North Asia (Russia - Siberia) Travel Guide
Embark on an epic journey through Siberia, the vast and enigmatic expanse of North Asia. This land of extremes, stretching eastward from the Ural Mountains to the rugged coastlines of the Pacific Ocean, invites you to discover its untouched natural wonders, rich cultural heritage, and the enduring spirit of adventure.
Siberia, often synonymous with remote and untamed wilderness, offers an array of experiences from the deepest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Baikal, to the volcanic landscapes of Kamchatka.
Whether it's following the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway, witnessing the Northern Lights, or exploring ancient cultures, Siberia promises an unforgettable adventure into some of the most breathtaking and least explored terrains on the planet.
Capital city: Russia’s capital city is Moscow, but Siberia’s main city is Novosibirsk.
Currency: Russian Ruble (RUB). 1 USD = 91 RUB.
Electricity: Power voltage is 220 Volts. Power socket types C and F
Language: Russian is the official language and the most widely spoken language in the country.
10 Handpicked Highlights of Siberia
The Mystical Depths of Lake Baikal
Discover the natural wonder of Lake Baikal, the deepest and one of the oldest freshwater lakes in the world. Known as the ‘Pearl of Siberia,’ Baikal holds one-fifth of the world’s unfrozen freshwater reserve. This UNESCO World Heritage site is not only a natural marvel but also a haven for unique wildlife, including the endemic Baikal seal.
Summer at Lake Baikal is perfect for hiking, camping, and exploring the surrounding taiga forests, while winter transforms the lake into a frosty wonderland, with opportunities for ice skating and snowmobiling on its crystal-clear ice. The lake’s surrounding areas, with their traditional Buryat culture and picturesque villages, offer a deeper insight into Siberia’s cultural diversity.
The Volcanic Majesty of the Kamchatka Peninsula
Venture to the Kamchatka Peninsula, a land of extraordinary natural beauty and volcanic activity. This remote region is a playground for adventurers, with its towering volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs. The Valley of Geysers is a particularly renowned natural wonder.
Kamchatka’s diverse landscape is also a sanctuary for wildlife, including brown bears, reindeer, and myriad bird species. The region’s rugged terrain provides opportunities for hiking, heli-skiing, and fishing, making it an unparalleled destination for those seeking both thrill and the beauty of untouched nature.
The Trans-Siberian Railway Adventure
Embark on the journey of a lifetime aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway, the longest railway line in the world. This epic journey takes you across the vast expanse of Siberia, offering a unique view of its changing landscapes, from dense forests and mountain ranges to the wide-open steppes.
The journey, which can take from a week to a month depending on stops, allows travelers to experience the heart of Siberia, with stops in key cities like Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude. It’s an immersive way to witness the region’s diverse cultures, meet locals, and see the remote beauty of Siberia in a way few other journeys can offer.
The Wilds of the Altai Mountains
Explore the Altai Mountains, a stunning range that marks the border of Russia, Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan. This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its natural diversity, featuring snow-capped peaks, pristine lakes, and lush valleys. The region is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering trekking, horseback riding, and river rafting.
The cultural heritage of the Altai region is equally fascinating, with a rich history of ancient tribes and the indigenous Altai people. Visitors can explore archaeological sites, including ancient rock carvings and burial mounds, offering a glimpse into the human history that has shaped this remote part of the world.
The Historical City of Irkutsk
Visit Irkutsk, often referred to as the ‘Paris of Siberia,’ for its classic architecture and vibrant cultural scene. This city, a significant stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway, is known for its beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings and its proximity to Lake Baikal.
In Irkutsk, you can explore museums, theaters, and historic churches, or stroll along the Angara River embankment for picturesque views. The city serves as a gateway to Siberian adventures but is also a destination in its own right, with a unique blend of Siberian tradition and modern Russian culture.
The Ethereal Beauty of the Northern Lights
Witness the ethereal beauty of the Northern Lights in Siberia’s far north. The remote towns like Norilsk and the Yamal Peninsula offer some of the best opportunities to observe this natural phenomenon. The aurora borealis is most visible during the winter months, casting a magical glow over the snowy Siberian landscape.
This spectacular light show, resulting from the interaction of solar particles with the Earth’s atmosphere, is not just a visual delight; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that combines natural science, spirituality, and the stark beauty of the Siberian winter.
The Siberian Tiger’s Realm in Primorsky Krai
Venture into the realm of the Siberian tiger in Primorsky Krai, one of the last habitats of this majestic big cat. The region’s dense forests and wildlife reserves, such as the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, are crucial for the conservation of these endangered animals.
While spotting a Siberian tiger in the wild is rare, the region offers an abundance of other wildlife and breathtaking natural landscapes. Hiking and guided tours in these reserves provide a deeper understanding of Siberia’s ecosystem and the efforts to protect its most iconic species.
The Sacred Sites of Shamanism on Olkhon Island
Discover the spiritual heart of Siberia on Olkhon Island, the largest island on Lake Baikal. The island is considered a sacred place by the indigenous Buryat people and is a center of Shamanism. The dramatic landscapes of Olkhon, with its steep cliffs, sandy beaches, and forested hills, add to its mystical atmosphere.
Visitors to Olkhon can explore Shamanic sites, enjoy the pristine natural beauty, and experience the unique culture of the local Buryat communities. The island is not only a spiritual and cultural experience but also a place of solitude and reflection amidst the natural splendor of Lake Baikal.
The Cultural Mosaic of Yakutsk
Experience the unique culture of Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), known for being one of the coldest cities on earth. Despite its remote location and extreme climate, Yakutsk boasts a vibrant cultural life, with museums, theaters, and a distinct local culture influenced by the Yakut people.
