Vladivostok

Center of Vladivostok and Golden Horn Bay

Vladivostok (Russian: Владивосто́к, vlah-dee-vah-STOHK) is a city in Russia. It serves as the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Some travellers arrive here at the end or the beginning of a trip on the Trans-Siberian. But it has enough attractions and atmosphere to support a couple of days.

Understand

San Francisco and Naples

Fritiof Nansen, the Arctic explorer, described the city of Vladivostok thus: "It reminds me of Naples by its location on terraces. Although there is no Vesuvius the city has a beautiful harbor and islands."

Later on, these hills enticed Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to call for making Vladivostok into a Soviet San Francisco. The words were catchy but not historically new, since they had already been said in the 1930s. Still, the shadow of San Francisco is hovering over the city's hilly streets.

Surrounded by Amursky Gulf from the west, Ussuriysky Gulf from the east, and Golden Horn Bay along the south, Vladivostok is the home of the Russian Pacific Fleet. The city is separated from its souternmost part, Russkiy Island, by Eastern Bosphorous strait; there are a couple of smaller sparsely populated islands - Reineke and Popov. From its foundation in 1860, as a military post, the city received the status of porto-franco that boosted international commerce and development. The October revolution brought Japanese, American, French and Czechoslovak armies, sided with the Whites. During 35 years of the Soviet era (from 1958 to 1992) Vladivostok was off-limits to foreigners and finally was re-opened for tourism. The city centre, at the edge of the water, has sweeping boulevards of ornate, century-old buildings; magnificent, decaying, and in dire need of a scrub. Further out, on the steep hills overlooking the bay, similarly decaying Soviet blocks dotted with new high-rise buildings provide accommodations for most of the city's residents.

The beautiful oak woods are surrounding the city which along with Nakhodka could be a starting point for weekend bus-tours to the winter ski-slopes or water-falls in summer. A few lotus lakes are attraction for campers and forest lodgers when the flowers are blossoming in August.

Climate

Vladivostok is located at the same latitude with Russian subtropical sea resort of Sochi, but its average annual temperature is nearly 10 degrees lower due to the Siberian High that brings cold winds from Yakutia for much of the winter. Thus the winter is typical for Manchuria: cold, clear and very windy. The snow is scarce and in some years may not fall at all.

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) -8.3 -4.9 2.0 9.4 14.7 17.0 21.3 23.0 19.3 12.5 3.0 -5.1
Nightly lows (°C) -15.8 -12.4 -5.1 1.6 6.5 10.7 15.7 17.5 12.8 5.5 -4 -12.1
Precipitation (mm) 9 13 23 49 74 116 139 159 139 65 26 14

Average of Vladivostok

January is cold at -14°C (7°F), and August is fairly warm at 24°C (75°F), though these are average temperatures, and hot/cold spells can bring much more extreme conditions. It is not unheard of for temperatures to drop below -30°C in February, and similarly August can be >30°, but in general August and September bring the most sunny and pleasant temperatures. The end of summer, however, could bring Pacific monsoons that last for a few days in a row.

Get in

See Russia#Get in for visa requirements to Russia.

By train

Vladivostok railway station. Rebuilt in 1912 in the same style as Yaroslavsky railway station in Moscow 9288km away
See also: Trans-Siberian Railway

Tickets for the Trans-Siberian Railway sell out and it is best to buy tickets well in advance. Tickets are sold by the operator as well as via agencies and resellers.

The main line of the Trans-Siberian Railway runs between Moscow and Vladivostok. The Rossiya train leaves every other day from Moscow at 13:20 and from Vladivostok at 4:25, while the slower but cheaper trains #43 or #99 leave Vladivostok every day around 18:56. Major stops from Vladivostok include Ulan Ude (62-67 hours), Irkutsk (81 hours), Krasnoyarsk (99 hours), Novosibirsk (113 hours), Omsk (121 hours), Yekaterinburg (134 hours), Nizhni Novgorod (5 days), and Moscow (6 days).

By boat

Note that if entering Russia by boat, you can stay for 72 hours without a Russian visa. For more information, see Russia#Get_in.

