DBS Cruise Ferry Line connects Vladivostok with the Korean city of Donghae and the Japanese fishing port of Sakaiminato. From March to November the ferry Eastern Dream leave Sakaiminato on Saturdays, briefly stops in Donghae on Sundays and arrives in Vladivostok on Mondays.
In the winter, the ferry lays over in Donghae until Monday and doesn't arrive in Vladivostok till Tuesday. Please note that Sakaiminato is a small and remote town, and access to major Japanese cities is limited (closest one is Kyoto, which is about three hours by local train, there are also planes to Tokyo and Nagoya, but they are rather expensive).
Due to the recent new law, anyone entering Russia on cruise ferries can do it without visa if the stay is no longer than 72 hours, and there are discussion to extend this practice to Russian nationals visiting Korea and Japan.
In the family of Russian cities, Vladivostok is a wayward son: the kid who had all the opportunities but couldn’t quite get his act together. Vladik should be thriving—a port city on the edge of Asia—but every year 5,000 Russians move west, to Moscow and St Petersburg while Chinese workers move in. Traffic is bad. Water shut-offs are common. Accommodation can be expensive, catering to visiting businessmen or groups of Chinese tourists. The restaurant/café scene is, for a city of such international locale, a little bleak.
But Vladivostok is an extraordinary place. China, the Koreas, and Japan are nearby, much nearer than even Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia. Moscow is a full nine hours away by air. But despite the Japanese cars clogging the streets, Vladivostok remains distinctly Russian.
It also happens to be one of Russia’s greatest wandering cities. So walk. Sopki, long-dead volcanic hills, give the city patchwork layer-cake effect. Buildings rise from different levels and eras: a gutted wooden house at the foot of a Krushchevsky apartment block, then a shiny new casino, and beyond that, sea and sky. On Pushkin Street the American Consulate’s next door neighbor is a burnt-out shell. Wherever you walk, you’re going up or down, and it’s a rare moment when you can’t get a glimpse of the sea.
Vladivostok is also a city where you can get away without leaving. Visit the Botanical Gardens and keep walking—you’re in the taiga. Explore the hills. Dug in are stone forts, with more on nearby Russky Island. If you want secluded beaches, you’ll have to make a small effort, but they’re out there too.
Even though Vladivostok is one of Russia’s most southern cities, a tad farther south than even sunny Sochi, the weather is just capricious. It may be overcast in May, sweaty wet in June, freezing with clear blue skies in January. Who knows? Be prepared for wind any time. In wintertime the sloping streets make walking downright dangerous, but sunsets over the frozen bay are gorgeous, and you’ll see the locals dressed the way you imagine Russians should be dressed. Perhaps the best time to visit is September to mid-October; the autumn gets a big share of clean, dry days—and the taiga is turning color.
You can go anywhere unless there’s a guard to stop you. The adulation of private property, so familiar to Americans, is thankfully absent among Russians, at least when it comes to the outdoors.
So get off the main streets. In the center, off Fokina, Semyonovskaya, and Svetlanskaya, it’s worthwhile to take detours through every arch. Wend your way through courtyards with crooked wooden houses, remont rubble, shiny hair salons and slot machine places.
Oceanarium: There are live exhibits and dry exhibits, mostly of creatures from Peter the Great Bay and the surrounding areas. Nearby is the outdoor Dolphinarium where you can see live fur seals and white whales. Hours: 10:00-19:00. Closed Monday. Address: 4 Batteraynaya. tel: 25-59-65.
The Arsenyev Regional Museum houses three floors of local history and ethnographic stuff. Interesting photos from Vlad in the 1800s. A few references to Yul Brynner, who lived a stone’s throw away. You’ll see a Katyusha rocket launcher from WWII. Try to find out when the folk group Traditsiya (Tradition) is playing there. Their shows are very irregular, but they sing beautifully, and they will make you dance. Address: Svetlanskaya 20. Actually you will probably have to enter on Aleutskaya. Just go around the corner. Telephone: 22-73-13; 41-40-82. 10:00-18:00 daily except Mondays.
Brynner House. Not a museum, but you can see the big art nouveau house where actor Yul Brynner grew up at Aleutskaya 15. Yul was (probably) born on July 11, 1920.
The C-56 Submarine Museum is located inside a World War II C-56 submarine, at Korabelnaya Naberezhnaya, tel: 21-67-57. Working hours are 10:30-6:00. Closed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.
Children's Picture Gallery. If you like kids’ art, this is for you. Address: Partizansky Prospekt 12. Tel: 25-98-48. Hours: 9:00 - 18:00.
Required walks include the waterfront areas. Find the mermaid statue (a tribute Hans Christian Anderson) in the water of the Sporty Bay (Sportivnaya Gavan), near the Dinamo Stadium. Walk north, to the right, to observe strolling partakers of ice cream and/or beer. Or walk left, up the steps, towards the cinema complex Okean. You might drink an espresso upstairs there. Continue uphill along upper Naberezhnaya, passing the Amur Tiger statue and taking in views of the Amur Bay. Just past the Hotel Vladivostok, the road veers left and turns into Pervaya Morskaya. A quick detour down and to the right will take you to Arsenyev Street, including a bust of the explorer himself, and a scrappy smattering of wood houses looking very 19th-century.
For the high views, follow the stairs alongside the funicular (cable car on rails), from Pushkinskaya Street to Sukhanova. The funicular isn’t currently running. At the top, take the passage under Sukhanova street, emerge, and climb more steps to the look-out. The whole of the Golden Horn Bay is visible. From here, those who aren’t tired might head for the Orinoye Gnezdo (Eagle’s Nest). Look for the big antennas atop the next hill. Don’t worry about private property getting in the way! Another way to reach the Eagle’s Nest is to head up Utkinskaya St. and follow the dirt road.
Vladivostok has been the sentinel of the Russian east since its founding in 1860. It’s a city of fortresses, and visitors should make an effort to see at least one.
Vladivostok is undeniably Russia, but economic ties to its Asian neighbors are alluring, even while the great populations of those neighbors cause anxiety. With its location and all its advantages, Vladivostok is sure to prosper sooner rather than later.