Yakutsk

Yakutsk

Yakutsk (Russian: Яку́тск, yah-KOOTSK) is the capital city of Yakutia (an ethnic autonomous republic the size of India) and one of the oldest and coldest cities of Siberia.

Yakutsk has gained attention as potentially the coldest city in the world, but is worth a visit more for the great natural beauty of its surrounding countryside, unique cryogenic museums, and just for the spirit of adventure in the most remote lands of the world.

Understand

History

Yakutsk was founded by Pyotr Beketov in 1632. A detachment of cossacks under his command founded the city as the Lenskii fort, on the right bank of the Lena River (the tenth longest river in the world), which grew into (and changed its name to) Yakutsk in 1647.

As one of the most important Russian outposts in eastern Siberia, Yakutsk became the economic and administrative center of the region—a base for probes (and later scientific expeditions) into the Far East and the extreme North.

In 1822, Yakutsk was officially designated a city, and in 1851 became the official administrative capital of the Autonomous Republic of Yakutia. Today Yakutsk is a major administrative, industrial, cultural, and research center—standing out as one of the most dynamic and fast-developing cities in the Russian Far East.

Climate

Yakutsk is situated at the fairly high latitude of 62°N. Its climate is definitively very continental, with temperature records of +38° Celsius (+100°F) and -64° C (-83°F) (a range of over 100° C) ! The average temperature in January is around -42°C (-45°F); in July, +19°C (+66°F). The ideal time to visit (unless you're traveling here purposely to experience the extreme cold) is from March to July. The sunny spring months will allow you to enjoy winter sports like skiing, ice-skating, dog sledding, ice sculptures, etc., under temperatures permitting outdoor human life. The average March temperatures, of course, are still cold at an average of -22.5°C (-8.5°F). The summer months of June–July are great for the opportunities to see the Northern wilderness in its full glory, to enjoy the White Nights when it never gets really dark, to set off on adventures along the Yakut rivers, and to experience the Yakut national holiday "Ysyakh."

Get in

By plane

There are two airports. The international airport, *   Tuimaada, Gagarina, 10. "," gets regular direct flights from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Khabarovsk, and a few other major cities in Russia. There are also direct flights by Yakutia Airlines once a week -on Thursday- from Harbin, China and from Beijing by S7 air. The domestic airport, *   Magan. mostly serves flights within Yakutia, as well as private flights.

During the winter, Yakutsk often has fog, sometimes lasting for days or even weeks. The airport may be closed as a result, or flights can be delayed by several hours. Although Russian airlines do land in some amazingly poor visibility, sometimes the conditions are so bad that even Russian pilots will not attempt it. It is not unusual for passengers to Yakutsk to find themselves staying in Magadan or some other alternate city instead, sometimes for days. The airline personnel generally will be most unhelpful in providing information about when you can continue on to Yakutsk, and they will not offer hotel accommodations or meals to passengers who have been stranded. It is advisable to carry at least some emergency money just in case you end up stranded somewhere.

To get from the international airport to the city center, you can take a taxi (15-20 min), or one of the buses #4, 5, & 20 (30-40 min). Magan is a bit further out, and a taxi ride to the city center will take 30-40 min; the bus "Yakutsk-Magan" will take a little over an hour.

By train

As of now Yakutsk has no connections to the Russian rail network; the nearest train station is in Tommot (453 kilometers away). A railway line is under construction and was expected to be completed by 2013.

You can however buy train tickets leading from Tommot or Neryungri in advance at Yakutsk's main travel agency at 8 Ordzhonikidze St (ул. Орджоникидзе, 8). Catching a train from Tynda to Neryungri or Tommot and from there continue by long-distance taxi to Yakutsk is an option. After Tynda there are no first class or second-class cars (spalny vagon and kupé) only third-class platzkart. This train is usually very crowded and if, you are a non-Russian speaking westerner, expect to be stared at and talked about constantly. When the train arrives, passengers will hurriedly make their way over to get a seat on board the cars continuing to Yakutsk.

The 14 hour taxi ride cost around 2,200 RUB per person as of 2009 and is only for the toughest ones. Be prepared to be crammed in a van with a driver who travels rough ice roads like they were the autobahn. Sleeping is not an option here. There will usually be a few brief stops at roadside cafes.

Unless you are looking for a challenging travel experience, flying to Yakutsk is highly recommended.

By car

The only road that is passable year-round, connecting Yakutsk to the rest of the world, is the M-56 "Lena" from Never to Yakutsk. The road is in a dilapidated condition, and not entirely paved. That dilapidation, of course, is owed mainly to the nearly year-round extreme temperatures, ice, and snow. There are many small rivers and ponds along the road, and most of the "bridges" lie beneath the water. In 2006, the road won the dubious distinction of "worst road in the world."

