The Trans-Siberian Railway

The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the most impressive engineering feats in modern history. The construction of the railway begun in 1891 and it has been carrying passengers from one end of Russia to the other since 1903.

The Trans-Siberian was the most spectacular achievement of a period in which the Russian rail network grew from 1,000 miles in 1860 to 45,000 miles by 1917.

It’s the longest railroad line in the world and undoubtedly the world’s greatest railway journey. The line crosses 8 time zones and its journey requires 7 days of travel, although it is normally done in sections and taking stops in the main cities.

Trans siberian map

The original route has 5,772 miles of track and connects Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. The Trans-Siberian Railway doesn’t just go to Vladivostok. Today, the Trans-Siberian Railway links Europe with China, Japan, Korea, even Vietnam, and South East Asia.

Why not going to Beijing? Shanghai? Hong Kong? Tokyo? Tibet?. Open your mind to the many possibilities the Trans-Siberian Railway has to offer. You can even go to Hanoi, Saigon, Bangkok, or Singapore overland from London.

Very diverse trains circulate on this route, both regular lines and luxury trains operated by private companies. The route of the Trans-Siberian railway line can be done in two ways: by special luxury private trains or by regular trains, which are less expensive.

bangkok

Trans-Mongolian – Trans-Manchurian

Besides the main route, the Trans-Siberian has two other branches:

The Trans-Mongolian Railway: It is the most popular route of all and goes from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia and its capital, Ulan-Bator. This branch follows the ancient route of tea and horses from China to Russia.

The Transmanchurian Railway: It also makes the journey from Moscow to Beijing but without going through Mongolia. this branch crosses the Chinese region of Manchuria.

Types of trains:

While planning to travel on the Trans-Siberian routes, you will find yourself choosing between several types of trains. These varying types are selected for a number of reasons, such as the desire for high-speed travel, luxury, or budget, among other interests.

Depending on where you are planning on traveling, a particular type of train might be more appealing. It’s a common thing to get on a more luxurious and comfortable train for a long-distance journey, and a regular train for traveling from one city to the other.

Luxury trains:

There are several and different luxury Private Trains and one Private Wagon that operate along the Trans-Siberian railway. Most run only during the summer season, with fixed dates and itineraries.

Great service and a wonderful program is guaranteed by all operators, but as reflected by the price, for ultimate luxury and refinement the Golden Eagle stands out, also see the Tsar’s Gold and Imperial Russia.

The Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle train

One of the most luxurious trains in the world. It is operated by the UK company Golden Eagle Luxury Trains. It organizes various tours along the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian routes in both directions. In 2016 it runs from February to September. The cheapest ticket costs about $ 15,000. You can find more information on their website: http://www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com/.

The Tsar’s Gold

This train is organized by the German company Lernidee from Beijing to Moscow (and vice versa) for 16 days (in 2016 there are 5 scheduled departures in each direction between the months of May and September). Prices start at 5,000 euros. You can find more information on their website: https://www.lernidee.de.

The Tsar's Gold train

Imperial Russia

It is the newest train since it started its first trip in 2014. The trip on this train is organized by the Russian railway company Russian Railways, through its travel agency RZD Tour Co. Ltd, created in 2005. This It is perhaps the option that offers the best value for money since it allows different routes, with hotels in Moscow and Beijing included, and guided tours in English in each of the cities where the train stops: Moscow, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Ulan-Ude, Ulaanbaatar, Erlian, Beijing, etc.

Imperial Russia train

Regular trains

The vast majority of tourists who make take the Trans-Siberian route each year choose to travel by regular trains operated by the Russian national railway company (RZD), since it is the cheapest and also being that locals will use these trains more, offering a greater chance to share culture and stories.

Some of these trains offer first-class carriages and good restaurant service, but let’s be clear, they are not luxurious trains like the ones mentioned above. While some of these services cover the entire route, others only cover some parts of the route.

When traveling by regular trains, there are two main ways of doing it:

By one train:

You will only need to buy one train ticket, and just relax until you get to the destination, admiring the diversity of landscapes. Traveling by train can be incredibly scenic. You can see cities, mountains, and rivers from the seat of a train. However, this is not the best option if you want to be able to visit the main cities as the stops made by the train are usually very short, with no time for tourism.

By multiple trains:

Take your time to stop in one or more cities of your interest, sleep in a hotel and the next day you can continue the journey on a different train. This is the preferred way to get more sightseeing but perhaps, not the most comfortable. In this case, you will have to buy different tickets for each route combining different trains, which can require detailed planning and/or a flexible schedule.

Types of regular trains:

High-speed trains:

This type of train serves Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod, running under the brand name Sapsan; which is Russian for Peregrine, the fastest member of the animal kingdom. Reaching speeds of up to 250kmh, these high-speed trains make the journey from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in less than four hours.

