Slyudyanka (Russian: Слюд'янка, slyu-DYAN-kah) is a town in Irkutsk Oblast 110 km away from Irkutsk with population of 18,000 people (2018). Coming from Irkutsk, it's where the Trans-Siberian Railway and Trans-Siberian Highway descend by hairpins down the mountain to Lake Baikal, at the lower tip of this halfmoon-shaped lake.
Whenever you ride Trans-Siberian railway and the train moves slightly south to curve the Baikal, it stops and the passengers pitched by the fish-sellers always get out to buy some smoked Omul then you have arrived in Slyudyanka station. When fish is bought and carriage is oozing with the smell, give a look to the station building. White plates are the same as the gravel under the rails. It's marble. The name Slyudyanka stands for another mineral found here - the mica (slyuda in Russian).
In 1647, at the heyday of the Russian conquest of Siberia, a prison was built at the site of present day Slyudyanka. Shortly after it was moved northwest to where Kultuk is now. The next building to appear, about a century and a half later, was a winter hut built in 1802 to provide shelter for voyagers along the Irkutsk-Kyakhta postal route. Going south up the mountains, the route was part of the Great Tea Road, also known as the Siberian route, along which tea arrived from China to Russia overland. In the middle of the 19th century a road to Ulan Ude (Verkhneudinsk back then) was built. However the arrival of the Trans-Siberian railway in 1905 was what turned the outpost into a settlement and eventually a town. It got the status as a regional center in 1930 and city status six years later.
The railway, and marble mining are the main sources of income; mica mining has stopped and the large fishing and fish processing industries didn't survive the collapse of the Soviet Union. Fishing is still ongoing on a smaller scale but the town is no longer the one and only omul capital it still was at the turn of the millenium.
The older buildings of Slyudyanka is on the strip between the highway (Lenin street) and the lake, southwest of the highway you can find Soviet buildings. A few kilometers to the north is the town of Kultuk - also handled in this article - which has almost grown together with Slyudyanka. From Kultuk the serpentine road and railway rises up the Olkhinsky Plateau towards Irkutsk, whereas the Circum-Baikal Railway follows the coastline east to Port Baikal. Overall Slyudyanka and Kultuk are mostly points of transit, people traveling the Trans-Siberian or around Lake Baikal will pass through here at some point though for few they're the destination. They nevertheless offer attractions to keep a visitor busy for half a day or so.
There's boat traffic on the lake, but not to Slyudyanka. The nearest passenger airport is in Irkutsk. As such the ways in are by train, bus or car.
Trains on the Trans-Siberian stop at Slyudyanka and they're almost certainly the most common way in. Normal passenger trains usually just stop for a few minutes (as opposed to half an hour back in the day) so to visit even the station you need to continue on a later train train. The journey time by long-distance trains from Irkutsk is 2.5 hours, from Ulan Ude 5.5 hours. From the former you can opt for local trains - elektrishkas - that take three hours but tickets are much cheaper. Both include some of the most beautiful sections on the Trans-Siberian; from Irkutsk the descent from the high plateau to Lake Baikal, from Ulan Ude the southern shore of the lake. Slyudyanka is also the western terminus of the Circum-Baikal railway.
- 1 Slyudyanka-1 (Слюдянка I), ул. Тонконога, 18. The main station, doubling as one of the town's landmarks. It's more "touristy" than average Russian railway stations as it has a small museum but not a proper waiting room. It's also on the Baikal side of the railway; to reach the commercial side of the city you need to cross the long pedestrian bridge across the tracks. There are several kiosks on the platform.
- 2 Slyudyanka-2 (Слюдянка II). Mostly a goods station, though local trains stop here. Use this station to access the beach and Shamanka rock.
- 3 Kultuk station (Култук). Wooden station on the CBR.
You can take marshrutka #543 from Irkutsk railway station (158 руб, 2 hours). They depart hourly or even more frequently, in addition there are marshrutki from Irkutsk bus station. Marshrutka #103 connects from Baikalsk, and there are also marshrutki from Tunkinskaya Dolina (near the Mongolian border), and Arshan. Finally there are lines passing through Slyudyanka such as Ulan Ude-Irkutsk, though the latter don't have official stops in the city.
- 4 Bus stop (Автостанция) (at the central square). A small square where buses stop. There's no station building, just a small room for drivers with schedules posted on the wall.
Slyudyanka is also at the Trans-Siberian Highway, more exactly at the P258 "Baikal" section between Irkutsk (110 km) and Ulan-Ude (350 km). The road from Irkutsk has a lot of curves and you can expect the drive to take at least two hours. Also, the section between Kultuk and Slyudyanka can take up to 20 minutes because of heavy traffic. From the west, local road A333 comes in from Tunkinskaya Dolina and eventually Khankh, Lake Hövsgöl and Mörön in Mongolia.
