If you have time on your hands and want to explore mainland Russia, travelling by train is your best option. It is more economical, although longer, than travelling by air. On the other hand, you do not have to worry about the roads and petrol, as when you travel by car. You can also choose to travel in a private compartment or in a common carriage. Altogether economy, comfort, and opportunities for reflexion and observation are three reasons to book Russian train tickets, if you plan to travel.
Types of Trains
Depending on your journey, you may have to board one of the two different types of trains. One is a local train, where you can only sit in the carriage. Another is a so-called long-distance train. You can spend up to 7 days on its board, so this type of train contains only sleeping carriages, private (for 2 people), group (for 4 people), or common (for up to 50 people).
If you are used to travelling on Pendolino trains (the likes of which are operated by Virgin Trains in the UK), rejoice: similar types of trains, Allegro and Sapsan, are now in operation in Russia. Allegro trains connect St Petersburg and Helsinki. Sapsan trains journey between Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and St Petersburg, with an additional stop in Vladimir, the ancient city of the Russian Golden Ring.
Without a doubt, one of the dream journeys for a foreign tourist is a trip on the Trans-Siberian railway, through the vast expanses of the Taiga up to the Chinese border. Apart from the Trans-Siberian railway, these are the top destinations for Russian train travellers:
- Moscow to St Petersburg;
- Moscow to Beijing (China);
- St Petersburg to Moscow;
- Moscow to Irkutsk;
- St Petersburg to Helsinki (Finland);
- Moscow to Vladimir;
- Moscow to Kiev (Ukraine);
- Moscow to Minsk (Belarus)
As you can see, Russian trains can take you almost anywhere in Europe and Asia. When on a Russian train, be also prepared to meet people from the CIS countries travelling through Russia for business to other parts of the world. If you think it is unreal to travel from Baku in Azerbaijan to Ulan-Bator in Mongolia via Moscow, think again. Train travel is inexpensive and safe, whereby a lot of people are happy to spend several days getting to their destination.
On the Train: What to Expect
As with any other train journey, expect to ride past all sorts of landscape, from sweeping views to dull, sorry sites. If you are on a typical local train, take some food and drinks with you, as catering may not tickle your taste buds. This may be different on an Allergo or a Sapsan train where on-board canteen is available (similar to Pendolino trains).
If you are travelling overnight, expect to be able to do the bed and have a lie-down. Bedding, complete with pillows, blankets and sheets, is included in the ticket price.
And of course, do expect to have a tea, using the famous Titan. A carriage manager usually offers you one, free of charge... but you are welcome to tip.
Also, if you travel on a train connecting Russia with one of the Baltic or the CIS states (or any other foreign country), be prepared for a custom check.
Railway Stations: Getting There
Similar to other big cities, Moscow and St Petersburg boast several historic, principal, and busy railway stations from where trains run in all directions throughout Russian and beyond. Particularly in Moscow, all these principal railway buildings are located near an underground station, thus seamlessly connecting people and transport links. Express trains also connect three of these railway stations with the 3 main Moscow airports. Local train stations are found in various districts of the big cities.
Buying Tickets: Security and Eco-friendliness
Although you can always purchase your train tickets from a ticket office at the railway station or from a tour operator, buying train tickets online is increasingly a more popular choice. It is quick, flexibly, safe, and secure, but that is not all about its benefits. By purchasing your train tickets online you protect the environment: you save trees by saving papers, and you reduce carbon emissions by not having your tickets printed and delivered by post. After you have booked your tickets online, all you need to travel by train in Russia is your visa, your passport, your booking reference number, and your luggage.
Train Connections Between Europe and Russia
Certainly, if you have many pieces of luggage, it is best to travel by air. But if you are a light traveller, why not booking a train ticket from your country straight to Russia? This may mean having a few changes in different railway terminals and a few custom checks. Yet if you are prepared for this, in return you will get an unforgettable experience of riding through European landscapes and seeing these changing into typical Russian views. Once again, you can book your tickets online and bring an email with your reference number with you.