Yakutsk offers insights into the life of the Far North, with attractions like the Permafrost Kingdom Ice Museum and the Mammoth Museum. The city serves as a gateway to the region’s vast landscapes, including the Lena River, and the mysterious Verkhoyansk Range.
The Historical Town of Tobolsk
Step back in time in Tobolsk, once the Siberian capital and a key stop for exiles and adventurers. This historical town, located in western Siberia, is famed for its stunning Kremlin, the only stone fortress in Siberia, offering panoramic views of the Irtysh River.
Tobolsk’s rich history is evident in its museums, old churches, and charming streets. The town played a significant role in Russia’s expansion into Siberia and offers a unique perspective on the region’s complex history, from the era of the Tsars to the Soviet period.
Siberia's Geography & Landscapes
Siberia, a vast region covering the majority of North Asia, is known for its diverse and often extreme geographical features. This immense area, stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and from the Arctic Ocean to the borders of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China, includes various distinctive regions:
- Western Siberian Plain: One of the largest flatlands in the world, characterized by its extensive forests, numerous rivers, and swampy terrain.
- Central Siberian Plateau: A rugged and mountainous area with a mix of forests, rivers, and tundra, known for its rich natural resources.
- Siberian Federal District: Encompasses a variety of landscapes, including the Altai Mountains with their alpine scenery and the vast steppes.
- Far Eastern Siberia: Includes the Kamchatka Peninsula with its volcanic landscapes, the rugged coastline of the Sea of Okhotsk, and the dense forests of the Russian Far East.
- Siberian Arctic: A remote region with Arctic tundra, ice-covered seas, and unique wildlife, stretching along the northern coast of Siberia.
- Lake Baikal Region: Centered around the world’s deepest freshwater lake, this area is known for its unique biodiversity and stunning natural beauty.
Best Time To Go To Siberia
Siberia’s climate varies greatly, from harsh Arctic conditions in the north to more temperate climates in the south. The best time to visit depends on your interests and the region you plan to explore:
Winter (November to February):
- Extremely cold, especially in northern Siberia, with heavy snowfall and icy conditions.
- Ideal for winter sports, experiencing the Siberian winter landscape, and visiting ice festivals.
- Opportunities to see the Northern Lights in the Arctic regions.
Spring (March to May):
- The snow begins to melt, and the landscape comes to life.
- A good time for wildlife watching as animals emerge from hibernation.
- Variable weather, with colder conditions in the north and milder temperatures in the south.
Summer (June to August):
- The warmest and most popular time to visit, especially in southern Siberia.
- Ideal for hiking, exploring national parks, and visiting Lake Baikal.
- Long daylight hours, especially in the Arctic regions.
Autumn (September to October):
- Cooler temperatures and fewer tourists.
- Beautiful autumn foliage, particularly in forested areas like the Altai Mountains.
- A great time for outdoor activities in more temperate regions.
Overall, the best time to visit Siberia is during the summer for most tourist activities, especially in the southern regions. However, if you’re interested in winter sports or want to experience the Siberian winter, visiting during the colder months can be a unique and rewarding experience.
Traveling in Siberia
Siberia’s vast and varied landscape offers an incredible adventure, but it’s important to take precautions to ensure a safe experience. Here are 10 safety tips for traveling in Siberia:
- Dress Appropriately: The weather can be extreme, so wear appropriate clothing, especially during winter.
- Wildlife Awareness: Be aware of wildlife, especially in remote areas. Bear encounters are rare but possible.
- Stay Informed: Keep up with local news and weather forecasts, especially if traveling to remote areas.
- Carry Identification: Always have your passport and necessary permits, especially when traveling near border areas.
- Road Safety: Be cautious when driving, as road conditions can be challenging, particularly in winter.
- Avoid Remote Travel Alone: Travel with a guide or group, especially when exploring wilderness areas.
- Be Prepared for Emergencies: Carry a basic first aid kit and know the contact details for emergency services.
- Respect Local Laws and Customs: Familiarize yourself with local laws and respect the customs of indigenous communities.
- Communication Tools: In remote areas, consider carrying a satellite phone or GPS device.
- Environmental Awareness: Be mindful of your environmental impact, especially in protected natural areas.
Getting to & Around Siberia
Siberia, given its vast size, offers various transportation options:
- Air Travel: Major airports include Novosibirsk Tolmachevo Airport, Krasnoyarsk Yemelyanovo International Airport, and Irkutsk International Airport. Local airlines like S7 and Aeroflot operate flights within Siberia.
- Rail: The Trans-Siberian Railway is the most famous rail route, connecting Moscow to Vladivostok and passing through key Siberian cities.
- Road: Long-distance buses connect major cities, but services can be less frequent in remote areas.
- Car Rental: Renting a car is an option for more flexibility, especially for exploring off the beaten path.
- River Transport: In some regions, riverboats are a common mode of transport, particularly in areas like the Ob and Yenisei rivers.
Accommodation options in Siberia vary greatly depending on the region:
- Hotels: In larger cities like Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, and Krasnoyarsk, there are options ranging from luxury hotels to more budget-friendly hotels.
- Hostels: Available in major cities, catering to budget travelers.
- Guesthouses and Homestays: Common in smaller towns and rural areas, offering a more authentic experience.
- Eco-lodges and Wilderness Camps: Found in more remote areas, especially near natural attractions like Lake Baikal and national parks.
- Soviet-style Hotels: Still found in some towns, offering a glimpse into the past with basic facilities.
Prices can range from budget to expensive, depending on the level of comfort and location. In remote areas, accommodation options may be limited, so it’s advisable to book in advance.