High-speed trains

These trains are all seated (there are no sleeper carriages) and are very similar to European trains in their layout; with a single-seat, or two-seat side by side, either side of a middle aisle. They are very modern trains, all of which are no more than a few years old.

This type of service offers First Class, Business Class, and Economy Class, while the Sapsan brand also has a conference room for up to 4-5 people equipped with everything you would need for a business meeting.

Due to how modern high-speed trains are, they are some of the few with dedicated facilities for those with disabilities as well as for those traveling with young children.

Firmeny trains:

These are the most popular trains to carry out the Trans-Siberian (or Trans-Mongolian) route. You can spend the night in a comfortable bed and there are also several compartments(1st, 2nd, and 3rd class) offering also great restaurant service.

These popularly called “sleeper trains” make only a few stops. They tend to be more expensive than the “Skory” or “Passenger” trains. They carry low numbers and some have their own name, such as the Rossiya. They are the most used by tourists and among them the following stand out:

Trans siberian trains

Trains 1 and 2 ( Rossiya ): Moscow-Vladivostok Trans-Siberian Route (9,288 km).

It is the most well-known train that rides the Trans-Siberian line. Train 002 leaves Moscow on odd-numbered days at 1:20 p.m. (with exceptions) and takes about 7 days to reach Vladivostok if the journey is carried out non-stop. Train 001 makes the reverse journey from Vladivostok to Moscow. It is a Russian train.

Trains 3 and 4: (sometimes numbered 33 and 43): Moscow-Beijing Trans-Mongolian Route via Mongolia (7,621 km). Train 004 leaves Moscow every Tuesday at 11:45 p.m. and arrives in Beijing the following Monday. Train 003 travels in the reverse direction. They are Chinese trains and Chinese personnel.

Trains 5 and 6: They run from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar.

Trains 019 and 020 (Vostok): Moscow-Beijing Trans-Manchurian route via Manchuria (8,986 km). Train 020 leaves Moscow every Saturday at 23:45.

Skory trains:

There is a vast amount of skory trains on the Russian railways. They are great trains but not as sophisticated as the Firmeny and they make lots of stops, which means that the journey tends to be longer and cheaper. They have compartments (2nd and 3rd class) but usually do not have 1st class carriage.

The most popular are:

Trains 99 and 100: They make the journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. They are a cheaper alternative to the Rossiya.

Trains 007 and 008: They only travel between Novosibirsk and Vladivostok.

Trains 60 and 70: They make the journey between Moscow and Chita.

Trans siberian train

Passenger trains:

These trains carry out both short and long routes usually stopping at practically every station on the route, they are, therefore, the slowest and the cheapest of all. In these passenger trains, you will probably encounter more of the local population and fewer tourists. The quality of these trains is lower than the ones mentioned above and passenger trains only count on 2nd and 3rd class.

The most well known are:

Trains 361 and 362: Irkutsk – Ulaanbaatar

Trains 23 and 24: Ulaanbaatar – Beijing

Types of compartments:

These are the three types that you can find:

1st class: (“Spalny Vagon” / “SV” / “Soft”). Not the cheapest, of course. Designed for two people and with 2 beds below, that fold to become seats on day time. The Rossiya’s first-class compartments do not feature a shower but the first-class compartments of trains 3 and 4 do have a shared shower.

2nd class: (“Kupé” / “Compartment”). Designed for 4 people, rooms with two beds on each side. Sharing will possibly be necessary if you are only 2 people. You can always buy 4 tickets to get more privacy if money is not an issue.

3rd class: (“Platzkart”). Consists of an open carriage with beds. The third class offers no compartments or divisions of any kind. The third class is meant for those who are going to make a short trip or for those who are more concerned about paying less than about getting more comfort.

What are the prices?

It is very difficult to give an approximate price because just like flight prices, train tickets have high variability. It is best to go to the RZD website to get estimated pricing. It is recommended to try to book in advance, as prices will go up when you get closer to de date and as demand increases. You can buy train tickets up to 60-90 days before your trip.

Organizing the trip: Steps to follow

1. Decide which route to take (90 days in advance)

Getting on the Trans-Siberian implies starting to start getting things organized at least 3 or 4 months in advance.

First of all, check everyone’s preferences, time availability, and budget. Now you can decide which route to take, and then proceed to buy the plane and train tickets.

Decide when to go:

The Trans-Siberian works throughout the year so the trip can be done at any time, this being said, summer months offer more services availability and good weather and above all because the days are longer. Summer tickets are also a little bit more expensive than the rest of the year. Traveling in Spring, Fall, or Winter You will get across less influx of travelers and you will have the possibility to discover the Siberian winters.

