We like the 350-year-old Siberian city of Irkutsk, Russia. In winter, Irkutsk is dressed in fantasylike attire: trees covered by a wonderful lace of hoarfrost, and the snow sparkling brightly under the strong sun and blue sky. In summer, expect the opposite—hot, sunny days. The difference between winter and summer temperatures can be as much as 70 C/158 F.

The city has some interesting older buildings that survived the communist period, as well as the Museum of Wooden Architecture Talci (a collection of buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries; and the quirky Irkutsk Regional Museum (good exhibits on local tribes and the city's history; In winter, it is home to giant and elaborate ice sculptures that, given the climate, last quite a while. Irkutsk is also a departure point for excursions to Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world (in terms of volume) and home to unique species of fish not found anywhere else, though the majority of tours simply take you to the shore for a look.

Because it is 3,218 mi/5,180 km east of Moscow, most travelers either fly in or visit the city as part of a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Plan two nights in the area.

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