Russia's Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest continuous railroad in the world, actually
consisting of three different routes. The Trans-Siberian Railway connects Moscow to Vladivostok, the
Trans-Mongolian Railway takes you from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia and the Gobi Desert, and the
Trans-Manchurian Railway runs from Moscow to Beijing via Harbin and north-eastern China.
Here at Russia-InfoCentre we have partnered with Real Russia (a certified member of the European Railway Agency) to give you an opportunity to book your tickets to travel on either of these three epic routes across the whole of Russia. Tickets are booked online, so while you are about to spend nearly 7 days trailing Siberia, you can also help save the environment by purchasing your tickets in this secure and eco-friendly way.
We do understand, however, that to spend nearly a week going one way to the farthest end of Russia is no small feat. Many of us, Russians included, would wonder if it was at all possible. For this reason we have prepared this concise guide to help you undertake the journey of your lifetime.
Trans-Siberian Railway: A Brief History
The vast territories of Siberia had been annexed to the Russian state in the 17th and 18th cc. By the 19th c. it became obvious that spending a month getting from central Russia to Siberia was uneconomical, to put it mildly. The real impetus came from the United States and Canada, as both countries had finished building their cross-country railroads in 1880s. In 1886, the Russian Emperor Alexander III had ordered the railway between Chelyabinsk and Vladivostok to be built that would extend across 7500km. The construction took 26 years, but considering the barely explored vast terrains of Russia the resulting railroad was an engineering feat of the time.
The 1920s had seen the Trans-Siberian Railway being extended in south-western direction from Novosibirsk to Almaty in Kazakhstan, via Semipalatinsk. After that, with some thinking, the beeline to China's Beijing via Ulaan-Baatar in Mongolia had been added. Given the length of the road, the variety of landscape along the way, and the psychedelic ride through 8 time zones, the Trans-Siberian Railway journey has long been a favourite among foreign tourists. As for Russians, they tend to use this railroad route to travel to far-flung places of the country. Just for comparison, a train ticket from Moscow to Yekaterinburg in Western Siberia takes a little bit over a day but costs nearly 3 times less than an airplane ticket.
Trans-Siberian Railway: Essential Facts
- this is the world's longest railway, crossing 9,289km of taiga, steppe, and desert, connecting Moscow to Russia's Pacific Coast;
- the journey takes 6 and a half days - nearly a week. There are 15-20 mins. stops in major cities along the way, so you can stretch your legs and stack up on food and drinks at the station's kiosks;
- the branded Rossia Train departs from Moscow's Yaroslavsky Station every other day;
- the train crosses 8 time zones. The train runs on Moscow time, but local time is displayed at the station stops;
- if you wish to stop in any Russian city overnight, you may want to book tickets for each leg of the journey. The train carriages are cosy sleeping compartments, so you can travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway even in winter.
The first branded train, Rossia, chuffed along the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1966. Due to the length of the journey, the train only consists of sleeping compartments that are equipped with fridges, microwaves, and shower cabins. Ironing rooms and restaurant carriages are also available. The unkempt 1990s gave way to a higher standard of travel these days, so the carriage doors are equipped with microchips, and CCTV cameras are in operation on the train. Bedding is usually included in the ticket price, and comes ironed and individually packed, a towel included.
What to Do During the Trans-Siberian Railway Journey
First off, you can just sit there doing nothing for the whole week. This might sound like a crazy idea, but this may be the best way to immerse yourself in the mindset of a Russian who was born to ride the railroad that you are taking for fun. Kilometers add up, time zones change, and you lose every sense of time and place. "Here and now" suddenly grows into a gigantic fixture of its own. You are quite literally in the middle of nowhere - for, even though the train stops now and again, you would have absolutely no idea how to get back, if you had to.
So, for those who have a penchant for philosophy, the Trans-Siberian Railway is the time and place to contemplate the lofty ideas.
As we know, however, doing nothing is the most arduous thing. On your journey, where you will no doubt come across a plenty of interesting human characters, you can do the following:
- read (consider taking James Joyce or Samuel Bekkett, to complement the lengthy route. The usual "Russian reading list" may be good, as well: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn);
- look out from your window (you will be passing taiga on this route, and this is the site to behold, especially in autumn);
- chat to your friends or other passengers (you will surely meet other foreigners on the train, and if not, a lot of Russians can exchange a few sentences in English these days).
Speaking of lanscape: if you are travelling on Trans-Mongolian or Trans-Machurian Railway, you will also be passing
steppe and desert, so do keep your camera handy to snap the flashing sights.