The ferry port in Vladivostok is right next to the train station.

To/from Korea and Japan

Business Intour Service is the official booking agent for ferries operated by The Far Eastern Shipping Company (FESCO) between Vladivostok and the Fushiki port in Takaoka, Japan. The trip costs ¥48,400 including meals (alcohol costs are additional). The ships do not have many working amenities. Ferries both ways leave on Friday evening and arrive two days later on Sunday morning. You'll need to arrive at the port a few hours early for immigration procedures.

The Eastern Dream boat of the DBS Ferry Company operates service to/from Donghae, South Korea (US$180+) and Sakai Minato, Japan (US$220+). From March to November the ferry leaves Sakai Minato on Saturdays, briefly stops in Donghae on Sundays and arrives in Vladivostok on Mondays. In the winter, the ferry lays over in Donghae until Monday and arrives in Vladivostok on Tuesday. The nearest major city to Sakai Minato is Kyoto, 3 hours by train.

There is also a ferry service connecting Vladivostok and Sokcho, South Korea. It costs about US$200 and takes two days. One ship leaves Sokcho each week, on Thursday, although they become more frequent in the summer months (June-August).

By cargo boat

It is also possible to travel to/from anywhere in the world by booking a berth on a cargo boat. Usual caveats of freighter travel apply, though (it's definitely NOT for a casual tourist), and one need to keep in mind that Russian border and customs officials aren't used to people traveling this way.

By plane

Vladivostok International Airport (IATA: VVO, ICAO: UHWW) is 40km northeast of Vladivostok, near Artyom. It is the largest airport in the Russian Far East and serves over 1.5 million passengers per year. Flights to/from Vladivostok are to other Russian cities or cities in Korea, China, or Japan. Flights to other Russian cities are relatively cheap, although flights to Japan and Korea are relatively expensive.

To travel between the airport and the city:

By bus

Bus tickets can be bought at the bus station in Vladivostok or from ticket agencies. Buses operate to/from most suburban locations and nearby towns. International routes link Vladivostok to cities in Northeastern China such as Harbin (RUB2,400, 12+ hours; daily at 6:20AM), Mudanjiang, and Suifenhe (RUB1,900).

It takes about 5 hours to get to Vladivostok from the Chinese border, and the road goes through one of the most picturesque areas of the Russian Far East.

Get around

Memorial to the Fighters for the Soviet Power in the Far East, in Vladivostok

By public transport

Vladivostok has a wide range of transportation, from streetcars to a funicular railway. The trams and trolleybuses, unfortunately, are mostly gone in an effort to improve traffic — it hasn't worked, though, mainly because at least two lanes on most downtown streets are still taken for unregulated parking. However there is talk of reinstating at least some trolleybus routes, and lengthening the network to include some suburban destinations. While the mayor pays some lip service to reinstating trams, too, his actions prove otherwise.

By far the most common is the bus, both large route buses (mainly used Korean ones, some could be seen still carrying Seoul or Busan route plaques) and marshrutka shared taxis (which generally follow bus routes). Buses are extremely crowded but frequent; the fares are flat 19 r. ($0.27) for the downtown routes, but go up to 120 r. ($2.0) for suburban ones. Hop on bus in the back and then pay the driver as you exit from the front. Many buses leave from outside the "Clever House" (Cløver House) Department store or the city's train station. Another major bus hubs are the Lugovaya square at the mouth of the Golden Horn bay and the intercity bus station ("Автовокзал") in the Vtoraya Rechka neighborhood.

Most of the buses are equipped to receive payments by a refillable Dolphin smart card that can be bought and refilled in the automated kiosks at most major stops. Push the card to the terminal near the driver for a couple of seconds, until it gives two beeps, and you are set. Because the cards and kiosks are issued by a major local bank, the card also could be used as a normal debit card in some selected shops, and in the kiosks you could pay your mobile phone, etc.

