People living in Irkutsk Oblast are lucky to live on the banks of Lake Baikal – the deepest freshwater lake in the world. Visitors to Irkutsk Oblast can discover the secrets of the shamans on Olkhon Island, travel along the Circum-Baikal Railway, enjoy Irkutsk's ancient architecture, see the famous Baikal seal and taste the delicious Baikal omul.
The region has a rich cultural and historical heritage: prehistoric settlements, the Russian colonization of Eastern Siberia, the era of the Decembrists and the Soviet period of rapid construction.
Irkutsk, the region's capital, is one of the most beautiful cities in Russia, combining unique architecture and the cultural traditions of a Siberian town. Irkutsk has many wooden settlements; unique churches; pieces of architectural and engineering art; theaters famous in Russia and abroad; and old museums. The Decembrists in Irkutsk historical and architectural museum is of particular importance. The restored historical center – 130th Quarter (Irkutsk Settlement) – attracts great attention. The settlement is Irkutsk's cultural and tourism center; it has restored historically valuable wooden houses; abandoned houses are being renovated; there are blacksmiths and potteries, souvenir stalls, cafes; and the House of Music named after the world-famous pianist Denis Matsuev, whose life and works are closely linked with Irkutsk and Baikal.
The Circum-Baikal Railway is an architectural and historical monument from the early 20th century. Travelling along it you will not only have wonderful views of Lake Baikal but also see a large number of unique engineering structures: long tunnels, lots of stone and reinforced concrete galleries, bridges and viaducts. This unique railway is justifiably known as an achievement of Russian and Italian engineering, an open-air railway museum.
The sacred Shaman Rock dominates the village of Listvyanka, 70 km from Irkutsk by the source of the Angara River, the only river flowing from Lake Baikal. In Listvyanka, you can visit the Baikal Museum and enjoy a virtual trip to the bottom of Lake Baikal; visit a seal aquarium and see the unique Baikal seals; take a funicular to the viewing platform on Chersky Rock and look at the wonderful view of the source of the Angar River, Lake Baikal and the Khaman-Daban Mountains.
Olkhon Island is the largest island on Baikal, a mythical and secret place, the home of shamanism. Shamans come here from all over South East and Central Asia to visit the home of the lord of the underworld – Erlik Khan. The island is rich in archaeological monuments, historical legends and ancient myths. The most popular and mysterious place on Olkhon is Cape Burkhan. The cape has two peaks, the so-called Shamanka-Rock.
You can swim in the warm waters in Olkhon district's picturesque bays and inlets or relax on the sandy beaches. You can go diving, fishing and hunting in the local resorts.
Baikal is particularly beautiful in winter: hundreds of kilometers of transparent ice sparkling in the sun, giant ice drifts, ice caves and snowy mountain peaks. The surprisingly transparent ice allows you to see the bottom near the shore and glance into the dark secrets of the lake's depths. In winter, you can have the unique experience of diving under the ice and swimming in tunnels formed by giant ice drifts and hummocks, and in transparent ice caves.
Skiing is also popular in Irkutsk. One of the best skiing resorts in Eastern Siberia is Gora Sobolinaya, on the south east coast of Lake Baikal. Take a ride on a snowmobile if you want to feel real excitement and experience the amazing winter landscapes. The main snowmobile routes are picturesque taiga areas on the Olkhinsk Plateau; along Lake Baikal, from Listvyanka to the village of Bolshiye Koty; across the Baikal ice and along the snowy slopes of Khamar-Daban mountain range.
Irkutsk hosts Russian and international cultural events, including the annual Stars on Baikal International Music Festival, the Vampilov International Theatrical Festival of Modern Drama and the Baikal International Festival of Documentary and Popular-Science Films "People and Environment". Every year, in February-March, the International Zimniada Festival of Winter Games and the Baikal Rift Extreme Sport Festival are held in Irkutsk Oblast.