how to ride the circum baikal railway

How to Ride the Circum Baikal Railway

The Circum Baikal Railway is a historic train line in the Irkutsk region of Russia.    It was, until the mid 20th century part of the Trans-Siberian Railway, but now provides a local and tourist service around the scenic Lake Baikal.   Today, the Circumbaikal railway is a 74 kilometres track that runs from Slyudyanka station to Port Baikal, passing 4 stations and running through 38 tunnels.  It is a glorious way to see Lake Baikal and to make your journey to or from Irkutsk.  In this guide, you’ll find out about the Circum Baikal timetable, trains and how to buy tickets as well as where to stay to travel on the Circum Baikal Railway.

There are regular trains running in the early afternoon on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, returning in the early hours of the morning. A tourist train also runs on certain days and makes stops specifically for tunnel visits and photo calls.


Where is the Circum Baikal Railway

The Circum Baikal Railway is located on the western shore of Lake Baikal, near Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

The Best Way to Take the Circum Baikal Train

You can take a tour from Irkutsk to visit and travel on the Circum Baikal Railway or travel independently (and most cost-effectively).  Tours to the Circum Baikal and Lake Baikal start from Irkutsk and here are your best options.

Ship on Lake Baikal

Visit Lake Baikal and Hike the Original Route of the Trans-Siberian Railway

Take this guided tour from Irkutsk and follow the tracks of the Circum Baikal Railway on foot for 4 kilometers.  You’ll get a stop in Lake Baikal, free time for a picnic or café lunch, and visit some of the most iconic tunnels, villages, and stations of the Circum Baikal railway.  This full-day tour picks you up from your hotel and takes you to the Circum Baikal railway.  You’ll visit the village of Staraya Angasolka and after lunch, you’ll walk to Kultuk and then head through 3 tunnels, over several bridges and small stations.  You’ll return to Irkutsk and your hotel by 1830.

Check availability and book now

Using public trains for the Circum Baikal Railway

It is relatively easy, with planning to take the public trains and travel on the Circum Baikal Railway.  There are full details below on how to do this.

Tracks and Lake Baikal

Taking the Circum Baikal Railway Independently

It is easy to take the Circum Baikal Railway, it just needs a little planning.  It’s not possible at this time to book tickets for this train online, you need to buy them at the stations, but that’s the same with all local trains in Russia.

Start the Circum Baikal Train from Irkutsk

We started at Irkutsk, where we were breaking the Trans-Siberian train with another couple of trains. There are two or three electrichka trains a day that run from Irkutsk to Slyudyanka, at the bargain price of 90 rubles ($2.62) each for the 100 or so km trip, you can shave off time by taking one of the faster long-distance trains, but then you’ll just be waiting until 1324 in Slyudyanka for the Port Baikal train.

Catching the train from Irkutsk

Electrichka are primarily local trains. There’s no assigned seating and that train to Slyudyanka starts at Irkutsk COPP and the train has had two stops before it arrives at Irkutsk PASS (the main passenger station) where we scale the mountainous steps onboard.


Getting your First Sight of Lake Baikal

Two stops later and the train is just about full, with seats for three facing another set of three on either side of the aisle, but before long there were just four of us in the carriage as we found our first view of Lake Baikal. On the 5,2000 kilometers of the Trans Siberian that we’ve traveled so far we’ve seen endless birch trees and a slightly rolling landscape.  Now we finally see snow-capped mountains, fluffy clouds, and the glorious blue of the largest lake in the world. This ia truly glorious Asian Landmark and you shouldn’t miss it.

First View of Lake Baikal

Arriving at Slyudyanka 1 on the Circum Baikal Railway

The 0918 train (that’s Irkutsk time, 5 hours ahead of the 0418 Moscow time on the RZD.RU website) arrives on time at 1300 into Slyudyanka 1.  This is not to be confused with Slyudyanka 2, which you’ll pass through as the last but one stop to arrive at the only train station in Russia that is completely made of white marble.