There are local marshrutka minibuses, but since the town is small there is little use for them. Marshrutka 101 goes from the south of town across Slyudyanka and all the way to Kultuk and runs every 20 minutes. The walk from Rudo district in the SW of the town to the centre takes about 20 min. Anyway you can see the bus stops on map on this website.
- 1 V.A. Zhigalov mineral museum (Минералогический музей В.А. Жигалова), Ulitsa Slydyanaya 36 (3 km from downtown), ☏ . A private collection of stones from the Baikal region, all of them collected by Valeri Zhigalov (1943-2018). His widow operates the museum nowadays and is open on prior appointment but you may also drop by at random and she may open the museum if she's in the mood for it. 300 ₽.
- 2 Historical mineral museum (Историко-минералогический музей), Ulitsa Babushkina 20. Tu-S 10-17. This stone museum too is the result of a private collector, who conducts tours. It's housed in one of the former railway buildings in the city.
- 3 Railway station Slyudyanka-1 (Вокзал станции Слюдянка). Slyudyanka boasts the world's only railway station entirely built out of marble (mined in the region). The station was designed by Italians working on the CBR (at the time part of the Trans-Siberian) in 1903-04. There are also other details from that time; a bust of Mikhail Khilkov, minister of railways back then, and the imperial-era emblem of the ministry can be seen here and there on the station (restored after the fall of communism). There is also a small exhibit inside the station building showcasing the region's railway history.
- 4 St Nicholas church (Никольская церковь), Ulitsa 40 let Oktyabrya 40 (between the railway station and the lake). A wooden church built in 2008 where an earlier church had been destroyed by an earthquake. Interestingly, it has railway-themed decorations in the form of carvings.
- 5 Water tower (Водонапорная башня), Zentralnaya ploshad (central square). Neo-Gothic red brick water tower, used by the railway and next to it an old locomotive. Interestingly these are two blocks southwest of the railway and on the other side of it seen from the station. The tower was built by Poles exiled to Siberia for their opposition to the czar, and at one place if the tower they've placed the bricks so as to form an obscene word.
- 6 Bear and monkey memorial (Памятник медведю и обезьяне), Ulitsa Lenina/Ulitsa Gornaya. A statue depicting two figures from a fairy tale, placed there to catch drivers' attention of a sharp curve. There used to be several of them in the region, but this is the only one left.
Finally, you can take a stroll among the wooden houses from the first years of the 20th century, these are between the railway and the lake. The simpler houses were inhabited by railway workers whereas the more elaborate ones were for engineers and administrative staff.
- 7 Shaman's rock (Шаманский мыс). A narrow rocky peninsula sticking a few hundred meters into the Baikal, serving as a natural divider between Slyudyanka and Kultuk. There's a path to the the tip of the peninsula, or you can just look at it from the nearby beach or from the railway stop Slyudyanka 2.
- 8 Old marble quarry "Strelka" (Карьер «Стрелка»). An abandoned marble quarry fairly close to the town, you can go here and pick up a piece of marble if you like. The place is overgrown with grass and access is free. Marble mining is still ongoing at the larger Pereval quarry a few kilometers to the west, which is closed to outsiders.
- 9 Baikal switchbacks (Байкальский серпантин). The road and rail section down the mountain offer some of the best views to Lake Baikal, Kultuk, and the Circum-Baikal Railway. Stopping on the switchbacks with your car is illegal, but the cafe has a parking lot.
- 10 Memorial to the Circum-Baikal railway (Стела КБЖД), Ulitsa Zheleznodorozhnaya (at the lake shore). Near Kultuk station there's a memorial to the Circum-Baikal railway, part of the Trans-Siberian before the shortcut from Irkutsk across the mountains was built.
- Hike: Slyudyanka may serve as a base and starting point for walks into nearby mountains.
- Beach life: The waters of Lake Baikal are too cold to swim in even on the hottest summer days (still many tourists try it), but locals do tan on the beach northeast of the city.
A shop in Russian is "магазин", so look for this sign.
- 1 Kurbatovski (Гастроном «Курбатовский»), Ulitsa Parizhskoy Kommuny 5 (central square). 9-21. Supermarket with deli and bakery section. Nearby there are also has shops selling clothing, electronics and household appliances.
- 2 Market (at the serpentine). Roadside market where you can also buy fish and souvenirs.
