Russia celebrates March 8th, along with many other countries around the world, as International Women’s Day. The holiday is a big deal here. This is evident from all the obscure 24-hour flower shops flinging their doors open wide and preparing for the inevitable inrush of men buying bouquets for the important women in their life. But for me, it offered the opportunity of a four-day weekend and the chance to explore a bit more of Russia.
Khabarovsk is the second largest city in the Russian Far Eastern Federal District, following Vladivostok, as well as the administrative center for the Russian Far East. It is located along the Trans-Siberian Railway, 780 kilometers north from Vladivostok. Since traveling by train was the most logical method of transportation, I went with my traveling companions (three fellow students from Germany and Taiwan) and a Russian friend who offered to help guide us through the ticket purchasing process. We were all thankful for his support.
Purchasing the train tickets was a little bit confusing because the train is always scheduled on Moscow time. As we scheduled our departure and return, we had to run constant calculations of plus or minus seven hours to bring it up to our local time in Vladivostok. The bigger problem, however, was our multinational traveling party. Cashiers at the train station are very meticulous about proper documentation and making sure that all the information is correct, and it took quite a while with not a few questions to finally purchase our tickets for the journey.
We departed for Khabarovsk around 11:30 pm on Friday night and settled in for the 13-hour trip. Our train car was divided into six compartments, each with six beds. The compartments are all open, meaning that there is no privacy offered from the corridor. The beds were certainly tolerable for a one-night ride, although the temperature on board registered at 26 degrees Celsius. I had no need for the provided blankets and still was hot. Meanwhile, the woman across from me slept in long pants and a sweater and covered up with multiple blankets.
Russia has officially said goodbye to winter, but Khabarovsk definitely has a lot of warming up to do before it can make any such seasonal claim. It snowed every day for our three day stay.
As soon as we arrived on Saturday, around noon, we dropped our bags off at our hostel and set out to explore the city. We spent both Saturday and Sunday exploring the museums of the city, including history, art, culture, and zoology. Overall, the museums were well kept and housed interesting exhibits which cover a wide array of topics. Definitely worth the time was the Khabarovsk Territorial Museum. Tickets cost 350 Rubles, but the museum spans across two buildings with a comprehensive overview about everything in the region, including a room dedicated to each era of history. We saw the three main museums in the city, and easily finished walking through them by Sunday afternoon.
March in Khabarovsk still means plenty of snow and cold weather, and in fact it snowed every day during our visit. Nevertheless, we spent most of our time walking the city and canvasing the parks and streets. Khabarovsk sits near the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers, so the waterfront dominates the city. The riverfront has also a pleasant promenade, which is quite popular with local people. During the winter, it looks out over the frozen river, but in the summer it has sandy beaches for sunbathing and swimming. The parks throughout the city frequently contain sculptures made from metal, wood, and ice (in the winter). These add some extra visual flare to the parks, which are long and narrow, running perpendicular from the waterfront out toward the northeastern edge of the city center.
Due to the holiday, a lot of places were closed on Monday. We had wanted to try some shorter excursions outside of the city center, but none were offered for that day. Overall, I would say that Khabarovsk is worth visiting to spend a weekend. In two or three days, you can certainly hit the highlights such as museums, churches, and parks, perhaps working in an excursion as well.
The train makes it convenient for traveling, and the overnight trip ensures that you are reasonably rested upon arrival so you can start exploring almost immediately. If you get the opportunity to visit Khabarovsk, locals we spoke to said that late summer or early fall is the nicest time of year, and I would concur with them that winter is not the best time to go.
Trip to Khabarovsk from Vladivostok
Budget: ~5000 rubles