This is a picturesque city encompassing the Golden Horn Bay, a huge natural harbour. The city is flanked by the Amurskiy Bay to the West and the Ussurisky Bay to the East. Built over hills, the city has been compared to San Francisco. It is the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway 9,300 kms east of Moscow and is home to the Soviet Pacific Fleet. It was a ‘closed’ city for over 30 years. Today it is resurgent as Russia’s window on the Asia-Pacific and regularly hosts the leaders of China, Japan, Korea and other states in summits with President Putin. Tourism is recently increasing thanks to a free e-visa scheme with numbers expected to rise to over 5 million in coming years.
The town was founded in 1860 as a Russian military outpost and was named Vladivostok (variously interpreted as “Rule the East,” “Lord of the East,” or “Conqueror of the East”). Its forward position in the extreme south of the Russian Far East inevitably led to a major role as a port and naval base. In 1872 the main Russian naval base on the Pacific was transferred there, and thereafter Vladivostok began to grow. In 1880 city status was conferred on it. The city also grew in importance after the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway across Manchuria to Chita (completed in 1903), which gave Vladivostok a more direct rail connection to the rest of the Russian Empire.
During the Soviet period Vladivostok remained the home of the Pacific Fleet, which was greatly enlarged in the decades after World War II. Vladivostok’s military importance was such that it was closed to foreign shipping and other contacts from the late 1950s until the waning days of Soviet power in 1990. Its chief role as a commercial port subsequently reemerged, both as a link to other Russian ports of the Far East and as a port of entry for consumer goods from China, Japan, and other countries. The port is the eastern terminus of the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s Arctic seaboard from Murmansk and is the principal supply base for the Arctic ports east of Cape Chelyuskin.
Recent resurgence as Russia’s window to the East
Until the preparations for the 2012 APEC summit, hosted by Russia in Vladivostok, the 97 sq km Russky Island was essentially a military preserve with about 500 inhabitants. Selected as the site for the summit venue the military were ordered to withdraw and the stunning buildings for the summit, with its legacy of becoming the new campus for the Federal University of the Far East (FEFU) were established. One of the new iconic bridges linked the island to the main city. Esplanades, hotels and a medical centre were incorporated into the emerging civic centre.
Since 2015 the Eastern Economic Forum has been held on the FEFU campus and with the guaranteed participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin has become an Eastern Davos. In 2019 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief guest at the event which was also attended by attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga.
The three-day event also saw participation from a number of other countries at ministerial level, including China, South Korea, North Korea, Singapore and Indonesia.
The Chinese delegation was led by State Council Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, the South Korean delegation will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister for Economy, the Minister of Economy and Finance Hong Nam-ki and the North Korean government was represented by its Vice Premier of Cabinet Ri Ryong-nam.
For the first time, Indonesia had ministerial representation with its Minister of National Development Planning Bambang Brodjonegoro participating. Senior Minister of State at the Singaporean Ministry of Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon represented his country.
Representatives from business groups, banks and chambers of various countries made up the 8,500 delegates from 65 countries. The event featured country-specific business dialogues with entrepreneurs from India, China, Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, and Europe.
In his opening remarks President Putin said, “The development of the Russian Far East, including strengthening of its economic and innovative potential, as well as raising the living standards of its residents, is our indisputable priority, a truly all-encompassing national task.”
He emphasized that “being the largest Eurasian power”, Russia supports the dynamic development of the Asia-Pacific Region and welcomes equitable dialogue, both bilateral and multilateral within the EAEU, the SCO, and APEC.
In 2018 the Forum was attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping leading 600 Chinese delegates including provincial governors, officials, heads of state corporations and members of the business community.
Located in the extreme South East of Asian Russia, Vladivostok is geographically closer to Anchorage, Alaska and even Darwin, Australia than it is to the nation’s capital of Moscow. In fact, Vladivostok is closer to Honolulu, Hawaii than to the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi.
Vladivostok has a monsoon-influenced humid continental climate with warm, humid and rainy summers and cold, dry winters. Owing to the influence of the Siberian Anticyclone which affects weather from Italy to the Philippines winters are far colder than a latitude of 43 degrees north would normally be anticipated. A January average of −12.3 °C (9.9 °F) is the statistical norm. Since the maritime influence is strong in summer, this results in a relatively cold annual climate.
Vladivostok’s yearly mean of around 5 °C (41 °F) is some ten degrees lower than in cities on the French Riviera on a similar coastal latitude. Winters especially are around 20 °C (36 °F) colder than on the mildest coastlines this far north.
In winter, temperatures can drop below −20 °C (−4 °F) while mild spells of weather can raise daytime temperatures above freezing. The average monthly precipitation, mainly in the form of snow, is around 18.5 millimeters (0.73 in) from December to March. Snow is common during winter, but individual snowfalls are light, with a maximum snow depth of only 5 centimeters (2.0 in) in January. During winter, clear sunny days are common.
Summers are warm, humid and rainy, due to the East Asian monsoon. The warmest month is August, with an average temperature of +19.8 °C (67.6 °F). Vladivostok receives most of its precipitation during the summer months, and most summer days see some rainfall. Cloudy days are fairly common and because of the frequent rainfall, humidity is high, on average about 90% from June to August.
City Tourist Attractions
Vladivostok maritime and military history is commemorated through a Fortress Museum, with cannons outside, a six-room indoor exhibit of photos and many, many guns inside. Lonely Planet says “there are English explanations, so it’s quite accessible by Russian museum standards”. The complete Fortress consisted of a system of fortifications built from 1889 to 1918 in Vladivostok, Russia, and the surrounding area.
The Museum ship, S-56, a Soviet diesel-electric submarine that saw service in the Second World War is moored at a city embankment and two tall ships, the Nadezhda and Pallada call Valdisvostok their home port.
Culturally,the city boasts an array of theatres and art galleries foremost among them being a branch of the Mariinsky Theatre from St Petersburg which stages a programme of opera and ballet and the Primorsky State Art Gallery which contains work donated by the State Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
In season and usually on day visits, large cruise liners including Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas drop anchor in the centre of Vladivostok.
Outside the city
For travellers prepared to travel further afield the surrounding Primorsky Krai there are ski slopes, with the best perhaps being Medvezhye dolina about 500 kms away. Comet Ski Resort, somewhat closer at 130 kms is also favourably reviewed.
The Zov Tigra National Park is a protective reserve for the Amur Tiger and has been instrumental in regenerating the endangered breed. 100 kms northeast of Vladivostok it is in rugged mountainous terrain and difficult to access, with heavily forested taiga coexisting with tropical species of animals and birds. The park is relatively isolated from human development. Tourists may visit the portions of the park marked for recreation, but entry to the protected zones is only possible in the company of park rangers.
There is also a Safari Park in a fenced plot of forest located right along the Vladivostok — Nakhodka highway, near the village of Shkotovo (about 70 km from Vladivostok) where there are three tigers as well as other wildlife. The Safari Park is said to cover Primorye biodiversity. It is home to wolves (including the rare red wolf), Japanese raccoon dogs, bears, Far Eastern forest cats, small Sitka deer and Far Eastern red deer. There are also roe deer, musk deer, and wild boars … You can pet and even feed many of the animals. The birds are a separate song: hawks, owls, eagle owls, pheasants and others.
In all, Primorye has over 500 unique natural sites (lakes, waterfalls, ancient extinct volcanoes, caves, bays). There are six nature reserves and three national parks. In the district of Artyom, there is Lotus Lake Artyomovskoye where in the second half of July, lotus flower meadows begin to blossom and continue to delight thousands of tourists until mid-August.