Updated: Oct 27, 2019
Why the Trans-Siberian railroad is so special for many travelers? What can you see on the way and how long will the trip last? How much does it cost?
Trans-Siberian is the world-famous and the world’s longest railway crossing Eurasia from Moscow all the way down to Vladivostok in the Far East. The road length amounts to 9288.2 kilometers, and a train can pass this distance in six to seven days subject to the number of stops on the way. During this travel, passengers change seven time zones!
Who should take this trip
Why is a Trans-Siberian trip a dream of many travelers?
It is the longest railroad in the world, and taking it won’t be similar to any other road.
Transsib crosses immense territories, promising myriads of delightful views. But landscape is not the only part of this trip: you’ll be spending at least half of the time inside the train, alone with your thoughts or talking to your neighbors.
Don’t mind days of self-reflexion and endless conversations? A trip without stops or with a few ones only will make you dream about a hot shower and home-cooked meal. Or, maybe you’ve always wanted to read a certain book, so it will be the perfect time. It all depends on you: you can plan a trip without stops or get down in interesting places.
How long it takes
Trans-Siberian railway crosses the Russian territory only. But, there are two main alternative railways in the eastern part of Russia, you can see them both on the map above. Right after lake Baikal you can change Transsib to Trans-Mongolian railway to travel through Mongolia and its capital Ulan-Bator. Another option is to change to Trans-Manchurian railway and travel through China. Both routes end in Beijing.
Furthermore, you can travel either without stops which will take up to seven days or make a few stops on the way, and in this case it’s better to plan your vacation for up to two weeks.
What you will see on the way
The adventure begins in Moscow and takes you through the biggest Russian cities such as Nizhny Novgorod, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Vladivostok, to name but a few. Or, you can start from Vladivostok in the Far East and arrive in Moscow.
Transsib passes through almost 90 towns and 16 rivers.
The best thing is that you’ll be able to enjoy the lake Baikal view from a window, as the train goes about its southern part. Thus, you’ll see all the geographical parts of Russia in just seven days: Western part, Ural, Siberia, Transbaikal and Far East. Apart from cities, you’ll be able to see rivers, including the Volga, one of the world’s major rivers, striking with its beauty and majesty, and the Amur, the bridge over which stretches for over 2.5 km.
Let’s see what places can be interesting to take a look at:
Moscow. Russian capital and one of the oldest towns in the country with 800 year history. It is dazzling and dynamic in all seasons, but my personal preference is summer: the city is full of flowers, greenery, and sunshine which has always been a stranger there. On the flipside, Christmas and New Year decorations are no less beautiful, and it doesn’t snow heavily in contrast to the rest of the country. But, Moscow is not Russia, as we all say.
Nizhny Novgorod. This is one of the most beautiful and safe Russian cities, located at the confluence of the rivers. It dates back to 13 century and features many different architecture styles, and one of them is the Kremlin (Kremlin is not only the fortress on the Red Square in Moscow, it is rather a type of architecture). Also, Nizhny Novgorod is famous for its incredible views over the rivers from numerous promenades.
Ekaterinburg. Located in the Ural Mountains, Ekaterinburg separates Europe from Asia, and you can find an actual line a few kilometers outside the city. What a chance to stand in two parts of the world at once! Also, Ekaterinburg is famous for hosting the Romanov royal family during their last days before being brutally murdered.
Tyumen. Together with Moscow and St Peters, Tyumen is world-known but not for stunning architecture. This is an unofficial oil and gas capital of Russia, surrounded by huge oil deposits. Tyuman has also given many famous people to the world: Grigory Rasputin, one of the most mystical personalities in history, and Dmitry Mendeleev, who devised the periodic table of the elements.
Novosibirsk. It is the third biggest city in Russia, with over 1.6 million inhabitants, and the unofficial Siberian capital. It is a transport hub for the whole region: all the freight and passenger trains heading to the Far East pass through Novosibirsk. It also hosts a so-called “Siberian Silicon Valley”, a research center with hundreds of institutions.
Krasnoyarsk. It combines Soviet heritage and modern architecture and technologies, being one of Russian industrial, cultural and economic centers. The natural reserve Stolby (“Pillars”) has become a visiting card of Krasnoyarsk: it occupies a huge territory, covered by taiga, and features fantastical rocks that remind of various creatures.
Irkutsk. It is a rightful leader among other tourist sights in Russia. First of all, most of the routes to the lake Baikal pass through Irkutsk, so it’s the best place to get off the train if you want to explore this majestic freshwater. Second, some tourists find it interesting to view the local hydroelectric power station on the Angara river, generating power for the whole region. But the town is remarkable on its own, being one of the only places in Russia where you can see the beautiful wooden lace architecture built in the 18 century.
