Irkutsk is a fabulous location for those that love being outside. The city is a college town, filled with youthful energy and lots of great outdoor spaces. There are many places to take daytrips to that afford rustic experiences, but also lots of opportunity to be active inside the city, moving your body while building relationships on the ground. Below are a few places that former SRAS students recommend for active fun in Irkutsk.
Dorm Sports in Irkutsk (an Immersion Experience)
As spring arrives and the weather is getting better the urge to get out and active is getting stronger and stronger. While gyms can be found around the city they can be expensive unless you do some shopping around for a good deal. Luckily there is another way to stay fit and active for free. Located around the city are various sports areas. These are gated areas usually with a soccer field, basketball court, and bars to work out on. These can be found by walking around the city and checking more residential areas. In this post I will focus on the sports area near the IGU dorms.
Directly next to the dorms is a sport area where students can often be found playing volleyball, basketball, soccer, or just running or using the outdoor machines for lifting. The sports field is not the highest quality and is mostly sand and grass but it is well marked and has clear boundaries. Because of the close proximity to the dorms one can simply walk outside and enjoy the facility. There is no cost and it is always open.
Not only is this a great way to stay fit, but also a great way to meet Russian friends. If you don’t have a ball, you can just play with the Russians. While it can be intimidating it is absolutely normal to ask to play. Just ask “Можно играть с вами?” (Can I play with you guys?) and nearly always they will let you join. Usually games start with one or two players and every few minutes there are new people asking to join until there are full games with teams and subs. This is something I love about this area, everyone is willing to play and share the field.
The downside is the lack of lighting. After dark, there are no streetlights so after a certain point it is impossible to play.
I personally found this a great way to stay involved. I love sports but I am not confident enough in my skills to join a formal team nor do I have the time. The first time I went down to play I was really nervous that people would be irritated that I wanted to join but I found just the opposite. I joined the kids playing basketball and quickly got to know everyone. I now look out my window and if I see people playing I immediately run out to join. Not only have I kept fit and played my favorite sport, basketball, but I also learned a bit of soccer and some cool Russian sports lingo.
Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will be pleasantly surprised by the kindness and friendliness of the other students.
Lermontova, 130 k 1
If you are looking for an adrenaline rush and an hour of fun look no further than Baza 38. Located only a few minutes from the university dorms, this paintballing arena is a well-priced, fun option to spend a day with friends. The outside actually says Институт систем энергетики им. Л.А. Мелентьева (Melentiev Energy Systems Institute) – but inside is where the paintball course is located.
The course is set up in a warehouse and has lots of different obstacles and crawl spaces to make the game exciting. There are several games one can play: capture the flag, kill all other teams, or get to the other side. Each game lasts for 7 minutes if everyone stays “alive”. You get to stay for an hour and may take a bit of time to rest in between rounds. One big difference from American paintball is the shot rules. In America if any shot hits a player they are out, whereas in Russia only shots to the head, chest, or back are counted. This makes the game a bit more difficult but, in my opinion, more fun.
For eight or more players, the cost is 1000 rubles (about 18$) however, if there are fewer than eight players the price can jump to 2000 rubles because there is a minimum requirement of eight people. Fewer than eight people can play, but there is this extra cost. The gear, camo, and paintballs are included in the price. There are not always extra players waiting, so if you only bring seven people, do not count on grabbing another solo person at the door. A plus is that there is a small space to watch the game for friends that want to come but don’t necessarily want to play. The area to watch is a great option for those who don’t want to play, and is very close to the arena.
Come dressed appropriately. Although they provide a camo outfit to put on over your clothes, wear long sleeves and long pants. Although I followed all these rules I still ended up with quite a few nasty bruises and marks so I can’t imagine it without having done this. While it can be a bit painful, the face is completely safe with a mask and it is an extra incentive to not get shot!
The paintball guns all worked very well and several of the more experienced players had great things to say about this arena. Also offered during certain weeks is an outdoor arena in the forested area around the building. The manager said that there are no set times, just certain weeks of the year it opens. If interested, you should call ahead. In my opinion, though, the indoor arena looked much nicer than the outdoor area and had a lot more obstacles and fun décor.
Baza 38 is a great option for a weekend or free evening and you get a lot of bang for your buck. The facility is rarely crowded unless there is an event and all the staff were very friendly. I highly recommend giving it a try.
Dekabryskik Sobytii, 102/1
The Zvezdny Bowling Center is located in the center of Irkutsk, at Декабрьских Событий, 102/1, not far from the university. While my friends and I were just there for the bowling, there is also an attached movie theatre that looks clean, nice, and inexpensive. The bowling center is very clean and has the same interior décor to American-style bowling alleys.
One thing to note is that Russia uses European shoe sizes, which are different from American sizes. Many shoes will list all sizes inside them, so you might check your own shoes before heading out. If not, you’ll want to look it up online before going up to the counter.
The prices are charged by the hour, rather than by the game. One important thing to remember is that the prices vary depending on the day and time. Below is a table with the times and prices in rubles, and the estimated price at today’s exchange rate in dollars.