Choose what route to take and which countries to visit:

Once you made your mind about when you will go, you will have to decide what will be the itinerary to take and the final destination. There are several options, but the two most common are:

  • Travel only through Russia:

going from Moscow to Vladivostok. Enjoy the Trans – Siberian route.

It is a classic route that only passes through Russian territory and that will take you across the country and to the Pacific coast. You only need a Russian visa to travel this route and tickets can be purchased online on the RZD website. This route can be done entirely with the Rossiya train or the 100 train (cheaper) or connecting both trains.

  • Travel through 3 countries:

visiting the three capitals: Moscow (Russia) – Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) – Beijing (China).

This is the Trans – Mongolian route, the most popular of all. Taking passengers from Moscow to Beijing through Mongolia and its capital.

In order to make this Journey, you will need three visas, (one for each country you are visiting)

Train tickets for the Russian route can be purchased on the RZD website, but if you are traveling through the three countries, you will have to contact an intermediary agency (you can also purchase tickets directly at the stations).

The Rossiya train across Russian territory together with the trains entering Mongolia from Ulan-Ude (trains 4, 6, 362, etc.) are the selected trains to take this trip.

Please consider:

These routes are subject to modification and you can make the trip even longer than it originally is. The possibilities are very varied. It all depends on your preferences and the time and money you have available for the trip.

You can also shorten these routes. Depending on the time you have, you can simply do the Moscow-Irkutsk route or extend it to Ulaanbaatar. You can also not visit Beijing and finish in Irkutsk.

Vladivostok

What city to start from?

The Trans-Siberian can be done from east to west or vice versa. The most common departure city is Moscow but you can easily do it in reverse, starting from Beijing or Vladivostok in which case you will surely find fewer tourists and the passengers you will share the train with will mostly be from local areas.

In which cities should I stop?

The chosen stops are usually Irkutsk in Siberia (where Lake Baikal is located) and Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia (to visit the city or the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park). But if you have time, it is recommended to make a stop in intermediate cities such as Yekaterinburg (border between Europe and Asia), Novosibirsk (the largest city in Siberia and third in Russia with 1.5 million inhabitants) or Ulan-Ude (a cultural mixture between east and west).

If you have more time, other recommended cities to visit are Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Krasnoyarsk, and Omks.

2. Book flights (90 days in advance)

Booking a flight at least 90 days before your trip will significantly improve the chance of paying a low price for your ticket.

If you are going to travel in June or July, from March you can start looking for flights. The most common is to book an outbound flight to Moscow and a return flight from the city where you plan to end the journey (Beijing or Vladivostok, for example).

The main cities through which the Trans-Siberian passes have international airports: Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Ulaanbaatar, Beijing, Vladivostok, etc.

3. Apply for visas (75 days in advance)

Once you get the airline tickets, it is a good time to process the visas. Visa is the authorization granted by the country to foreign citizens to enter its territory for selected purposes.

For the visa process you can choose two options:

  • Apply through a visa private agency: simple but expensive.
  • Process it on your own: Easier than it seems. You will do it through official government sites:

The visa is a document that will be attached to your original passport. Therefore, if you are going to process the three visas, you must do them one by one, since the original passport will generally remain in the possession of each Consulate for some time. In any case, the processing of all visas can be carried out remotely by courier service, menaning he face-to-face process is not mandatory.

You can first process the Russian visa (it takes between 10 and 15 days), then the Mongolian visa (it can also take a minimum of 10 days) and, finally, the Chinese visa (a minimum of 5 days). Processing the three visas will take you at least 30 days. Before starting the process, it is important and mandatory to acquire medical insurance.

Russian visa:

A Russian visa is an official document issued by the Russian Federation that allows you to stay in Russia for a specified period of time. The visa will have your name, passport details, the reason for travel, along with your entry and exit dates. Russian visas are stamped on your passport by the Russian Embassy.

A Russian tourist visa is intended for travelers visiting Russia for tourist and leisure purposes or short business visits. The trip can consist of either a single or double-entry during a maximum validity period of 30 days. The tourist visa will be issued for the exact days you have requested or that are stated on the invitation if you should be providing this document yourself.

Over time, processing your Russian visa has become an easy process. Obtaining all the documentation online is a process that should take no more than an hour to get done, and the next step will be to get all the documents presented at the official agency subcontracted by the Russian Consulate in your country. Once all the documentation is presented, the visa may take about 15 days to be approved and delivered.

Making the Trans-Siberian route adds some small additional details that you must take into account when getting the visa:

Invitation letter:

If you wish to apply for your own visa directly with the Russian Consulate, you will be required to provide a Russian Letter of Invitation (visa support document), from a licensed organization in Russia. It is not necessary to fill in the invitation letter with every place you are going to visit, but it is important to register the main cities where you are planning to stay in. When filling in this form, you will have enough space to list 5-10 cities/towns from your itinerary.

