The vast expanse of Siberian land in Russia is not without its urban centers. For all the plains, forests, and tundra, some cities must serve as cultural hubs for the region. Rising and falling in greatness over time is the western Siberian city of Omsk, lying at the junction of the Om and Irtysh Rivers. With over a million residents, Omsk is actually the seventh largest city in Russia and worthy of tourists’ attention. Because of its distance from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Omsk serves as a regional capital, with plenty of attractions for the curious visitor to western Siberia. If you’re taking the infamous Trans-Siberian Railroad from Moscow to Vladivostok (or vice versa), Omsk will be one of the major stops on your trip. The tourist attractions are worthwhile, especially considering that Omsk was difficult for Americans to access during Soviet times.
Omsk rose to slight prominence when the Russian frontier was expanding during the late 1600s and early 1700s. Leaders were just beginning to understand Russia’s enormous size, and Omsk was an excellent location for military and trading operations. Despite this initial boom, though, the city fell into decline until the construction of the Trans Siberian Railway in the 1890s, when the massive transportation project made greater commerce and cultural exchange in the city more feasible. Prospectors and merchants brought money to the city, and many of Omsk’s most notable tourist attractions were buildings completed between 1890 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Omsk declined in importance during the early days of communism, but it was resettled during and after WWII by an influx of eastward-moving emigrants from the European parts of the Soviet Union. As Russia continues to develop its post-Soviet identity, Omsk is slowly transitioning its economy and overcoming corruption, hoping to recapture some of its early 1900s grandeur.
Visitors to Omsk, whether they descend from a Trans-Siberian Railway car or an Aeroflot jet, will find the following tourist attractions of interest.
Omsk Circus. Every notable Russian city has a major circus, and it’s not the sort of event that blows into town for a weekend carnival. This is a traditional Russian circus with performers who take their craft seriously. If you want to drink vodka and watch trapeze artists, fire handlers, and animal tamers of the grandest variety, the Omsk Circus will not disappoint. Remember that the most powerful feline in the world is the Siberian Tiger, so you can watch one being handled on its home turf. Tickets are relatively inexpensive for such a high-caliber show, going for about $20.
Lyubinsky Avenue. Going back to golden times in Omsk, the buildings here date from the 1890s and first decade of the 1900s. There is a merchant row that was built in the wake of increased trade brought by the Trans-Siberian Railway, and the splendid architecture blends with other buildings that were contemporary to it: hotels, theatres, and trading shops. The grand scale of these structures show how much hope existed for the city’s greatness.
Omsk Drama Theatre. Adjacent to this Lyubinsky Avenue complex is the Omsk Drama Theatre, dating from the same great time period. Though it is said to be modeled after Parisian theatres, the faÃ?Â§ade is considered to be thoroughly Russian. It served as the backdrop for a giant exhibition which brought visitors to Omsk in 1911.
Omsk Museum of Fine Arts. Though it does not qualify as totally cosmopolitan, this is an accessible and interesting museum for Siberian paintings, sculptures, and other local art.
Tara and Tobolsk Gates. Dating from Omsk’s early days as a military fort, these gates were part of a system designed to keep the nomadic peoples out of the new post.
Pushkin Library. Named after the famous Russian writer of overly romanticized short stories, this library features an exhibit about the United States. It may be interesting for American visitors to see how their country is portrayed to common Russian people.
Atlantida. This is one of many nightclubs in Omsk. After all, the thousands of younger residents need a place to party, especially in the winter. A visit to a club outside of Moscow or Saint Petersburg will allow the visitor to see a different take on Russian nightlife – less glamorous but still decadent with its excess. If you’re spending the night at a hotel here before climbing on a train, party it up with some Siberian-made vodka.
Irtysh River Beach. Yes, the beach. Siberia experiences some dramatic temperature shifts, and the summers can be hot on occasion. As Omsk is located at the confluence of two rivers, the banks of the Irtysh have a pleasant beach. Consider it the place to ogle an Olga.
Founding Sphere. So big and ugly that it looks like Sputnik, this giant grayish ball marks the founding of Omsk. Located in the city center, It is emblematic of the sometimes overdone public art in many Russian cities.
Firetower. From the days when spotters sat in towers watching the city for fires, this red-and white structure remains as a curious-looking monument.
Cross-country Skiing. In the rolling plains of western Siberia, cross-country skiing is a way to experience the vastness of the landscape up close. Some small towns outside of Omsk have little shops that will rent skis to tourists for few hours.
Ice carvings in public parks. Owing to the massive amounts of snow and ice that blanket Omsk each winter, the city is home to numerous expert ice carvers who often display their work in public parks. Omsk’s parks are popular in the winter for sports as well.
In addition to these attractions and activities, there are numerous churches, shopping malls, and even an outdoor market for tourists to explore in Omsk.