Slyudyanka train station made entirely of white marble

Finding the Train to Port Baikal at Slyudyanka 1

We take a quick toilet stop here, as it’s not clear as to whether there are toilets on this next train, and then we’re in search of the next train – there is only one obvious train that we can see, but it cunningly only has Slyudyanka on it, with no numbers, so I test my Russian asking the driver if he’s heading to Port Baikal.

Da. It’s affirmative.  We have now made it to the Circum – Baikal Railway

Slyudyanka to Port Baikal on the Circum Baikal Train

Climbing aboard is no mean feat and 10 minutes later we’re off. We’ll spend the next 5 and a half hours taking it easy on the 74km of the Circum Baikal Railway. Our tickets cost 74 rubles, so yes, you can work it out, 1 ruble a kilometer.

On an hourly basis, this is seriously good for the budget, however, as we rumble along slowly, I joke that we could almost walk it quicker. Almost. And we do pass several folks hiking along the trail, others who have been dropped at one spot on the railway and who hike a short way and then pick up the train further along, and still more who have taken a boat from Listvyanka or Port Baikal that delivers them to a short hike along the trail and then takes them back to their point of origin.

We meet also a group of teenagers, who are as truly irritating in Russian as in any other language. And who seem to delight in showing off their English skills “F- you bitch” is yelled loudly and regularly in a pseudo-American accent.

Lake Baikal from the Train

Then there’s the man from Seoul, South Korea, who’s here for a week visiting Baikal. He didn’t know that the train arrives in Port Baikal after the last ferry has departed, and the Conductor – the Provodnitsa doesn’t speak English. We help him with the ferry times and tell him there’s a hotel at the train station at the end. We’ll see him again on the ferry in the morning.

We see men in camouflage gear, dragging what can only be fishing rods. There are huge “frame on the outside” backpacks, last seen in the English Lake District in 1979. There’s also a washing machine that is moved for three stops to a new home.

Locals at a local stop on the Circum Baikal

Arriving in Port Baikal at the end of the Circum – Baikal Railway

And then there’s the end of the line. Port Baikal, after 5.5 hours of bum numbingly glorious views, this slightly industrialized, sleepy, rusting wreck-strewn village clings to the side of the hill, and the mouth of the River Angara. Not a grocery store, or mini market in sight, just a hotel/souvenir shop that also promises a bar, restaurant, and billiards that sits at the terminus of the train.

Where to Stay in Port Baikal for the Night

We head off for our lodgings for the night, somewhere, about 2 km away, but the evening is glorious, and we have several hours before dark.  We stay at the fabulous, but completely empty Krugobaykalskaya Holiday Park.

The super owners pick us up from the train station.

Overnight, the mist descends on Baikal, it’s so low you can’t see the lake. In the morning, the muddy rutted “road” that we’d driven up the night before is a quagmire and we’re glad we saw it all in the glorious June sunshine the day before, even more, glad for the ride to the ferry in our hosts 4×4.

Taking the Ferry from Port Baikal to Listvyanka

We catch the 54 ruble ferry, which also takes four cars, eagerly waiting to reverse on, some with more skill than others. 15 minutes later we’re just outside the village of Listvyanka, about 2km from the main area, where we are stopping for the night is, the drizzle is just heavy enough to ensure we’re dripping when we arrive.

Ferry from Port Baikal to Listvyanka

Where to Stay in Listvyanka

  • Check out the Hotel Dauria – all rooms have a wooden interior, private shower and bathroom – there’s free Wi-Fi and this place gets great reviews.  Check your room options and book now!
  • The Usadba Demidova gets fabulous reviews and is really well located.  There’s a shared lounge here and you can take breakfast at the property as well as rent bikes – Check your options and reserve a room now!

Don’t forget to try the amazing smoked Omul, which you can buy from street vendors in Listvyanka – read more about it here

To complete our journey, we need to head back to Irkutsk and so we take the bus to Irkutsk from Listvyanka.