Registration: The nights you spend on the train, it is not necessary to register since the same train ticket is equivalent to the registration (you must always keep it). You will only have to register at the hotels where you are staying and the hotel itself will take care of this.

Russian visa costs:
For UK citizens:

A Russian visa for tourists will cost anything between £100 to £150 in the UK for a single-entry visa and around £150 to £200 for a double-entry visa. Please note that you may still be required to pay for the tourist invitation letter separately(£ 10-12), arrange your own travel to the RVAC, and may need to queue when you get to the RVAC to submit yours.

Trans siberian food
For Australian Citizens:

The actual visa consular fee: AUD$120 for a tourist single entry visa (processed within 4-10 business days) or AUD$240 for an expedited Visa (processed in 1-3 business days). Double-entry (or multiple-entry) visas are a little more expensive.

The service fee charged by the visa center (if you choose to do it on an official visa center) is about: AUD$43.

You must also add the cost of the letter of invitation or visa support. Consider that the cheapest is around AUD$25.

For United States citizens:

The actual visa processing fee, called consular taxes, which at the consular sections cost $160 for a regular or expedited visa (processed within 10 calendar days from the date of delivery of the documentation). Russia Visa Centre handles visas for the residents of the USA and Canada and if you choose to apply through this organization the cost will include the additional $38 dollars in administrative fees (+$85 if completed by postal mail).

In addition to the cost of processing the visa, you must also add the cost of the letter of invitation or visa support, which is also mandatory. In the case of the tourist visa, hotels can provide the letter for free, but this is only the case when staying in five stars hotels and for the rest, you’ll have to pay for the letter separately. Letters of invitation cost around $18-$20.

Mongolian visa:

Keep in mind that your original passport will be in the possession of the Russian Visa Center for about 10-15 days until they deliver the passport with the Russian visa stamped on it. Once you have it, you can start the processing of the next visa, the Mongolian one.

If you are a citizen of the United Kingdom or Australia and are planning to travel on the Trans-Mongolian, a visa will be required to enter the country. You must apply to the Honorary Consulate of Mongolia in your country. The procedure can be carried out either in person by appointment or by sending the documentation by private courier service.

The United States is in the list of visa-exempt countries, American citizens are not required to apply for the Mongolian tourist visa.

The following documentation must be gathered before submitting your application:

  • Your passport must have a minimum validity of 6 months
  • Visa form filled out in capital letters and signed (to which you must paste a photograph)
  • Health insurance
  • Details of your itinerary including plane and train tickets.
  • Proof of payment
  • Envelope for the return of passports (in case you carry out the process by courier service)

The visa has validity for 90 days once issued, so you must enter Mongolia within that period, and then the visa is valid for 30 days.

Mongolian visa costs:
For UK citizens:

A Russian visa for tourists will cost anything between £95 to £110 in the UK for a single-entry visa and around £130 to £145 for a double-entry visa.

For Australian citizens:

The actual visa consular fee: AUD$230 for a tourist single entry visa. Double-entry (or multiple-entry) visas are a little more expensive, can go up to AUD$300.
The service fee charged by the visa center can be variable depending on the time of processing.

For US citizens:

The United States is in the list of visa-exempt countries, American citizens are not required to apply for the Mongolian tourist visa.

Chinese visa:

Once you have a Mongolian visa, it’s time to start applying for a China visa. The Consulate recommends applying for a Chinese visa a month and a half before the trip, but never more than three months before the trip.

Chinese tourist visas are often issued to travelers visiting China for the purpose of tourism mainly and may be issued for a single, double, or multiple entries, in general, a 30, 60, or 90-day stay upon each entry. For UK passport holders a tourist visa is valid for 2 years and allows multiple visits for a 90-day-stay each entry.

For all other nationals, the visa will be issued either for a single visit or double visits with a validity period that starts from the date the visa was granted; you need to depart from China before this validity window expires. For single-entry visas, the validity “window” is 90 days and for double-entry visas, it is between 90 and 180 days.

Non-UK applicants applying for a double-entry visa need to provide a separate statement disclosing why they need the double entry and a schedule of stay for the duration of their stay in China. Please note that the final decision is always made at the Consulate’s discretion.

Required documents to apply:

  • Passport should have a minimum validity of 6 months
  • Visa form filled out in capital letters and signed (to which you must paste a photograph)
  • Health insurance
  • Details of your itinerary including all plane and train tickets.
  • Proof of payment
Chinese visa costs:

Generally, the cost is $140 for an American citizen, and for citizens of other countries, the fee ranges from $30 to $90.

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