The Trans-Siberian was a dream journey from my childhood. You see, I really love trains. When I met Stelios, one of our first travel talks was about our Trans-Siberian dream. After our first vacations, we promised that we will save money and plan our trip.
But as always, life was ahead of us and our priorities were changing all the time. Until the moment we decided to get married and before we even announce it to our families we agreed that our honey moon would be the Trans-Siberian.
The Trans-Siberian is one of the most famous train journeys in the world! We started our trip from Moscow and we travelled until Ulan Bator in 25 days stopping to different cities. In this article, you will read information on how to organise your Trans-Siberian journey,
The traditional route in 9,288km, starting from Moscow to Vladivostok. There are different routes that you can choose but the most famous are the Transmongolian (from Moscow to Beijing through Mongolia) and the Transmatchurian (from Moscow to Beijing bypassing Mongolia). For all three routes, you need around 6-7 days if you travel without any stops.
Most travellers start their trip from Moscow and head east to Beijing through Mongolia. That was also the route we chose to follow, to start from Moscow and head to Mongolia.
Where to stop
If you don’t want to spend a week without any stops in the train but instead you prefer to experience the Russian culture and to taste the local food then I suggest you plan some stops. The amazing thing with the Trans-Siberian is that you can see the real heart of Russia and not only the famous destinations of Moscow and St. Petersburg. And believe me, Russia is a beautiful country worth exploring. Those are the cities we took off and we suggest you see:
Moscow with more than 13 million residents is the largest city in Europe. It is a major cultural and political centre, full of life and colours changing faces every other corner. We loved it! The Kremlin, the Gorki Park, the churches, the Red Square, wherever you go you feel you are in a different city every time. We were lucky when we visited Moscow because there were not many tourists in the city and we didn’t have to wait in huge lines.
Here you can also read about the famous metro of Moscow.
Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, is almost a 1,000 years old and is such a beautiful city! The Kremlin of Kazan is a UNESCO World Heritage and it is really amazing. It is also the biggest Muslim centre of Russia.
One of the most spectacular sights is the Kul Sharif Mosque. The inside of the mosque will take your breath away. Also, a nice thing to do is to bike along the river during the sunset. You will never forget the colours of the sky and the river which divides the city into the old and the modern part.
Yekaterinburg was established in 1723, is the fourth biggest city in Russia and it is famous as the place where the last tsar, Nicholas II and his family were murdered in 1918. Also, few kilometres outside the city you will find the Asia – Europe borders where you can literally step the one foot on European ground and the other on Asian ground.
In Yekaterinburg, you will fall in love with the small cafes and you will taste delicious foods in a low cost.
Novosibirsk was established in 1893 in order to build the big bridge in Ob river for the needs of the Trans-Siberian railway. It is the capital of Siberia and the biggest city of the Asian Russia. The city is famous for the food, the cultural life which includes the opera, ballet, theatres, museums and many art spots.
If you have more days, you can travel from the city to the famous Altai mountains where you can go hiking, rafting and camping. We treached Barnaul but we didn’t have many days for the Altai mountains.
Irkutsk is a city which people use as a connection to the Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world. If you don’t have many days left, I suggest planning a day-trip to Lystvyank or Sludyank. Those are two small cities built on Baikal’s shores only 90′ by bus far from Irkutsk.
If you have 3-4 days then you should definitely visit Olkhon island. The biggest village on the island, Khuzir, will take you back in time with the sandy roads and cows walking around the streets. The island is famous for the beaches and the good vibes because of the Shamans.
Ulan Ude was a pleasant surprise. It is the capital of the Buratya region and it is inhabited by the famous Buryat tribe. It is also the biggest centre of Buddhism in Russia. The city is famous for the biggest sculpture of Lenin’s head in the world.
Only 40′ outside of Ulan Ude there is the Ivolginsky Datsan Buddhist Monastery which worths visiting. In addition to that, an hour away from the city, there is the Old Believers village which is famous for the colours of the buildings.
Ulan Bator is the capital of Mongolia and it is only 13 hours away from Ulan Ude. It is famous as the coldest capital in the world with a short summer time and a long winter. You will see Soviet style houses next to the traditional Mongolian ger or yurt.
1/3 of the population lives in the capital which makes it a busy city with many options for food and nightlife. Most travellers use the city as a hub for their escape in Gobbi desert, the Kazakh tribes west of the country and the nomadic tribes in central Mongolia.
Like all tickets, I suggest you book your Trans-Siberian tickets as soon as you know your plan. You will find the tickets available 2 months before the date of departure. We used www.rzd.ru which is easy to use and there are some English. In addition, you can create your personal profile and save an electronic copy of all your tickets.
Also, you can buy your ticket from the train station but be prepared for a communication challenge. People usually don’t speak a word in English which makes it hard to explain where you want to go and what time yu want to leave. Moreover, keep in mind that if you are travelling in the summertime it might be difficult to find tickets for the dates you want since it is a high season for the Trans-Siberian.
In most trains, there are 3 classes from which you can choose to travel: spalny vagon (1st class), kupe (2nd class) and platskartny (3rd class). The 1st class is a cabin with two lower single beds. The 2nd class is a cabin with two lower and two upper beds. In both classes, there are doors in the cabin which you can lock. In the 3rd class there are lower and upper beds without doors.
The Trans-Siberian trains
If you are a train person, then you’ re going to love the Russian railways. When we boarded our first train, going from Moscow to Kazan, we were thrilled; they even served breakfast box for every passenger! Soon we understood that the deeper you travel in Russia, the more the train change in terms of modern amenities. A very, very, VERY important thing to keep in mind: the hours on the tickets, the clocks in the train stations and all the train schedule are in Moscow time.
Toilets: In every coach, there are two toilets, one in the front and one in the end of the coach, which are locked before and during every stop. Although I was worried about the hygiene, all the toilets were relatively clean and there was always toilet paper and hand soap.
Beds: They might not be the most comfortable beds ever, but you can sleep well. If you ‘re travelling alone, I suggest you choose a lower bed, since it will be more convenient for the time you are awake. If you travelling 2 or more people then I suggest you book a lower and an upper bed so you have all the thing for yourselves. No matter the class you are travelling, the attendant will give you clean sheets, a pillow, a blanket and a hand towel.
Food, water and electronics: In every coach, there is a boiler with hot water for your tea or coffee. The boiler will surprise you because it is old-school and it still works with coil! On board the train you will find snacks which are a bit overpriced and the variety is limited. Before each trip, we paid a visit to the closest super market and we bought water, snacks and instant noodles. Furthermore, there are plugs at the aisles of every coach and in some trains, there might be plugs in the cabins.
In almost all of our trips, we travelled in a kupe, which is a cabin with two upper and two lower beds and we chose the upper bed for me and the lower bed for Stelios. Our shortest trip was 9 hours and the longest last 32 hours. During our journey, we shared our cabin with different people, from a newly married couple in our age to a guy who didn’t say a word for 12 hours.
Most of the time our co-passengers were very kind and they wanted to get to know us no matter the language barrier. Anything we had heard about drunk people, thieves that will steal all your belongings, rude nationalists were just a big myth. We didn’t meet any of that people, neither on the train or anywhere. Not even a second from the 25 days we were in Russia. What we saw were people going on vacation, or for work or going back who wanted a peaceful trip just like us.
Russia is a truly amazing country which you should visit and explore and I promise that you will love the people and the food!