In the past couple years the condition of the road is improving, with serious reconstruction work ongoing. But regardless, in the rain, many sections of the road are extremely difficult to get through (especially the section between Uluu to Kachikatsy). The last stretch, from Nizhny Bestyakh to Yakutsk requires a ferry in the summer across the Lena River; in the winter you can just drive across the ice! In the months in between (May and October) there really isn't a way to make the crossing.

The other road is to Magadan. This road (the Kolyma Highway) is serious adventure travel, and should not be attempted on a whim. Dirt or gravel roads extend across several unbridged rivers for 2025 km. As of 2008, the road is technically passable in both summer and winter by standard cars, however don't use your own. Reports (presumably from people crazy enough to go this way) suggesting that a 30 km section of the trip is prone to natural gas seepages are not correct. Sections of the road are prone to gas seepages from mineral springs, but do not directly cause problems due to lack of confinement. Many accidents occur due to drivers falling asleep after marathon drives, particularly in winter when turning off the car engine is almost certain death.

By bus

Two buses per week travel YakutskNeryungi (1820 hours) from the *   bus station. , and YakutskAldana (12–14 hours). There are also mini-buses, which run between local towns and Yakutsk, provided they can fill enough seats to make the trip profitable.

By boat

Regular passenger travel by boat along the Lena River to/from Yakutsk is possible to/from Olekminsk, Lensk, Zhigansk, Khadygu, and several other small localities in central Yakutia at the *   river port. . There are no regular passenger connections beyond the boundaries of Yakutia, but there are occasional passenger boats coming in from Ust-Kut (Irkutsk Oblast), where there is a train station along the Trans-Siberian Railway. There is also regular freight traffic through the North Sea from the ports of Northwestern Russia (Murmansk, Arkhangelsk), by the name "Northern Delivery" (Северный завоз).

Get around

A Lada boarding the ferry across the mighty Lena River. In the winter you can just drive across!

By bus

Bus is the basic mode (and really the only mode) of public transport within Yakutsk. A well developed network of marshrutkas can take you to practically anywhere in the city. A few suburban routes to the nearest inhabited localities also run from the main bus station. All routes cost 16 rubles, although kids less than seven years old ride free.

By taxi

There are several taxi companies in Yakutsk, which you can call for service. The prices are not fixed, and depend on the length of the trip (and likely how much they think they can take this foreigner for). The average price for a cross-town trip is about 100-120 rubles. You can also hire a cab for the day, which will cost you about 350 rubles per hour.

Nowadays, it is easy to call a taxi using Indriver. app available on iOS and Android mobile platforms. Works just like Uber or other similar services, that are not available in Yakutsk. Prices vary, but tend to stay lower than official taxi companies.

See

Icicles on traditional Siberian wooden architecture.

Museums

Take note: Yakutsk is far off the beaten path in Russia for international tourism. Consequently, you should expect all museums exhibits to be explained only in Russian. Fortunately some exhibits (like the cryogenically preserved mammoth head) don't require too much explanation!

There are a bunch of smaller museums, which don't have the broad appeal of those listed above, but you might nonetheless be interested.

Architecture and monuments

One of Yakutsk's one-time fortress towers, this one a replacement for the original, which burned down in 2002.

You might also come across:

Russian-Asian bank (from the end 19th century). To the left is a tower of the Yakutsk ostrog (palisade tower), the city symbol. Behind is the glass façade of the Komdragmeta building.

Itineraries

One day in Yakutsk

In the morning, it's best to try to see the sights at the main museums: the Mammoth Museum and the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography. From there, weather permitting, stroll along the bank of Warm Lake (Тёплое озеро), a favorite among young locals (and locals in love). Bridges unite the two sides of the lake—on one side the University town, on the other an old neighborhood with old wooden architecture. In the summer dancing fountains run within the lake, in the winter locals ice-skate.

Having turned back to the north west onto the intersection of Lenin and Kulakovskaya streets (пр. Ленина, ул. Кулаковская), you'll find yourself at Friendship Square (площадь Дружбы) by the Kulyakovsky Monument, the Opera House, and the 18th century Treasury building. One of the newer buildings there is a branch of the National Art Museum. Go further northwest along Lenin Prospect until you reach Lenin Square, from which, walking along Kirova St to the southeast, heading towards the cupola of the Preobrazhensky Church, you'll find the "Old City." After looking around at the architectural sights here, try Yakut cuisine at the hotel restaurant "Tygyn Darkhan" (Тыгын Дархан).