The atmosphere is very similar to most American bowling alleys and it seems popular with college students. It is not too loud and there is contemporary Russian music playing. Although I personally didn’t check anything, some people told me that after 10 pm, there is a long waiting time for the coat check, and sometimes the attendant will leave for over 30 minutes, so plan accordingly. There is a place to purchase snacks, but we went around 7 pm so we had already eaten and didn’t try anything. There is also an upstairs with a small café, but just by looking at it, it seemed more like a snack bar rather than a restaurant so I wouldn’t count on having a meal there.
Also just a funny thing I found was the bathrooms. All the stalls had giant photos of detectives or cameras which, I suppose is meant to be humorous by making guests feel “watched” – or maybe somehow meant to discourage vandalism?
There is also an option to sit in a VIP section, but it is very expensive and I didn’t see any people in that area. The price difference is 300 rubles more on weekdays and 400 on weekends. The major difference is that the area is blocked off from the rest of the bowling alley and it includes 2 liters of beer from the bar. In the evenings, there are colorful lights and graffiti type art projected onto the walls which make it more festive than during the unlit lunchtime hours, I have also heard that college students and young adults go in the evenings whereas the younger and older people go earlier in the day. Therefore, for college students, I would recommend going in the evening when there are more young people. Overall, it is a good way to hang out in a large group for not a lot of money.
Boating on Yunost Island
One of the best parts of Irkutsk in the spring and summer is the beautiful Angara River and, of course, an unfrozen Lake Baikal. One can walk along the shores of the river or cook out near the forests surrounding the river. There are lots of fisherman and small boats around – and boating, we thought, looked like a lot of fun. My friends and I decided to rent a small boat if the price was low enough. We found a couple of options that fit that bill:
Your first option is Yunost Island. We found a small paddle boat rental store on Yunost Island near the tennis courts. There is no official address, but the easiest way to find it is by going straight past the Island Restaurant and then follow the road to the river bank near the tennis courts and to the left is the location. It is easy to find because the paddle boats are visible from the road.
The best thing about this location is the environment. This small island is usually filled with young students (the name does translate to “Youth Island” for a reason, I guess!) and there is always music and lights. It is a fun, light atmosphere. The price is 300 rubles (or around 5 dollars) for 20 minutes for the whole boat and the boat holds 4 people. Split up it is $1.25 for each person – but if there is no line they usually allow a certain amount of free extra time. The area itself to paddle in is enclosed so one doesn’t get too far down the river.
While there are plenty of activities around town, this is a unique one that really feels like summer, especially if you are just getting over the winter!
Rollerblading Irkutsk’s Streets
Multiple Street Locations
Irkutsk is a city filled with historical markers and buildings, blossoming parks, and spectacular views. How does one manage to take in all these sights within the city of Irkutsk? By rollerblade of course! The fad that swept the US in the 80s and 90s has a thriving culture in beautiful eastern Siberia. How does one best prepare for an active rollerblading lifestyle in the heart of Siberia?
Step One: Find some blades! My exploration of potential blade shops began at the indoor mall at the center market, and concluded with a few sports shops off of Karl Marx Street. While the stores on Karl Marx Street stood out with a gamut of rollerblade styles and price points, the mall prices and choices did not provide the most bang for the buck. The Karl Marx Street sporting goods stores provided used and new blades for adults and juniors, as well as adaptable pairs that allow the replacement of wheels for ice skating blades for multi-seasonal use. I found mine at at Фанспорт located at 30 Karl Marx Street.
Step Two: Once you purchase your sweet new kicks, get out on those streets and use them. Below are some of my personal top picks based on personal experience.
- Kirov Square (seen in the image above) is conveniently located in front of Irkutsk State Linguistic University, where most SRAS programs Irkutsk are based. This spot has lit walkways, trees, a fountain, and is often the host of various cultural celebrations.
- The Angara Embankment (seen in the image below) – just past the eternal flame is a historic and picturesque spot with stunning views and proximity to the mighty Angara River.
- Okhlopkov Square – a small park set around the busy workings of Irkutsk’s Drama Theater, this stretch of rollerblading paradise should not be passed over.
- 50 Year October Square – this triangular space holds both historic and sentimental value to the residents of Irkutsk. The perpetually humming atmosphere provides a scenic and fun way to get to know the locals on your blades.
- Solichnaya Neighborhood (seen in the image below) – as a current resident of this neighborhood I may be biased to the sun-showered district of Irkutsk, but it provides ample blading space on the Angara Dam, in front of a memorial by the pier.
Given all the possibilities for rollerblading here in Irkutsk it will be challenging to attempt them all. It is a good idea to be cautionary in your rollerblading activities. Helmets, pads, and clothing that covers your extremities is suggested when rollerblading in the city, despite what the locals wear when they participate in the roller fun. Another safety precaution is being aware of the maintenence of your potential rollerblading routes. In the late winter and early spring many of the Irkutsk’s cobblestone sidewalks and streets have weathering, some litter debris, and some cracks and holes. These impairments are generally resolved in late spring and early summer when the weather is nice enough for construction and cleanup of the city. It is important, however, to make sure you spend your rollerblading time in the right places accordingly. More newly renovated squares (Kirov Square for example) with recently placed cobblestones are the area of choice in the late winter and early spring because they require less spring cleanup and maintenance. Older squares (such as Ohklopov Square) with more obstacles tend to be ideal in the late spring when the city has been spruced up for the summer time.
