How to Travel on the Trans-Siberian Railroad

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The Trans-Siberian railroad spans Russia’s vast interior of birch forests and Soviet-era outposts in one formidable feat of engineering. Many tourists assume that the journey -- one of the world’s great rail trips -- is covered by a single train. In fact, passengers can choose from a selection of routes, with the option of breaking up the journey with various sightseeing stopovers.

Route Options

  • Most foreign travelers choose from three main Trans-Siberian routes, the simplest of which is the Moscow to Vladivostok service entirely within Russia. Seen off by a military brass band from the platform, the train leaves Moscow’s Yaroslavsky Station every other day and takes six nights to cover the 5,752 miles to Vladivostok in Asia. Peak tourist months are from May to September. From Vladivostok, ferries continue to South Korea and Japan. More ambitious options include the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian routes which terminate in Beijing, China. The Trans-Mongolian service, using Chinese railway stock, leaves every Tuesday, crossing 4,735 miles of Siberian steppe and Gobi Desert to Beijing in six nights. The Trans-Manchurian skips Mongolia and reaches Beijing in six days. Using Russian trains, the service leaves Moscow on Saturday nights for a 5,623-mile journey.

Red Tape

  • Although it is possible to buy tickets at stations along the route, it is difficult to do so unless based in Russia. Foreigners typically book in advance through agencies, who can then take care of visas for Russia and China. To obtain a Russian tourist visa, valid for 30 days, visitors will need to apply within three months of the proposed travel date and obtain a support letter. Travel agencies can issue the required letter of invitation. A separate visa is required to enter China, which visitors apply for directly from a Chinese embassy. Passport control between countries can last more than two hours in some cases. When booking a ticket, make sure to specify if it is with or without services, since meals on board are included in the former only.

Life on Board

  • Each carriage has nine sleepers, typically divided into two- or four-berth compartments, with a shared toilet and wash basin at the end of the car. Cabins are lockable, contain a safe box and the whole carriage is cleaned daily by attendants. Fresh sheets and blankets are provided for a nominal fee, and a samovar in each carriage keeps a supply of boiling water for making tea, coffee and noodles. Passengers socialize in the train corridors or in the restaurant car. A drinks and snack trolley also passes regularly through the carriages, while passengers can also stock up on local delicacies or souvenirs from vendors off the platform when the trains stop for extended periods in stations along the way.

Staggered Journeys

  • Only organized tours allow the opportunity to break up the journey and explore. The most stylish is the Luxury Golden Eagle Private Train, which takes 15 days. The trip starts with a tour of Moscow and accommodation in a five-star hotel, and stops off in places such as Kazan on the River Volga, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Lake Baikal and Ulaan Baatar. The trip finishes with a three-day push to Vladivostok. Accommodation is in luxury cabins with a personal attendant, with fine dining in the restaurant car.

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