What started as a pet project by Sergei Witte – an influential minister in Russian government back in the late 19th century – turned into one of the most impressive Engineering accomplishment, which connected Moscow to Vladivostok across the barren Siberia.
To really appreciate the nearly 5700 miles (9200 km) of railway track, one must take the journey by train. The trip almost takes one week (7 days) from Moscow to Vladivostok. If you don’t have the time or patience to sit through the train for a 7 day long journey, I suggest breaking up the journey into multiple segments. I will show you how I did the travel and you can follow a similar plan.
To say the best train journey I ever took in my life is the Trans Siberian train from Moscow to Irkutsk is an understatement. Although I started my Russian train journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow (on high speed luxury Sapsan) the real Trans Siberian experience didn’t start until when I was in Moscow.
First note all the train timings are fixed to Moscow time. This was deliberately done to avoid confusion as the train literally crosses 7 time zones from Europe to East Asia.
How to make train reservation?
But the Russian travel site is really intuitive and easy to follow. Most tourists travel Russia in the summer as winter in Siberia is extremely cold (as you can imagine). I suggest booking your tickets a couple of months in advance. So if you are planning to travel in July, try to book your tickets in May.
Also if you want the true local experience book your tickets in the General Sleeper coach (3rd class). If this is not your cup of tea and you want more safety and privacy then go for 2nd class cabin where you only share the cabin with 3 other people. And you can lock the door of your cabin in the night. The down side is that if you are stuck with Russian speaking travelers then you won’t be able to communicate in English.
How to plan your train travel?
Once you book your train tickets there is no need to take a print out. When you enter the train coach the train conductor usually ask you to show your tickets. You can show the tickets from your phone along with your ID card (passport). I had digital copies on my phone and train.
Try to book the lower berth (by window) if you want the convenience of getting up and leaving the cabin to go to the bathroom or just taking a stroll in the train. Also highly recommended to book in the middle of the compartment and not close to the bathroom.
Every train in Russia (much like in China) comes with boiling hot water. This you can use to make tea or soup. Most travelers bring cup noodles since it is convenient and easy to cook.
Here are the items to bring for the long journey:
- Cup noodles
- Fruits and nuts
- Beer (if you drink alcohol)
- Packet coffee and tea
Other things to carry:
- Hand towel (although it was offered on some trains)
- Coffee Mug (much easier to drink from the mug)
- Plastic plates, forks and spoons
- Sanitary wipes
- Thermos flask (Especially if you are traveling in the winter) as you fill up with free hot water
- Travel USB Power bank
Most trains compartments had charger outlets to charge your phones. But just be aware the outlets are not found outside each cabin.
My plan was to go to Lake Baikal by Trans Siberian. I have no interest in going all the way to Vladvistok as it would take more time and the train ride after Irkutsk is not that interesting.
- Moscow to Kazan – about 12 to 13 hours by train
- Kazan to Ekaterinburg – 14 hours
- Ekaterinburg to Krasnoyarsk – 35 hours (longest train journey)
- Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk – 18 hours
What to see in each city?
Moscow is both the political and economic center of Russia. Top highlights include Red square, Kremlin, shopping centers, beautiful cathedrals, parks and not to mention the best in class Metro system.
Capital of the oil rich Tatarstan with a beautiful mosque, cathedral and temple of all religion which takes the design after Gaudi’s style in Barcelona. Kazan downtown is beautiful in the night. Just walk around the downtown after sun down and be dazzled by the beautiful well lit mosque.
Ekaterinburg is known for the tragic ending of the Romanov family where the entire family was imprisoned and later executed.
Fourth largest city east of Ural Mountains known for Golden dome Church. I liked this nice looking Keyboard park in the center.
Krasnoyarsk is best known for its natural reserve park, Stolby park. Watch out for the bears if you do go hiking.
Lake Baikal is officially the deepest and largest freshwater lake in the world with its deepest point at over 5000 feet. I plan to write a separate blog post on how I traveled Lake Baikal. It requires some planning if you are short on time.