In Russia, all roads lead to Moscow, on account of the city's status as the national capital and its importance throughout history. If geography were the deciding factor, however, the Siberian city of Omsk would be the point where all Russia's roads converge—it's located literally in the heart of the country, approximately as far from Vladivostok as it is from the Belarusian border. Omsk boasts a spate of exciting attractions, even if you simply make a stop here as you ride the Trans-Siberian Railway eastward or westward.
Marvel at Assumption Cathedral
Orthodox architecture never gets old, even if you've been traveling in Russia for a long time. This is particularly the case when it comes to the Assumption Cathedral of Omsk, whose gold-and-turquoise domes look resplendent under the blue skies that bless Omsk during the warmer months of the year. The cathedral was built in 1891 under the orders Nicholas, the last Tsar of Russia.
Time Travel at Omsk Fortress
The bad news? Much of what was once Omsk Fortress is now a residential area, with the only notable landmark that still stands being Tobolsk Gate (think Paris' Arc de Triomphe, but yellow and smaller). The good news? There's essentially no reason for a military fortification to exist in today's peaceful Omsk, which means you can stroll amid parks and cafés and imagine the area being war-torn—a small sacrifice to make in exchange for not being blown to bits.
Go Green at Ptich'ya Gavan'
Or white, as it were: Omsk is covered with snow several months of the year, which means that its prized Ptich'ya Gavan' central park is often more of a winter wonderland than the green reprieve you experience in summer. The park is popular with local families, to whom you can say "Privet" (Hello) as you walk past.
Walk on Omsk's Artsy Side
Although the building that houses Omsk District Museum of Visual Arts is unmistakably Russian, the collection you find inside is surprisingly eclectic for a city deep in Russia's interior. Recent collections have included a revival of Van Gogh's great works, among others. This is a particularly enjoyable Omsk attraction on cold winter days, when temperatures can drop far below freezing and sunshine can be rare.
Shoot for the Moon
Though Omsk is a relatively large city, the skies over it become dark enough in the evening for stargazing. While visitors are not permitted to use the expensive telescopes housed inside, exhibits inside the museum provide a fascinating look into the cosmos, narrated by expert astronomical guides.
Shop on Lenin Street
Lenin Street's name is appropriate: Although it's the high street of a city thousands of miles from Moscow, the European-style architecture and cosmopolitan vibe you feel as you stroll past its boutique and cafés evokes the capital of Russia more than its forlorn interior. Local specialties you can purchase here include rustic jams made from local berries (and even, in some shops, cedar cones), as well as handmade rugs from Kazakhstan, which sits just south of Omsk.
Sample Siberian Cuisine
Speaking of unique Siberian food, it's not just preserves made from the fruits of evergreen trees. Omsk is a great place to discover the flavors of Russia's wild interior, whether you eat zagutai and stroganini (Siberia's take on sushi) or classic Russian plmeni dumplings filled with decidedly Siberian ingredients, such as bear and rabbit meat. Vkusno! (That's Russian for "delicious"!)
Enjoy Historical Houses—While You Still Can
The wooden houses that line Nikolskiy Prospekt aren't protected, but they should be. Historical structures that are unfortunately in a state of disrepair, these houses are slated for demolition at some unspecific point in the future. Be sure to catch a glimpse of these historical house before they're gone. There will, however, be at least one left standing for a long time. The Omsk State Art Museum is in a traditional wooden house.
Go to the Circus
Omsk State Circus is a popular spot for local families, whose children love the opportunity to see acrobatic performances and animals that wouldn't otherwise make appearance in Siberia. If you do attend a show here, keep in mind that ethics with regard to animal treatment might not match up with those in North America or Western Europe, to say nothing of the smell that can pervade the auditorium during and even after a show.
Be a Drama Queen
While there's no guarantee that any shows will be playing at Omsk Drama Theater at the time of your trip, a visit to this 19th century building is a spectacle in and of itself. While not as huge, say, as Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, it's nonetheless an ornate architectural wonder that hearkens back to a glorious time in history. The interior of the theater is even open during the daytime; ask the person who's inside if any tours are available when you turn up.
Explore Cities Deeper in Siberia
Siberia starts in Omsk, even if you can't continue far into it. If you don't plan to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway, take one of two day trips from Omsk. Travel to Tobolsk, whose hilltop Kremlin is one of the most picturesque in all of Russia, and whose beauty inspired a photo by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that ended up winning several awards. Or visit Tomsk, where you'll find a botanical garden dedicated to Siberian flora, and a museum that celebrates wooden architecture.
Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway
The idea of leaving Omsk behind can seem difficult, especially now that you've gotten to know this city in the heart of Siberia as well as you have. The mint-colored facade of Omsk Railway Station will make you smile, however, even if you're crying inside as you depart. Though it's not quite on the mid-line of the Trans-Siberian route between Moscow and Beijing, Omsk is a worthy starting place to begin a journey to either. If you head east make sure to stop in Irkutsk, the home of Lake Baikal and another underrated Siberian city.