Eat and drink
- 1 Café Baikalskii Serpentin (Кафе «Байкальский серпантин») (Kultuk). 8-23. Out of the roadside cafés in the region this is the one that stands out. It's above the switchbacks leading down to Kultuk and Lake Baikal and has amazing views over the landscape. The food is good and servings large, their pies are large enough for two to share. If coming from Irkutsk it's not allowed to turn across the road to get there (it's possible, but against traffic regulations), you need to drive down the serpentine to a turning point and up again. Similarly when you're finished you need to drive 3.5 km back to Angasolka to turn to drive towards Kultuk and Slyudyanka. 200-300 ₽.
- 2 Café Baikalov (Кафе «Байкалов»), Ulitsa 40 let Oktyabrya 41 (between the railway station and Lake Baikal). 10-23. A lounge café with soft sofas is something unexpected in one of the old wooden railway worker's houses. The menu varies from day to day, fish and seafood is common but not local fish, and rather "sophisticated" dishes for rural Siberia such as salads in dough baskets and poached eggs. 300-500 ₽.
- 3 Railway workers canteen, Ulitsa Zheleznodorozhnaya 28/4. 24h. Cheap and simple dishes. 150 ₽.
In addition to these, there are many roadside cafés open from early in the morning to late in the evening.
In addition to the ones listed below, there are also "country hotels" along the road outside Slyudyanka though these are unpractical unless you have a car.
- 1 Hostel Slyudyanka (Хостел Слюдянка), Ulitsa Shcholnaya 10, Apartment 7 (about a 25-min walk SW from the town centre), ☏ . Breakfast included. Hosts speak fairly good English and are helpful. Offers a bed in a room for 5-6 people for 500-600 руб.
- 2 Train station dormitory. If you arrive late by night in train you might rest a few hours in the restroom in the train station. You will be wakened in the morning by the nice staff, but you can then visit the surroundings and hop on the Circumbaikal.
- 3 Guesthouse Arshan (Гостевой дом «Аршан»), Ulitsa 40 let Oktyabrya, 11, ☏ , . Right at the lakeshore, rooms are rather basic, small and with thin walls but staff is friendly and breakfast is good. dbl from 2500 ₽.
- 4 Guesthouse Tourist (Гостиница «Турист»), Ulitsa Krugobaikalskaya 1-б, ☏ . Likewise on the lakeshore, and the comfort level is basic. Rooms have private bathrooms, there's a shared kitchen. dbl: from 2500 ₽.
- 5 Edelweiss (Турбаза «Эдельвейс»), Ulitsa Slyudyanaya 44 (southwestern edge of town), ☏ , email@example.com. Suitable for hikers heading up the mountains, this place has rooms for 2, 3 and 5 guests and a campgrounds. There's a fee for everything "extra" such as sauna, parking or luggage storage. 400 ₽/person, place for a tent: 100 ₽/person.
- 6 Hotel Baikalskiy Ray (Гостиница «Байкальский рай»), Ulitsa Gornaya, 28 (Kultuk), ☏ , . A new hotel with views to the Baikal from all rooms. Rooms with a balcony don't cost extra. Better amenities than at other places, though the hotel has a bit "plastic" feel. It has a restaurant with decent food, open from 9:00 to 21:00 every day of the year. dbl: 3000 ₽.
- 7 Guesthouse Pik Cherskovo (Гостевой дом «Пик Черского»), Ulitsa Profsoyuznaya 17 (Sukhoi Ruchei village, a few kilometers southeast of Slyudyanka), ☏ . Not a mountain hut on a "peak" as the name would suggest, but a guesthouse at the lakeshore. There's a café, open during season. dbl: 2500 ₽.
Megafon has 4G coverage in town, 3G and 2G further out. MTS sistema and Tele2 have 4G coverage also outside town. Beeline VEON has GSM coverage.
- The Circum-Baikal Railway starts (or ends) in Slyudyanka. Train 6201 Matanya departs Slyudyanka 4 times a week (M Th F Su) at around 13:20, arriving in Port Baikal 5-6 hours later.
- Arshan: There is one marshrutka mini-bus daily going to this foothill spa town, leaving at 09:30; price is around 250-300 руб. In high season, try to book early.
- Baikalsk is the next town east on the Transssib. The next city west is a major one, Irkutsk, and the next major one to the east is Ulan Ude.
- Hikers can hit the trail to Chersky Peak, at 2090 m ASL one of the highest mountains in the Khamar-Daban range. It's a two day hike.
|Routes through Slyudyanka|
|Novosibirsk ← Irkutsk ←||W E||→ Ulan Ude → Khabarovsk|