Taking The Bus from Listvyanka to Irkutsk

After a fabulous night in Listvyanka we take the public bus (tickets 97 rubles per person) back to Irkutsk, successfully having had our Baikal fix, and ready to get on another train the next day, and to retrace our steps back to Slyudyanka to continue our Trans-Siberian travels.  This time we’ll be on our first Mongolian train.

How to Buy Circum Baikal railway tickets

You need to buy tickets for the Circum Baikal train in person at a train station.  First of all, you need to get tickets to get from Irkutsk to Slyudyanka 1 where you’ll pick up the Circum Baikal, and then from there to Port Baikal.  Ticket sellers are unlikely to speak English if anything they will speak German, so its best to try and write down your requirements or at least have the time and the name of the station that you want to go to jotted down.

Alternatively, you can buy from a tourist agency in Irkutsk and get a transfer thrown in as well.

Lake Baikal from the Train (2)

Circum Baikal Railway Timetable

You can take a tourist train called the Circum-Baikal Express.  It leaves from Irktytsk and has three types of carriages (1st, 2nd class and business).  Most tickets for this are usually snapped up by tourist agencies.  The Baikal Express train departs Irkutsk at 0800 on Wednesday and Saturdays.  You can also take it from Port Baikal on Thursdays or Saturday (it goes in the opposite direction).  The train makes regular stops for walks from the train, you’ll get back to Irkutsk between 2100 and 2200.

If you want to make your trip most cost-effective and travel on a local train – the one that we took, then there are four trains a week in both directions.  They cost about 1 ruble per kilometre and they go slowly.  The trip will take 5.5 to 6 hours to Port Baikal from Slyudyanka.

Slyudyanka to Port Baikal

The #6201, Matanya train leaves Slyudyanka at around 1330 four times a week on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.   The train is modern and comfortable but there are no food or drink services at all.

You will need to travel from Irkutsk to Slyudvyanka in order to catch this train.  The train completes its journey at Port Baikal and from here you can get a ferry across the Angara River to Listvyanka, although the last ferry will have departed by the time the train arrives, so you’ll be staying the night in Port Baikal, which is no bad thing, it’s a lovely, quiet place!

Walking trails by the Circum Baikal railway

Port Baikal to Slyudyanka

The #6202 leaves Port Baikal on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturday, but this is the return route and it travels in the dark, so you won’t see anything!

History of the Circum Baikal Railway

Initially, the Trans Siberian Railway had 7 sections, and the Circum-Baikal was one of these, originally linking Irkutsk to Mysovaya wharf, which is now called Babushkin on the South-Eastern shore of Lake Baikal.

The initial surveying work for this route started in 1894 and construction started in late 1899.  The tracks from Irkutsk stopped at Port Baikal, across from the mouth of the River Angara from Listvyanka.  Ice-breaking steamships then carried trains and passengers across the river mouth to where the tracks continued.  The track was the most difficult of the Trans Siberian to build, as the landscape around the lake required bridges or tunnels at least once a kilometer.

When the line was completed the Trans-Siberian became complete and passengers and cargo could be transported, the Circum Baikal was named the “golden buckle on the steel belt of Russia”.

Stations on the Circum Baikal railway

During the 1917 Russian Revolution, the area was the scene of intense fighting and one of the tunnels was blown up (it was later restored).  A line between Irkutsk via Bolshoy Lug to Slyudyanka was built between 1947 and 1949 considerably shortening the track and distance compared to the Circum Baikal line and thus began the decline of the Circum Baikal line as the Trans-Siberian route was transferred to the new line.

Today the line dead-ends at Port Baikal and in order to continue a journey, it’s necessary to take a ferry from Port Baikal to Listvyanka and then a bus from Listvyanka to Irkutsk.

For more picturesque train journeys a bit closer to home and easier to get to, try the Ravenglass and Esk railway, one of the top things to do in the Lake District.

Circum Baikal Railway Resources

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