27 February 2020.
Draped across a hilly peninsula in Russia’s remote far east, Vladivostok is best known among travellers for one thing – as the start or endpoint of the famous Trans Siberian Railway.
Touching down amidst a mesmerising scene of snow-capped peaks, vast wilderness and sun-drenched clouds on a frosty evening in late November, this was precisely my reason for visiting this isolated outpost – to embark upon the 9,000km journey west across Siberia.
Nicknamed the San Francisco of the east, Vladivostok is a city of hills that wraps around the coves of Gold Horn Bay, where the pesky ocean fog is a frequent occurrence and a photogenic bridge the main attraction. But similarities aside, the city is an intriguing place to visit in its own right with a grand old town, curious history, glorious waterside location and thriving foodie scene that make for an interesting city break or introduction to your train journey.
I arrived to this city on the brink of winter, where lingering snow still clung to the pavements and the charming old town streets were illuminated with fairy lights in anticipation of Christmas. I had no idea what to expect from Vladivostok, but it turned out to be every bit as magical as any old-world European city, but with all the small-town charm I could have hoped for.
For anyone stopping here on their way across Siberia, a day or two is enough time to explore all the main sights. These are the best things to do in Vladivostok for your visit.
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Find The Best View Of The City At The Eagle’s Nest
Vladivostok is a city of hills and there’s no better vantage point to experience its marvellous location beside the bay and the oh so photogenic Zolotoy Most – the Golden Bridge – than from the Eagle’s Nest.
Although the viewpoint is worth seeing at any time of day, the best time to visit is really around sunset when the final rays of golden light stream across the bay, the friendly city lights begin to twinkle on and twilight casts her blue cloak across the humming streets below.
As a city prone to fog which has a habit of stealing away the view entirely, if you wake to a foggy morning, consider postponing your visit until the sky has cleared. It usually doesn’t take long.
Behind the viewpoint, you’ll also find a large monument of Saint Cyril and Methodius, creators of the Cyrillic Alphabet.
How To Get To The Eagle’s Nest
Confusingly, you may notice that Google Maps has two location markers for this viewpoint – Eagle’s Nest Hill and Eagle’s Nest Observation Deck – neither of which are correct.
Instead, look for “Vidovaya Ploshchadka Orlinoye Gnezdo” (here on Google Maps) which will lead you in the right direction.
You can reach the viewpoint via the funicular which departs from Ulitsa Pushkinskaya every 4 minutes between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. and costs R20 (€0.30), or you can arrive by foot using either Ulitsa Sukhanova or Svetlanskaya.
From the centre of the old town, follow Sukhanova uphill towards the upper funicular station. At the large roundabout, take the pedestrian underpass and veer left across the small park. Back above ground, take the bridge across the road and follow the path ahead where you’ll find the viewpoint.
The other route begins from Svetlanskaya, parallel to the lower funicular station, where you’ll find a flight of stairs that will lead you up to Ulitsa Pushkinskaya. Alongside the funicular station, there’s a long, slightly run-down stairway that brings you steeply uphill to the upper funicular station from where you can follow the instructions above.
I arrived via the Sukhanova route and left via Svetlanskaya which is what I would recommend if you’re visiting on foot as this drops you right on the embankment afterwards, perfect for further exploration of the city, and will save you having to climb all those stairs.
Visit the Tokarevsky Lighthouse
Perched on a narrow wind and wave-battered isthmus at the entrance to the Eastern Bosphorus sits the lonely white pillar of Tokarevsky Lighthouse (also written as Tokarevskaya).
Today, it remains as one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the far east, guiding ships from Amur Bay into the port of Vladivostok since its construction in 1879.
In summer, it’s a popular spot for locals to enjoy a spell of sunshine sprawled out along the rocky platform or pebbled bay, while in winter, ferocious winds whip across the ocean and can make it feel like a forsaken place at the end of the Earth.
After a relatively balmy welcome to the city the day before, I was greeted by relentless gusts that quickly turned my cheeks and fingers into numb, tingling icicles and made it unmistakable that I had, in fact, arrived to a very chilly Siberia.
During high tide, the waves also creep across the spit covering it in a shallow pool of water so be sure to time your visit with low tide. In summer, you can easily walk across the pebbly passage at any time of day but don’t even think about wading through the icy water in winter.
From this location, you’ll also be given a fantastic view directly on the Russkiy Most, the newly constructed bridge that links Vladivostok with the remote Russkiy Island and, depending on the time of year, this also makes a beautiful spot for sunrise or sunset.
How To Get To The Tokarevsky Lighthouse
The lighthouse sits 6km from the train station and can be reached by bus or taxi.
From near the train station on Ulitsa Aleutskaya, buses #60 or #63 depart every 10 minutes and will take you as far as Mayak from where it’s a 20-minute walk to the lighthouse through a sleepy industrial zone. Buses are either marshrutka (minivans) or a regular city bus and cost 28RUB (€0.40) for the trip.
Taxis (or rideshares like Yandex) are also reasonably priced and can drop you right by the narrow spit of the lighthouse where you’ll find a handful of cafes and food stands. In winter these were all closed down, but I can imagine on a sunny summer’s day this area would be buzzing. For short visits, you can also arrange with your driver to wait and take you back to the city.
Wander The Pretty Streets Of The Old Town And Discover The Secrets Of Millionka
As a major industrial port town and transport hub, you’d be forgiven for thinking Vladivostok wouldn’t be all that pretty, but happily, its enchanting old town is filled with streets that would look right at home in any of Europe’s historic capitals.
Svetlanskaya and Aleutskaya are the city’s main arteries where beautiful pastel buildings rise high above the pavements and cafes and restaurants lie side by side with traditional apothecary stalls and the city’s trendiest shops.
Here, you’ll find a few noteworthy attractions including the art nouveau GUM Department Store, sister to the famous GUM in Moscow’s Red Square, the monument of Eleanor Pray, author of Letters from Vladivostok, and the Arbat, a popular pedestrianised section of Admirala Fokina that is filled with places to eat.
On a short visit, it’s always difficult to really get under the skin of a place, but in Vladivostok’s case, wander beyond the pretty facades and you’ll soon find yourself amongst a tight cluster of gritty streets and derelict buildings that once concealed the city’s seedy underbelly.
In the early 20th century, the Millionka neighbourhood of the old town was a hotbed of crime and gang activity and became an overcrowded ghetto of migrants who were forcibly removed under Stalin’s regime. Today, it’s being reclaimed as a hub of alternative culture, with street art, hip cafes and galleries all existing side by side, and with legends that live on about a sprawling network of underground passageways and ghosts that linger amongst the down-trodden buildings.
Though it’s certainly possible to explore this area alone, it’s the stories that bring this place to life and introduce its historical context and so a guided walking tour of the area is a good idea to gain a deeper insight.
Experience The City By The Bay By Walking Its Embankments
Once you’ve seen the city views from above and gotten lost in the twisting streets of the old town, saunter down to the water’s edge to experience the city by the bay from below. There are several wide embankments that wrap around the waterfront and make a perfect place to wander on foot, especially when the sun is out and the wind has dropped off. The main two run along Golden Horn Bay and Amur Bay.
Start at Naberezhnaya Tsesarevicha for an impressive perspective beneath the enormous Golden Bridge. Onwards, stop in at Admiral’s Park to see the Triumphal Arch of Sir Nicholas ll, admire the gleaming gold domes of the cathedral and end at the main plaza in the centre of town which is often lined with market stalls.
Running along the ocean side, Sportivnaya Naberezhnaya is another great place for a stroll, particularly in the late afternoon when, on a good day, the west-facing walkway receives a glorious dose of warm sunlight. Unfortunately, when I visited the Arctic winds were battering the waterfront, but I could certainly see how under the right conditions it would be infinitely more pleasant.
Located on the far eastern shelf of Asia, Vladivostok is well connected to its neighbours with regular direct flights from South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan, though services are heavily reduced during winter. Despite its proximity to North America, direct flights are a rarity with most services, connecting via Moscow or the Middle East. Daily connections to the capital and smaller cities in Siberia make reaching the rest of Russia easy.
Vladivostok International Airport sits around an hour outside of the city centre and can be reached via minibus, train or taxi.
Minibus #107 departs from a marked bus stand directly opposite the arrivals terminal and costs R200 (€2.80) plus R100 (€1.50) for luggage. The final stop is at the train station but you can ask to be dropped at any of the bus stops on Aleutskaya, like the Arbat, which may be closer to your accommodation. Services depart at least every hour between 8:10 a.m. and 8 p.m. with extra departures during peak times.
Trains are less frequent but are the fastest option, especially during rush hour when road traffic can be slow. Access to the train station is from inside the airport terminal to the right. Tickets cost R230 (€3.20) and travel directly to Vladivostok Station at 07:48, 08:30 and 10:30 a.m., and 13:15 and 17:40 p.m.
Taxis generally charge around R1,200 (€16.70), but if the day is wearing on you may be offered a reduced rate just so they can get back to town. There will be plenty of drivers waiting around the terminal, or you can order a taxi through Yandex or Maxim (like Uber) instead.
The centre of Vladivostok is very compact and easily navigable on foot, though you’ll likely get a good workout with all the hills. For short trips, ridesharing apps like Yandex and Maxim are widely used across Russia and offer very affordable rates. There’s also plenty of public transport for travelling to the outskirts of the city and Google Maps tends to have reliable listings for routes, timetables and bus stops.
Vladivostok has a range of accommodation to suit any type of traveller, from budget-friendly hostels for as little as €6 per night to beautifully designed hotels with ocean views.
However, given how hilly Vladivostok is, and especially if you’re travelling on the Trans Siberian, I’d suggest staying somewhere between the train station and Ulitsa Fontanaya where you’ll be in the heart of the old town and within easy reach of all main attractions as well as the station.
IZBA Hostel | I stayed in this traditional Russian hostel which has an excellent location just 2 blocks from the Arbat and a 15-minute walk to the train station. There’s a guest kitchen, spacious common area, friendly staff and the beds were incredibly comfortable which was just what I needed after 15 hours of travel. My only hesitation is that there did seem to be plenty of long term Russian guests which meant it wasn’t a particularly social place for meeting other travellers, but this may just be down to travelling in winter. Check rates and availability here.
Vlassom Hostel | Located in the heart of the Arbat, this cosy hostel offers free breakfast, has an onsite cafe and a spacious rooftop terrace perfect for summer visits. Check rates and availability here.
Seal Place | This top-rated hostel is located just a block from the train station making it an excellent budget choice for anyone arriving late on the train or with an early departure. Check rates and availability here.
History Hotel | Located just off Svetlanskaya Street, this modern, newly renovated hotel has an excellent position in the heart of the old town. Guests love the free room-service breakfast, friendly staff and comfy beds. Check rates and availability here.
Apartments on Sketlanskaya | Situated near Admiral Park, these simple, reasonably priced apartments are great for couples looking to self cater with a perfect location near the old town. Check rates and availability here.
If you thought Russian food was all about stodgy carbs and watered down soups, Vladivostok’s delightfully varied foodie scene will force you to reconsider.
Its location by the sea means that seafood features heavily, while traditional Russian fare, Asian fusion and cosy cafes make it an all round excellent place to dine out and escape the winter weather.
Ukh Ty, Blin | Set on the Arbat, this place is admittedly rather touristy and you’ll probably be surrounded by more foreigners inside than locals, but it makes a great stop for breakfast and has English menus (and Chinese and Korean) to ease you into your trip.
They specialise in pancakes (Blin is pancake in Russian), both sweet and savoury, and you’ll find delicious combinations like banana, condensed milk and chocolate or salmon, sour cream and dill. I went with stewed pear and cinnamon with a generous dollop of vanilla ice-cream. Yum! Portions aren’t huge, but the prices are so reasonable you may as well have two. Get there early to avoid the crowds.
Five o’Clock Cafe | Just opposite the pancake spot, this charming little cafe makes a perfectly cosy little nook to escape the cold and warm up with a piping hot drink and a pastry or light lunch. As the snow began to fall outside and the frigid wind picked up, I whiled away a few wonderful hours tucked up here.
Supra | Is it wrong to go to a Georgian restaurant on your first day in Russia? If you’ve read any of my posts on Georgia, you’ll know I absolutely adore the cuisine, and so when I found out that one of Vladivostok’s best restaurants was Georgian, I pretty much made a beeline straight there.
As the #1 listing on TripAdvisor, it’s an incredibly popular spot, even in low season, but solo travellers will be given the option to skip the waiting list and eat at the bar where you can watch expert chefs filling and folding perfect little parcels of khinkali and deliciously cheesy khachapuri. It’s a lively spot, occasionally straying into over-the-top territory, but the food is great, as is the wine, and you’ll find all your Georgian favourites listed on the menu. Slightly pricier than your average spot.
Fifth Ocean | Intent on sampling some of Vladivostok’s famous seafood, I made my way to Fifth Ocean set along the waterfront and was not disappointed. It’s a white table cloth and multiple forks kind of place, and certainly pricier than most in Vladivostok, but for some delicious seafood with ocean views and excellent service, it’s a decent choice.