Updated: May 21, 2020
Lake Baikal is #1 Russian landmark. Why it is so special, what is the best time to visit it and how to get there?
Why visit Baikal. Lake Baikal is a world champion by many measures and one of the biggest sites of the World Natural Heritage, as it is:
the deepest lake on Earth (1,642 meters deep)
the oldest existing freshwater lake (20 million–25 million years old)
the largest freshwater lake by volume (⅕ of the freshwater on Earth’s surface)
Best time to visit Lake Baikal. Most tourists come in July and August, which might be the best time to visit Lake Baikal: you can rent a boat and survey picturesque little bays, sunbathe at the beach, fish and more.
In winter the lake is no less beautiful, but the weather is harsh. If you aren’t repelled by subzero temperatures, winter is a great time to experience skating on the lake surface, ride on a sleigh with huskies or ski in the Baykalsk town. One more reason to come in winter is to see the amazingly beautiful ice on the lake surface. Baikal has such pure water so that when it freezes by the end of January, the ice is almost transparent and you can look through it meters down. The ice regularly breaks to make up for the oxygen shortage beneath the surface and not let fish die. These ice breaks are very loud and sound like gunfire or rolling thunder.
Below, you can see the average temperature by month:
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
-20°C -17°C -7.6°C 2.2°C 9.9°C 15.7°C 18.2°C 16°C 9.3°C 1°C -9.7°C -17.1°C
Things to see around the Lake Baikal:
Olkhon Island. It is called the “heart of Baikal” and it is the largest island on the lake. Locals believe that one of the island’s caves holds Genghis Khan’s remains. And it also hosts the world's largest shamanic ceremony.
Circum-Baikal Railroad. Being a part of the Trans-Siberian railroad till the middle of the last century, today Circum-Baikal railroad is another picturesque site on Lake Baikal.
Shaman Rock, subject to many legends
Irkutsk, one of the largest Siberian cities and place of exile for many Russians
Baykalsk, ski resort
Sayan mountains (not exactly close to Baikal, but still in the area)
How to get to there. Baikal is situated in southern Siberia. You can get there by plane, train, car or even hitchhike. Many travelers first come to Irkutsk and then head toward lake Baikal.
Plane. The closest airport is located in the city of Irkutsk. You can fly there from Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk and many other Russian cities. In winter, you can take a direct flight from Moscow for $180-$200 (roundtrip), while summer prices are higher - up to $430-$500 (roundtrip).
Train. It is possible to take an 87-hour train trip from Moscow to Irkutsk for $60-70 (economy class).
Once in Irkutsk, go to one of a few villages close to the lake: Listvyanka, Slyudyanka, Utulik or the Baikalsk town. You can take a direct bus or There are many accommodation options available: apartments, campings, guest houses, hotel rooms and more.