A quick 8-hour train ride around Lake Baikal, and we arrived in Irkutsk.
We fell in love with this little city (one of the largest cities in Siberia, population just over 500,000)! It was a total surprise. We were expecting a backwater, boring town in the middle of nowhere … instead we got gorgeous scenery, lots of sunshine and show, super cute wooden houses with elaborate wooden edging, good restaurants and nature just a few minutes drive away.
A Day Out Dog Sledding
We’ve been looking forward to Irkutsk to try dog sledding around Lake Baikal. It did not disappoint! We went with a family-owned business who really looks after their dogs, and the dogs clearly loved pulling the sled – especially on the longer route we did.
We did a 20km dog sled including a ‘picnic lunch’ over a fire in the woods!
Apparently lots of tour groups come through and do a short 1km (less than 5 min!) dog sled per person, and the dogs get really bored doing the same circuit over and over. So our dog sled drivers (mushers) said the dogs really love doing the longer trips, so they can make new trails and really run.
Zak was really happy because they let him drive the sled almost the entire way!
We stopped in the woods (which looked a lot like New Hampshire – hills with dense pines and white birch, I felt right at home!) and made a fire, and then cooked lunch. Ham cooked on skewers, dumpling soup, bread, and then chocolate and Siberian herbal tea (with herbs they collected themselves from the forest in the summer). Yum.
And here’s a little video I took while sitting in the sled … it gets bumpy! (This wasn’t very bumpy. On the way back I was bumped into the air more than a few times, and was really sore the next day. It was fun though!
Exploring the Local Market in Irkutsk
No trip is complete for me without exploring the local food market, and Irkutsk did not disappoint!
Russians are really into local produce, fermentation (so many pickles!), herbs, honey, cheese … we were in heaven.
Irkutsk was such a surprise and well worth a visit. I think it would be great in the summer when you could do more outdoorsy activities on the immense Lake Baikal that is nearby. We really enjoyed our time there and felt like we were back in Europe (which is amazing when you see how far into Asia Irkutsk still is…)
Next up, our longest train ride yet, 48 hours on the Trans-Siberian from Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg…