Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia:
One of the few cities built on permafrost, Yakutsk is famed as being the coldest city on Earth. Founded in 1632 as part of the Russian Empire, it became the administrative and economic centre of the region. Historically Yakutsk was the starting point for exploration and scientific expeditions into the Far East and the extreme North. To this day Yakutsk is still the base from which tours to all over Yakutia begin. It is a wonderful place to begin your discovery of Yakutia. The centre of the city is small, easily traversable by foot and most attractions and places of interest are within a 2.5km radius of one another. With day trips outside of the city to the great natural beauty of its surrounding countryside, Yakutsk will easily fill three to five days of thoroughly fascinating sightseeing.
With an ethnic make-up of 46% Yakuts and 41% Russian origin, Yakutsk has a rich mix of Russian and Yakut culture. Pay a visit to Lenin square then walk five minutes to the old city of reconstructed Yakut wood buildings; attend mass at the beautiful Russian Orthodox church with its bright colours and multiple domes, and walk out and straight into a shaman spiritual centre and observe or take part in a shaman ritual or ceremony; dine at one of many restaurants and eat Russian Borsch, drink vodka and then sample the Yakut delicacies of raw frozen fish or raw frozen horse meat; watch a performance of Swan Lake at the Yakutia State Opera and Ballet Theatre, then visit the National Dance Theatre of Yakutia and watch dance traditions of the different ethnic groups that make up Yakutia; take in a show at the circus and watch Moscow trained Yakutian performers put on a show Yakutian style with reindeer in place of horses. In Yakutsk you are sure to find the fusion of Russian and Yakut cultures delightful and intriguing.
To get a clear picture of the history and integration of the two cultures visit the Historical and Cultural Museum of the Northern Peoples where it is documented in much detail. It has an impressive collection of artifacts from various periods in the history on Yakutia. One can quite clearly see the strong similarities between the northern peoples of Yakutia and the American Indians. It also houses an amazing array of stuffed animals such as Siberian tigers, foxes, beautiful birds and much more. There’s also one of the world’s few complete woolly mammoth skeletons. The museum is a must see in Yakutsk.
Likewise the Mammoth Museum is a top attraction in Yakutsk. It provides an extensive documentation of the natural history of the area and well as housing many bones of mammoths and other prehistoric animals. There’s a really cool 3D video of scientists as they make a new mammoth discovery digging around in freezing, wet and muddy conditions, deep in permafrost. The staff are absolutely passionate about the museum, will give you marvellous insights into their work and delight in speaking with you (but you will need an interpreter!).
There are many more deeply interesting museums depending on one’s taste but you might also want to visit the Treasures of the Republic of Sakha, a museum which houses the republics largest and most valuable diamonds. Well-guarded and accessible only to small groups of 2-4 at a time, it also exhibits gold bars and nuggets along with many other precious stones. The Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, which highlights the history and mythology of the Yakutian ethnic groups since ancient times is also recommended.
If you come to Yakutsk with family The Yakutsk Zoopark would appeal to adults and children alike. You’ll find some 150 types of animals from the northern hemisphere and includes favourites such as the Musk Ox, Siberian tigers and Polar Bears. There’s a playground, petting area and a place to buy snacks.