With all your gear, knowledge and safety squared away there is nothing preventing you from having a great rollerblade adventure ahead of you!
Dinamo is a skiing facility just outside of Irkutsk. It’s right near the K9 bus stop, where you can get the 4C, 102, or 113 buses.
My fellow SRASers and I went to Dinamo for a short and enjoyable but very tiring afternoon of skiing. Dinamo has several cross-country skiing trails (and some slides for tubing, which we passed on); we chose the 5k trail, or лыжня, which took us around an hour.
I’d never been cross-country skiing before, and downhill only a handful of times, not particularly successfully, so take all my descriptions here with a grain of salt. The skis are very long and narrow, and the basic premise is that you have to stay balanced on them in your little boots while you walk/shuffle forward (and watch a lot of old people really impressively speed past you). The path was mostly flat, with a couple of exciting downhill slopes and some strenuous uphill parts. There are little ski-rut path thingies (I have no idea what they’re called in English—or Russian, for that matter—I didn’t think to ask at the time) that you can ski within—they’re about the width of the skis and will point you in the right direction. The only problem was that every time I accidentally got my ski out of one of them, I would remember that I had no idea how to ski and would be all over the place. This usually happened in the middle of one of the downhill stretches, sometimes on a “dangerous turn,” as the signs put them. Don’t worry, though; it turned out fine, and if I can do it, I’m pretty sure anyone can.
I did amazingly well until about three-quarters of the way through—only one inevitable fall in the middle of going downhill—but then somehow it all fell apart toward the end, when I fell four times in a row trying to go *uphill*, somehow.
It’s really hard—if you don’t get enough momentum, you’ll just keep sliding backward, and then you will have to yell at your friend behind you to get out of your way, and then she may or may not fall as well… oops. Once I did get to the top of the hill, I skiied down flawlessly, to my great surprise and that of all the strangers who had watched me falling.
The one trick I learned was to make “ёлочки” (I interpreted this as “little Christmas trees” at the time, but apparently it means “herringbone” in this case) out of my skis—several more competent skiiers yelled this word at me as I was floundering. They all seemed to be climbing along with their skis in the shape of an opposite pizza (in American skiing lexicon), and it’s a lot easier to get uphill this way—well, comparatively. (Some other things that skiiers yelled at me along the way were “Put your hat back on! You’ll catch a cold!” and something I could not understand that I do not think was polite.)
While none of this may sound particularly complimentary, it actually was really fun, if exhausting. Cross-country skiing through the woods in Siberia, even if you’re only a few minutes out of a major city, is definitely a worthwhile experience; the area was beautiful, and I learned a new skill (kiiinda).
3 Options for Ice Skating
There are many great things about living in Siberia, but one of my favorites would be constant access to ice skating around October-March. There are several rinks both indoor and outdoor at varying costs, but the best two I have found so far are Ice People, Law School Rink, and a small rink on Ulaan Batorskaya.
The Law School Rink (Юридически) is located just a few feet from the dorms on Ulaan Batorskaya Street. While not as large as many indoor ice rinks common in America, it is a good size. Here the skate rentals and unlimited skate time from open to close is 100 rubles (~$1.70). however if you bring your own ice skates it is 70 rubles or 1.10$. The ice itself is a bit rough with some bumps and cracks but even without a Zamboni, it still is nice enough to skate on. It is usually not very crowded. Sometime, just my friends and I have been the only ones there. There are also no solid walls, only a fence, so the surrounding snow and peaceful atmosphere gives one a free and uplifting feeling. There is usually Russian music playing in the background with genres from classic to pop
Ice People Rink is on the left side of the Silver Mall (Сильвер) and it 230 rubles (4.15$) after 5 pm for adults. This is much more expensive than the first but is also nicer; it is indoors and the ice is much smoother. The atmosphere here is much more similar to the typical American ice skating rink I’m used to and the only real difference is that when renting skates, the sizes are European. Keep an eye out for special schedules for weekends and holidays posted the month before. All changes in hours or fees are clearly listed on their website.
A small rink on Ulaan Batorskaya is available if you happen to own a pair of skates. This is one of many rinks scattered about the city that are free. It is across the street from the Snegir (Снегирь) shopping center and is open until 11 pm. While there are official hours of operation, I have been told that it is technically open 24/7, so if you feel the urge to skate at 9 am it seems it is available.
There are many other skating rinks around Irkutsk like the Stadium Trud and Solnechniyy but those are much further away from the university and dorms. Solnechniyy is very beautiful at night with ice sculptures and lights under the ice creating a gorgeous environment that is wonderful to check out on a free weeknight because on the weekends it is more crowded. It is more expensive than all other options.
Irkutsk has no shortage of ice skating opportunities and I strongly suggest skating at least a few times to really get into that New Year/winter mood!