The Trans-Siberian Railway – routes and trains

The Trans-Siberian Railway – routes and trains

Everybody has heard about the Trans-Siberian Railway. This is the classic adventure. The famous railway, connecting Europe and Asia, provides the setting for numerous books and travel series and has thus acquired the aura of a romantic adventure reserved only for a privileged few. But this is history! It’s a great train journey across magnificent Siberia along the world’s longest railway: 9289km from Moscow to Vladivostok (with a ferry-boat connection to South Korea).

 


The term “Trans-Siberian Railway” actually covers three main lines across Siberia: The Trans-Mongolian - the Trans-Manchurian and the Trans-Siberian. All three routes follow the same main line for the first 4 days from Moscow to Ulan Ude. From there the Trans-Mongolian diverts south to reach Beijing through Mongolia and the Gobi Desert. The other two lines follow the same route to Chita. There the Trans-Manchurian turns south-east and reaches Beijing by way of Harbin and north-eastern China. The Trans-Siberian Railway continues eastbound through Siberia all the way to Vladivostok.

The Trans-Siberian Line (9289 km, 7 days)
This is the classical and the original route – the only one crossing the world’s biggest country from west to east. In 7 days you cover 9289 km and cross 8 time zones. After Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, the train continues through eastern Siberia offering a unique experience of a lesser known Russia: a sense of wilderness, a spectacular scenery of mountains and forests, of wild rivers and distant Siberian villages which seem long forgotten by Moscow politicians 9000 km away. The journey ends in Vladivostok – one of Russia’s most important ports. The whole route is serviced by through trains and a multitude of local trains that serve shorter distances on the railway. From Vladivostok you can fly back to Moscow or another Russian city, or take a boat to South Korea. Or you can fly to another far-east destination to make a round-the-world journey.

The Trans-Mongolian Line (7865km, 6 days)
This used to be the most popular of the three routes. In 6 days the traveller experiences an unmatched sense of passage: from European Russia’s industrial areas, west over the Ural Mountains, through Siberia’s endless pine forests, past Lake Baikal and across Mongolia’s grass steppes, scarcely populated by herds of sheep and horses. After a 30 minutes’ stop in Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator, the train continues across the eastern Gobi Desert and through the fertile rice-fields of China, offering glimpses of the Great Wall, to arrive in Beijing 5½ days after leaving Moscow. You can break your journey in the two most interesting cities Irkutsk and Ulan Bator and feel the atmosphere of bygone times, of the caravans carrying tea from China to Russia along the old post road. The whole route used to be serviced by a Chinese train (No.4), departing from Moscow once a week. Making stopovers on your journey, means the use of local Russian trains. From Beijing you can fly back to your initial destination or, as many do, continue around Asia on your own.

The Trans-Manchurian Line (9001km, 7 days)
This route was laid by the Russians at the beginning of the 20th century. It follows the Trans-Siberian line all the way to Chita where it diverts into north-eastern China, and, crossing the steppes and the spectacular Da Hinggan Ling Mountains, reaches Beijing after 7 days and 9000km. The line used to be serviced by a Russian train (No.20) departing from Moscow once a week, but again – you have the possibility to break your journey in the cities of your interest.

The trains
We use the ordinary trains offered by the Russian National Railway Company also known as RZD. You will travel with the locals and your comfort will be the real Russian experience, which is not that bad. It is not a luxury journey in the traditional way, but definitely a lux to experience the continents in a slow-paced tempo. Depending on the configuration of the train set on the specific section of the railway, you might find first class wagons, second class and third-class wagons as well as a restaurant wagon.

You can choose between first class and second class and our prices are basically based on second class. A second- class compartment is shared by four (there's quite plenty of space, comparing to European trains). There is a small table next to the window and enough space for luggage. There are bedcovers and pillows, and at the beginning of the journey, you get bedclothes. Each carriage is being kept in order by one or two conductors. They will make sure your journey passes smoothly, exit at every station and remind you to get on the train before it has left, and offer you hot water for coffee or tea. A first-class compartment is shared by two passengers – there are two beds one above the other or one next to the other on the side walls of the compartment. If there is no first-class wagon in the train set we might offer you a whole compartment in second class wagon.

Life on the Train
The Trans-Siberian is not a journey specially arranged for tourists; it’s just a means of public transportation. You will spend your days in the train meeting new people, chatting, eating, playing games, reading and enjoying the changing landscape outside your window. You will be able to get off and stretch your legs at the train stations, where the train stops for 5-20 minutes. Getting to know the locals is guaranteed. You might find yourself drinking vodka with a retired grand dad, discussing literature with a an academic or sharing a bottle of Russian champagne with a businessman. You don’t have time for visiting the cities during the stops, but you can enjoy the beauty of the railway stations and the very special atmosphere on the platform. See more about stopovers here.

Food
There is a restaurant wagon in some of the train sets, where both the staff and the menu change depending on the country the train is crossing, so the quality is difficult to predict. It is a good idea to bring along some supplies, but you will be able to buy very cheap, fresh and tasty food at the stops. You can buy everything: from a bottle of beer or water to homemade boiled potatoes, eggs, cakes, chicken breast, vodka, smoked fish and fresh vegetables. The conductor also sells some not expensive snacks and drinks, so you won’t get hungry.

Hygiene, toilets and showers
Each carriage has its own stewardess who does the daily cleaning. At each end of the carriage there is a toilet with a WC and a small sink. Maybe you’ll find the toilets quite dirty, so you better have liquid soap and soft wet pads with you. But the period of COVID has changed the behaviors and everybody is using anti-bacterial products. There are no showers in 2nd class carriages, only in a separate carriage in some trains for extra payment.

Season
The best time for the journey is from April to October. The winter is bitterly cold but, if you are not afraid of the frost, you’ll experience Siberia covered with snow. Only the locals travel in winter – there are virtually no tourists. And it is quite warm on the train.

***

Your journey with the Trans-Siberian Railway 2024
For your comfort we have scheduled a group tour in August 2024: The True Russia – Tran-Siberian Journey. It is a package with train tickets, stopovers, excursions and including our know-how based on more than 30 years of experience arranging Siberian train adventures.

From St. Petersburg to Vladivostok
On our journey we start in St. Petersburg, where the gilded spires of the Hermitage Museum and the tranquil waters of the Neva River set a majestic tone. In Moscow we will be impressed by the iconic Red Square and the bright St. Basil's Cathedral, strong symbols of Russian history and culture.

We have a stop in Yekaterinburg, where Europe and Asia converge, marking a geographical milestone. Continuing through the Siberian wilderness, the train arrives in Irkutsk, the gateway to Lake Baikal, the world's deepest freshwater lake. Nearby, Olkhon Island with its rugged beauty and shamanic traditions, offers a glimpse into Siberia's traditions and hospitality.

We continue eastbound and the rhythm of life on board the train becomes hypnotic with the clack-clack of wheels on the rails. The journey culminates in Vladivostok, where the Pacific Ocean echoes of maritime history, marking the end of an epic odyssey across the world's largest nation.

Embarking on a Trans-Siberian journey is like stepping into a saga of vast landscapes, diverse cultures, and enduring adventures across the heart of Russia. The Trans-Siberian Railway is more than just a mode of transportation; it's a pilgrimage through the soul of Russia and opening the doors to The True Russia.


Read more about travelling to Russia 2024

See the full program here – also if you are to do the journey individually.


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