Ulan Ude. It is the capital of the Buryatia republic, an autonomous region in Russia. Among many sights in the city is a huge bronze monument of Vladimir Lenin’s head.
Ulan Bator (Trans-Mongolian railway only). The Mongolian capital has a lot to offer to its visitors. First, there are two huge monuments of Genghis Khan: one at the Government Palace and another on the outskirts. Nearby there is the Gorkhi-Terelj national park. If you get off the train in Ulan Bator, don’t miss the chance to dive into the local culture and spend a night in a yurt, try delicious Mongolian cuisine, go horseback riding and see some eagles up close.
Naturally, it is hard to dwell on one city only, but if you don’t have too much time, consider making a stop in Irkutsk. You’ll have a general understanding of what a Siberian town is, and it is the closest stop to lake Baikal, and it’d be almost senseless to take a Transsib and not visit Baikal properly.
How to buy a ticket
Now that you know where to start from and what sights to see on the way, let’s plan a trip.
Plan on your own - for brave and adventurous. You can purchase a ticket directly on the Russian railway official website (tickets are available 60 days prior to the departure date). Type in the departure and arrival points and you’ll see available prices:
Railroad functions flawlessly in Russia: it has long been the only way to connect remote towns. Trains go on a daily basis, so you won’t normally have any trouble booking a trip. Now, back to the pricing. Basic cost of an open sleeping place for 7 day trip starts from $140 (meals not included), and if you want to upgrade your class, the ticket will cost from $330 and more (with food and separate compartments, 4 people in 1 compartment), as you can see in the example below:
It’s recommended to print your ticket especially if you’ve bought it shortly before the departure (I once purchased a ticket a day before the trip and was asked to show its printed version, as the system didn’t have my reservation). Such ticket doesn’t allow you to get off the train to admire a city and continue the trip on the next one, so if you want to make a few stops along the way, it’s better to purchase separate tickets for each portion of the route. For instance, a ticket Moscow-Vladivostok with a stop in Irkutsk will cost from $220 for an open sleeping and $500 for a higher class.
Resort to an agency - plan everything in advanced and travel with comfort. You can simply book a ticket with the help of a travel agent or reserve a whole adventure with a tour planned for each stop. Below, there is a list of some of the most popular agencies to book a trip with:
Or, reserve a trip with National Geographic!
Here you can find more on how to travel from Europe to China or Japan by Transsib: the author has traveled the route himself and illustrates the story with many photos that can be useful to understand what to expect.
How to avoid common mistakes
Taking a Trans-Siberian is supposed to be a trip of a lifetime, but there are some things to consider to not be disappointed along the way.
Don’t expect too much comfort. Russian railroad has many different wagon classes, but it all depends on the price. An open sleeping place will expose you to neighbours 24/7, and in a higher class, you’ll still be surrounded by people, but this time 4 in one compartment. If you’ve always imagined Transsib as a tzar way of traveling, you should book a tour with a travel agency: there are special high-comfort trains specially for tourists, but the price is way higher. With such density of travelers, there will be some noise.
Be ready for poor nutrition. If you travel without stops (I mean, without getting off in each city you like and going with the same train all the way to Vladivostok), think about your meals in advance. In each compartment, there is always tea and coffee as well as some snacks, but they won’t be enough for a seven day trip. There are also restaurant wagons, and the average meal there costs around $25-$30. Regular stops that every train makes last for 2 to 40 minutes, so you might be able to buy some food but won’t have enough time for a business lunch.
Language barrier. If buying a ticket on your own, you’ll be traveling with regular people, most likely Russian. Don’t expect them to speak English. If you want for an acquaintanceship to come about, consider learning a few basic phrases in Russian - you’ll definitely impress people and inspire them to make an effort and speak with you anyway.
Keep an eye on your belongings. Don’t leave your electronic devices, documents and money unattended. It’s okay to leave your bag while going to the restroom, but don’t tempt fate any further.
Take power banks. Modern trains have sockets for both phones and laptops but the old ones might still have a couple of sockets for a whole wagon. And there will definitely be a line.
Alcohol. Normally, you are forbidden from drinking alcohol on the way. But, to be honest, train conductors turn a blind eye to their passengers drinking as long as they obey the rules and don’t mess around. I’ve been particularly lucky to travel with shift teams returning from work, and our wagon smelled like vodka itself. But, it’s rather an exception than the rule. I’d say that it’s always possible to find a compromise in any unpleasant situations.