Trans Siberian adventure – traveling Russia by train

Crossing Russia by train from west to east is for a lot of people (a far away) dream. The Trans Siberian railway runs from Moscow till Vladivostok. The railroad measures 9.289 kilometers and completing it in one time would take you 8 days. We highly recommend to get off the train a few times to visit interesting places along the rail. In this blog you will learn how to make the Trans Siberian journey by train as comfortable and memorable as possible. Learn how to arrange the practical stuff like buying tickets and what to pack, and what places are interesting to visit. You won’t regret choosing for this Russian road trip.

The magic of the Trans Siberian train route

Are you looking for some adventure, the magic of a far away country that is not too similar to yours? In that case the Trans Siberian train journey could be a very good option for you. Although Russia might not be that far away from countries like for example Germany, it does feel far away. Wander through streets where you can’t read any street sign or building name (unless you speak Russian). Try to find your hotel in such a different alphabet. Realize the non verbal manners of Russians are very different from the non verbal of citizens of for example European countries and North America. Where else can you slow-travel so well as in a country where you can travel by train for more than a week in a row?

And the nicest thing: travelling with the Trans Siberian express is perfectly safe and affordable!

Trans Siberian
Moscow and her impressive architecture make a great start for your Trans Siberian adventure

How to start your trip by Trans Siberian train

Learn more about the different routes through Russia, China, Mongolia and other countries, and their differences. Where and how to buy your tickets and which class is good for you.

Which route through Russia should I choose?

There are different train routes all crossing Russia. The classic “Trans Siberian Express” is the one from Moscow to Vladivostok passing the Baikal Lake in the south. You can also choose to travel to Vladivostok taking the Baikal-Amur Express via Tynda and the north of the Baikal Lake.

There are three ways to reach Beijing. Probably the most interesting route for travellers is the Trans Mongolian express. You will follow the same route as the Trans Siberian Express but there is a branch off in Ulan Ude. From there you continue your travel south through Mongolia, passing by capital Ulaanbaatar and the Gobi desert in the south of the country. You will probably be able to see groups of camels in the desert!

Two other routes are the classic silk route via Kazachstan and the east of China. The second is the Trans Manchuria Express avoiding Mongolia and entering China east of Mongolia.

Although the Trans Siberian Express is the classic, we recommend to travel the Trans Mongolia Express. You get to see a big part of Russia and will experience Russian train travel as well, but the landscape will become more diverse by travelling through Mongolia. And you will have the chance to get off in Mongolia. Moreover, Beijing is a very interesting city where you can spend a week easily!

Trans Siberian
It is so cool, before you can cross the border into China, the whole train needs to be lifted to change tracks.

Where and how do I buy tickets for the Trans Siberian trains?

It is not possible to buy a hop-on hop-off ticket. So decide beforehand whether you want to visit places along the Trans Siberian railway or want to do the whole Trans Siberian trip at once. Because the Trans Siberian trains can get full a few days ahead, it is recommended to do at least a little bit of planning. Or you just buy all your tickets in advance.

You can buy your tickets for the Trans Siberian express from specialized agencies in your own country. But one thing you know for sure; you will pay much more for your trip compared to tickets bought locally. A better way is to buy your tickets in Russia itself, either online or offline.

We bought our online tickets using the website www.trainsrussia.com and were very satisfied with that.

We also satisfactorily made use of this travel agency to pre-book our ticket from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. When we by accident made the payment twice they immediately booked it back on our request. The price they offered was good, especially when comparing with the prices of non-local agencies. If you are interested in an even better bargain I am sure you can get it somewhere else. But service and trustworthiness is worth something.

You can also buy your tickets at a train station counter. Sometimes staff speaks a little English, sometimes not a word at all. Some stations have a special counter for foreigners. Don’t expect a high level of English here either. Enjoy your lost in translation experience. That is what you came for isn’t it?

Trans Siberian
For us, being lost in translation already started in our first city Moscow

Different classes in the Trans Siberian sleeper train

In choosing classes the rule applies: the more luxurious and private, the more expensive your ticket is. Determine your optimal balance of cost and luxury.