Not far from the restaurant, in the store "Kudai Bakhsy" (Кудай Бахсы), there's a wide selection of Yakutsk souvenirs. After the fleshly pleasures of lunch, set off for a dessert of the soul with a trip to the National Art Museum (Национальный художественный музей РС), which stands right there on Lenin Square. But it's worth bearing in mind that even a "running tour" of the expositions would require one-two hours. To fill the rest of the day you could visit the museum of local lore (Краеведческий музей), which is just 10 minutes on foot from Lenin Square to the northeast. If you want a really great dinner before ending your day, head to the Yakut-Russian restaurant "Chochur Muran" (Чочур Муран), which is located in a picturesque setting, and which contains its own museum's worth of various 19th century curiosities.

Day two

In the first half of your second day in Yakutsk, it's best to head down into the Underground Laboratory of the Institute of Cryogenics, and for the second half check out the very interesting museums of local folk music and folklore. Then finish off the day with a dinner at "Tamerlan" (Тамерлан), and a visit to a show at the Sakha Theater (in Yakut!).

Day three

Time to get out of the city—spend the day at one of the sights in the surrounding areas. Pick one of the ethnographic complexes, either "Orto Doidu" (Орто Дойду) for its zoo and restaurant, or Friendship (Дружба) for its open-air architectural museum.

Day four

If it's a Saturday or Sunday, you can get on a swift boat (Восход or Ракет) for a one day trip to the Lena Pillars Nature Park (Ленские Столбы), an impressive set of stone pillars along the rocky coast of the Lena River. The boat will set out from the river station pretty early in the morning and will return around 10PM-11PM in the night. It's probably better, though, to set up the trip in advance with a Yakutsk tour agency (probably through your hotel, unless you've got a good command of the Russian language), since the riverboat cruises only go out if they get enough passengers, and it's possible that they might not have enough on one day to make the cruise profitable.

Do

The Yakutsk Theater

For children

Festivals and holidays

Other holidays:

Buy

The city's commercial center

Eat

Most Yakutians do not often eat out in restaurants. When they do, it is most often for special occasions such as for weddings, birthday celebrations, and other special occasions. Most of the local restaurant customers will tend to be the younger generation who were born after 1970.

Traditional Yakutian food is simple and generally very, very bland. Soups are probably the most common, and most Yakutians will have soup at least once during the day. Salads are very common, and almost always made with mayonnaise. Mayonnaise, as everywhere in Russia, is used everywhere and on everything. Yakutian delicacies include fish, reindeer, and young horse. Pork is the most common meat for everyday consumption. Sausages and kolbasa are very common. Fish is often served frozen or pan fried. Meat is often boiled or fried and is generally overcooked, or "cooked until death", often making it tough.

There are a lot of places where hamburgers are offered in Yakutsk, but up until now, there are no places offering a good one. Most are made from pork, not beef. Most have been precooked and then reheated to serve. Don't be fooled by the fact that many places are using McDonald's trade marked product names. What you get will not resemble the McDonald's product.

Mexican sounding dishes have been introduced in Yakutsk, but so far these have been local intrepretations by local chefs who have no clue about Mexican food. There was a so-called Mexican restaurant which seems to have closed. Don't be fooled into ordering the local buritos or tacos unless you just want to have a laugh. There is no Mexican food in Yakutsk. In fact, there are no authentic Mexican restaurants in Russia so far, not even in Moscow or St. Petersburg, where a number of places pretend to offer Mexican food.

Eight years ago there were no sushi bars in Yakutsk. Today, sushi is available seemingly everywhere. It is popular with the young people who are the most frequent visitors to restaurants. All of the fish product is brought in frozen, and not all of the sushi restaurants are keeping the fish properly. There have been a number of cases of food poisoning in sushi restaurants in Yakutsk. Most of the sushi chefs have been locally trained by other locally trained sushi chefs, and this also shows in the quality of the sushi. Makisushi is the most popular and most of the local chefs have mastered this art. Nigiri sushi is also pretty common, but the kinds of topings available will be limited. Many Japanese restaurants also offer other Japanese dishes, but the chefs generally have no real idea what the real Japanese dish should be, so you will find many interesting local interpretations. Many restaurants offer interesting combinations of Japanese and other ethnic foods.

