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Siberia

Adventure enthusiasts, get ready, because this Siberian capital packs in more weather extremes than any other city in Asia. Yakutsk winters are the coldest of any city its size and have produced the lowest recorded temperatures on the planet outside of Antarctica. That’s what makes Yakutsk one of our Dozen Dream Destinations for 2020.

For those wanting to get off-the-beaten-track, the track here gets frozen over in winter and is often inaccessible by land. Here is where travelers can journey into Siberian culture and maybe even catch sight of the northern lights or the delightful Siberian horses in winter.

ABOVE: Frozen fish outdoors in Yakutsk.

Yakutsk can come alive for luxury travelers this year with the “Gemstones & Glaciers: The Treasures of Yakutsk” itinerary from Remote Lands. The superlatives don’t stop at Yakutsk’s winters. The cold capital of the Sakha Republic also boasts summertime highs that are delightfully balmy. Travelers opting for a summertime trip to Yakutsk can sail up the Lena River and see the stunning Lena Pillars, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the result of the freeze-thaw action over millennia. The Kingdom of Permafrost, a one-of-a-kind museum of ice novelties set inside two icy caverns, is also a must-visit.

For a truly unforgettable experience, catch the late-June New Year festival of Yhyakh in which elders lead a fertility ritual and younger Yakuts go head-to-head in competitions of strength and poetic improvisation. Be sure to try the kumis and stroganina, Siberian delicacies of mare’s milk and raw frozen fish, respectively.

Photographers will want to take advantage of the clear blue skies and half-day “golden hours” to walk the old city on foot during the summer, where they’ll see buildings from every epoch in Yakutsk’s history, including Cossack forts, Byzantine churches, and Soviet compounds.

ABOVE: Lena Pillars.

“Yakutsk is the coldest city on earth, very remote, and is built on permafrost. Go for the preserved woolly mammoth head, the fluffiest little horses, the frozen fish market where fish look like baguettes in baskets, reindeer antler velvet vodka, ice fishing, a home-cooked meal with slices of raw river fish, and definitely take a cruise to the Lena Pillars. Yakutsk is seriously cool.” – Travel expert Trinity Nguyen

Where to Stay

ABOVE: Horses of Yakutsk.

It’s out of the way, certainly, but Yakutsk is still a city and accommodations here will be comfortable. The Polyarnaya Zvezda Yakutsk is one of the more popular places for high-end visitors and its prime location puts travelers in range of downtown Yakutsk. The hotel has a surprisingly friendly feel on the inside, especially considering the Siberian mammoth guarding the atrium. The old city, National Museum, Treasury Building, Preobrazhensky Church, and Kulyakovsky Monument are all just minutes away on foot.

The best way to reach Lena Pillars National Park is by boat, and visitors can enjoy a private charter to view these massive stone monoliths in comfort.

What to Do

DIAMONDS OF YAKUTSK A must for anyone who likes bling, the Treasury of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) is filled with diamonds, silver, gold, platinum, precious stones, walrus and mammoth ivory, and sculptures by local artisans.

LENA PILLARS IN SUMMER The Pillars are a day’s boat ride upstream from Yakutsk, so expect a multiday journey. The natural rock buttresses are made up of alternating layers of limestone, marlstone, dolomite, and slate. Enjoy the view from the ship and hop off to hike the towering peaks or walk on the sandy river islands.

PERMAFROST KINGDOM The local Atlasov family bored two tunnels into the permanently frozen hill on their homestead to create a neon-lit, icy masterpiece. Sculptures of Yakut figures and Ded Moroz (Russia’s Santa Clause) are seen among an ice slide, curling rink, a literal ice bed, and, of course, the obligatory mammoth.

EXPERIENCE YSYAKH The largest festival of the year draws Yakut people from throughout the Sakha Republic to the site of UsKhatyn and typically takes place on the weekend after the summer solstice. The festivities combine poetic improvisation, dance, and kylyhakh, a form of throat singing, but you’ll also want to stick around for the adrenaline-fueled Mas-wrestling and the other national games.