On the down note, the bus companies are constantly criticized for neglecting the state of their fleets, running the buses well past their service lives, unduly economizing on cleaning and personnel (they tend to hire recent immigrants, who can be paid as little as possible), and creating the competition for the passengers' fare among the drivers, which leads to long delays on stops and reckless driving.

The city has recently stepped in by reinstating the municipal bus company with newer buses and better controlled drivers. All municipal buses are equipped with electronic payment system and trackers, as the city also pushes to equip all the buses with the tracking hardware. The positions and waiting time for the equipped buses could be seen at the Bus 125 website, and major stops are gradually being equipped with electronic timetables.

Access to the outlying areas is generally best done by bus or suburban commuter train elektrichka. The train station is accessible and a great way to see neighboring cities like Khabarovsk. Please note, however, that the Russian Far east is an enormous and rather sparsely populated territory, so if the closer towns like Ussuriysk and Nakhodka may be just couple of hours away, Khabarovsk is in a different province altogether, about 700 km from Vladivostok, and takes almost a whole day to reach, so plan accordingly -- this is definitely not a quick day trip.

Also pay the close attention to the elektrichka timetables. In the recent times, the train companies took to radically revise their networks and frequencies, removing a lot of the unprofitable commuter trains (these are supposed to be subsidised by the local authorities, but those are chronically lacking the funds) from schedules, so if you get to some out-of-the-way location by the commuter train, you may get stranded for several hours until the next one.

By taxi

There are a number of taxi companies, and hailing one is easy. There is no meter because most companies and freelance drivers charge a flat rate of RUB300 for one hour. The rate is usually negotiable but not below RUB150 per hour. Expect to pay at least this much for a single journey over a short distance.

By car

Although it is the main port of used Japanese car imports in Russia, the century-old streets of Vladivostok are ill suited to heavy traffic. They are usually filled to capacity and traffic jams are common, especially in rush hours. The local driving style is also rather aggressive; and speeding, cutting off, tailgating and ignoring recently changed traffic lights are widespread. Despite this, car horns are rarely heard, largely because the undue leaning on the horn is an actual traffic offence in Russia, and can lead to the pretty hefty fines.

By foot

Funicular in Vladivostok leading to the Eagle's Nest hill

The city centre is only a short walk from the train station, and most of the sights can be reached easily on foot. Aleutskaya St runs north/south, passing the train station; head north to Svetlanskaya St, which is the main east/west road for the city.

As much of Vladivostok is situated on steep hills, walking can be physically demanding. The ice and wind in winter and the conditions of the pavements mostly preclude bicycle use.

However, MTB and weekend bike tours are very popular among the people for there is quite a lot of scenic places hard-to-reach by vehicles but still worth the effort. The most attractive destinations range the closest islands and the coastline even when the ice covers the bays.

See

Arsenev Regional History Museum

If you've arrived in Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian, at the end of a trip that began in Moscow, head straight for Sportivnaya Harbor. The still waters of the sea will likely provide sweet relief after several days on the train. However, if you're fresh off a ferry from Japan or Korea, head up to Svetlanskaya and Ploschad Bortsov Revolutsy for a stroll to get your sea legs back. (Both destinations usually have food and drink vendors.)

Civil engineering buffs can gawk at the numerous construction marvels peppering the city streets since the 2012 APEC Summit, including the two enormous bridges across the Golden Horn Bay and Eastern Bosporus strait (the Russian Navy officers first exploring the area were big fans of Istanbul harbour), the latter of which is a largest cable-stayed bridge in the world. Locals are more ambivalent about all that construction, but the bridges and hotels nevertheless already have become a frequent visitor attractions, and the Golden Horn one is greatly praised by the locals, as it radically relieved the permanently congested Lugovaya square, taking about half of its traffic.

Public spaces

Russia's Pacific Fleet (not all of it, mind you, just its destroyer squadron) is parked right in the downtown, in Golden Horn Bay. A walk along the waterfront on Korabelnaya Embankment offers the closest views; to get any closer, you will have to enlist. Photographs with an average-sized camera shouldn't attract any problems, but be mindful of your surroundings or an enterprising police officer might invent a fine for you to pay.

