Most visitors who travel to Russia spend their time in the western portion of the country. While cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg have a lot to offer, don’t miss out on all that can be found in Eastern Russia. This is the place to be if you’re interested in the rugged outdoors, as the Far East of Russia is home to countless national parks, volcanoes and snow-covered mountain peaks. Islands off the coast let you see a unique side of Russia, and the Far East can even be a great starting point for international trips to China or Mongolia. From Yakutsk, the coldest city on Earth, to Wrangel Island, known as Polar Bear Island, Russia’s Far East is an incredible destination well worth visiting.
While Yakutsk might be the coldest city in the world, Oymyakon is even chillier. This town is the coldest permanently inhabited spot on the globe. Outside of Antarctica, the coldest recorded temperature on Earth was registered at Oymyakon. With such extreme winter temperatures, planes can’t land for part of the year. Travel groups can drive in from neighboring cities, but it is best not to explore during the winter on your own. Don’t miss the Pole of Cold Monument, a landmark embracing the chilly climate of Oymyakon, whether you visit in the summer or the winter.
The Valley of the Geysers is a geyser field found on the Kamchatka Peninsula. It has an impressive concentration of geysers in one area, all of which are located in a basin with hot springs and a winding river. It is part of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve. Sadly, the Valley of the Geysers is not as impressive as it once was. In 2007, rapid mudflow filled the valley. More than 60 percent of the geysers were covered, causing irreversible damage to the area. The good news is that some of the mud is receding, and the Valley of the Geysers may once again recover to its former glory.
The Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve is known for many things. First, and most importantly, it is home to the Sikhote-Alin Mountain Range. These majestic peaks, along with beautiful valleys, combine to create a breathtaking landscape that many photographers love. In addition to great views, the Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve is incredibly biodiverse. If you visit, you might be able to see Brown Bears, a goat known as the Amur goral and even the tracks of the Siberian tiger. Astronomy enthusiasts might recognize the name Sikhote-Alin because in the 1970s, one of the largest meteorites ever to hit the Earth fell onto the nature reserve, lighting up the night sky along the way like a ball of fire.
The city of Yakutsk has an interesting claim to fame: It is the coldest city in the entire world! While the summers can be quite warm, the winters tend to be bitterly cold. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities to enjoy indoors and outdoors throughout the year. Be sure to check out the Old City, architecture in the style of the 19th century. Then, for something truly unforgettable, head to the Underground Laboratory of the Institute of Cryogenics to see frozen artifacts and even mammoth remains.
The village of Esso is found in the district of Kamchatka, a chilly destination with a surprisingly wonderful way to stay warm. Hot springs are found in abundance, and even the town’s picturesque wooden cottages are heated using this hot water. After a hike through the Bystrinsky Nature Park, a visit to the reindeer farms or a dog-sled ride, you can warm up at these fantastic, affordable and easily accessible hot springs. Stay for the annual dog-sledding competition that draws in visitors from around the world.
Just 80 km (50 miles) south of Yakutsk is the Lena Pillars Nature Park. The best way to get to the park is by boat, boarding in Yakutsk and the heading south along the Lena River until you arrive at the nature park. Lena Pillars is a natural rock formation dating back to the Paleozoic Era, and in places it is more than 300 meters (980 feet) tall. This creates epic views from the water, but it is also worth heading onshore to do some hiking around the base of the pillars and near the top. The rugged outcrops contain layers of limestone, dolomite and slate, creating even more interest and visual appeal.
The city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is a destination loved by travelers who are searching for nature, outdoor adventure and recreation. This city of roughly 200,000 residents is the second largest city in the world that is unreachable by road, and only accessible by plane or boat. While the city itself is home to a few interesting attractions and the hub called Lenin Square, much of the fun is found outside the city limits. You might set off on day trips to spot bears in the wild, try out paragliding or go fishing on Avacha Bay.
The Kuril Islands are located off the coast of Russia, just north of Japan. The islands are sparsely populated, and many residents speak both Russian and Japanese. People come to the Kuril Islands to experience the pristine beauty of the archipelago. The Kuril Islands make up part of the Pacific Rim of Fire, a collection of active volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean. If you’re able to secure a permit to visit the Kuril Islands, you’ll get the chance to see amazing natural landmarks like Mt. Tyatya, gorgeous blue lagoons, steaming geothermal rivers and stunning cliffside views at Stolbchaty Cape.
Wrangel Island is located within the Arctic Circle, and visitors can expect cold weather and a tundra landscape. Despite the climate and the difficulty getting to the island, Wrangel is a world-famous spot for nature lovers. If you have ever wanted to see Arctic wildlife, this may be your best opportunity to do exactly that. Some of the land mammals on Wrangel Island include polar bears, Arctic foxes, reindeer and walruses. Countless polar bear dens mean that with a trained guide, it’s nearly a guarantee that you’ll spot polar bears in their natural habitat. You can also spot grey whales from the coast or from boats right offshore.
Vladivostok is a major port city on the Pacific, and it also just 130 km (80 miles) from the border with North Korea. Many travelers are familiar with Vladivostok because it is the terminus for the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia. Head to the water for some of the best views, and start at Golden Horn Bay to see the fleet of the Russian Navy. If it’s warm, take a swim in Sportivnaya Harbor, or walk across the ice if it happens to be winter. You can also do some souvenir shopping at the enormous Sportivnaya Market, tour the Museum Vladivostok Fortress, or stroll through the botanical gardens.