivostok

    Zarya Centre for Contemporary Art

    The full renovation and repurposing of a former clothing factory into a giant creative complex containing offices, studios, cafes and work spaces is one of Vladivostok's most interesting recent developments. Visitors will be most interested in the excellent Zarya Centre for Contemporary Art, which is divided into two exhibition halls where top-notch contemporary art and design exhibitions are held. Check out what's on via the website. To get here from the centre, take bus 41 from outside Clover House or bus 31 from outside the train station to the stop Fabrika Zarya and then cross the road using the bridge.

  • Sights in Yakutsk

    Permafrost Kingdom

    At Permafrost Kingdom, two neon-lit tunnels burrowed into a permanently frozen hill have been filled with dozens of fabulous, never-melting ice sculptures of local pagan gods and a host of more recognisable objects and characters – a sitting Buddha, a pharaoh, Ded Moroz (Russia’s Santa Claus), a woolly mammoth and an icy interpretation of Picasso’s Guernica. Silver coats and woolly boots are given out to keep you insulated. Permafrost affects almost every aspect of life in Yakutsk, obstructing drainage, causing unstilted buildings to bow and then collapse, spontaneously chucking up mounds of earth, and emitting enough methane to possibly alter the earth’s climate catastrophically. The Permafrost Kingdom is a great way to get up close and personal with this nebulous and omnipresent beast. In this subterranean permafrost zone, the temperature ranges from –7°C in summer to a balmy (relative to outside temperatures) –20°C in winter. Indeed, caves adjacent to the kingdom are used for electricity-free cold storage in the warm months. This is by far Yakutsk's quirkiest attraction and makes for a great little excursion year-round. It's 13km west of Yakutsk’s centre; buses 7 and 25 go here from pr Lenina, or a taxi is around R300.

  • Sights in Vladivostok

    Russky Island

    A fully militarised zone for most of the past 150 years, this big island just offshore has been reinvented as a business and academic centre and is home to the sprawling Far Eastern Federal University campus and the new Oceanarium. There's great tourism potential here, not least for some excellent beaches as you go deeper and deeper into the island and away from the city, but at the moment Russky Island is very much a DIY attraction. Access to the island is by bus over the suspension bridge. Take a northbound bus 29 or bus 15 from Okeansky pr or ul Aksakovskaya. The more-frequent bus 15 takes you to the DVFU campus, from which you can transfer to a minibus 29, which makes a loop, stopping in Rynda and other spots on the island. Rynda has a couple of resorts and the best beaches (just hop out when you see one you like). There are many forts on the island, including the Voroshilov Battery.

  • Sights in Khabarovsk

    Khabarovsk Regional Museum

    Located in an evocative 1894 red-brick building, this museum contains an excellent overview of Russian and Soviet history, despite not having a single word of non-Russian signage. Galleries take you decade by decade through the past with fascinating propaganda posters, old film clips, audio snippets, black-and-white photos (like the sad crowds gathered at the announcement of Stalin's demise) and rooms with period furnishings and accoutrements that give a taste of what life was like. There's even a small section devoted to the Gulag (fitting, since the nearby prison population was bigger than the city’s in the 1930s). Another section has garments, sleds and carvings of native peoples. The less intriguing new building has a wing dedicated to the Amur River, with live fish in tanks, and more stuffed animals.

  • Sights in Vladivostok

    Primorsky Oceanarium

    This massive new development on Russky Island is one of Vladivostok's planned key attractions and opened with great fanfare in 2016. It's a vast space in a remote, purpose-built building, and while it has all the potential to be a great attraction, it actually had the feel of a place struggling on our last visit. The dolphinarium was closed, many tanks were empty and no food or drinks were available. Hopefully things will improve in time. To get out here, jump on bus 15 from ul Aksakovskaya and get off at the last stop. A free shuttle bus will take you to the oceanarium's main entrance, or you can just walk the 500m yourself.

  • Sights in Eastern Bam

    BAM Museum

    Tynda’s pride and joy has four rooms of BAM relics and photos – sadly all devoid of English labelling – as well as exhibits on native Evenki culture, WWII, local art and regional wildlife. Don't miss the 9m-long 'barrel of Diogenes' parked in the yard, where many BAM workers lived during the railroad's construction. After crossing the pedestrian bridge from the train station, take the first left, continue 200m and turn right up Sportivnaya, where you'll soon see it on your left. One section covers the Little BAM and the Gulag prisoners who built it in the 1930s. They lived (and died) in 24 BAM labour camps between Tynda and Bamovskaya, and some moving photos chronicle the extreme hardships these prisoners endured. Two rooms are dedicated to the big BAM, sections of which were built in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s before Stalin died and the project was mothballed. A final display covers the period between its relaunch in 1974 and final completion in 1984.