Pizza restaurants have also become popular, and there are more and more places offering pizza. Pizza in Yakutsk will almost invariably be thin crust pizza, as everywhere in Russia. Tomato sauce is often absent or sparingly applied. Various types of cheese may be used. Mayonnaise is often used instead of tomato sauce or sometimes in addition to it. Real pepperoni is difficult to find in Yakutsk, but the pizzeria in the Polar Star hotel usually has it, and sometimes it is available at other pizzarias.

There are several Chinese restaurants in Yakutsk. There are a lot of Chinese in Yakutsk, so this is not surprising. The Chinese restaurants are generally ok and reasonably authentic, even though the Chinese in Yakutsk, as everywhere Chinese have migrated, have adapted their dishes to local ingredients and tastes.

Korean restaurants have recently begun appearing in Yakutsk. One such restaurant has already failed and closed, but the rest seem to be doing ok so far. The quality is pretty good.

There are several hundred places in Yakutsk where it is possible to get a meal of some sort or other. Many office and other buildings have cafeterias that are open to the public, but they are not advertised. Usually these cafeterias have limited choices, and the food will be simple and inexpensive. But if you are hungry and on a limited budget, it may be your best bet.

Most of the eating establishments are in the budget/low end category. Cleanliness standards are non-existent or ignored in many of these places. Some may not even have running water. Be careful!

Fast food places have been springing up in the past few years. So far, all of them have been pretty disappointing. They have a long ways to go before they achieve the same quality standards which have been established by the major global fast food chains.

Coffee houses have also been springing up all over Yakutsk. These generally offer various types of coffee and tea and usually some pastries. Some offer a somewhat more expansive food menu. Good coffee and tea is available in most of these. The food items can vary a lot, but are generally ok, especially the cakes and desert items.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

The main restaurant offers European and Yakutian food. The food is ok. The service tends to be slow. 700-1500 rubles.

Drink

Sleep

Budget

In spite of the fact that Guesthouse Sanaa still shows up on many hotel listing sites, it has been closed for several years.

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

The phone code is 4112.

Mobile phones

Yakutsk has the traditional set of Russian mobile operators:

GSM 900/1800:

CDMA:

Check roaming prices before using non-Russian sim-card, especially those for mobile Internet. Some standards of mobile connection are not supported in Russia, e.g. those for Japan and United States.

Staying in Russia for a week or more, it's definitely worth buying a local sim-card, but be aware that a passport is needed for that. The easiest way to refill a local mobile account is to use an ATM. Most ATMs have bilingual interfaces, allowing numerous kinds of payments, including those for mobile services by local operators. Another way is to use one of the terminals that are all over city, such as Qiwi or mobile shops.

Post

The full list of the offices can be found here. The General post office is at Dzerzhinskogo 2 building 4. Postal code is 677000.

Wireless Internet

Wireless internet can be found in several places

Stay safe

The center of the city, where you'll find the hotels, cultural activities, and the principal sights, are quite safe at any time of the day. The central streets are well lit and frequently patrolled by the police (who are probably more trouble than any actual criminal activity downtown). Do not drink in public at night or you will have problems with the police.

There are street robberies/pickpocketing (especially on public transport), but such crimes are very rarely violent or even overt. Demonstrate the minimum level of prudence and you should not have any troubles.

Avoid some of the poorer neighborhoods at night, like the 17th Quarter (квартал) and Saisary (Сайсары), where Rockys and Rambos are known to be around. Hold on to your things, or keep them in inaccessible pockets, on public transport and crowded markets. It's also worthwhile to note that some hold a ridiculous suspicion of the ethnic minorities here, but that's purely a myth. Yakutsk is a harmoniously multi-ethnic and tolerant city, open to anyone who's happy to be here.

The biggest danger in the city, without a doubt, is the extreme cold of the Siberian winter. In the winter, the cold can kill you quickly, and even if you're careful, you can very quickly lose a nose or a couple toes. When going out in -50° Celsius weather, layer every article of clothing you own (fur is best), and plan to spend no more than ten minutes outside directly exposed to the air. If walking, you will become exhausted very quickly—avoid walking entirely and take taxis door to door everywhere you go.

Also if you want to have a little fun, take a pot of boiling water and take it outside and immediately toss the water into the air. It will freeze instantly in the air and make an extremely loud hissing noise, one of the coolest things ever.

Go next

You can finish touring all the principal sights of Yakutsk and the nearby areas in just 3–4 days. But there are a ton of activities (especially outdoor activities) beyond the city limits for the adventurous traveler. Travel agencies will help you set these up, and given that this is Russia, it may well be wise to plan your trips through one. Here are some ideas:


This article is significantly based on work which can be found at The Russian Wikivoyage. A list of authors can be found here.
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