  • 1st class Trans Siberian express: two beds in a cabin, two toilets in the carriage, “soft sleeper”
  • 2nd class Trans Siberian express: four beds in a cabin, one toilet in the carriage, “hard sleeper”
  • 3rd class Trans Siberian express: ‘platskart’, an open cabin so almost no privacy, 54 beds in the carriage, 6 beds per open ‘cabin’

All beds come with a pillow, mattress, and bed sheets. I can not guarantee they are clean so bring a liner in case you are fond of hygiene.

Trans Siberian
An overview of a 3rd class sleeper carriage

Visa for your Trans Siberian adventure

Don’t forget to arrange a visa before you fly in to Moscow or St. Petersburg. Since you need an invitation to apply for the visa, it might be easy to arrange your visa through a specialized visa agency. It saves you the paperwork and time and the costs are only slightly higher.

Cost of the Trans Siberian all the way to China

We managed to travel from Moscow to Beijing for US$ 430,- per person including a detour to Tobolsk. During the big journey through Russia, Mongolia and China we got off the train in Yekaterinaburg, Tyumen (for a detour toTobolsk; the main picture of this blog is the kremlin of Tobolsk, beautiful isn’t it?), Ulan Ude, Irkutsk, Ulaanbaatar and finally Beijing. We traveled in the 3rd class,  cheaper obviously than the 1st and 2nd class. We did the track from Ulan Ude to the capital of Mongolia Ulaanbaatar – so crossing the border – by bus because it is a lot cheaper than by train.

Practical advice to make your Trans Siberian trip comfortable

What to pack – the Trans Siberian essentials

  • Earplugs and a sleeping mask
  • A liner or a light sleeping bag if you don’t like to touch the (used) sheets
  • Flip flops
  • Refreshing towels
  • Instant noodles, instant noodles, instant noodles
  • Tea bags
  • Plastic bowl and a spoon / fork
  • A good book; plenty of hours available to read
  • Reading light; when it is dark by night and you want to read anyway
  • Clothes that are very comfortable (legging, jogging)
  • Locks for your bag
  • Passport belt to keep your valuables close with you
  • Playing cards or dices, to interact with your fellow travellers
  • You can bring a bottle of vodka, but be aware it is officially not allowed. Hide it below the table in case cops check the train
Trans Siberian
Me and my stuff, bread and cheese from the super market, pocket knife from back home and my cherished e-reader

In the Trans Siberian train

There is always a carriage with a restaurant in the train. But we highly recommend to bring your own food as well.

Every cabin has it’s own attendant who takes care of safety, ticket check, orderliness and hygiene. They are the absolute rulers of the cabins, make sure the so called ‘provodnitsa’s’ are your friends.

In every cabin of the Trans Siberian train there is a corner with a tank with boiled hot water. The water is safe to drink. And this is very convenient because it allows you to prepare your own noodles, other instant meals, tea and coffee etc. So bring enough of this kind of food. There is a toilet with a small water tap as well. Be prepared it is not going to be your comfy toilet from back home. But you will be fine, we are sure. You will be very happy with your flipflops and small towel.

Like with all travels; keep an eye on your stuff and don’t leave your most cherished valuables alone without anyone watching them. It is a good idea to put a padlock on your bag.

Some stops might take some time, so you can get out of the train for some fresh air or to buy snacks and drinks on the platform.

Further reading

We hope you liked this blog with practical information about train travel in Russia and the Trans Siberian. Don’t let hesitations come between you and your adventurous plans. We think travelling by train is one of the best ways to travel and Russia is such a fascinating country. Read also our blog in which we tell you where and why you should get off the Trans Siberian.

Are you into roadtrips? Read everything about our motorbike Bali adventures and how you can rent and drive a motorbike safely and satisfactory.

Leaving for a (long) trip soon?

Trip preparation
Read here how to prepare a (long) trip in 22 easy steps

Helpful links and apps

An informing and very helpful website for travelling by train worldwide is www.seat61.com.

Check here to learn more about the 18 best travel apps that shouldn’t miss on your next trip. They help you to navigate through Russia, interact with local people and have more functions to enrich your travels.

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