  • Sights in Sakhalin Island

    Museum of Sakhalin Island: A Book by AP Chekhov

    Based on Chekhov’s seminal account of his few months working as a doctor on Sakhalin in the 1890s, this museum provides insight not only into life on Sakhalin in tsarist Russia but also into the life of the great playwright. More interesting than the untranslated Chekhov works are multimedia exhibits and lifesize models that give an idea of life on the island; there's even a recreated sleeping quarters for convicts (though you'll have to imagine the roaches and bedbugs). A small gallery of temporary artwork is upstairs. The surrounding park has a few sculptures of Chekhov personages.

  • Sights in Yakutsk

    Druzhba Park Reserve

    This park, on the site of the original hunting settlement that later became Yakutsk, contains a series of excellently preserved historic buildings that date from as early as the 17th century, which serve to document the incremental influence of Russian culture on the indigenous peoples. There's a church, a summer yurt, a copy of Peter Beketov's boat and a number of interesting exhibits documenting the traditional lives of the Yakuts, Evenki, Chukchis and other peoples native to the Far East.

  • Sights in Sakha Republic & Magadan Region

    Mask of Sorrow

    Ernst Neizvestny's famous Mask of Sorrow, erected in 1996, is the stark and brutalist concrete rendering of the suffering of the tens of thousands of political prisoners who passed through Kolyma's camps between the early 1930s and the late 1950s. Behind the giant mask made up of dozens of tiny faces kneels a weeping figure beneath a headless person on the cross. It's a deeply moving place, with good views across the town. A taxi here costs around R200 from the town centre.

  • Sights in Yakutsk

    Orto Doidu

    This popular zoo is some distance from Yakutsk, but it's well worth the trouble of getting out here if you're interested in the fascinatingly hardy fauna of Yakutia and Arctic Russia. Among the collection you'll find polar bears, wolves, reindeer, elk, brown bears and even a golden eagle. To get here, take bus 202 from the bus station (R160, one hour). Buses leave at 9am, 11.30am, 2.30pm and 5pm.

  • Sights in Yakutsk

    Yakutsk Regional History Museum

    A good place to delve deeper into Sakha culture, the Regional History Museum contains local minerals, information on the region’s first Russian settlers and a mammoth skeleton alongside the standard Soviet natural history and WWII exhibits. Outside, there’s a huge whale skeleton found in 1961, as well as the original museum building, a charming wooden structure full of traditional furnishings.

  • Sights in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

    Kamchatka Regional Museum

    Housed in an attractive half-timbered building overlooking the bay, this museum features an imaginative mix of relics and murals that outline Kamchatka’s history, including a wide range of prehistoric weapons and tools, taxidermied animals, dioramas of nomadic herders, old cannonballs, weapons and flags. There's no signage in English, however, and so a visit without a guide can be frustrating.

  • Sights in Vladivostok

    Arsenev Regional Museum

    This recently redone museum dates from 1890 and offers three floors of galleries, although there's little in the way of English labelling. Exhibits delve into local history, covering early explorers of the region, Vlad's vibrant Chinatown from the early 1900s, and civil war (with a short silent film playing across a broken screen). English-speaking guides are sometimes available for free tours.

  • Sights in Yakutsk

    National Art Museum

    If time is limited, don't miss this excellent museum, with Sakha-themed exhibits covering local craftmaking traditions (mammoth tusk carvings, reindeer boots, finely carved urns for kumiss – fermented mare's milk), landscape paintings and portraits. Look out for the captivating paintings of village life by Andrei Chikachev (born 1967), the most famous living Sakha artist.

  • Sights in Vladivostok

    Transfiguration Cathedral

    Vladivostok was building a massive new cathedral on its central square at the time of writing, and it's set to be one of the city's most recognisable sights. Having spent over a decade arguing about which design would be built and where, this massive project is now in motion with the finished cathedral rising to 67m and able to accommodate up to 2000 worshippers.

  • Sights in Sakha Republic & Magadan Region

    Magadan Regional Museum

    As well as a standard and very detailed look at the lives of the local indigenous groups, this excellent museum displays a moving collection of artefacts from the Gulag camps, including a guard tower used in the Kolyma region. There's sadly no signage in English, so non-Russians should call ahead to arrange a tour in English (R400 per small group).

  • Sights in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

    Vulkanarium

    This new museum was just about to open during our last visit to Kamchatka, and a quick peek inside as they were putting up the display revealed an impressive series of rooms with panels in English about the local volcanic clusters and their extraordinary, awesome powers. Definitely a good place to go before climbing one of the nearby giants.

  • Sights in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

    Trinity Cathedral

    Petropavlovsk's largest and most impressive church is this golden-domed stunner, which sits on an outcrop from where it is visible from all over the city. Despite looking ancient, the church was built in the early 21st century, and still isn't complete as funds have dwindled. Still, from here there are great views of the bay.

  • Sights in Eastern Bam

    BAM Builders Monument

    This iconic and rather aggressive looking statue is Tynda's most obvious sight. It's dedicated to the massive human effort (both voluntary and not) needed to build the extraordinary Baikal-Amur Magistral (BAM) railway line. Locals know the statue colloquially as muzhchina s molotkom – the guy with the hammer.