Trans-Siberian Railway Stops
Just to make sure you know exactly what towns and cities you will be passing, here is a list of main stops on your Trans-Siberian Railway route:
On your way, you will be crossing the Volga River near Yaroslavl,
one of the cities in Russia's Golden Ring. You will then come across 1777km obelisk marking the Urals territory.
Having passed Krasnoyarsk, you will see the Yenisey River and later - the Western Sayan Mountains. Eventually,
after Irkutsk, you will see the Lake Baikal.
Trans-Mongolian Railway: From Moscow to Beijing via Ulaan-Baatar
The 7,865km line takes a diversion near the Selenga River and follows towards the Mongolian capital, Ulaan-Baatar, from where the train goes to Beijing in China, via the Gobi Desert. You will be passing the following stops:
Moscow - Vyatka - Perm - Yekaterinburg - Tyumen - Omsk - Novosibirsk - Tomsk - Krasnoyarsk - Irkutsk - Naushki - Suhbaaatar - Darhan - Ulaan Baatar - Choyr - Saynshand - Dzhamin-Uud - Erlian - Fengzhan - Datong - Zhang-jiakou - Kapzuang - Beijing.
Food-wise, this may be a more exotic journey, as your cuisine will change from Russian to Mongolian and eventually to Chinese. Although none of these any longer sounds alien to the Western ear, to taste each one while riding through the territory where these dishes are traditionally cooked is surely different from ordering them from your local take-away.
You will again pass the Volga, the Yenisey, and the Baikal. One thing you would have to take care of is a visa: you would need both Mongolian and Chinese visas for this journey.
Trans-Manchurian Railway: From Moscow to Beijing via Harbin
Here you will only need a Chinese visa, apart from a Russian one, and that is to cross the Chinese border. This is the second longest line out of all three, extending across 9,001km. The stops on your route are:
Moscow - Vyatka - Perm - Yekaterinburg - Tyumen - Omsk - Novosibirsk - Tomsk - Krasnoyarsk - Irkutsk - Ulan Ude - Zabaikalsk (Russian border post) - Manzhouli (Chinese border post) - Boketu - Angangxi - Harbin - Shenyang - Shanhaiguan - Tianjin - Beijing.
You will also be passing the Dalai Lake and the Great Khingan Mountains.
After the havoc of 1990s, trains tend to run on time these days. This is especially so for long-distance trains that connect central Russia with Europe, the CIS countries, Siberia and China. Compensation is one thing, another is having to arrange an alternative journey. Still, by all means do check your train times, best do it at the Russian Railways official website.
When already on the train, remember that stops will last for 20mins at the most. It is unlikely that you will have much time to have a run around the city. Stay at the platform, stretch your legs, take some photos of signs in Russian, Mongolian or Chinese, and then get back on the train, to continue your magical mystery tour through Russia.
Tickets and Luggage
As we already said, you can securely book your tickets online, using the form supplied by our partners. In terms of luggage, travelling light is the best option, even if this means having one big backpack. There is usually a plenty of space to accommodate your belongings, although, as everywhere, you are advised to keep your passports, tickets, money, and any jewellery with you at all times.
Best Time for Travel
This is absolutely up to you and the time when you manage to get your visa for. You need to remember, however, that not only will you be travelling through different time zones, you will change a few climatic zones, too. In effect, considering Russia's climate, each season will have its pros and contras. Summer may be extremely hot, but you will not get cold and better yet, your stereotype of Russia's perpetual winter will fall into pieces. The rivers and lakes should be particularly beautiful sights to behold. Autumn is great for riding through taiga, when the trees change colours right in front of your eyes, and then one morning may lose all leaves at once. And yet winter is the epitome of a distant wonderland where miracle can happen. You will also likely to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights in North Siberia at this time.
Any More Questions?
Of course, there will always be one or two questions that we couldn't anticipate. If your question is not covered in this article, please drop us a line via the form below. We endeavour to answer your questions as soon as possible.
Send Us Your Trans-Siberian Railways Stories and Photos
Although many of us have blogs these days, or share their experiences on Twitter and Facebook, having your story published on a website is something different. Russia-InfoCentre has a dedicated audience of some 40,000 people globally, so why not tell us the story of you taking the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian, or Trans-Manchurian train? What did you enjoy the most? What you found odd? What made you uncomfortable? You don't even have to narrate the story of the entire journey: you can send us a photo that for you has become the symbol of your journey across Russia. Your stories and photos will be published in Share your experiences section.