Museums and memorials

Artillery of Vladivostok Fortress
Naval memorial, Vladivostok
Marine Museum TINRO

For connoisseurs of Lenin statues, don't miss the one overlooking the train station from the west, next to the post office (the popular joke goes that the World Proletariat Leader says "You're going the right way, comrades", while pointing at Japan). There are also some interesting statues heading east on Svetlanskaya, both Soviet-era and abstract.

Other attractions

Do

If you'd like to swim, the beach at Sportivnaya Harbor is the place to do it (not Golden Horn Bay, where the Pacific Fleet is parked). Be sure to salute the half-submerged mermaid statue out in the water - when they finally fish it out of the water, that is, the statue was driven off its foundation by the shifting ice and sunk several years ago. Alternately, in the winter, locals aren't shy about strolling out on ice.

Events

Learn

There are also Japanese, Korean, German, Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian centers in the university.

Buy

There's a GUM (former Kunst&Albers) department store on Svetlanskaya, across from Ploschad Bortsov Revolutsii, and electronic stores further east that can help with power converters and the like.

Local markets are spread throughout Vladivostok and provide the basic groceries for a neighborhood. Some even have a butcher but most all provide sausages and frozen meat. Larger markets sell clothing, shoes, and everything else imaginable in addition to food.

Sportivnaya Market is the largest market in Vladivostok. Its maze-like warrens are full of people selling most everything. There is a large Chinese presence here, and knockoffs and Chinese imports abound. The range of food sold at this market is fabulous but is probably a bit unusual for everyday fare.

Eat

Sunday morning brunch at the Vlad Inn (below) is a tradition for the handful of ex-pats living in the city.

Fast food

Magic Burger, Cinnabon, Royal Burger, Bubo, Bite Burger, RestoGrad (РестоГрад), Country Fried Chicken, restaurant network Republic (Республика) could be easily hit in the centre.

Drink

Sleep

Dorms

Russian dorm rooms in Vladivostok range from awful to OK. Generally, foreigners are dormed in reasonable accommodations, but you should know exactly what you are getting into before arriving. Important things you might take for granted include: private or communal kitchen and bathrooms, number of roommates, number of clothing washers and dryers.

The Far Eastern National University (above) offers reasonable dorm rooms but foreigners are separated from Russian students, so if you are looking for more Russian immersion, ask them about arranging a home stay.

Hostels

Hotels

The hotels in the city center are targets for huge tour groups, who block out availability for weeks on end, so reserve in advance if possible.

Stay safe

A few roads can only be crossed by poorly-lit underground passageways, which can be a bit nerve-wracking at night. Beggars tend to congregate near the doors, including children with very quick hands, so cover your pockets as you pass.

Although you'll see plenty of locals stripping down for a swim on the boardwalks off Naberezhnaya, take care; there is plenty of rusted metal about. Stick to the beach unless you're very confident in your tetanus shots.

Connect

The main post office is on the other side of Aleutskaya from the train station. Internet access is available on the first floor of the post office. There are a few Internet cafes in the town center.

ATMs are easy to find, and most are connected to international bank networks. Otherwise, many hotels have exchange desks, although some have exchange rates decidedly skewed in their favor. Banks are the most obvious choice for currency exchange. There will also be dodgy money-changers near Sportivnyaya Harbor.

The Vladivostok News and Vladivostok Times provide online English-language news.

Phones

Mobile operators are the same as anywhere in Russia: MTS (МТС) and Megaphon (Мегафон). Local NTK (НТК) will automatically switch your Beeline (Билайн) phone to roaming service. Buying a SIM card needs a passport in Russia. Refilling locations are QIWI terminals or salons of mobiles: Evroset (Евросеть), Svyaznoy (Связной) and Sotoviy mir (Сотовый мир).

Internet

Internet-cafes

Free wi-fi locations in the city center

The number of wi-fi spots is over 130 which are available in most of cafes in the downtown.

Cope

Consulates

Tour Agencies

Go next

Routes through Vladivostok

Khabarovsk Ussuriysk  W  E  END


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, February 13, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.